The survival shelter is your #1 priority (yes, even more, important than emergency food or water! ), so knowing how to make one is essential.  

In this article, we show you 11 simple survival shelter designs that could save your life.

A tarp is required for some, while others use only debris and wood that has been scavenged. Don't forget to practice it so that you will be prepared if you ever need it!

Step 1: Select Your Site

You should locate your wilderness shelter at:

  • Dry
  • Flat
  • It is not right next to a body of water.
  • You shouldn't be under any cliffs, falling rocks or dead limbs that could fall on you
  • (depending on whether you want to be discovered) Is readily visible or hidden very well.
  • Build a fire right in front of the doorway (see how to start a fire without matches).

NOTE: Choosing a flat site for your shelter is important. It's not just for comfort!

The rainwater can enter your shelter if the shelter is on a slope and it starts raining.

If you can't find a flat place to build your shelter and rain is forecast, you will have to dig trenches to divert the water away from it.

Step 2: Assess Your Needs

Many wilderness survival experts will tell you that this method or that method is the best survival shelter. Ultimately, it depends on your specific needs.

Here are a few things you should consider:

  • In your group, how many people are there?
  • Are camouflaged shelters necessary?
  • Is it cold outside? Do you need to build a fire inside or directly in front of your shelter?
  • What is the timeframe for building the shelter?
  • How long is the shelter intended to be used?


It will be much easier to make these shelters if you have some basic tools available:

  • A shovel - see Best Survival Shovel
  • Knife - See Cheapest Survival Knives
  • Axe bushcraft
  • Using a folding saw
  • Machete - Best Survival Machete

Step 3: Decide what type of shelter you want

In the wilderness, this is the most crucial part of building a shelter. Knowing a few shelter designs AND knowing what they are best suited for will enable you to make the right decision.

We have compiled a list of the Best 5 Person Tents for Camping 2021 for those who think that a 5-person tent will be more than enough for your camping group.

1) The Tarp Shelter

All you need is plastic tarps and cordage for this survival shelter. The poncho can even be used as a last resort. The tarp just needs to be tied to trees at each end.

The pros

  • The fastest way to build
  • Easy to build
  • Suitable for large groups

The cons

  •  Wind and rain are poorly protected
  •  Easily broken by falling sticks, hard rain, etc.
  •  There is no protection from animals

2) Tarp Tent

Tie your tarp over two trees with cordage. You can then use some rocks, sticks, or cordage to anchor the sides of the tarp away from you.

The pros

  • Easy to build and fast
  • Rain protection

The cons

  •  Wind protection is only moderate
  •  Easily broken by falling sticks, hard rain, etc.
  •  There is no protection from animals

3) Tarp Teepee with Poles

As for the teepee structure, you just need some long branches (poles) and prop them together (practice! It isn't as easy as it seems to make the structure sturdy).

Then wrap the poles with your tarp. There may be some rain falling through the hole at the intersection of the poles if it's raining. The problem can be solved by draping another tarp or poncho over the top. You can even have a fire inside the teepee if you make a bigger hole.

The pros

  • It is suitable for larger groups
  • Protection from the elements
  • A sturdy design
  • It is possible to have a fire inside a teepee; this is great during the winter

The cons

  •  Practice is required to build it
  •  A very large tarp is needed
  •  There will be a hole in the top of the teepee where rain can enter

4) Tarp Teepee (no poles)

Using your tarp, fold it into a triangular shape. Put a rock in the tarp at the point of the triangle. Once the rock has been tied around with cordage, continue. Put this cordage on a tree and hang it. You can make a teepee by anchoring the bottom of the tarp with rocks.

The pros

  • The protection against the elements is good
  • An overhead tree provides additional protection

The cons

  •  We will need a very large tarp otherwise we will have a very small shelter
  •  It can be tricky to tie a cord to a tree branch

5) Snow Shelter

If you are in an emergency situation outside in the snow, what should you do?

There won't be enough time to build a shelter because it's too cold. You can make this survival shelter very quickly (especially if you have an emergency shovel).

Find a tree and prop a branch against its trunk at a 45-degree angle. Push the snow aside to form a "wall". You need to prop another branch, so you can support your tarp. Over the tarp, drape the branches.

This survival shelter can be lined with pine needles and brush to act as insulation and keep you warm.

The pros

  • Suitable for winter survival situations
  • Depending on the size of the group, it can be made bigger or smaller

The cons

  •  When you don't have a shovel, moving snow can be time-consuming and draining
  •  If you can't keep a fire burning indoors, a teepee might be the better choice

6) Fallen Tree Shelter

I personally prefer this shelter because it can easily be adapted to different situations. It does depend, however, on you being able to find a fallen tree.

It can be done in several ways, such as draping a tarp over the fallen tree to make a tent. It is also possible to prop debris against the wall of the shelter. In the event of wind or cold, block off the entrance with other debris.

The pros

  • Camouflages easily
  • Protection from the elements, including snow
  • Adaptable to a variety of situations
  • A tarp or just debris can be used to make it

The cons

  •  You'll have to share the shelter with bugs from the rotting log!
  •  It will take some time to gather debris to block off the entrance

7) Hammock Survival Shelter

Occasionally, survival shelters need to be raised off the ground, such as in jungle situations with all kinds of creepy-crawly insects and animals.

This survival shelter design is ideal for that purpose. It's basically a variation of the tarp tent, but it's off the ground. To provide some insulation, lay your extra clothes on top of the survival hammock.

The pros

  • Getting off the ground

The cons

  •  Hammock or extra tarp and cordage for hammock required
  •  There is not much protection from the elements

8) A-Frame Brush Shelter

It is a great short-term survival because it can be built in a short period of time. Materials for building it are also readily available.

The pros

  • There is only one person
  • Easy to build
  • Easily built
  • Assembled in camouflage

The cons

  •  Short-term/temporary

9) Debris Tipi Shelter (Teepee)

You’re probably familiar with these shelter designs and maybe you’ve done some (I know I made them as a kid). It's easy to build, but you need to have long, long branches around you.

Another downside to Tipi’s shelter is that its tall, vertical shape becomes relatively unstable during high winds. As it is large in size, it will not get caught in the heat of your body as well as the small nets of the brush.

The pros

  • Builds easily
  • A good choice for large groups

The Cons

  •  Lots of long branches are needed
  •  High winds are not recommended
  •  Body heat is not trapped as effectively as in some shelters
  •  A fire won't heat up the shelter
  •  It will be necessary to cover with leafy branches as leaves and brushes tend to blow away

10) Debris Lean-To

Lean-to shelters are easy to build and spacious. Unlike a completely enclosed shelter, it doesn't trap body heat as well. The wall of the shelter also acts as a fire reflector.

When you light a fire in front of the shelter, the heat will bounce off the wall and keep you warm. Add a fire reflector or windscreen to the other side of your fire pit for colder weather.

The pros

  • Making it is fast and easy
  • When a "bed" and windscreen are added, it can be used as a long-term shelter

The cons

  •  By itself, it's not very warm; you will need a fire and a windscreen/fire reflector
  •  It is possible for the wind to enter from the sides
  •  Camouflage not very good

11) Brush Shelter with a Smoke Hole

There are various ways to make shelters with smoke holes. Make a tipi-style shelter with a hole in the top. Alternatively, you can make a wooden shelter with a fire hole inside an earthen pit.

Don't make a fire inside your shelter unless it's truly freezing cold! It is too risky to burn your shelter and yourself. You will need to make a VERY SMALL and controlled fire if you must make one.

The pros

There are many possible designs

It is useful for winter survival

The cons

 Due to the smoke hole, it takes longer to build

 A steeper learning curve

That is the only way you will be able to get a feel for which survival shelter is right for your unique situation. Have fun!

11 Simple Designs For A Survival Shelter