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It is a gloomily dark night with only the dim light of the stars above illuminating the misty woods around you. You have no fire, little water, and even less food. In the current state you find yourself in, you find that you are freezing and starving. Then, the final nail in your unavoidable coffin is pounded into place when you feel a few raindrops hit your face. Wearily you look up just as a storm rolls in slowly devouring the night sky. The number one thing you need right now, and that you should have taken care of while you had the chance, is shelter.
So, you resign yourself to one last night of suffering through being cold while the rain soaks and chills you to the bones. That is when you finally decide that, when the sun comes up again, you will immediately begin work on a permanent survival shelter. This is the best decision anyone in this position can make, and if they had simply used a little bit of forethought, then they could have avoided plenty of hours or days filled with misery.
Having a shelter is one of the four factors when it comes to the hierarchy of survival needs. It goes, in order of importance, first water, next is shelter, then fire, and finally food. This is the basic order, but it can be slightly different depending on individual circumstances and the surrounding environment.
Once you have taken care of all four of these needs, you are no longer in a survival scenario but rather you would actually be considered as thriving wherever you’re at during that time. You could be hundreds of miles from any other human being, building, or road, but with all these needs met you would be living a good life. Most of us cannot even imagine finding ourselves in such a situation, but it is only a matter of time before a major disaster strikes where we have set our roots and anything can happen at any time.
Preparing for such an almost inevitable day occurring is a top-notch way to spend some time, and one of the most important things you can learn about is how to build a permanent survival shelter in the woods. This is because once you are out there and realize that you have no regular building materials to create with, then you will be glad you learned the concepts now while you had access to the materials to teach you.
In this guide, you will learn about the different types of bushcraft permanent shelters, what to consider before building a permanent survival shelter, plus what you will need to make a shelter that you can comfortably live in. Gaining this knowledge now may just save your life should you ever need to stay outside of civilization and in the woods for any extended period.
What Is A Permanent Shelter?
You may now be asking yourself a few questions about permanent survival shelters and what exactly they are. Well, a permanent survival shelter is a building made of materials on hand while you are out in the woods or any type of terrain that is outside of the concrete and milled lumber buildings of civilization. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but there are some standard versions that are tried and true designs that have been developed over many millennia of human history, or even longer according to some claims.
Bushcraft survival shelters are made to house a single person or a couple and are not the log cabin you may be picturing. Although, if you had the resources to build yourself a log cabin, then you would be lightyears ahead of what is normally considered to be a “survival” situation and would instead be in a thriving living scenario just as you would be at home in the city or suburbs in a house built by contractors. That is why we place the focus on more traditional permanent survival shelters and how to build them, but we will touch on those types too.
Types of Permanent Survival Shelters and How to Build Them
The question of which type of survival shelter does not have any fixed answer. It can really depend on many aspects such as location, available materials, or climate. We will look at some of these aspects soon, but first, let’s look at what some of the options for a long-term survival shelter even are.
Lean-To Permanent Bushcraft Survival Shelter
The first type of common survival shelter is the Lean-To. It is a bare-bones basic design and can easily be built by one person in a single day and last for as long as needed. Many hunters have built such shelters out in the woods to last them for a week’s long hunting excursion, and people have been building them for thousands of years in one form or another to last for months-long stays in various areas. This is because they are simple, with little labor involved compared to other types of shelters. Plus, they offer a phenomenal heat factor that is necessary when you are building in frigid climates.
A Lean-To is a shelter that is built by either finding two straight trees about 8 feet apart or creating two posts at that same distance by digging post holes and placing straight logs as poles down in them. Soon as you have the two vertical poles in place or found the proper situation of trees, then you take a log of about 2 inched in diameter and create a cross beam between them at about 5 or 6 feet high off the ground. You lash the ends of the cross pole using any kind of cordage available in the environment or rope you have in your gear.
When you have these three poles connected, you simply lean straight logs of small diameters at about a 45-degree angle from the ground up to the cross beam. You lash at least the two furthest out leaned poles that are the closest to your two vertical posts. Typically, you start with those two leaned poles lashed into place and then fill in the area between as thickly as possible.
Once you have this half an upside-down V built, you take vines, pine boughs, or other thin and flexible materials and weave them in and out of this wall you have built, working from the ground up. If you are using pine boughs, ferns, or palm leaves, then your structure will be more waterproof the thicker you fill it in and have lots of overlapping layers. You do this so the layer above is covering most of the last layer you just added below it. What this does is creates a shingle-like roof that will let the water from rain run right down it and away from your bed area underneath.
You can then build a fire pit just under the cross beam pole, but more on the outside/open side of the shelter so that it is exposed to the elements which can be rough sometimes if you are in a place where it rains for extended periods. In this case, you may want to choose or make your original posts about 10 feet apart so you can build a fire under the Lean-To roof at your feet preferably so that you do not have any smoke inhalation issues occur while you sleep. With the fire on the outside, you can make the pit as long as your bed so you build a fire the entire length of your body to keep you warm.
Even though you only have one wall/roof, and the other three sides are open, this can still be a very warm shelter in freezing cold environments. If building a body length fire is not keeping you warm enough, then you can build a reflector wall on the other side of the fire to reflect heat back towards your shelter and bed area. To do this you simply make 4 posts in the shape of a square. If it is really cold, then build your 4 posts so that they create a sort of trapezoid shape with your fire pit in the middle and the two furthest away posts about 3 feet apart and the two closer posts about 7 feet apart and they should be about 18 inches or more outside of the peak of your Lean-To shelter.
Next, you take 3 posts and put one in the center between the two furthest posts and then between the furthest and the closest posts on each side. You are then left with 7 posts and can weave pliable sticks in and out between all of these posts, working your way from the ground up and creating makeshift walls of sticks to wrap around your fire pit, encircling it and reflecting/refracting all the heat towards the one open side where your Lean-To permanent survival shelter is located.
This type of shelter and fire setup is intensely hot if done right and you can even make more heat come your way by packing the reflective wall with clay mud on the outside, essentially sealing the wall up and making it airtight so that absolutely no heat escapes in those directions and it all is forced towards you or up and out with all the smoke. Even in frigid temperatures, you can stay warm with this setup as long as you do not have intense winds and sideways rain because this type of shelter is susceptible to these elements due to its openness of only having one wall to speak of.
Wickiup Permanent Bushcraft Survival Shelter
The second type of permanent survival shelter is Wikiup. A Wickiup is built using logs about 3 to 4 inches in diameter and the longest ones you will need are about 10 to 12 feet long. To begin, you take three of those longest logs and lash the ends together on one end using any rope, cordage, or even vines if that’s what you have available.
There is always cordage of some type available. You can make one kind of it or another using naturally occurring items in all climates and landscapes. It just takes a little ingenuity or knowledge of the area you are building in. Once you have the one end of all three tied together you stand them up, creating a tripod with the legs spread out about 8 ft apart at the base. This is your basic frame and you will also want to orient which direction your door will be facing at this point by ensuring that the center of one of the three open areas in your tripod is facing that direction.
Next, you lean more thin logs up against the tripod frame and lash them into place. Although, since these are not as structurally important, they can be lightly lashed – or even every other one lashed – into place because they will become one unit eventually because of the construction process anyway. You work your way around the two sides that are not your door by filling in as much area as possible with these small logs, leaving as few gaps as you can manage. The fewer gaps you have will mean more warmth on the inside when completed.
To create the door side, you use a log of about 2 to 3 inches in diameter and long enough to cross between the two legs of the original tripod on your open-faced side at the height you choose to make your door. The colder the area you are in equates to the lower you will want your door and if it is a very cold climate, then you will want your door so low that you need to get down and crawl your way inside. Take this log and create your crossbeam by lashing it in place on each end by attaching to the original tripod.
You then take two logs that can be as small as 1 to 1 ½ inch long and just need to be slightly taller than your chosen door height and take them to lash to the crossbar at about 3 feet apart. You will be making them vertical supports of your door crossbeam by lashing them to this beam on their top end and securing the bottom by digging small holes using your bare hands, a digging stick, or a shovel if you have one. Once you have one dug, you stick the log into the small hole and bury it up to ground level again. This reinforces your door’s rigidity.
Then, you can take smaller diameter logs and lash them at the bottom to the doors crossbar for the distance between your two small vertical supports just going from the crossbar up to the pinnacle of the tripod structure, essentially filling in all the gaps between by making them as tightly placed and close as possible to each other. Once your area is filled in above your door you can finish up the Wickiup’s frame by filling in the sides with small logs going all the way up from the ground to the peak of the tripod on each side of your two short vertical door supports, filling in the rest of the once open-faced side of your original tripod. What this leaves you with once you are done with this, is a cone-like structure of logs with an opening on one side at your chosen height.
Next, you take pine boughs or any pliable material with some tensile strength and you weave these through all the logs horizontally working from the bottom up to the peak of the structure. This creates even more rigidity and fills in air gaps that would otherwise have wind piercing through the bushcraft survival shelter. Once you have weaved as many vines, very small diameter green branches, or even ferns, palm leaves, and other long leaves of various plants, horizontally from bottom to top then you can begin to add the final layer of shingling that is the outer layer which rain will run down, essentially keeping the inside as dry as possible.
You can use many different types of plant material as shingling, but pine boughs, palms, and other large chunks of larger plants that are as filled in as possible to create the most watertight seal you can get. The more aerated the material means the more tightly or thickly you want to pile them on again working your way from the very bottom ground level all the way around except where your door opening is and working your way up little by little until you reach the peak.
The very top of the structure at the peak can be left thinner than all the rest in order to allow light air to flow out of the structure, essentially this is your chimney for your inside fire pit. To create the fire pit you just dig out a small hole of about 4 to 6 inches deep and encircling it with rocks until they pile up another 4 to 6 inches tall from ground level. So, from the top of the rock circle to the bottom of your fire pit should be 8 to 12 inches deep.
You then build a small fire inside of this and make sure that the flames never get very tall by spreading fuel out across the entire pit’s circle. This is because you never want the flames to lick at the wood of your Wickiup’s frame, or even allow it to get within 18 inches of this wood. Even just very small-sized fires inside this enclose space will create immense amounts of heat. This means that you do not need excessively large fires to thrive while living inside such a structure. This concept will save you firewood, and over time this saves you plenty of gathering energy expenditure. Which is just as important as being warm and finding food.
This is by far the most labor-intensive and difficult to build structure that requires the right set of tools, even for the primitive friction fitting joints versions. Even those techniques require just a couple of tools, but they must be just the right kind of tools. They are those types of tools that would take steel or iron to create from scratch. Along with some blacksmithing experience or knowledge in a true SHTF survival scenario when going anywhere near civilization is out of the question.
Building a Log Cabin takes a lot of labor, resources, and ingenuity – especially if you are planning to go at it alone or with just one partner. Now, that being said it IS entirely possible to build one of these magnificent structures, but you need to have the skills, expertise, and knowledge base already established before taking on such an endeavor. Otherwise, just attempting the build is too dangerous a task and is likely to end in serious injury or worse.
That is why we will not be getting into exact specifics on how to build one. You should already know this about doing it, but it starts with building the four walls and then the roof which is the most dangerous and difficult part of the build. The reason for this is because you will be working with life-threateningly heavy logs dangling 8 feet and higher into the air while building this section and you have to get every single move perfectly planned out then executed or you face certain injury.
We do not suggest nor endorse anyone taking on the building of a Log Cabin permanent survival shelter without already having the expertise to do so. Please, if you do not know how, then stick to the simpler survival shelters and leave these to those who can manage to build them properly and have been trained to do so.
Now, that being said, if you find yourself in a permanent survival scenario, then coming up with a plan to build a more permanent structure than a Lean-To or Wickiup, then, by all means, make your plans and try them out. Just be careful and remember to always put safety first by weighing the risks of every move you need to take to accomplish the goal of building what you envision as your forever home structure out in the woods.
Considerations to Make Before Building Any Type of Permanent Survival Shelter
Along with preparing to build a survival shelter, you will need to make a few considerations and make sure to plan extensively about how, where, when, why, and with what you will be building your shelter with. You will still need to make sure all your four basic survival needs, that we mentioned earlier, are all being met as well.
The very first thing you want to be sure of is your water source. You do not want to be hiking to and from a water source to your shelter throughout the day or at least daily if you have containers of some sort to haul water back with. This is because it wastes too much energy and you want to use every calorie you can on scavenging, hunting, or collecting wisely. This all starts with building your shelter within about 80 to 100 yards of a good reliable water source.
The next thing you will want to consider is the building materials you have available. Again, you do not want to be expending unnecessary energy hauling stuff around, so having the materials needed to build your shelter in the immediate area where you will be building it is important. Look for areas with plenty of sapling trees, for example, especially if you have an ax, hatchet, machete, or other chopping tools to make use of the small straight wood poles of the saplings as your shelter construction materials.
Always look up from the site you choose. If you are in a stand of tall trees, then make sure there are no deadfall branches waiting to drop down and cause you serious harm. They call these branches “widow makers” for a reason and they are extremely dangerous. Also, make sure that the trees around you are solidly in the ground and not leaning over or starting to have the roots raise up out of the ground on one side. Usually, the upwind side of an unhealthy tree will begin to show signs of this with raised soil bumps on that side before the wind topples the tree eventually.
This is something you want to pay serious attention to and some people even go as far as to build protective structures over their shelters as added security and prevention against these dangerous factors that abound in the woods. Even a simple tripod with the peak centered over your shelter but standing about 14 feet tall or more, so as to possibly deflect any falling branches from coming through your roof and causing serious injuries. This is because those types of injuries can quickly become deadly when in a survival scenario.
Other dangers include looking for signs of predators in the area who may pose a threat such as tree scrapes, swampy waterways with alligators or venomous snakes, or even heavily tracked game trails full of bear tracks. These are all things you want to be fully aware of and not build in an area where the likelihood of coming across one of these threats is remarkably high. Minimizing your risk, especially in a real survival situation is imperative, and being aware of hidden dangers is a key aspect of this.
Winds, Rains, And Storms
The next things you will want to consider starting with the orientation of your shelter. You will want to make sure you are protected against storms if they are common in your area and if you are on the West Coast of North America then you will want to make sure to not be exposed to the north and west directions as this are typically the directions bad storms come from. If you are on the South Coast above the Gulf of Mexico, then you will want to be protected from the southern penetrating storm winds and blowing rain.
On the other hand, if you are on the East Coast near the Atlantic Ocean, then you should be shielded from the onshore winds. If you are on the southern half of the East Coast, then also protected from storms circling up from the south, or if you are on the northern half, then you may be more exposed to piercing cold winds coming from the north in the winter and windy tropical rains storms from the south in the summer.
This may sound confusing, and it can be if you focus on it too much. There are so many weather factors to consider before building your shelter because having the most strongly built survival shelter oriented in the wrong direction can render it nearly useless when it comes to keeping you warm and dry. An easier thing to consider about winds and storms is that if you are near a very large hill or more likely a mountain of some sorts, then remember that prevailing winds will rise up the mountain from the valleys below during the day as the air warms up and then comes rushing back down the mountainside at night when it cools back off.
If you are in a warm climate, then you will want to be less exposed to the warm winds and want the cool winds blowing into your shelter, or if you are in a cold climate, then being protected from subzero downhill winds at night is as important as letting the warmth of the late day sun’s heat inside your shelter whenever possible. You should set your shelter up to use the weather patterns and elements to your advantage, instead of letting them be your downfall.
You may even want to consider a combination of all these factors in the orientation of a permanent dwelling. To orient your shelter, you should consider a multidirectional entryway that is angled with the shelter opening facing at a Southeast, Southwest, or Northwest, or Northeast direction, or make some other plans than simply a true directional angle in orientation to compass directions. Although, in some locations, those may be exactly what you need to maximize your shelter’s performance. It is all about reading the land you are in and the weather patterns it experiences. That is why people have studied and tracked these things for as far back as our written history goes and many centuries or even millennia that we existed before that.
Once you have considered all of this and know which direction you want to be protected from most of all and where your opening will be or where the most exposed side of your shelter will be facing, then you can begin to look for a specific building location. You will need to make sure that your site has plenty of building materials, but also essential living materials as well such as water, firewood, access to decent hunting grounds, trapping line trails close by, and even gathering areas where you can collect things like berries, nuts, or fruits if they are abundant in the area somewhere.
You will go through a lot more firewood than you think. So, if you find an area with many downed trees and branches on the ground, then this may be a sign of a great building area, or it can be a dangerous one. If you do not look up to see if there are any dangers hiding above ready to fall on you and your shelter without notice, then you are unnecessarily and avoidably placing yourself in harm’s way.
Also, consider that your roofing material of some shelters like thick peat moss, ferns, pine boughs, or a thick layer of leaves and debris can be heavy. This means that you will want to make sure that those materials are abundant and very close at hand before beginning to build. Some people make the mistake of thinking that the frame materials are most important, but a frame can be built with just a few pieces which only take a handful of trips to haul from one location to a building site. Whereas other building materials are just as important and would take many more trips to obtain enough of them to complete a solid structure.
Final Considerations to Make
To conserve energy think about what you will need to build the type of shelter you plan on making, then consider what materials will take more trips or energy to haul to the site, and this is why the terrain and landscape usually will dictate to you what type of shelter is best by showing you what is right at hand and using that to build what you can. Do not get the mental blinders put in place by resigning yourself to building one type of shelter. Let the land speak to you and tell you what is available for what type of shelter and where that shelter would best be located.
Final Thoughts About Permanent Survival Shelters
Building a strong and reliably durable permanent survival shelter is one of the most important aspects to understand about survival. Anyone can throw together a quick temporary Debris Shelter to get out of the elements for a short period of time, but these are not long-term solutions. In a scenario when you know you will be forced to stay out in the wilderness for extended amounts of time, putting together a well-built shelter is a skill that everyone needs to at least have learned about. This is so they can make attempts at applying the knowledge that has been passed down since the dawn of mankind, and build a permanent survival shelter of their own to live in comfortably for at least a few seasons.
Our ancestors learned these techniques and designs through a lot of trial and error, many of them losing their lives during the process of perfecting them. So, taking an hour out of your day one day to just learn the detailed specifics of each style and type of permanent survival shelter is the least we can do to retain the knowledge that we will one day have to revert back to. Technology is not going to last forever. It never has and never will, because eventually that technology will lead to our own destruction in one way or another just as it has for every civilization in the last 12,000 years of mankind’s history. We create a new technology that changes the world so much it fights back somehow and evens the playing field on us.
Being ready to take care of yourself and your loved ones when things eventually revert back to primal living situations and the systems we have put in place all collapse or get blown to smithereens, is one of the more important pieces of knowledge to have that still exists. We need to preserve the knowledge and skills instead of forgetting them and losing them to earlier generations by not listening and learning from what their lives have told us all. There is plenty of knowledge that has already been lost because of the “the future is going to be different… and the past will never repeat” mentality that many of us have had at one time or another during our lives.
Take the time to learn the skills, then go out with your friends, family, or children and attempt to apply them sometime. It is a great learning and bonding experience to share with those people you love most. Even if what you make is not the best version of what you were attempting to build, at least you will have learned the first lessons of what not to do, and you will be more prepared to do better next time when your life just may depend on having those abilities in place.
Finally, there are many other types of permanent survival structures out there. These are just the most common ones taught in survival schools around North America because of the landscapes and climates we deal with most often in this area. If you live on other continents, then please investigate the history books, and see what kind of structures the primitive people in your area lived in. See if you can duplicate those types of structures and learn ways to take care of yourself when the SHTF eventually.
It is inevitably going to take place. It is not a matter of if something is going to happen to the world or at least our local area that is extremely disruptive or destructive to the point of reverting us back to primal-like living situations – at least for a certain period of time – but rather it is a matter of when this will actually take place.
It is going to happen. So, go out there with that mindset in place and learn all the knowledge you can. Then, take that knowledge and those you care about and practice applying it in the real world. Laugh at your mistakes, but make them now – while they will not be so life-threatening – because eventually your life or your children’s lives, or even their grandkids’ lives, will depend on this expertise. We have a responsibility to keep this knowledge alive, and for passing it along so that future generations are prepared for everything that this crazy world has in store for them.
Mother nature is not a benevolent being, and we need to understand that to prepare for when she makes things level back out to an equal setting once again. The world is set at a balance and that balance needs to be reset occasionally, to bring everything in line with the way things really are. We sometimes may think that our technology will help us beat her at her own games, but that is foolish thinking.
What we should do is enjoy all the amazing things that our technology offers us, and take part in it for just as much time as we take part in the primal aspects of life on Earth. Our balance needs to be just like hers, because eventually they will merge again, and when that day comes you will need to know how to build a permanent survival shelter.
It is inevitable and imperative to learn now so you can apply the knowledge then and be king of the mountain all because you took a few minutes out of your days to study what history had to teach you. Be the smart human being you were designed to be, and you will find topics like this more than just interesting because they are an important aspect of the human experience.