Building A Winter Survival Shelter: All You Need To Know

Winter Survival Shelter

Whether you are challenging yourself with an off-grid experience or are stuck in a snowy place away from civilization, or are on a hiking trip during the winter season, your chances to survive solely depend on your street smarts and knowledge.

The winter season with its white snow might look harmless while you are at home surrounded by all comforts, but when you enter the wilderness, you will be greeted by nature’s harsh conditions.

Our guide will educate you with all the essential and expert-level advice you might need to build your winter survival shelter.

Survival In Winter

Survival in winter is very different than surviving in summer or spring. During other seasons you can access food, clothing, shelter, and fire comparatively easily.

Everything is covered in snow in winter, so finding and using all the needed necessities is that much more challenging. One needs hotter fires, more calories, and more robust shelters in winter.

Gathering burning wood might be tough and challenging, plus the ever-present snow does one work with twice the strength.

There won’t be a lot of daylight, which means you won’t get sun rays to warm yourself or extra daylight to take care of your needs.

Along with these initial issues, there is the looming tension of hypothermia and frostbite. Fit these rules in your mind forever- Don’t sleep directly on the ground.

Don’t sweat. Stay dry as much as you can. Don’t wander in the wild unless it is an extreme emergency.

When one is stranded in such harsh climatic conditions, it is essential to start building and acquiring shelter, fire, water, and food. These should be on your priority list in the same order as mentioned earlier.

What Is A Survival Shelter?

survival shelter idea

A survival shelter is a structure that can protect any man from nature’s elements like animals, insects, harsh temperatures, and so on.

These shelters can be artificial or naturally occurring. Survival shelters can vary from A-frame wooden structure to a dugout snow tunnel.

The selection of each type of shelter depends on a man’s needs or the amount of time he can give without wasting his precious energy.

Each shelter serves a specific need, so you need to access your situation first to decide the type of shelter you want to make. It’s nearly impossible to survive without shelters, especially in winter.

Types Of Winter Survival Shelters

There are various types of winter survival shelters that you can make, and we have included some important ones that will help you stay safe in winters.

You can even merge two shelter styles to match according to your need but keep the time factor in mind before deciding to make complex structures.

Although it is not completely necessary, having a few essential tools like a machete, survival knife, shovel, Bushcraft axe, or folding saw can be very beneficial.

Fallen Tree Shelter

Fallen Tree Shelter

A fallen tree shelter is one of the quickest shelters to make as you do not require to find many raw materials.

The main task is to find a fallen tree. After that, you can wrap the tree with a tarp or add debris to make a wall. If it is freezing, you can block the entrance door with more debris to stay warm.


  1. Easy to make.
  2. Excellent to hide and camouflage yourself.


  1. Bugs will be your uninvited guests because of the rotting log.
  2. Blocking entrance can sometimes be challenging, depending on the tree structure.



Igloo is a perfect winter shelter if you have nothing but snow around you.

This structure is famous for temperature control. An igloo is a dome-shaped construction made out of ice blocks. If built correctly, it can be warmer as compared to outside.

If the temperature outside is -45 ֯ C, it can be -7 ֯C to 16 ֯ C inside. The making of an igloo also depends on the quality of snow; if the snow is flaky, you might need to stomp on it a few times.

The stomping action will make the snow dense.


  1. It stays very warm in extreme conditions.
  2. It is safe to sleep in an igloo.


  1. Very time-consuming to make.
  2. It will require lots of energy to build an igloo.

Quinzee Shelter


A quinzee shelter is a sister of an Igloo.

Making quinzee is a little bit easier and less time-consuming, but it takes lots of effort. The temperature system works exactly like an igloo, so you stay warm.

The process of making a quinzee is the reverse of an igloo. You have to pile all the snow you can collect into a dome shape for quinzee and pat it with extra strength boots.

After the dome is ready, you start making a hole and digging the inner part. The initial digging process might not be the most ideal if you are claustrophobic.


  1. A good option if you have nothing around except for the snow.
  2. This will keep you warm and has good structural integrity.


  1. You can get yourself wet by continuous digging, and there are chances to sweat a lot.
  2. If built wrongly, it can collapse on you, causing severe injury.

Lean-to Shelter

Lean to Shelter

This shelter has the possibility of saving your life if you have no energy to make an elaborate shelter.

This type of shelter is even great for a long-term shelter. If you have a survival blanket or any piece of plastic, the shelter will be ready in no time.

If you don’t have any material, building it from raw natural materials will take some time. You will need wood logs and moss to make a good sturdy shelter.

Pick two trees that are a little apart from each other and fix a wood across them. Keep adding slanting wood till the horizontal wood is covered with vertical logs.

Add moss for extra protection. Since this shelter won’t keep you warm, always light the fire in front of the shelter. Build a wall behind the fire to help retain the heat.

This will keep you warm and block any winds that might be coming in your direction.


  1. This shelter is easy to make.
  2. It can be used for a long-term winter shelter.


  1. It isn’t the most ideal for camouflaging.
  2. It won’t keep you warm if there is no fire and firewall built.

A Line Shelter

A Line Shelter

A robust long backbone wood makes a line shelter tucked into the ground at one side, and the other side is supported by two logs in the front, giving it an A shape.

You will need to add few logs on each side till you reach the end, where the primary backbone is buried. Cover the wooden frame with moss or spruce tree branches to create a weatherproof exterior.

The angle can make it difficult for the greenery to stay, but weaving the greenery will solve that issue.


  1. This structure is weatherproof.
  2. It retains body heat and makes a cozy shelter.


  1. There are chances of leaves and debris blowing away in strong winds or harsh conditions.
  2. It takes double the time than making a lean-to shelter. It also requires more body strength.

Building A Winter Survival Shelter From Scratch

Now that you have a decent idea about the wide variety of shelters you can make.

We will give you a step-by-step guide on two shelters – one for an emergency short-term winter survival shelter and another for a long-term winter survival shelter.

Emergency Winter Survival Shelter – Tree Pit Shelter

A tree pit shelter is one of the best shelter options you have if you don’t have any tools.

As time and saving your energy-matter, you don’t want to build something elaborate since this is for a short period.

Step 1

Find a tree that has lots of thick leaves on it. Spruce trees are perfect for such a shelter because they have dense foliage and the downward angle of the tree helps to slide the snow.

This sliding of snow is what creates a pit. If you look at any spruce tree, you will find a naturally occurred hole. Choose the tree of your choice and start building to make it livable.

Step 2

Take spruce boughs and lay them on the pit to create a bed; this will help you stay warm.

If you sleep directly on the snow, your body will go cold, and the snow below you will start to melt, making you wet. And rule number one about surviving is never to get wet or stay wet!

Step 3

To make it extra weatherproof and safe from wildlife, try camouflaging the top of the pit with tree boughs. Place them in such a way that you create a triangle.

Please don’t add the branches flat. Try to arrange them at a downward angle, so the whole structure looks like a tree from a long distance.

Step 4

Adding a fire can keep you extra warm. Ensure you have extra room and adequate ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep looking at your fire and regulate it.

Keep a pile of wood in your pit to prevent going out frequently. You can add a good layer of snow on top of your spruce boughs on the outer side of your ceiling.

Side Note

Few people might think that sleeping below the ground level will not trap heat, and the cold air might pool there, which is true, but because of the ceiling structure, the cold air doesn’t descend on top of you.

Also, there is an added fire element, so getting cold will not be an issue. But to avoid this phenomenon of cold air pooling, try to locate a tree that is not in a dip or a gulley as the place would be cold.

Try to choose a tree that is on a raised surface, and you will be good to go. Spending a night or two is easily possible with this highly insulated shelter without wasting much of your energy.

Long-Term Winter Survival Shelter – Tipi (Teepee)


A tipi is a structure that will provide you reliable protection against weather and other wild elements.

Tipis have been around for centuries, and Native Americans have used this type of building technique since the beginning of time.

Making a tipi can be a time-consuming task, but if you plan on staying long-term, then the time you spent building it is worth it.

Step 1

Find a perfect place to build your shelter. Collect three long and thick sticks for the base of the tipi. Tie all three logs at one end and secure them with tight knots.

You can use a rope or vines to tie the logs together. Make sure you put in efforts for a strong foundation to keep your shelter intact for a long time.

Step 2

Find smaller thin logs and cover the rest of the open space one by one. After tying the logs, your structure will start looking like a pyramid.

Step 3

Cover the basic structure with a tarp for protection against winter and rain. If you don’t have a tarp or plastic sheet, try using natural raw materials for weatherproofing.

To do that, start weaving the basic structure with bendable branches to create a mesh. After that is created, cover the outside with mud, moss, bark, grass, leaves, stems, etc.

Adding these would make it impossible for the rain or cold winds to seep in. When you build a tipi with natural materials, it is called a wigwam shelter or a wickiup.

Step 4

Your standard tipi is ready. If you want a fire inside, you have to make sure that you leave an opening at the top for the smoke to escape.

You will need to settle with an outdoor fire if you go with a closed roof. Whenever it is raining, you cover the top with a plastic tarp or hide.

To make the floor cozy, try using leaves and moss to elevate your sleeping space for ultimate coziness.

Things To Consider Apart From The Shelter


If you don’t have a river or creek near you, drinking snow water is your only option.

Make sure that you are using fresh snow to melt. Ice is always better to melt than snow because of its density. If you don’t have ice near you, pack snow into tight balls and put them in a pot to melt.

Try to set your shelter near a water stream so you do not spend a lot of energy collecting water every time you need it.


Try setting up your bathroom away from your drinking water source.

A minimum of 100 meters is suggested. Avoid using the bathroom near your shelter, as there might be chances of flies entering your shelter and infesting your food.


Food is a quintessential part of surviving in the wild.

There might be an abundance of water in winters, but food can be sparse as all animals and plants go into hibernation. You can try hunting deers, turkeys as they will be available according to your location.

Some berries grow during winters, so try eating and collecting them. If there is nothing to eat, you can eat the trees’ cambium layer. The cambium layer is a thin layer between the wood and the tree’s bark.

It does not taste good, somewhat bitter but is very nutritious, and you can survive for an indefinite time if you keep eating the cambium. If you are near an evergreen tree forest, use a pine needle tree for tea.

Boil the pine needles in water for a tasty tea packed with vitamin C which also boosts immunity. Drinking it is ideal in such cold conditions. If you acquire meat, cook it properly to remove all the germs and salmonella that might make you ill.

Winter Survival Tips

survive in winter
  • Cold, wet feet will cause you trouble more than you can imagine. Wear cold weather boots, keep extra pairs of socks. Wear thick socks that will keep the moisture at bay. Wool socks are perfect for warmth. Change your socks immediately if they are wet with sweat.
  • Layering your clothing is essential. Wear at least three layers of clothing. If that makes you feel warm, remove one or two layers as and when needed. Wearing clothes made of wool will wick moisture away, so try including that material in your clothes.
  • Don’t wear cotton clothing; it might be comfortable, but once they get wet, it is not easy to dry them, especially in winter.
  • If you are stranded, your clock is ticking. You will have to build a survival shelter within 3 hours.
  • Drink water even if you don’t feel thirsty. During winters, especially if you are somewhere with snow, your mouth won’t feel thirsty; therefore, keep drinking during short intervals to avoid dehydration.
  • Stay dry, and we cannot stress this enough. It is nearly impossible to stay dry in winter but try to wipe off snow from your clothes as much as you can. Once you are wet to the bone, getting back the body’s temperature to a decent level becomes hard.
  • Your shelter should be comfortable if you plan to stay for an extended period. Avoid making shelters that only have sleeping space. The height should be a little high for you to sit comfortably for a long time.
  • Sleep as long as you can during such conditions. You want to conserve your energy, and nothing will save your energy more than sleeping.

We hope you find this article helpful and informative. Keep all the tips in your mind before venturing out.

Stay sharp and attentive because surviving in the wilderness is not easy.


Recent Posts