2011-07-07

Survival Guide: Find shelter

In the Survival Guide about finding North, I touched on the importance of finding shelter. In other previous articles I've also mentioned how weather conditions interfering with those techniques are most likely conditions in which your focus should be on finding refuge in the immediate area. Today I will present some thoughts and techniques in finding and/or building shelter for yourself in a variety of conditions. Almost all of what I've written here comes from the knowledge I gained in the Boy Scouts of America, especially the Wilderness Survival merit badge.

The most important thing about shelter is it's location. Said a different way for emphasis, the place in which you are going to try to stay safe needs to already be safe.
- Avoid natural disasters. Consider what types of issues may occur in your region. For example, if you're sheltering yourself from rain, it would be wise to stay out of areas where flooding may occur. If on a mountain, you would want to avoid areas of avalanche or rock slides. Also, remember that heat rises; if you're trying to stay warm, stay out of the valleys.
- Avoid harm and injury. Don't place yourself under trees which look like they may fall. Take care and caution as you move materials. Don't take shelter in or near plants which may be poisonous.
- Do not wander. Pick a location quickly, preferably one where you can find building materials (if needed) in the immediate area. As I've said previously, you risk injury and death, decrease the odds of rescue, and increase your panic when you are lost.
- Try to use the shelter of your natural surroundings first. Only build a shelter if environmental conditions threaten your survival.
- Avoid wildlife. Don't make your shelter on or near the home of creatures, especially ants. Don't claim another creature's home as your own. (Meaning, check for vacancy before you occupy.) Don't make your shelter along a "game trail" or anywhere predators may be hunting (e.g. near a body of water, grazing areas, etc.).
- Don't build a trap for yourself. Use sturdy building materials, but only items which you can lift alone. Make a safe haven NOT a death trap.
Making sure to follow those guidelines, let's look at some options for shelters presented by environmental conditions.

SNOW OR SAND
STEP 1: Decide if you want to make a cave or a trench. Trenches take less work to dig, but require more materials to make cover. (NOTE: You may not be able to dig a cave in loose sand or snow and, therefore, should choose to dig a trench.)
STEP 2: Gather your materials. You will need dry leaves and debris for insulation. You should also find a large stick or branch for digging, rather than your hands and risk frostbite or blistering. If building a trench, you will need to find branches (or canvas) to place over the trench for cover.
STEP 3: Dig a tight fit. Make only enough room for yourself and a bit of insulation.
STEP 4: If digging a cave, dig your entrance at a very small incline before digging parallel to the ground for the remainder of the space. If making a trench place branches over the trench and anchor them down (on the sides) with snow or sand.
STEP 5: Poke an air hole diagonally down into your shelter; a few centimeters in diameter. Keep it open, but not blocked, with sticks if you can.
STEP 6: Insulate. Stuff as much insulation as you can find into your trench or cave. Stuff some in between your clothing layers as well. (You are wearing layers, right?)
STEP 7: Burrow feet-first into your shelter.
FOREST OR JUNGLE
STEP 1: Firmly lean (and secure) a large branch against a log, stump, or rock. The branch must be longer than you are tall. This is called the "ridge pole" of the structure we are building, you should lean it so that one end is on the ground and the other is against the prop.
STEP 2: Lean sticks and branches around the ridge pole (called the ribbing), extending diagonally from the ground to the ridge pole. Make sure you have just enough room inside for yourself and some insulation; no more, no less.
STEP 3: Place and weave smaller sticks and branches over the ribbing.
STEP 4: Cover the weave with leaves and debris. Place additional material over the debris if you need to anchor it to your shelter.
STEP 5: Insulate. As the instructions above, stuff as much dry insulation as you can find into your shelter. Stuff some in between your clothing layers as well. (You are wearing layers, right?)
STEP 6: Burrow feet-first into your shelter from the tall side.
IN A VEHICLE
STEP 1: Crack a window on the side facing away from the wind.
STEP 2: Start your car for only brief periods to provide heat (or cooling). 10 minutes for every hour is a good guideline. Do NOT sleep while the engine is running.
STEP 3: Keep your light on when the engine is running. (For the possibility of rescue.)
STEP 4: Check your tailpipe occasionally to ensure that it is clear of obstructions.
STEP 5: Keep your blood flowing by moving around, if trying to stay warm. Stretch out and spread your limbs, if trying to stay cool.

Please keep in mind that there are many ways to make shelters in the wilderness; those listed here are only a small selection. Any option you consider in finding shelter for yourself should protect you from the elements and keep you safe from injury and illness for at least one night (or day).
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