Winter Survival Shelter De-Constructed

Winter Survival Shelter

Winter Survival Shelter – The best winter survival shelters are made as small as possible. Because the inside volume is small, there is less space to heat. If your shelter is small enough and well insulated, you can stay warm inside with just your own body heat.This type of winter survival shelter is entered muzzleloader style, by crawling in backwards.

This guide from will show you how to quickly build an emergency survival shelter for cold weather survival. Using this method you can survive extreme cold conditions – even if you have a minimum of warm clothing and supplies.

We will start with a completed shelter and peal back the layers to expose just how the shelter was constructed using materials at hand.

Survival in winter is a whole different game than during the warmer months. February in these northern mountains is typically the coldest month of the year.Temperatures routinely go down to minus 20 F, sometimes much lower. When combined with winds that can be gale force, the situation can turn deadly fast. That is, if you are unprepared to meet the outdoor survival challenges of this beautiful mountainous landscape.

Many people have died in cold weather conditions when just a little knowledge on how to build a simple winter survival shelter would have saved them. Unexpected things can happen – lost hunters, downed aircraft, hikers caught out at night when they underestimated the time it takes to get from point a to point b.

Perhaps someone has been injured and you are faced with going for help, leaving them alone in subfreezing weather with little chance of survival in the open.

What many would be survivors do not realize is that in cold environments snow is your friend. That cold white stuff can be used as an excellent insulator. If you can use snow to your skillful advantage, you can probably survive just about any winter weather mother nature can dish out. I am here to teach you how to do it.

Find the Shelter

Find the Shelter – This picture shows a typical winter scene in the Great North Woods.Can you pick out the location of the winter survival shelter?

During a recent blizzard I made a quick winter survival shelter using only local materials and portions of the 15 essentials that every outdoorsman should have with him when venturing out into the great unknown. Even if I did not have any of the 15 essentials I could still have built an excellent survival shelter, though the amount of time and effort required would have been significantly greater.

Safely ensconced within this winter shelter, wearing a minimum of warm clothing and warmed by body heat alone, you can survive the most brutal of weather conditions in comfort. In fact, the inside of the shelter is very comfortable. Laying on your springy mattress of aromatic evergreen boughs, your abode completely covered with a thick layer of snow, nearly all outside noises are muffled. In a womb of your own making you are liable to fall fast asleep, safe and warm as the cold winter weather blows through the northern landscape just outside the door.

Where others freeze to death, you can rest easy in warmth and safety.

The first picture shows a cold and beautiful winter forest scene with fresh snow. If I were to tell you that right in front of you there is a winter survival shelter with someone inside sleeping snug and warm, you would be hard pressed to find it.

Survival Shelter Door

Winter Shelter Door – The front door of the winter survival shelter plugged with a plastic bag full of snow.You can also plug your shelter door with a pile of snow, snow blocks, a pile of branches mixed with snow, etc. Use your imagination.I like to carry a couple of 50-gallon plastic drum liners. These have hundreds of uses and work well for shelter making in all seasons.

Advertising your position is an important consideration if you want to be rescued. As people approach your winter survival shelter they are liable to walk right past it without even seeing it, especially if there has been fresh snowfall or blowing snow has erased your tracks since its construction. For this reason, if you are hoping for would-be rescuers you will need to make some sort of easily recognizable signal flag so that they do not walk right on by. Also, the inside of your warm abode is so quiet that you are likely not to hear anyone outside. Of course if it is your aim not to be discovered, that is another advantage of this kind of shelter.

The second picture shows my day pack next to the “door” of the winter survival shelter. You may be able to make out a clear plastic 55-gallon drum liner that is full of snow. This is being used to plug the opening as a sort of door. Snow is an excellent insulator, and the two or three foot thick pile of snow contained in the drum liner serves to keep out the cold and wind and keep the warm air in.

When you crawl into the winter survival shelter you reach out and pull the bag of snow into the opening you just came through. Like a cork closing a bottle. Because the snow is loose inside the bag, it should conform very well against the entrance, sealing it from wind and cold.

If you do not have a large bag of any sort to fill with snow, you can improvise a door. Use your pack, a pile of evergreen boughs, a block of ice, a log. Survivors make do with whatever is at hand.

Inside Survival Shelter

Inside the Winter Survival Shelter – A look inside the winter survival shelter reveals a thick bed made from dry evergreen boughs.It is very important to pile a thick mat of dry materials on which you lay. Otherwise you will loose a large amount of heat by conduction with the earth. I also like to carry a length of reflectix during winter outings, which has many excellent uses and is very insulative. Here I have placed the silver colored sheet of reflectix padding on top of the everygreen boughs for even more insulation.

Upon opening the door of the winter survival shelter we can look inside. In the third picture we can see some of its supporting structure. There are two cross-pieces tied together and a long ridge pole that form the main support beams. One end of the ridgepole rests in the crook of the two cross pieces and its other end is set some eight feet away on the bare ground. Resting on the ridgepole are the “ribs”, which consist of smaller sticks each of which has one end resting on the support and the other stuck into the ground. Over these ribs a 5-foot by 7-foot emergency survival blanket has been placed with the reflective side facing inward. A thick bed of evergreen boughs has been placed on the ground, and a sheet of reflective material over this.

This brings up and important construction feature of the winter survival shelter. It’s small size. We want the shelter to be as small as possible in order to minimize the amount of body heat necessary to warm the air inside to a comfortable level. However, we also want the inside of the shelter large enough so that our body is not touching the walls and loosing heat through conduction.

The ideal winter survival shelter is a little difficult to squeeze into. You enter feet first and squirm your way down until your entire body is inside.

In the photograph you can see me looking out from the doorway. The bag of snow has been moved out of the way in order to take the picture. You can see just how narrow the survival shelter is, with perhaps a foot or so of space on either side of my body.

Make a Survival Shelter

Winter Survival Shelter Ribbing – With the outer covering of snow and tarp removed, we can see the rib structure of the winter survival shelter. This ribbing supports the heavy load of snow that is placed on top. This snow is an excellent insulator.If your outside snow covering and inside ground insulation are thick enough, you can survive inside your survivial shelter even when the outside temperature is well below zero. Even if you do not have a heat source other than your own body heat. Add heat from a small candle and you can hunker down for an extended period of time while the storm rages outside your door.

The next step would be to pull in the big bag of snow in order to block the opening completely. In another picture I have removed the thick layer of snow and the survival blanket from one side of the winter survival shelter. Exposed is the complete structure. You can see the three main poles set in a tripod fashion and the supporting ribs. A hole in the snow had been dug to ground level and filled with a thick layer of evergreen boughs.

I happened to have with me a short reflective pad, which I put on top of the boughs for added insulation.  In the photograph you can also see an eight hour candle, matches, and candle holder. The inside of the shelter is very small and there is little air space to heat once your entire body is inside it. Also the shelter is super insulated. Even a small candle can significantly heat the inside of your survival shelter.

Other means of heating your shelter include building a fire, heating rocks, and them bringing them in with you.How to build this winter survival shelter.  The following description is wordy, in practice the steps should be quite simple:

  1. Scout out an area that has easily accessible evergreen bows (or other type of padding material like cattail stalks, grass, etc), poles, and firewood. If you can find some evergreen trees that have recently fallen they can supply you with easy to get boughs that you will need.
  2. Dig a hole in the snow slightly larger than the dimensions of the shelter you want to build. A rectangle about 6-feet by eight feet is good. If possible remove the snow right down to bare ground, as the earth has retained some heat from the warmer months and you will want to tap into it. Pile this snow nearby as you will be needing it later.
  3. Obtain three poles. If possible try to avoid unnecessary effort cutting them. In the forest there are often small fallen trees laying about and you can snap them off to the rough sizes you need. Two of the poles should be at least five feet long and the third pole about eight or nine feet long. It is OK for them to be longer.
  4. Stand the two small poles together side by side on one end of the hole you dug. Tie the poles together by wrapping cord around both of them a half dozen times. The cord should be placed about four feet off the ground. Then splay these two poles outward so that their bottoms are about four feet apart. Continue wrapping cord between the “V” and tie it off. You should now have an “X” shape. If you do not have cord (a part of the 15 essentials) then find a pole that has a natural “V” shape at one end, into which you can rest the second pole.
  5. Lay the longer pole, the ridgepole, so that one end is on the bare ground at one end of the hole you dug and the other end is resting in the crook of the two poles you tied together.
  6. Make six or eight ribs for each side of the ridgepole. Just eyeball them and place them at rough intervals. This is where a small saw or wire saw could come in handy in order to make them the correct lengths. I like to use the small saw on my multi-tool for this purpose. Usually all it takes is a little scoring with the saw and the piece can be snapped along the line.
  7. Place your tarp or survival blanket over the ridgepole and then pile snow on top. If your survival blanket has a reflective side, be sure that is facing to the inside of the survival shelter. If you do not have a tarp or blanket, you can cut evergreen boughs and pile on a thick layer all around.
  8. Next cover the entire shelter with as thick a layer of snow as possible. A minimum of four inches is fair, eight inches is better. Two feet excellent.  Cover with four feet of snow if you have the time and energy to do so.
  9. Cut enough evergreen branches to fill the interior floor of the survival shelter to a depth of at least four inches. The more the better, as long as there is enough room for you to squeeze into.
  10. Fill a trash bag, drum liner, or other type of container with snow for use as a door. Crawl into your winter survival shelter feet first and pull in your door to plug the opening. If you have a candle you can light it for additional heat. You could also build a fire outside the winter survival shelter, heat rocks, and bring them inside with you.

Remember that if you are hoping to be rescued you will need some means of alerting rescuers to your position beneath the snow. Because the shelter is quite air-tight, sounds are not easy transmitted from the outside to the inside. Outside sounds are muffled or not even heard.

One method of signalling your location can be as simple as hooking items that are not natural to the wilderness onto branches of trees around your shelter. Anyone who comes close to your area may spot something that is out of place, such as a pack, cooking gear, etc.  With a little practice this winter survival shelter is easy to make and can save your life. For more information on how to keep warm in cold environments, I highly recommend reading the Survival Topic How Body Heat is Lost