The debris hut has been used for survival since our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. This shelter is constructed very much in the same way a forest animal constructs its home or nest, and allows you to stay warm and safe even without a fire or proper clothing.

Step One
Choose a good location for your shelter. Your location should be on a fringe area, not too open where it will be exposed to wind and sun, and not too dense where animals make their homes and feed. Your location should also be at least 50 yards from water, as bodies of water dampen the air and increase the chill. Be sure your location is close to debris, but away from danger.

Step Two
Picture your shelter before you begin to build it. You'll need a large rock, tree stump or similar object to build your shelter against.

Step Three
Find a straight and sturdy branch to act as your ridgepole. This branch should be a few feet taller than you. It will serve a purpose similar to that of the top horizontal pole in a tent.

Step Four
Brace your ridgepole firmly against your rock or tree stump and use other branches or rocks to stabilize it. This is the spine of your hut, so make sure it's braced firmly. The braced end of the pole should not be much higher than your crotch. The other end of your ridgepole goes on the ground, held in place by a couple of heavy rocks.

Step Five
Use stout sticks leaned against your ridgepole every few inches as ribs. Line them all the way down, leaving only a small opening on the high end to act as a doorway. Go inside beneath your stout sticks to make sure there is enough room for you inside. It should be comfortable, but not too roomy. Smaller stays warmer.

Step Six
Pile all manner of fine brush and twigs over the ribs of your structure.

Step Seven
Gather as much debris as you can from the ground and pile it over the twigs on your structure. Use whatever the surrounding area offers: leaves, pine needles, dried ferns, grasses, mosses or anything you can gather. Dry materials insulate better, but use what you have available.

and slide on down inside. Versatile Debris Shelter The design is functional anywhere it can be built. so pile it high. except for the doorway. • Use debris on the floor of your hut to create a sleeping pad. • More debris equals more warmth. • Make sure to cover your debris hut entirely. Tips & Warnings • Face your door away from the wind. • Never build a fire inside your debris hut. • Mark your debris hut so you can find it from the outside easily. If someone is trying to find you they will have a hard time seeing your hut. and a few have literally served as home to adventurers for months at a time By Len McDougall . Make sure your fire is well away from your hut.Step Eight Lean more stout sticks over your debris to hold it in place against the wind. • Enter your debris hut feet first. The nature of the debris hut is that it blends in perfectly with the surroundings.

. among mammals. or the fun a group of children can have building a "fort. the cooling effect is the same as it would be at an ambient temperature of only 10 degrees. Nothing is more fundamental to human survival than shelter from the elements. and the result can kill an underdressed human. At 40 degrees. and the basic mechanics of shelter construction have not been a component of normal life in a very long time. Fahrenheit. but few people have needed to actually build one to survive in a wilderness for many generations." We are probably born with an urge to be sheltered. Throw in a soaking rain that can lower felt temps by 20 degrees in a windless environment. with a wind of 25 miles per hour. only our species is in peril from simple naked exposure to the elements. knowing how to construct a Debris Shelter is a fundamental skill for practitioners of the survival arts. and the instinct can still be seen in toddlers who crawl inside cardboard boxes. Shelter-building has been an essential part of human existence for as long as our species has been here. but strong enough to resist any weather short of a meteor shower.Quick to build in most environments.

but no two debris shelters are exactly alike. it can be constructed from vegetation in virtually any terrain—even snowbound forest—so a creative eye is beneficial when scouting for building materials. and construction materials can vary broadly. The beauty of a debris shelter is that.Building the walls. and the rate of heat loss. . human body temperature is robbing warmth from uncovered skin. Any air temperature below the normal 98. without wind or rain. and mossy northern swamp vegetation. The "debris" shelter is a usually compact long. probably unconscious.6 degrees F. sleeping pallet and doorway (right) are already in place. and he will be incapacitated. from high-desert sagebrush to alpine evergreens. can be life threatening in temperatures as warm as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The name alludes to a specific type of shelter. Lower the temperature of the strongest man's internal organs by just 5 degrees.or short-term emergency den that is constructed from whatever the surrounding terrain provides. once you have a grasp of its basics.

able to resist the heaviest snow.Although constructed entirely of dead wood. the debris shelter is amazingly strong. . wall frames can be sealed with packed snow to form an igloo of sorts. In winter. when foliage may be unavailable.

only a few inches at the low end are likely to break. this debris shelter is ready for occupancy. because if it should give under weight of snow. even in summer. It is important that the narrow end of the pole be the one against the earth. because some trees do not live to maturity. three or more inches in diameter at the base. dry enough to snap off when you push hard against them. and the entire shelter will not come crashing down. Ideal choices will stand more than a dozen feet tall. into a rock crack. install the sleeping pallet on the ground directly below and parallel to the main support. which will absorb body heat faster than it can be generated. but solid and un-rotted throughout. a suitably long main support should be at least two inches in diameter at its narrow end. a stout pole eight to 10 feet long. At this point.Main Support The most important component for all debris-type shelters is a main support. Suitable candidates can often be found standing upright. Elevate the thick end of the main support by wedging it into the limb crotch of a standing tree. Bridge the thinnest end of the pole across a solid object. but dead. In woodlands. Despite having withstood more than two-hundred inches of snow over the previous winter. and heel-stomp or chop it to length. or onto an Xframe of two lashed-together and crossed saplings—whatever solid support will hold it at least three feet above the ground. for example. This critical part of any emergency shelter serves to keep a sleeper's body from making direct contact with the earth. the usual configuration is a platform formed by placing relatively .

Sealing The Frame The next step is to seal the frame to keep air inside the shelter as motionless as possible. impervious to howling winds outside. highest end. and gaps of less than two inches exist between the sticks. having wall sticks cross in an "X" above the main support provides a place to hang wet clothing and frequently needed gear. Note that shorter sticks can be used at the lower. and it doesn't matter if a wall stick extends beyond the main support. Set the triangle-shaped door at the high end on the shelter's leeward side. body-length. but smaller interior space retains body heat better. until a rough bed. until only the inverted-v doorway is left uncovered. Add branches to the wall. . The amount of floor space is determined by how far apart the wall supports are set.straight. Place a few "framing" sticks against the main support to set the shelter's internal dimensions. but this forces feet-first entry). In many places. or clumps of sphagnum moss pulled from the ground in a cedar swamp. but so are layers of wet. compressed leaves peeled from the forest floor. including the head-end. bracken ferns are an ideal roof covering until winter snows bury them. takes shape. The shelter's triangular walls are constructed by leaning lengths of branches at an angle between main support and ground from either side. Although held in place only by friction and weight. faced away from prevailing winds (some prefer to set it at the open. foot end of the shelter. alongside one another. every wall stick added increases overall strength. Minimal diameter of each pallet member should be two inches to insure adequate insulation. about two feet wide. In fact. dead saplings and limbs on the ground. and able to shrug off rainstorms of less than biblical proportions. then add onto that skeleton with more layers of dead sticks.

but different environments will provide different materials. and almost any material that will cover an area of the frame is suitable. to insure that rain runs off. or a plastic painter's drop cloth. grass—to the sleeping pallet inside. the frame can be sealed with packed snow to form a solid shell that retains body heat more efficiently than a double-wall tent. Whatever material you use . with each ascending row overlapping the one below. The objective is to seal the shelter frame sufficiently to block out daylight—and rain. frame can be erected. and some. and simply draped with a tarp. exude glue-like sap for days after being cut. a quicker. to soften protuberances. Dry foliage can also serve as a blanket.Bracken ferns are an ideal roof covering. trapping radiated body heat with surprising effectiveness. add a thick layer of dry foliage—dead leaves. Whatever roofing material you use. green foliage will suffice better than no padding. When no daylight penetrates the roof. like pine boughs. The goal is to create an effective shield between your body and the cooling effects of earth and air. In a pinch. add another layer of spaced-apart poles over it to hold everything in place. should a wind come up. Remember to shingle the roof. beginning at the bottom with a row of overlapping cover material. slightly more skeletal. and add insulation. but the moisture in green vegetation means that it is constantly cooling as it dries. Alternately. ferns. In winter.

Subzero windchills and driven precipitation have no effect inside its walls. Or you might opt to leave the doorway uncovered. . why. helps to bounce radiated heat back toward the shelter opening. and with no accomplish that. about five feet in front of the opening. and how to build both a survival shelter and survival fire. with slabs of wood pulled from the outer shells of rotting stumps. in well under three hours. a single-occupant debris hut can be built solo. Preferably. with a small fire outside. They will recognize and use the proper safety precautions. kindling. A "reflector" wall of dead wood. you could live in. or with sheets of birch bark stripped from fallen trees. and build onto. or anything else that can be stacked densely to a height of at least two feet. with a ground sheet. Objective: Students will be able to construct two different kinds of shelters. Despite its ease of construction some debris shelters have withstood heavy winter snows for more than 10 years. and a few have literally served as home to adventurers for months at a time. snow. This information helps empower students with the knowledge of where. this shelter for years. The doorway can be closed to minimize heatstealing air flow by pulling a layer of dead branches over it from the inside. far enough to avoid burning the combustible (never forget that) shelter. If you had to. but close enough to radiate warmth to its interior. The design is functional anywhere it can be built. As mentioned.  Contents copyright (c) 2007 Modern Survival Magazine Survival Skills Grade Level: Middle and High School Purpose: This lesson covers a few of the basic skills necessary to prepare yourself for a survival situation. fuel) and be able to make a fire. and solid construction promotes a greater sense of security than collapsible fabric shelters. the shelter site will itself be isolated from wind. a good rule of thumb is to use more than you think you'll need. and blocks ground winds. This activity fosters teamwork. Student will learn the three base fuels for a fire (tinder. doorway placement should always be away from prevailing winds. cooperation and creativity amongst the students. In most environments.

There are many types of shelters. and importance of resources. Shelter • debris (fallen trees. tinder (birch bark. First.a shelter that blocks only the wind. and river banks. construction of a survival shelter is the most important task to be completed in a true survival situation. fuel. and intended for longer-term use.). possibly a fire extinguisher • shovel • old eyeglasses • bow and drill • steel wool • matches • magnifying glass • flint and magnesium. Each of these has pros and cons associated with them. you can go through the “Keys to Survival” sheet below. -Compared to the breaks above. including trees. If the weather is bad and/or if there is time remaining. Shelters The first ten minutes should be spent by having a discussion with the students about where. Natural shelters also count. Wind chill can quickly lead to hypothermia or frostbite in cold weather. lean-to. and wood. quinzhee hut.0: Environment and Society-Students understand the effects of interactions between human and physical systems and the changes in use. etc. etc. leaves. Materials: Fire • oxygen. a weather break. a depression in the ground. -A weather break is a roofed shelter that protects against wind. the first half of this activity should be spent working on shelters and the other half of the period should be spent on preparing and lighting fires. brush piles. and a shelter. leaves. -A windbreak is just that. distribution. when. sturdy. let’s look at the differences between a windbreak. Exposure to the elements main wind and wet is the main threat to be concerned about. grass) • “Keys to Survival” sheet • Survival Kit to show class Anticipatory Set: Approximately. snow cave. the side of a hill. The debris hut is both a shelter and a sleeping bag—it is simple to make and sturdy. These shelters are for short term use only until there is a lull in the weather and a proper survival shelter can be constructed.0: Students will utilize problem-solving processes through the use of resources to reach a desired outcome. rain. wickiup. Examples of windbreaks include lean-to.Nevada State Standards: Computer and Technology Standards 1. kindling. fallen trees. twigs. Examples include a cave. hollow logs. etc. or if you just want to cover these facts. branches. Content Standard 5. grasses. igloo. and why a shelter is needed. • Buckets of water. snow. caves. . Bird nests are good examples of debris huts and emphasize on strong weaving and insulation. According to the experts. etc. Wind can be dangerous in any season. Strong breezes contribute to dehydration in hot weather. a shelter is more reliable. even a log cabin can be considered a shelter.

A large supply of wood 6. but place this inside the shelter—the floor should have 2 to 4 feet thickness of debris. Other parts of the skeleton are woven into place. There should be just enough room for a person to squeeze in and that’s all. Instruct students not to tear down or break live trees or branches unless they had to and were in a true survival situation. birch bark. Remember to leave an opening for the entrance. Protections from flash floods. etc 4. NOW ON TO FIRES Anticipatory Set: Fire (work on only after going through the whole lesson on shelters above) Switch gears for the fire building session. A site in the transition zone/ edge between a thick forest and an open field Have some students construct a debris shelter (assembled with leaves. high tides. 3. Fairly level ground with good drainage 5. Ex: thin twigs. mud slides. etc. Ex: small bundles of dry grass. It increases the temperature of the fire so you may be able to add less combustible material. One last note—be sure to mark/identify your shelter so you can find it so any rescuers can find it as well. As far as burning materials is concerned. old cotton clothing. providing a sense of security. snow. thin sticks. Continue to gather debris. 2. and other debris found on the ground) and some to build a windbreak. insects/pests. -kindling: readily combustible material that you add to the tinder. there are 4 different kinds of sources.wind. etc. The final step is to lay a few branches over the debris to keep the debris in place in the event of high winds Be careful not to compact the debris. Building the Debris Shelter A skeleton for a shelter is constructed using a flexible yet sturdy 8ft pole and various other sized branches. rain. Pile the debris all over the skeleton. One end of the 8ft pole is placed on a stump of in the fork of a tree about 3ft high. Freedom from harmful plants. Protection from the elements. cooking food. brush. In a survival situation. branches. A distance no closer than 50 yards to water (dampness) 7. Site considerations that need to be reviewed before building a shelter include the following: 1. etc. in the order in which you need them: -tinder: dry materials that ignites with little heat -starts with a spark. The other end can be wedged into the ground. (avoiding poisonous plants). a fire is a high priority (the 3rd priority behind water and shelter). hair (human or otherwise). ferns. knowledge and skill or how to build and maintain a fire is important. Therefore. rock falls. To help gather you may want to fashion a rake out of some branches. warmth. . wispy twigs. The next step involves gathering debris—leaves. etc. The ceiling/walls should be at least 2 to 4 feet thick with debris. sticks. wood shavings. a source of light. the proper site has to be selected. sun.Developing the Lesson: Shelter Before beginning construction. A good fire has many uses: signaling. dry pine cones. purifying water. dry leaves.

Simply use the attached piece of metal to scrape off small slivers of magnesium into a pile on to or beside some collected tinder. etc. stockier materials that will burn longer. Monitor wind direction and amount. Ex: animal fat. tinder. etc. Duff is basically tinder that is below the ground. Have each pair spread out around the circumference of the fire pit and lay out their materials for a fire. logs. The magnesium burns to over 5000 degrees Fahrenheit. 3. This will create a shower of sparks that will ignite the magnesium splinters. 6. Gather your tinder. (strike anywhere). you may want some wet and/or green wood on hand in case you need to send up a smoke signal). clear debris away from the fire pit area—you don’t want a brush fire to start. from standing dead trees only. split green wood. and spark or source of flame. kindling. dense dry grass. dried animal dung. kindling. The best source of dry materials is standing dead trees. When gathering materials for a fire—think DRY. bow and drill. It is the best method known for no matches. 4. Explain that each group is going to have the opportunity to start their own fires. teepee. Is there enough firewood in the immediate area to meet your needs? 7. Explain and demonstrate how to use the flint and magnesium bar. and avoid building a fire in a cave. Use a bucket and fetch some water from a local source. Be careful when using rocks to line a fire pit due to water trapped inside the rocks will expand and cause rocks to explode. Make sure each fire is properly extinguished. under overhanging trees. Emphasize and demonstrate the importance of having a structure for your fire (frame. Make sure the fire and smoke has a clear chimney. Consider duff below the fire pit. Check your chimney. . standing dead wood. 5. Let each student or pair attempt to light up a fire using whichever method desired. Considerations BEFORE building a fire includes: 1. You need to make sure the area below and around the fire pit is not dry and combustible. Talk about some possible sources of spark to start a fire—matches. Then scrape the attached piece of metal along the flint side of the bar. etc.-fuel: Thicker. Discuss the pros and cons. etc. How will you extinguish the campfire? Next talk about the necessities –oxygen. because you do not want to heat up over head objects and cause them to fall on you and /or the fire. magnifying glass. heavy branches. Have the group work in pairs in collecting materials for their fires. in order to get the kindling started and later the fuel to burn. 2. A log lying on the ground will most likely be damp no matter how dry it may appear to be ( in a true survival situation. Developing the Lesson: Fires Emphasize that constructing a fire needs to be done safely.

Fire: If students will not be returning to make fires in the same location. How much light can you see when inside? More light means more rain. Fires: Have students set up two small forked twigs or branches on either end of their fire. more snow. etc Tinder: dry materials that ignites with little heat -starts with a spark Kindling: readily combustible material that you add to the tinder . have students dishevel their fire pit in such a way that someone walking by would never know there was a fire there.Closure: Shelter: The final 15 minutes should be spent on a group walk to view each shelter and discuss the location. The reason of this is to emphasize low impact camping. Make sure each student crawls into their shelter when finished. more wind. Evaluation: Shelters: Give students grades based on the durability of their shelter. with the on end stuck in the ground and the forks sticking up into the air. a lower grade. Vocabulary: Windbreak: a shelter that blocks only the wind Weather break: a roofed shelter that protects against wind. construction. snow. Place a branch or twig on top so it is hanging over the fire and grade them based on how quickly it burns. Leave a bit of time at the end to have each pair dismantle their shelter. Extension: Shelter: If students will not be returning to the area for further use of the shelters. Emphasize the importance of low impact camping. etc. of each. have the group disassemble their windbreak and their debris hut. Fire: Have the group discuss what kind of fire they built and what different kinds are best used for. rain.

and intended for longer-term use . sturdy.Fuel: Thicker. stockier materials that will burn longer Shelter: more reliable.

you can use it in virtually any kind of water supply. The iodine bottle will tell you how much to use depending on your amount of water.Keys to Wilderness Survival In addition to shelter and fire building. 2. Filter: If you have a water filter. depending on altitude. Iodine: Again. the plastic stops the evaporation from rising past the hole. Iodine does not kill bacteria on contact. The three clothing considerations to be aware of are: . water bottle. Iodine comes in tablets or drops. fast moving water. on the ground of the hole. again the bottle will tell you when to shake your iodine treated water bottles and how long to let the iodine sit before drinking. Look for fresh. Although there are no known side negative side effects to iodine consumption. The ratio of iodine tablets or drops to water will depend on the strength of the iodine. Body Temperature: Maintaining a constant body temperature (98. but to prolong the life of the filter you will want to use it on clear. Put a tarp. here are some ways to get and find drinking water: 1. the plants are getting the water from somewhere so start digging. Food. Solar Sill: this is a way to use evaporation to get fresh water in a desert or even in a location where all you can get is salt water. 3. 2. and proper clothing allow you to keep that temperature.6 degrees F) is your initial primary concern. however. Here are some ways to treat water: 1. a pot. will. excess use is not recommended. Even if there is not a visible stream. you will want to fill your water bottles with the clearest water as possible from a fast moving stream then you put in your iodine. Early morning dew on leaves can be absorbed on a bandana and wrung into a container. But where do you get it? A clear running stream is best. bucket. Boiling times vary from state to state. Not having water. and the bucket catches the water that then drips from the plastic. The sun will have evaporated the water in your hole. The proper clothing is something that often you can prepare for before heading out into the wilderness. 3. A solar sill in the desert can be built by digging a deep and wide hole then putting a cup. If you are in a desert and can’t seem to find a fresh water source. water. Try to get to the top of the safest but highest point and look for water from there. Water: Water is the MOST IMPORTANT asset in any survival situation. Know how to look for water. or another way to catch water. Generally 5 minutes of rapid boiling is enough. because even though in any unfiltered water nowadays you can get diseases like giardia (although the risks of infection are exaggerated). then come back the next day. clear plastic sheet. they won’t kill you. keep in mind the following skills and preparation. anything plastic basically over the hole. rain jacket. Boiling: Boiling water is the safest and purest way to treat fresh water. shelter. green vegetation as that is the surest indicator of a water source.

if you blow a whistle in repeated bursts. you can cover a larger distance than by sound. Sight: when a message is seen. or amateur radio transmission you may be able to actually communicate back and forth with someone about your situation. Space Blanket: used for retaining heat. Light: fires. which leads to hypothermia. horns. rain protection. if you are missing. whistles. 3. rocks. and flares are great ways to get attention. or guns. plumbers candles . or anything else you’d need to carry to your shelter. deadly when wet) and wool both have insulation (dead air space) within the cells of the cloth. 2. Signaling: Always tell someone where you are going before you head out on your adventure. three fires. Coffee Can: this can be your survival kit container but also serves a holder for water. a pointing arrow. 25 feet of nylon rope 4. fire starter 8. three gun blasts. If not (like when you are wearing a waterproof rain jacket) it will build up moisture from inside out. compass (make sure you know how to use it) 7. Ideally. The level of protection does depend on length and type of activity you’ll be doing outside. when you allow air to escape you are also allowing air in. When you layer clothing close to the body but not skin tight. You lose 1 degree of heat for 1 mph of wind. That way. 3.1. Insulation: this comes from dead air space between your body and clothes. three smoke puffs. abrasions. a mirror or tin can lid reflecting the sun to a target like an airplane or house. flags. all major distress signals are in units of three. Sound: by using the voice. For example. small mirror 6. Give your itinerary to a responsible adult. Even though numerous whistle blows will probably attract attention. hand signals when boating. Blazes (marks on a tree or other vegetation). you may attract the attention of someone within ear shot of you. allowing a heat barrier between you and elements. you are sure to have people looking for you. Ventilation: this is when you can allow air to move and flow through your clothing. Here are some methods of signaling: 1. wrap yourself in it.” When checking the temperature before you leave. smoke signals are all potential signals. 1. a message written in the snow or sand (LARGE letters). Protection: your clothing needs to protect you from the elements. but remember to always be prepared for a survival situation. three whistle blows. 4. you allow this small space for heat to stay trapped into. Radio transmission: using GPS. Also.\ 3. bites. know that generally repeated signs are safely assumed to be distress calls. three car honks universally indicate distress. Cotton (great when dry. Pay attention to the “Chill Factor. When signaling for help. 2. foraged food. Essential Survival Kit: Here is one method of putting together a survival kit. 2 large lawn bags: for solar sill. citizen band. make sure you look at the wind chill. shelter 5. 2. someone listening will pay attention and probably head towards you.

9. 10. large bandanna 11. 2 large ziplock bags 12. pocket knife . 15-20 waterproof matches: cover the tips with melted wax then scrap off wax when you need the match. whistle 13.

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