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Survival Shelter: Bushcraft & Primitive Shelter Ideas

There may come a time when you need to bug out of the city and leave your home behind. In this case, you may need to build a survival shelter or a bushcraft shelter to keep yourself warm or stay dry in rainy weather. For that reason, using bushcraft knowledge to create primitive survival shelter ideas is a skill set every practical prepper should possess.

Keep reading to learn about the importance of survival shelters and bushcraft shelters, and for a long and detailed list of some of the most effective survival shelter ideas.

The Importance of a Survival Shelter and Bushcraft Shelter

Bush Shelter and Campfire


According to the survival rule of three, you can only survive for three hours when exposed to extreme heat or cold. On the other hand, you can survive for three days without water and three weeks without food.

For that reason, in a survival scenario, or after sh*t hits the fan (SHTF), having an adequate shelter should be your top priority, even before finding food and water. 

Survival shelters are absolutely vital. They have many functions that will keep you happier, healthier, and most importantly, safer. 

  • During heatwaves and sunny conditions, survival shelters offer shade and protect you from dangerous UV rays.
  • Survival shelters insulate you from wind chill and cold temperatures so you can avoid frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold-related illnesses or injuries.
  • Survival shelters can keep you dry during relentless rains.
  • Lastly, survival shelters act as a protective barrier between you and insects or wild animals.

Survival Shelter Guide Download 

If you are in a survival situation and need to build a shelter in the woods or a bushcraft shelter, then it's essential to consider the following six recommendations.

Considerations for Constructing a Survival Shelter or Bushcraft Shelter


Bush Primitive Shelter


Before constructing your primitive survival shelter, it will be crucial to consider the following six items.Crafting your structure with these tips in mind will help keep you safer and more comfortable.

  1. Location of Your Bushcraft Shelter or Survival Shelter Location is one of the most important things to consider when building a primitive shelter or pitching a tent.
  2. Size of Your Survival Shelter or Bushcraft Shelter One of the most common mistakes in constructing survival shelters or bushcraft shelters is making them too large.
  3. Structure for Your Bushcraft Shelter or Survival Shelter There are many different types of survival structures, each with pros and cons.
  4. Insulation of Your Survival Shelter or Bushcraft Shelter Having a sturdy framework is one thing. But even a substantial shelter won’t do much good unless properly insulated.
  5. Heat Source for Your Bushcraft Shelter or Survival Shelter

In the process of learning how to build a shelter in the woods or a bushcraft shelter, one thing to keep in mind is to always keep it simple. Use the resources that nature provides you with. For instance, natural formations like caves or overhangs can be utilized as shelter spaces with minor enhancements.

Remember, the overall objective of a survival shelter is to provide protection from elements and threats, maintain body temperature, and enable rest and recovery. Whether you're constructing a lean-to, a tarp tent, or a bushcraft shelter, always keep these objectives in mind. And remember, practice makes perfect. It's a good idea to practice building different types of shelters before you actually need to use one in a survival situation.

Location of Your Bushcraft Shelter

Location is one of the most important things to consider when building a primitive shelter or pitching a tent. First of all, the site you choose should be as flat as possible. A shelter on the flat ground makes everything easier and more comfortable. 

Your survival shelter should also be constructed in an area where you can access ample building materials, such as leaves, grass, tree branches, and stones. The less you have to walk, the better. 

Lastly, a survival shelter should be located in a safe area. For example, you want to avoid constructing your shelter in flood plains, along river banks, near insect nests, underneath unstable trees, and away from dangerous people or places. 

But don't forget to accommodate for your other needs. Survival shelter near, but not right next to water is ideal. Once you know how to make a water filter in the wild, you'll be ready to turn that into drinking water, without worrying about it washing away your shelter. You can even try survival desalination if you're near an ocean!

When it comes to building survival shelters or bushcraft shelters, timing is also crucial. It's important to start building your shelter before dusk to ensure that you have ample time to finish the construction and also gather firewood. In an emergency survival scenario, you won't have the luxury of time on your side. So, learning to quickly identify suitable locations and efficiently utilize available resources is key to your survival.

Size of Your Long Term Survival Shelter

One of the most common mistakes in constructing survival shelters is making them too big. A shelter that is too large takes more time to build, requires more building materials, and ends up being colder than smaller shelters. 

Ideally, your shelter will be just large enough to accommodate whoever belongs to your survival group. Smaller shelters conserve more body heat and keep you safer, but you may also need room for your family survival kit

Structure for Your Shelter

There are many different types of survival structures, each with pros and cons. The survival structure you build should make sense for your environment and be constructed with safety in mind. 

If you are working with tree branches to build your structure, a good rule is to use larger branches to construct the initial framework. These branches should be big and strong enough to support the weight of an adult.


Having a sturdy framework is one thing. But even a substantial shelter won’t do much good unless properly insulated. Insulation and adequate coverage are crucial for a safe survival shelter, whether in hot and sunny or wet and cold conditions. 

Leaves, small sticks, ferns, tree branches, grass, and pine needles are all examples of natural debris that can be used to insulate your shelter and provide cover. Insulating the roof and walls of your shelter is important, but don’t forget to insulate the floor and your sleeping area as well.

Heat Source for Your Primitive Shelter


Starting a Fire for Night and Food Cooking


In a survival scenario with cold weather, staying warm is vital. Typically, your survival shelter will help with this (assuming it’s not too large). But you may also need to incorporate another heat source like a gas stove or fire to stay warm, melt snow, boil water, or cook food. 

With smaller shelters, fire is typically built on the outside. If you don’t have matches, it’s essential to know how to start a fire without matches. 

However, in larger shelters, a small fire can also be built on the inside. However, if you plan to keep a fire or cook on a stove in your shelter, you must do so with immense caution. The last thing you want is to burn down your survival shelter.

Food & Water Storage Near Your Survival Shelter

Lastly, it is important to consider how you store your food and water. Typically, survival shelters are just big enough to accommodate the people that need a safe and warm shelter. But it’s also essential to have a space for survival food storage and water storage. 

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And if there is no room inside, it’s crucial to create a safe place to store your food and water on the exterior so that insects and animals cannot spoil the food. Without meeting your minimum calories to survive, you'll have a hard time keeping up with all the work survival takes!

Survival Shelter Ideas: Types of Survival Shelters and Bushcraft Techniques

There are all kinds of different bushcraft shelter ideas. Building the appropriate primitive shelter will depend on the tools and materials you have with you, the natural environment around you, the number of people in your group, and the local climate.

Bushcraft Shelters and Survival Techniques


Bushcraft Shelter Ideas


Bushcraft is the knowledge and skill of surviving and thriving in a natural environment. One of the most critical bushcraft survival skills is building primitive shelters. Knowing how to construct various primitive survival shelters is vital so you can be prepared in any situation.

Wickiup: A Classic Survival Shelter

A wickiup (also known as wigwam) is a small tipi-shaped shelter. However, instead of using animal hides as insulation, a wickiup uses natural brush and vegetation to insulate the interior space of the shelter. Wickiup shelters have been used by primitive cultures all over the globe, but they’re most common in the American Southwest. 

If you are constructing a wickiup in a rainy climate, steeper walls and thicker brush will help to make the structure leak-proof. On the other hand, if your environment is hotter and drier, you will want to construct a broader wickiup that stays lower to the ground.

Building a Debris Hut Survival Shelter

A debris hut is a wedge-shaped lean-to structure that is covered in natural debris like dead leaves for insulation. Debris huts make great individual sleeping shelters, but are typically too small for multiple people. 

To build a debris hut, start by propping up a 9- to 12-foot long pole in the fork of a tree, large boulder, or stump. Then, cover the sides of the pole with smaller tree branches to create two walls. Lastly, load up the two walls of your debris hut with vegetation such as grass, leaves,  pine needles, pine boughs, brush, ferns, or moss. For ideal insulation, we recommend you use two or three feet of vegetation on all sides. Then you can line the floor of your hut with vegetation for your bedding.

Lean-To: A Time-Tested Bushcraft Shelter

The lean-to is one of the oldest and most reliable primitive shelters. Lean-to shelters are fantastic because they have a simple design and thus can be quickly constructed. However, it’s important to note that lean-to structures have a few obvious downsides. 

The first is that they’re pretty open to the elements and wild animals. And two is that they don’t hold heat well. Therefore, lean-to survival shelters may not be the best choice for long-term shelter. Nevertheless, they are an excellent addition to any survival encampment.

Ramada Shelter: A Survival Shelter for Sun Protection

Ramada shelters excel at providing shade. Therefore, ramada shelters are ideal for sunny and hot environments. Depending on the material you use for the roof, ramada shelters may not be leak-proof. However, they will block out the sun. 

Ramada shelters are ideal for covering the kitchen area of your encampment, or for sheltering your equipment, food, and water storage. Ramada shelters can be built with removable walls to encourage more airflow or to block the cold wind.

Bough Bed

Technically speaking, a bough bed is not a survival shelter itself. However, it makes an excellent addition to most types of primitive shelters. To create a bough bed, start by creating a bed frame with two logs side by side about three feet apart. Ideally, these logs will be longer than you are tall. Then, fill in the bed frame with boughs, dried leaves, dead grass, and other insulating material. The ideal bough bed will create a six-inch layer of insulation between you and the ground.

Quinzhee Shelter

A quinzhee is a dome-shaped snow shelter that makes a great cold weather survival shelter. They have a similar shape to an igloo but are easier to construct. In addition, quinzhee shelters can be built with almost any type of snowpack. On the other hand, igloos require a particular type of snow to be successful.  

To make a quinzhee shelter, start by making a pile of movable material and cover it with a tarp. For this step, using your bug-out backpacks is often the easiest. Once you have a pile of gear, cover the entire thing with snow until there are about two feet of snow on all sides. Then, insert long and slender sticks around the newly formed dome. Next, excavate the snow inside the quinzhee until you reach the base of each stick. Lastly, make a fist-sized hole for ventilation in the roof of your quinzhee.

Round Lodge

A round lodge shelter is a hybrid between a wickiup and tipi. Round lodges are structured like a tipi and insulated like a wickiup. The main difference is that they have a solid door. As a result, round lodges are great at blocking wind, rain, cold, and sun. 

Round lodges are larger structures. Therefore, they can sometimes accommodate a small fire on the inside. If you plan to have a fire, keep it small, and make sure your wickiup has a space in the top to function as a chimney.

Tarp Shelters: The Ultimate Survival Shelter Ideas for Your Bug Out Bag


Tarp Survival Shelter


One of the essential items we recommend individuals include in their bug out bag checklist, along with a 72-hour emergency kit, is a tarp. Tarps are highly versatile tools that can be used in various scenarios. They especially excel in creating improvised survival tarp shelters.

Wedge Tarp

The wedge tarp design is an ideal tarp survival shelter for windy conditions, especially if the winds are consistently coming from a particular direction. When appropriately secured, the wedge tarp should be able to keep out even the worst wind and rain. 

To create a wedge tarp survival shelter, start by staking down two corners into the wind. Then rig up the paracord to the center of the tarp on the opposite side. Then tie down the remaining two corners of the tarp. Afterward, you can experiment with how high or low you secure the paracord for the opening of the wedge.

Tarp Wing

The tarp wing configuration is an excellent shelter for covering a larger area. In addition, Tarp wing shelters excel at protecting fires from rain and keeping the cooking area dry. To rig up a tarp wing, simply secure two ends of the tarp at higher locations. The other two ends of the tarp will be secured down lower. 

One drawback of the tarp wing is that it will billow like a sail in windy conditions. So for windier conditions, we recommend the wedge tarp design. However, the tarp wing is an excellent choice if you just need to block out the sun or rain.

Tarp Burrito

The tarp burrito is one of the simplest tarp primitive shelters you can create. It has zero frills but will efficiently insulate you from bad weather and keep you much warmer. Essentially the tarp is the tortilla, and you, along with your sleeping bags, are the ingredients to the burrito. 

Simply lay the tarp down in a flat sleeping spot. Next, fold one side of the tarp over about ⅓ of the way. Repeat this fold going in the same direction. Then tuck one end of the tarp under itself to close the bottom. Then, slide your sleeping bag into the open end. If done correctly, the seam of the tarp will be beneath you, and the shelter will remain pinned down by your body weight.

A-Frame Tarp Shelter

The A-frame shelter is the epitome of simple and effective tarp shelters. The A-frame tarp shelter provides excellent coverage against wind and rain. In addition, a higher A-frame promotes more airflow. But for even more coverage, you can construct the A-frame closer to the ground. 

To make an A-frame, simply suspend a paracord line between two trees. Then, lay your tarp over the line and secure it in all four corners. The A-frame shelter is an excellent addition to a hammock or bough bed. 

Desert Tarp

A double-roofed desert shelter dates back centuries to cultures living in Northern Africa and the Middle East. To create this improvised survival shelter, you will need two tarps, but you can also fold over a single tarp if you only have one. 

The tarps must be firmly anchored in all four corners by stakes, rocks, logs, or any other strong object. If you use two tarps, layer them so that a foot of airspace divides them. If you use one tarp, fold it in half and create the dual-layer roof. 

Tarp Hammock

When the ground is particularly wet, muddy, flooded, or infested with insects, it’s important to create a shelter that gets you up off the ground. With a paracord and a tarp, you can easily create a tarp hammock that gives you a sleeping space that insulates you from the unlivable conditions on the ground.

Nature’s Survival Shelters: Making the Most of Your Environment


Rock Survival Shelter


Not all shelters need to be brought with you or constructed ahead of time.  Sometimes, nature provides shelter for you, and it's up to you to make it work in a survival situation.

Rock Shelter

A rock shelter, also known as a rockhouse, crepuscular cave, or bluff shelter, is a shelter that utilizes the cave-like opening at the base of a cliff, bluff, or large boulder as a shelter. Rock shelters are formed by water and wind erosion, which destroys weaker rock layers. What’s left are cavities of stronger rock that you can creatively utilize as shelter.

Hollow Shelter

A tree hollow, also known as a tree hole, is a semi-enclosed cavity that forms naturally in the trunk or branches of the tree. You can find tree hollows in old trees that have undergone some sort of physiological distress from natural causes such as fire, wind, lightning, rain, or attack from insects, bacteria, or fungi. 

Trees with hollows may be living or not. Typically tree hollows are utilized as a shelter for wildlife species. However, if the tree hollow is large enough, it is not uncommon for them to be utilized as shelter or storage in survival situations. 

Tree Root Shelter

Like hollow tree shelters, tree root shelters are primitive shelters that utilize the spaces beneath the tree, between the tree’s roots. Tree root shelters are most common in old-growth forests where the trees have grown to be very large. 

Root shelters are made possible by excavating around the largest, most prominent roots to create a cavity that can be used as a survival shelter. Tree root shelters can utilize the roots of fallen trees as shelter. Tree root shelters are not very large and are not typically used for long portions of time. However, they can be helpful in dire situations.

The Value of Versatility in Bushcraft Shelters

While specific environments might demand a certain type of survival shelter, one of the key skills in bushcraft is versatility. The ability to adapt to changing conditions and resources is what sets apart a true survivalist. This includes the knowledge to build different types of bushcraft shelters according to the environment, weather, and available resources. 

Staying Dry and Safe: Selecting Your Bushcraft Shelter Site

Choosing the right site for your bushcraft shelter is a critical survival skill. It's important to select a location that's safe from hazards such as falling branches, flash floods, and high winds. The site should ideally be on flat, well-drained ground, and should offer some protection from the elements. For example, building your shelter near a dense stand of trees can provide windbreak, while a nearby body of water can be a useful source of drinking water, provided it's clean and safe.

When Nature Provides: Exploiting Natural Features for Bushcraft Shelters

In addition to tree hollows and rock shelters, other natural features can also provide ready-made bushcraft shelters. For example, overhangs, natural depressions in the ground, and thick brush can all serve as shelter in a pinch. If you come across a fallen tree with a space underneath it, you can use the trunk as a roof for your shelter and build walls using branches and vegetation. In a survival situation, being able to see the potential in your surroundings is a valuable skill.

Survival Shelter Wisdom: Final Thoughts on Short Term & Long Term Bushcraft Shelters

In a survival scenario, shelter should be your number one priority. Improvised and well-built survival shelters insulate us from cold weather, provide shade during hot and sunny weather, keep us dry, and create a barrier between wild animals or insects, and you. 

Knowing how to build a survival shelter in various environments with limited material and tools could be the difference between suffering in the cold or being warm and toasty. 

For more survival information, visit our Practical Prepper Blog. Or, to speak with an expert about our wide selection of delicious emergency food, including dairy-free survival food, visit our webpage. We are happy to help!