How to Build a Wood Shelter

Written by david mcguffin
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How to Build a Wood Shelter
A forest environment is perfect for building a wood shelter. (forest image by DOLPHIN from

If you ever become lost in the woods, knowing how to build an emergency shelter that will keep you warm, protected, comfortable and visible to those who are looking for you could save your life. The type of shelter that you build is largely dependent on the materials that you have at hand. In a forest environment, there are usually a large number of downed trees, branches and other materials that can be used to make a quick survival shelter.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Downed trees
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Tree branches
  • Leaves
  • Moss

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  1. 1

    Scout out suitable campsites. Look for a place that offers protection from the elements and from natural hazards such as animal traffic or rock slides. Once you find a location, look for a downed tree that you can use as the ridgepole for your shelter.

  2. 2

    Gather as many large branches as you can find. The branches will constitute the sides of your lean-to shelter. As you gather wood, stay away from rotted pieces that will decrease the structural integrity of the shelter.

  3. 3

    Lean the large branches on top of the downed tree trunk, which is now your shelter ridgepole. The branches should lean toward the ridgepole trunk at relatively the same angle.

  4. 4

    Search for smaller branches that will form woven layers on top of the larger branches. Place the smaller branches perpendicular to the larger branches to form a thatched roof. Your design will start to take on a domed shape as you add the smaller branches.

  5. 5

    Dump masses of leaves and other debris on top of the branch-thatched roof so that there are several inches of insulation and weather protection between the inside and outside of the shelter.

  6. 6

    Strip some branches from nearby evergreen trees and lay them on top of the shelter so that they resemble the shingles of a roof, with the higher layers placed on top of each layer that is immediately lower on the sides of the shelter.

  7. 7

    Place more evergreen branches near the entrance to your shelter. When you go inside the shelter to rest for the night, use these branches to seal off the doorway for maximum heat retention.

  8. 8

    Pull up enough moss from the ground to create a comfortable bed so that the cold ground does not suck all the heat from your body. If moss is not available, then more evergreen branches will do.

Tips and warnings

  • Remove yourself from as many environmental hazards as possible when selecting your shelter location.
  • Animal hazards can be indicated by fresh tracks or by paths created by years of animal traffic. Also look for insect colonies in and around the ridgepole area when you are considering your shelter location.
  • Find a location away from rivers or drainage areas that would present flooding issues if a strong rainstorm moves through.
  • Be careful to build a fire far enough from your shelter that the flames do not endanger the structure.

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