Survival Shelters That Will Save Your Life In An Emergency Situation

Survival Shelters That Will Save Your Life In an Emergency Situation

When it comes to surviving, there are three things that you need to ensure that you are going to live another day. Those things are food, water and shelter. When you’re out in the wilderness and you’re lost, you want to find a shelter because it’ll keep you warm and dry.

It doesn’t matter why you are in the survival situation, the point of the matter is you need to know how to build a variety of survival shelters, especially if it is wintertime.

In this guide, we are going to talk about the different types of winter shelters and tell you how to build them. For all intents and purposes, we aren’t going to cover tents because there should be a tent in your bug out bag already.

Types Of Wilderness Shelters

When it comes to survival shelters, there are several types:


# Of People

Build Time


Required Resources

Tarp Shelters

1 - 2

Less than 1 hour


Tarp, 3-4 long straight branches, rope, several rocks

Body Heat Shelter

1 - 2

Less than 1 hour


Twigs, leaves, dirt or snow. Sticks for the opening, shovel to build a mound

Lean to Shelters

1 – 4

3 – 5 hours


Tree branch to use as a ridgepole, 10 straight, long branches, rope, leafy branches or grass, bark, knife

A-Frame Shelter

1 – 3

3 – 5 hours


Tree trunk to use as a support, 16 straight branches, rope, leafy branches, grass, bark, knife

Teepee designs

1 – 2

3 – 5 Hours


Tree trunk to use as a support, 16 straight branches, rope, leafy branches, grass, bark, knife

Subterranean Survival Shelters

1 – 2

1 hour


Mound of earth or snow, shovel

4 – 8

Weeks / Months


Shipping container or other wall and floor materials, excavator, tools, plumbing, electrical supplies, a power source

Long Term Log Cabin

1 – 4

Weeks / Months


Long straight logs, gravel for drainage, rocks for stilts, tools to shave bark and notch logs, shovel, saw

When you find that you’re in a survival situation, the first thing you’ll want to find is something that you can use as a short-term shelter. This can be any from overhanging rocks, a cluster of trees, or a cave.

Most people opt for finding a cluster of trees or fallen trees because they can both be a support system for your shelter, but it can also be the source of where you find much of your building materials.

Cave Entrance in Forest

Caves and rocky overhangs are great sources of shelter because they are quite sturdy and you can build a fire in it. However, depending on the time of year, they aren’t going to be the best winter survival shelter.

If you do become stranded in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter, you’re always going to want to remember that snow can be used as a building material and it offers the same insulating effect as other survival shelters.

How To Build A Tarp Tent

Hopefully if you are in a survival situation, you’ll have a well-stocked bug out bag or emergency gear in your backpack that includes a tarp and some rope. These can be used to create a simple tarp tent that will be good for the night.

To create the frame, you will want to find long branches and lean them against the lower branches of a tree (or the tree itself). You’ll want to do this in a way that will fit underneath your tarp. You’re going to want to make sure the branches do not have any sharp edges because they could puncture your tarp.

Tarp Tent

Once the branches and tarp are to your liking, secure it all with rope and some heavy rocks to keep the flaps of the tarp in place.

If you don’t have time to look for long branches, or you cannot find any, you could always wrap yourself in the tarp and huddle under a semi-sheltered spot until the morning.

How To Build A Lean To Shelter

With a lean to, you are going to have extra protection against the elements like rain, wind, or snow, and they can also accommodate up to four people or more, depending on the size of the resources you have available.

To create your lean to, you will want to gather 5 or 6 poles that you can lean against something sturdy. Position these poles at a 45 to 50 degree angle and create enough space so that you and other people can lay under it comfortably.

Lean To Shelter in Woods

This is going to be your grid. Have another 5 or 6 poles to lay horizontally across the frame. You will want to secure the points where they intersect with rope (if you have some) or another flexible boughs you may find. Then you will want to use bark or leaf covered branches to thatch the frame, starting from the bottom and going up.

You can use the same method to create walls for more protection. If you happen to have a tarp or a Mylar blanket, you can use that as a way to cover the opening, thus offering some more protection.

Shelter Building In Cold Weather

While tarps and lean to shelters are great for general shelter in mild weather, what are you supposed to do in cold weather? In cold weather, it’s extremely important that you are able to build survival shelters that are going to help you survive the frigid temperatures.

Lean To Shelter made out of snow

You can use the same methods of building lean to shelter and pack the outside of the shelter with snow, as this is going to provide you with a decent amount of protection. If you have an emergency blanket, tarp, or even a poncho, they can be used to form the roof of your shelter if you put them on top of the branches.

If you have another tarp, poncho, or Mylar blanket, you will want to put it on the ground as well to protect you from the cold, damp ground. It is important that when you’re building a winter survival shelter that if you are going to build a fire inside the shelter, you plan for some kind of ventilation opening in the rood of your shelter so the smoke goes out and you don’t suffocate.

How To Build A Hut Out Of Snow

If you’re in an area where there aren’t any trees and there is snow on the ground, you can build yourself a Quintze hut, which is pretty much a simplified version of an igloo. In one of these primitive shelters, your body heat will raise the temperature inside significantly when the temperatures drop.

Snow Shelter Dug in Snow

To build on of these, you will want to follow these steps:

  • Build up a floor of snow that is about 8 inches. Make sure you pack the snow down pretty good so that it is a good and solid floor.
  • Heap the loose snow on your new floor. By piling the snow over a mound of branches (or even your backpack), you’ll be able to create a hollowed out space, which expedites the excavation process. Let the snow sit there for an hour or so to let it firm up where you can make a snow ball.
  • Dig your way through the pile of snow from opposite ends so that you can dig the center efficiently. You will want to fill up the unused entrance with excess snow. Crawl inside the hollowed out mound so that you can create the inside.
  • Ideally, your snow hut should be narrower at the end where your feet will be, long enough for you to lay down comfortably, and tall enough by the opening so that you can sit. You are going to want your quintze to be about a foot thick all around and you can check the thickness with a stick.

Poke out a vent overhead and dig a well near the entrance so that the cold air can settle into it. You’ll want to cut a snow blog to use the door. Use a candle to “glaze” the inside walls so that the hut doesn’t drip.

Snow Caves

Sometimes if you are in an area where the snow is really deep, a snow cave may be your only shelter option. This is going to be the most dangerous shelter to create because you could suffer from low oxygen or worse, the cave could collapse on top of you, thus burying you alive.

Because of the dangers involved with building one of these shelters, the choice of snow that you use is going to be crucial. You are going to want to choose a deep, solid snow drift or bank. Carve into the side of the snow at the base, thus forming a tunnel.

Snow Cave Dug Deep

This is going to be your “cold well,” which, as we mentioned with the Quintze, it is going to be where the cold air will collect and settle. Then, you will want to build up a floor that you will be sleeping on. This is going to be the highest part of the inside of your cave. You will then want to carve out a hole in the top for ventilation.

Although the quintze and the snow cave look alike, they’re slightly different, as you are digging into a mound of snow with the snow cave, and with the quintze, you are creating your pile of snow.

How To Survive Your Winter Survival Shelter

When it comes to surviving your winter shelter, you are going to want to pay close attention to:

  • Ventilation – Create two holes in the roof at opposite ends of your shelter to allow for cross ventilation. Keep a branch handy to clear the holes every now and then.
  • Snow Drifts – Keep your entrance at a 90 degree angle to the wind so that it goes in one end of your shelter to the other.
  • Melting Snow – You never want to sleep directly on the snow because it is going to suck your body heat right out of you. Instead, try to find leafy branches or even a tarp if you have one. Also, use a gloved hand to shape the inside of the shelter so that when the snow does melt, it drips down the side of your shelter and not on you​
  • Snow Blindness – If you can see sunlight through the walls of your shelter, you’re liable to get snow blindness. To prevent this, make sure the outer walls are thick. You can add snow to the outside of your shelter to beef them up some.
  • Temperature Gradient – Temperature gradients in a snow cave can range from 0 degrees all the way up to 50 degrees near the top. Since you want to keep warm, try to make the roof of your cave as low as possible so that you will feel the heat.

Survival Shelters Wrap Up

When you’re in a survival situation, you have to make sure you take care of the three most important things, food, water, and shelter. Without these three things, your chances of survival are going to be significantly less. If you have a bug out bag on hand, or even a well-stocked backpack, you should have equipment that will make shelter building a bit easier.

These things include a tarp, poncho, Mylar blanket, rope, shovel and fixed blade knife. Once you are able to build a survival shelter, you can then worry about the food and water. No one wants to be caught in that kind of situation, but stuff happens and it’s always better to be prepared for the worst.

Leave a Comment: