Are Long Term DIY Survival Shelters Possible?

Are Long Term DIY Survival Shelters Possible?

None of us want to leave our homestead or our suburban paradise, but you and I are prepared for that to happen.

We know that the future isn’t certain, and civilization could be uprooted at any point (albeit it, only for a short amount of time, but you never know).

If you had to grab a bug out bag and run into the woods in the next five minutes right after hearing the sirens and reading the warnings, what would you do?

That’s what we’re here to discuss.

You want to know how to build a long term survival shelter?

Well, there are many methods for actually building it, but you need the right tools, know-how, and mindset to get it done. This is everything you need to know.

Location Is Key

Leaves In Woods

The first thing you need to think about is location, and this is a big one.

I would even map out a few probable locations well before you actually need to use them, whether that’s on a map where you can manually pinpoint areas, or if you want to mark them on a satellite.

Your location should have a few key elements to it, such as nearby water, familiar elements, sources for fuel and wood, a sanitized area that you can sleep or perform necessary medical procedures (stitches, cleaning wounds, things of that nature).

One other key factor is that in a SHTF situation, you have to understand that this new location you choose might not be a permanent fix.

There’s a chance you could be found out, and you have to be very ready for that possibility. It sounds terrifying, but you need to be prepared more than anything else.

Choose an area where you can easily escape.

A campsite with woods in the not-so-distant background, a shoreside campsite with a rowboat handy to get away, or a forest HQ that offers plenty of foliage cover to disperse and escape assailants.

Make sure that if you need to leave, you can do it flawlessly.


Being near a freshwater source is absolutely critical.

If you’re going to plan a spot to get out of harm’s way in the event of a SHTF situation, it has to have this one important feature nearby.

If you have a party with you, whether it’s family or friends, it gives weaker members of your unit something to do: clean water and store it safely.

Being near a freshwater source has its difficulties, because you will attract other people who are fleeing from the same disaster.

Thankfully, there are over 3.5 million miles of rivers and streams in the United States, split up between 250,000 different rivers, so the chances that you’ll run into someone else is fairly slim.

Practice water filtration at home just in case, and ensure that you have a way to store three days worth of water for everyone that comes with you.

It’s common to bring empty one-gallon water jugs with you, zip tied together on the back of your bug out bag. It’s not a bad option.


Nevada Sun

Facing the elements is a challenge no matter where you are. Everyone has their struggles.

For some of us, it’s subzero winters when we’re in Maine, or fending off against the burning desert sun in Nevada.

The US is huge and we all have different elements to fight.

You need to plan ahead for this. I would plan for this outside of your preparations for your bug out bag.

If you have to bring some winter clothing or an extra blanket, that’s fine, but account for it separately from your bug out bag.

When you plan for the elements, you have to assume that you’ll be away from civilization for at least one full year.

What does that entail in the area you’re located in? Will winter be a killer, or are summers more brutal? How do you defend against those conditions?

Plan for hurricane areas, tornado areas, ice storms, coastal flooding—whatever you have to do, plan for the elements you’ll find yourself in.

I know we’re talking about survival shelters here, but also plan for anything that you might encounter in your survival plan path.

Many plans include separating yourself from your home by about fifty-or-so miles, and that distance can change a lot of variables.

Think about what you’ll need to get from A to B.

Wood or Fuel Sources

I don’t care where you’re going, you need to have some naturally recurring fuel sources near you.

If you can somehow find access to exposed coal, that’s fine. If it’s a forest where you can find dried fallen branches, that’s even better (less work required).

There are a few tips about areas like these that I want to share so you don’t accidentally expose yourself.

  • Make It Messy: When you gather kindling, dried leaves, or anything that’s naturally occurring, you need to make it look like the area wasn’t touched by human hands. Avoid grabbing big bundles of dried leaves all in one area, don’t only grab dry twigs from underneath one specific tree, otherwise things are going to look suspicious. This is a shelter you’re making for long-term off the grid living because of a major disaster, but you might not be the only one seeking refuge in this area. Keep a low profile.
  • Avoid Pine When Possible: Pitch is something that happens when you burn pine wood. It’s a black sap that gets carried through the smoke and creates a sticky film on the bottom of cooking pots. This also makes black smoke rise as well, so you’ll not only ruin your camping cookware, but you’ll also be sending smoke through the air to give away your position.
  • Ventilation is Key: You want to find a balance between ventilating the area so you aren’t inhaling smoke, but not making a smoke signal that’s visible from nearby areas. This is about survival, so if you can, find a way to staunch the flow of smoke with tree covers, short fires, and don’t use an abundance of a fuel source if you can help it. Camping stoves are great mediums so that you aren’t wasting materials on a big fire and painting a target on your back during the process.

Sanitation Area

Stitching a Wound

It’s survival: it’s not pretty, it’s not ideal, and it’s certainly not going to go 100% according to plan (which is why we prepare for absolutely everything under the sun).

You need somewhere that’s sanitary to properly deal with wounds, cleaning cuts, and maintaining your health.

This will also serve as a space to prepare caught food.

Whether it’s fish, rabbit, or something like deer, it’s the only place that you should be prepping food (on a separate surface than wherever you’re using for medical purposes).

How terrible would it be if we, in all of our preparedness, suffered from food poisoning or an unclean wound after we ventured off into the wilderness during a disaster?

Irony at its finest.

What Type Of Structures Can Serve As Long Term Survival Shelters?

Depending on the climate, you can either  go with a specific type of tent, or you can choose to take natural cover as a shelter.

You will have to gauge this based on the type of disaster that sends you into hiding. In a fallout, natural shelter will likely be better.

In the event of a hostile takeover, natural cover keeps you concealed.

Attack on the power grid, EMP, or riots?

Tents should suffice.

Reinforced Tents

Reinforced Tent

Reinforced tents use thicker tarps with higher waterproofing capabilities.

These are usually referred to as valence tarps when you’re talking about carports and canopies, but the same grade of tarp can be applied to tents as well.

In fact, you could get one of these tarps and DIY this instead of buying one outright.

These work well because you never really know what conditions you’re going to face.

I hope that whatever area you decide to make an emergency shelter in, you know it fairly well, but even then you can’t predict when a storm is going to pass through.

Reinforced tents are like insurance against uncertainty. Heavy rain, excessive wind, all of the above.

While these aren’t going to get you through a hurricane, they’re built sturdily enough to sustain you and your family against the elements.

Tarps in general are very thin and measured in mills, or 1/1,000th of an inch.

Ten mil is 0.010, and many tarps are around six mil to stay nice and durable while still being maneuverable.

Thicker tarps are harder to use and weigh a lot more, but if you make a custom sized tarp, you can mitigate the total carry weight.

Teepee Tents

Surival Shelter

Teepee tents are easy to set up, can be concealed with a bit of brush and some branches, and overall work very well in terms of carry weight and packaged size in your bug out bag.

One major benefit to teepee tents is the ability to create a small fire inside the tent. This helps with:

  • Heating Your Tent: You don’t need a large fire that constantly loses heat outside. All the heat stays in your tent, allowing you to make a small fire and optimize heat output.
  • Burning Less Materials: With a smaller fire, you don’t need as much kindling on a constant basis to keep it fed. Store dry kindling nearby and slowly feed the fire when you need it.
  • Smaller Signals: You want to remain undetected, and with a smaller fire, there’s less smoke to give away your position.

Are they the most viable option?

It depends on your environment. In winter, teepee tents are more useful than many other tent types, as long as you have a spare tarp to act as a canopy over it when it’s actively snowing.

Natural Shelters

Shelter Inside Mountain

Natural shelter would be mountainous terrain that can be easily covered with a tarp, or a natural cave that appears to be empty of predators.

Natural shelters can also include large trees, mountaintops with foliage cover, canyons, and other naturally-occurring habitable structures.

The thing to remember with natural shelter is that you always want to maintain the high ground.

The last thing that you want is to be caught below sea level when a flood comes through.

While you will likely have NOAA radio access, we don’t know if those services will be rendered useless or be completely offline during a disaster. It depends on the situation.

With natural shelters, you need to identify potentially harmful situations.

Don’t choose a natural shelter near potential avalanche or mudslide locations. Avoid being near storm surge areas.

There’s a lot to it, but in the end, natural shelters help you conceal your presence more than a tent would, so they do have their benefits.

How To Build A Simple Survival Shelter

Three are two basic shelters you can construct with a fair amount of ease.

Once you have your tools all set and ready, you can use them to create a simple survival shelter.

Survival hatchets and shovels are going to be your friends here (bonus points if they’re multi tools).

Lean To

Making a lean to is most likely your best option.

It’s somewhat masked by using natural resources, and the earth provides (nearly) everything you need to build it without having to add much additional carry weight.

The first step in building a lean to is identify where you want to construct it in the first place. This is far more important than you think.

Choose an area where you can use pre-existing trees, rocks, and terrain to help you make a suitable and sustainable lean to.

Ideally, you’ll bring some rope along that you can cut into strips with a utility knife. You’ll use rope to secure branches together.

Scour for fallen branches. You’re looking for branches that are as straight as possible, but in the beginning, you can just take whatever you can find.

Whatever doesn’t get used in your final lean to construction can be kindling for future fires or camping stoves.

Clear the ground so you aren’t making this on a bed of moist leaves and bug nests.

Once the area is secure, begin selecting your branches. You should have some tall, straight branches to make two support poles.

The roof of your lean to can rest against the trunk of two nearby trees.

Secure the branches in the dirt. Dig out about six inches and push them down, then tightly pack the dirt down around them.

Separately, make a square/rectangle out of other branches and tie them together at the corners. Once those are secure, it will be wobbly without a central support.

Run a few branches along them in the most vertical manner you can, depending on the shape of the roof you’ve made.

Secure them, and then lay your other branches to fill the space, tying them as you go. The end result is a secure roof.

Lean this with support poles in two corners, and angle it (35° to about 60°, usually no more) against the tree as well.

Secure it in any manner you can with rope. You have a lean to.

Teepee Tents

Teepee Tent Shelter

Teepee tents definitely have an advantage over lean to’s when it comes to build time.

For a teepee tent, you need a solid tarp, branches or wooden poles, and about six feet worth of rope.

Additionally, a hole punch or knife will be of great use if your tarp doesn’t have eyelets with metal hardware.

Choose a position, and place the bottom end of each of your three poles/branches in the ground.

You want to make a perfect distance between each of them in the shape of a triangle.

Once they’re in the ground a good six inches, you want to gently tilt them together until each is touching near the top.

These poles/branches are supposed to slightly overlap one another for stability’s sake.

Pat down the dirt and secure it around the bottom of the poles/branches.

Take your rope, and tie it around each pole near the top, looping back and forth to create a tight bond between the top of each support.

Take your tarp, and align one side of it with one pole, wrapping the tarp around the back end of your teepee.

It will come around full circle to where you began. Use bits of rope or zip ties to secure the eyelets to the poles, keeping it nice and tight when applicable.

Secure your tarp, and you’re good to go

Are You Ready To Survive?

Can you make a long-term survival shelter?


Weather patterns, climate, and local wildlife are all going to impact how you make that shelter, but if you know what you’re doing, you can make some seriously sturdy shelters, or use natural cover to help you out.

I pray that you never need to use this as an option, but if you do, at least you know you’re ready.

Explore the different types of shelters you can make, and get ready just in case.

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