Survival shelters: How to build them in the wild? (15 designs)

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Whether you are camping out in the woods or taking a trip through the desert, the shelter will always be a top priority. Knowing the different types of shelters can save you in an emergency. 

Check out the 15 types of shelters you should know about before going on a trip.

Survival shelters: How to build them in the wild

What are survival shelters and when do you need them?

Survival shelters are any type of structure, both natural and man-made, that are designed to help protect you from harm. Sudden weather changes while you are camping or out in the wild can lead to getting wet and cold. An unregulated body temperature is hard to fix and can lead to illness and sickness.  

Key types of survival shelters

  1. Long-term survival shelter
    Long-term survival shelters are built with the length of stay and durability in mind. They tend to be strongly secured and are usually made to withstand harsh weather conditions.

  2. Primitive survival shelters
    Primitive survival shelters are the simplest and fastest shelters to make. Adopted by our ancestors, they are usually not very strong and are intended for a short stay.

  3. Bushcraft survival shelters
    Bushcraft survival shelters incorporate materials commonly found out in the wilderness. Their designs do not require much additional equipment to build. 

  4. Survival shelters with fire inside
    Not all shelters are fire-friendly. Depending on the materials used, lighting a fire can sometimes do more harm than good. 

Essential survival shelter tools that you need to carry

Shelters are essential to surviving out in the wilderness. This is why having the right tools can help you make the best one in an emergency. 

Check out if your survival tool kit has these 14 essentials.

  1. Fire Starter
  2. Survival Knife/ Multi-Tool
  3. Topographic Map
  4. Compass
  5. First Aid Kit
  6. Emergency Survival Whistle
  7. Paracord
  8. Water Filtration
  9. Flashlight / Head Lamp
  10. Tarp
  11. Signal Mirror
  12. Space Blanket
  13. SPOT locator
  14. A dry bag or Ursack
survival shelter designs you should know

15 survival shelter designs you should know

1. Tarp tipi

Extremely versatile and mobile, the tipi only needs some rope, poles, and a tarp to make. For survival purposes, any large fabric can also act as a tarp replacement. 

The rope is used to tie some poles together to act as the main support pillar. The tarp is then placed over, with its edges tied to smaller poles staked to the ground. 

2. Wicki-up

Similar in structure to the tarp tipi, the wicki-up is instead made with items you would find out in the wilderness. Brush, leaves, and grass are used as coverings along with an angled roof to prevent it from getting drenched and collapsing.

3. Round lodge

A stronger version of the wicki-up, but more effective against harsh weather conditions due to the additional doorway structure. The smoke hole in the roof also allows for an internal fire.

4. Quinzee

The quinzhee is a dome-shaped snow shelter. Moveable gear such as backpacks are piled under a tarp. Snow is then packed over it and left to set. A small hole is finally burrowed into the sides to retrieve the gear.

Snow cave

5. Snow cave

One of the more durable shelters for harsher snow environments, it is also the hardest, and most dangerous to make. 

The risk of low oxygen, or being buried alive is common due to its insulating design. Making sure that thick fresh snow is used will reduce the chances of a cave-in.

6. Ramada

The ramada shelter is widely used in sunny and hot environments. Its iconic flat roof and 4 posts help protect against strong sun rays. Removable sidewalls are also an addable option to help keep the inside cool.

7. Wedge tarp

Utilizing an aerodynamic structure with 5 tie down points, the wedge tarp is best fitted when strong winds are present. 

Stake each corner of the tarp into the ground. Close the side facing the wind by using heavy rocks or logs to hold the edges down. Place a pole into the ground as a support to hold one side of the tarp up. 

Desert tarp

8. Desert tarp

The desert tarp’s structure is important for extremely hot conditions. The double roof decreases temperatures under the shelter to a fraction.

 Ensure that at least a foot of space is between the 2 layers to maximise efficiency. Rocks can be used to help keep the layers apart.

9. Tarp hammock

Perfect for wet or bug-infested environments, the hammock inspired shelter can be made by rolling up the long sides of a large fabric or tarp and tying the edges to a supporting structure. 

The corners of a large tarp are tied at a higher point to provide a roof.

10. Bough bed

The bough bed is a great addition to any shelter. Logs help prevent movement and act as makeshift bed frames. Any soft plant material is perfect for a mattress.

Leaf hut

11. Leaf hut

A 2-sided wedge-shaped shelter that is also weatherproofed and provides good insulating qualities. Intended to be made completely in sync with your surroundings only, this primitive survival shelter is a must-know for an emergency. 

12. Tarp wing

Made for large groups who need a temporary break. The corners of a tarp are tied to supporting branches to create the wing shape roof. The elevated roof helps protect against sun and rain while providing ventilation and space.

13. Lean to

One of the fastest shelters to set up. The “Lean to” can be made with many different types of materials. The only downside being its sturdiness. As its name implies, the lean-to is a roof that is laid against a grounded tree or rock at an angle to provide temporary shelter. 

14. Tarp burrito

Quick and easy, the tarp burrito adds additional warmth and insulation against harsh weather conditions. Roll up a tarp, tuck in one end, and place your sleeping bag in the opening. Watch out for the accumulation of moisture due to the lack of ventilation.

A-Frame tarp shelter

15. A-Frame tarp shelter

Designed for strong winds and hailing rain. The A-frame gets its name from the shape the tarp has when the middle is suspended by a long rope. Ensure that all corners are tied down firmly to the ground.


There are many different types of shelters, each with its own purpose. Whether a sudden storm requires a “lean-to shelter” or being stranded out in the arctic requires you to craft a “snow cave”, this guide will serve its purpose in any emergency.