Today survival expert Tom Lindin who is the proud owner of UK Preppers Radio Network teaches us How to Build a Survival Shelter and what to consider in the even of an emergency. Tom has more than 20 years of experience in the art of survival so he has the best advise when building a good, sturdy & dry place to sleep when bugging out or in the event of any emergency.

Tom Linden Survival Expert Profile Pic


Key factors to consider when Building a Survival Shelter

Sleeping outside in a primitive survival shelter with no tent and no sleeping bag?! In the rain? Are you crazy?

This idea may indeed seem crazy and a bit daunting to many of us. However, with a couple of hours, proper materials and the right mind set, constructing and sleeping in a primitive survival shelter can be a life-changing experience.

Although there are many types of group and individual primitive survival shelters, I often begin by teaching my students how to build a survival shelter called a debris hut. These structures are fairly easy to construct and can be a warm, dry place to spend the night.

First of all, location is key. Aside from the normal criteria which includes avoiding low spots, steering clear of standing dead trees, etc….proximity to materials can save a lot of time and energy. Take the time to find a spot that feels right.

For construction, the first thing you’ll need to build a survival shelter is a strong ridge pole that is at least a little taller than you are with your arm stretched above your head. You’ll also need something for one end of the ridgepole to securely rest on—a stump, boulder, fork of a tree, some kind of prop. The other end rests on the ground. At the high end, the ridgepole should be at about hip height.

Once your ridgepole is in place, you’ll need ribbing. Lean the ribs against the ridgepole fairly close together leaving a door at the high end. Once ribs are in place, crawl inside feet first checking to see that you have a little room to move, but that it is still snug and cosy.

If your survival shelter is too big, you will have trouble staying warm. Imagine you are making a sleeping bag out of natural materials!

Next, add a layer of lattice, something to act as a net to hold debris in place when it is piled on next. Brush and twiggy branches may work well the debris that you have available can help determine how small the spaces in your lattice can be.

The structure is now in place and it is time for the essential component of insulation. Of all the things you’ll learn about how to build a survival shelter, not having enough insulation on a cold night will teach you quickly what is required.

Get ready to shuffle your feet or make yourself a rake and start gathering debris! For good insulation, you’ll want material that can trap air. Obviously, dry material is optimal. Pile on your leaves, ferns, grass, or other available debris.

Keep piling, keep piling, go for TWO FEET THICK or more “all over the shelter” if you might get rained on.

Be sure to close up the door area so that you have just enough room to squeeze in without disturbing the structure. Crawl in to see how your cocoon feels. Finish up your insulation by adding some small branches that will hold the debris in case of wind, maintaining as much loft as possible.

Now that the outer layer is complete, it is time to stuff your primitive survival shelter with dry soft debris. If you only have wet leaves, use them anyway, you may get wet, but you can still be warm. Once your shelter is full of debris, wiggle in to compress a space for your body. Add more debris as needed, and don’t forget the foot area! Fill up the spaces if you are concerned about being cold.

Before you crawl in for the night in your primitive shelter, gather a pile of leaves near the door so that you can close yourself in most of the way. Aside from having a great story to tell your grandkids one day — or from being able to teach others how to build a survival shelter, spending a night in a survival shelter like a debris hut is an opportunity to overcome fears and gain feelings of freedom and confidence.

Pushing our mental and physical comfort edges also brings us chances to find greater comfort and appreciation in our daily lives. HAPPY BUILDING AND SWEET DREAMS!


Keep in mind...

Knowing how to build a survival shelter can save your life!

While lack of food can kill you in 3 weeks, and a lack of water kill you in three days, exposure can kill in a matter of a few hours! Regardless of what type of outdoor survival situation you find yourself in, you may need to build a shelter until a more permanent solution can be found.

Lean-to shelters are the easiest to build and can be constructed from almost any material. A blanket or tarp suspended on one end and weighted down on the other is considered a lean-to. Wood supported by any upright is also a lean-to. All of these will provide some protection from wind, sun, rain, snow and all can be made with items that can be found or carried in a survival backpack.

Conical structures will also provide emergency shelter and while they are a bit more difficult to create can be made from items easily located. Branches, sticks, lumber and pipe are all materials that can be used to construct a conical shelter. Arrange your support material in a circular motion. Starting with two poles on each side, prop them up so that they help support each other.

Add two more on the opposite side.

Working on a north/south and east/west grid, create a circle of supports. As you fill in the gaps on each directional side you will find that the structure becomes more stable.

Choose one area to leave open for your entryway. You can place a few branches or sticks sideways at this area weaving them into the outer supports to reduce the height of this opening.

You can close up this opening with a blanket, backpack or rubbish bag once you are inside.

When the basic shell has been constructed you can cover this conical structure with smaller branches, cloth such as blankets, curtains, carpet and so forth. Leaves and grass also work as a covering.

If your structure is constructed in an area where there is no danger of escaping natural gas or propane you may build a small pit fire inside. There will be a natural centre hole in conical shelters that will allow the smoke to rise and escape from inside.

A tipi structure is also an option for some. Taller supports are tied together at the top forming an inverted ice cream cone shape. Around these poles, fabric such as sheets or blankets, carpet or plastic is placed.

Again if this structure is in an area where no danger of escaping natural gas or propane is present, a small pit fire for warmth and cooking may be placed inside.

Tents and other types of pre-made shelters are useful as well. 

Many modern tents are small, lightweight and some are designed for very cold temperatures. While these modern shelters have specific types of stoves and heating equipment that must be used they can be a valuable shelter option for some.

Canvas was once the fabric of choice for many temporary outdoor structures. Unfortunately, it is heavy and is a poor choice today for the survival backpack. However, it is possible to pack one of those lightweight silver tarps in a backpack and then have it available.

Drape it over a pole lodged between two trees, so that each end touches the ground. Anchor the ends with rocks and logs and close one end with branches, twigs and leaves.

Providing shelter during an emergency is as important as water and food will be.

Before you find yourself in an emergency situation you need to practice making a survival shelter. Having the supplies for an emergency without having the skills to use them is like not having the supplies in the first place. 

Be prepared. Practice your skills before you need them.


Choosing your Bug-OUT Location

When disaster strikes, you need a safe place for you and the ones you care about to ride it out: your bug out location. The basic idea is to get out of harm’s way to a prepared area with supplies and gear which can sustain you. Choosing where to locate this prepared area is an important decision that requires planning.

Before getting into your personal remote location belonging to you, it is important to note that depending on the kind of disaster and its reach, your best bet may be to drive to another county to stay with a relative. Your bug out location need not be an isolated piece of owned property, and if you do have family connections you can leverage, it may be your best bet.

This is one of the first things you need to consider carefully. At first thought, a bug out location would be super far isolated to ensure the best odds that whatever disaster it is will not impact you.

While there are definitely some merits to the very remote location, there are some drawbacks to consider.

First, if your intention is to stock this location with supplies, you have to understand how difficult stocking it will be if you live extremely far away. If it’s too remote, stocking it from the nearest supermarket may also be an ordeal. While you should have extra fuel anyway, an extra-long journey presents greater fuel risks, and at minimum forces you to carry a little more.

If your location is very far from your house, you may be very unlikely to ever want to go to it when there is no disaster. If you are spending hard-earned money on rural land, you should want to be able to take advantage of it as a quiet, natural vacation space, and so if it’s prohibitively far away, you lose that advantage.

If there is a disaster where you’re on the fence about whether or not to bug out, the pain in the butt distance might dangerously deter you from leaving. That said, quite obviously the location has to be a decent distance away from your main home, otherwise there’s a risk that whatever disaster has convinced you to bug out will impact your bug out location as well.

Depending on where you like, a good two hour drive is probably sufficient.

Who lives nearby? This is connected to the remoteness point, but is a bit separate, too. If you are too isolated, no one will be able to see your property. While this may sound like a good thing, a neighbour can actually be a fantastic asset for you to ensure that if you do ever use your place, there’s less of a chance of it having been looted.

Having a line-of-sight neighbour you’ve met and know gives you options, and keeps you from having to make your location totally invisible from view. If your location is extremely remote, a thief who finds it can likely take all the time they want removing your possessions. Since burying absolutely everything at your location is time consuming, difficult to accomplish without a trace, and keeping your location from being a pleasurable retreat space, the neighbourhood option might be the better choice.

Even if the neighbour doesn’t actively watch your location, people will be less confident robbing you if they can see that they are within view of another residence, and if they rob you anyway, they might not take as much since they are more likely to consider themselves in a hurry. During hard times, yes, other people can be a risk, but compared with an urban centre, a small community has potentially a good chance of taking care of itself and its residents.

If you get to know them well enough, you can get into prepping with them and help then get a handle on their own self-sufficiency to be less reliant on you in a time of need. Also, absolutely go to the location before you buy and talk to the people in the area, if there are indeed people around. Make sure their values, concerns, and priorities are in line with yours so that you know you can feel comfortable going there and know you won’t be the neighbourhood nuisance.

This is that much more the case with direct neighbours.

Be sure to look into whatever homeowners associations or other regulatory bodies could either block or increase the costs of any development project you may have.

Are you on the grid, or off the grid? Which do you prefer?
Off grid means less hassle from outside, but far more work from inside. The same goes for water availability. Choose a location based on the skills you have or are at least willing to learn in the short term.

Depending on how you intend to use the land at your bug out location, you may have different land requirements.
Do you intend to have any kind of garden?
How is the soil? Is it good for gardening? Is it contaminated?
Is there wildlife in the area? Is there a water source nearby?

If it’s very remote, how difficult will it be to bury the structure and your supplies? Is it at least partially south-facing? does it have shade?

These factors can be very important to you, or less so, depending on our plans. But the best options, especially the water source which would be good for any survival situation, are likely to increase costs.

Remember, a bug out location is a very personal decision. Put time into thinking about it, and scout around for land prices before committing. If it seems too good to be true, there’s a very good chance it is.
Good luck!



Here is one i made earlier....

Below you will find pictures and descriptions of my most recent debris hut.
This debris hut was far more comfortable than my last, but still left some improvements to be desired.


how to constructing a debris shelter


Step 1: Shelter Location

Find an area with plenty of leaves and sticks that is also free from natural hazards like flooding and especially “widow maker”limbs or trees that could fall in a storm.

survival shelter location


Step 2: Clear the Ground

Rake back the forest debris to clear a spot for your shelter. Later on you will be filling this area back in with leaves, but for now this will help vacate insects and other creepy crawlies. It also helps to begin drying out the dirt of your shelter floor.


survival shelter clear ground 


Step 3: Elevate the ridge pole

Create a small stack of logs, building them on top of each other like a pyramid. The ridge pole will end up resting on top of this stack. The purpose is to create room for your feet inside the shelter.


Step 4: Cover withDirt

You can now cover the mound of sticks with dirt. This keeps them held together firmly, and it will create a more weather-tight seal as the shelter begins to take shape.

survival shelter raised and covered


Step 5: Lashing the A-Frame

You can now lash two poles together to form an A-Frame that will end up supporting the ridge pole of your debris hut. I used simple jute twine, although cordage is NOT necessary. Alternatively, you can create an A-Frame by propping a pole against a tree or using a Y shaped branch.

survival shelter lashing


Step 6: Assemble the Ridge Pole

Now simply lay one end of the ridge pole on top of the A-Frame and set the other end on top of the elevation mound. This is the foundational framework for your shelter.

survival shelter ridge pole


Step 7: Assemble the Ribbing

Here the shelter really begins to take shape. Lay a seriesof small cross pieces (about wrist thick), between the ground and the centre ridge pole. Essentially youare creating a tent-like structure.

survival shelter ribbing

Step 8: Seal it up

Now crawl in the shelter and pack the dirt in around the vertical crosspieces. This will help tremendously to block the wind that would normally creep in underneath your shelter.

survival shelter instulation


Step 9: Add Debris… Lots of Debris

While this may seem like the finishing touches of the shelter, the actual work is just now beginning. Ideally, the debris should be about two feet thick on every side of the shelter. As a good friend of mine said, “You can have enough debris,but never too much.”

survival shelter inside

Many people half-ass this step in shelter building and pay for it in the formof a cold and uncomfortable night. The bottom line: keep collecting debris until you think you have enough… then you know you are at the half way point.


Step 10: Build aTunnel

As the shelter walls continue to grow, you will want to begin building the framework of the entrance to your shelter. A small tunnel is perfect, and will allow you to pull in debris behind you to seal up the opening. The tunnel should be at least three feet long: this will give you plenty of space to pack full of leaves as you bed in for the night.

survival shelter entrance tunnel


Step 11: More Debris!

Keep collecting leaves until you can no longer walk and it hurts to bend over. Even in this picture, the shelter is not even close to having enough debris.


Step 12: Semi Finished

I continued adding leaves for about another hour after this picture was taken, and that was as much work as I could finish that day. I started at 8:00am and stopped around 6:00pm. The result was that the shelter worked “good enough”, but not surprisingly it needed more work. The cold temperature is a tremendous teacher: it would not allow me to ignore the short comings of my skills as I had been used to doing in the past. If you create a shelter similar to this one, I encourage you to pick a cold or rainy night to sleepin it. After all the shelter is intended to keep you safe
from such weather, and in a survival situation you won’t have the luxury of choosing favourable conditions.

survival shelter finished 



One fatal mistake I made was getting out to take a leak in the middle of the night. Opening the shelter caused all the trapped heat to escape. When I got back inside,
it was like starting from scratch, it took several hours for it to return to a comfortable level. In a more dire situation it would have been best to just let-r-rip inside the shelter.

Another critical oversight, there was way too much free space on the inside. The more free space there is, the more your body will have to heat it up. Next time I
will pack the shelter with a lot more debris,especially on the ground. I
recommend a minimum of 18” ground cover to reduce ground chill.

The tunnel entrance to the debris hut also proved to be a point of weakness. After my call of nature I was tired, cold, and groggy. I rushed the process of sealing the
entrance, and for the rest of the night one small opening became the source of a continuous cold draft.

All in all, the shelter did its job and kept me reasonably comfortable through freezing temperatures. I gained a tremendous appreciation for the amount of work it takes to properly construct a debris hut.


We would just like to say a MASSIVE thank you to Tom Linden for his priceless life saving knowledge. You can keep up to date with Tom's and his work at

As Tom always says "Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail"