Saturday, January 05, 2008

Backyard Bushcraft: Shelter Making

Last month, one of the arborviate trees in my yard blew down during a wind storm. Today I went out back to cut it up for disposal, when it occurred to me that I had the perfect opportunity to practice making a debris shelter. So, with golok and bow saw in hand, I made a debris shelter.

First, here's a picture of the tree after some cleanup, before I started making it into a shelter.

My daughters spent the morning out with their grandmother. When they got home they wanted to see what Daddy was doing in the backyard. They helped out a little before going inside for their nap. Here's a pic of them in the unfinished shelter.

Finally, a few shots of the shelter from different angles.

If one got stuck out in the woods without a tent, e.g., due to a plane crash, car running off the road, loss of gear, etc., this kind of shelter can make the difference between making it and dying. It can provide insulation from the cold, if made thick enough can block rain and snow, and will help to block the wind. Just like I used a tree blown down in my backyard, you can often find trees in the woods that have blown down and which can be used as the basis of your shelter. For example, note how I used the tree as a ridge pole and leaned other branches against it.

Make sure that when covering the structure, you orient your thatch so that the twigs, leaves, or pine needles are pointed downwards. Also, start at the bottom then work your way up, overlapping the upper branches over the lower. Doing so encourages rain and meltwater to drain outside the shelter.

Don't make the shelter too large. Doing so will require more effort and will be harder to keep warm. On the other hand, as long as it's structurally sound it's probably impossible to put too much thatch on it. The more you use the more weather resistant it should be.

Be careful about is locating the shelter where it'll have good drainage and where it's unlikely to have anything else fall on top of it.

Finally, this kind of shelter can be hard to see from afar. If you're trying to be found keep this in mind. If you're trying not to be found, so much the better.


Paulo @ undercurrents said...

We are in the middle of producing an online video series about an A-Z of Bushcraft & Survival skills and we are seeking your help. The series will be released when we launch our internet TV channel at in Spring 2008. The channel is not for profit and will highlight a range of social and environmental topics.

We are asking people with your skills and interest in the outdoors to watch our online series and review an A-Z of Bushcraft on your blog or website. Bushcraft is a growing movement and we hope to play our part in promoting the knowledge of ancient skills. But we can’t do it alone so please helps us spread the word of

If you would like to include your own Bushcraft video player on your blog or website, please drop me an email on and I will send a small text file for you to easily embed.


Paul O’Connor
A-Z of Bushcraft

Anonymous said...

Excellent post and great thoughts on surviving in the wilderness with a makeshift shelter.