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The City Slicker’s Guide To Bushcraft Methods: Shelter And A Day In The Life

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To help you understand a day in the life of a wild-hearted bushcrafter, here is a schedule (of sorts) from morning to evening…

First, you awake from under your tarp to the sounds of animals calling for the early morning sun to rise.  As you rub your eyes, the chill of morning breezes prods you to get a fire going again.  You take a quick bath in the smoke to remove your human scent (which is very important for your daily activities), and then you are off to go fishing before the sun breaks over the tree line.  After catching a small bass, you cook it for breakfast, eat your fill, and then you are off to check your traps.

Most traps were empty, but you did manage to catch a rabbit while you slept.  Also, while checking your traps, you carried your hunting weapon with you, just in case you were fortunate enough to run into any larger game (especially since you set your traps upon trails which appear to be usual travel routes for local game).  You remove the critter from the #110 conibear trap, field dress it, and smoke the meat for dinner.  This takes a while, so you’re off for the hunt, returning periodically to check on the rabbit jerky.

As you move through the forest, you find no shortage of snacks from leaves, roots, and berries, to give you vitamins and energy.  Then, success!  You managed to take a large opossum.  Your find was just in time for dinner; so, along with the rabbit jerky, opossum meat, and assorted berries and leaves, you have tea and a meal for kings.  As you finish your evening meal, you wind down by making cordage, bathing, whittling, sharpening your tools, and journaling your daily adventures.  All in all, it is a day well spent.


Rufus Sage, an American writer and mountain man from the nineteenth century, gave us an account about the way a trapper’s bed was constructed in Life in the Rocky Mountains, 1841:

“The bed of a mountaineer is an article neither complex in its nature nor difficult in its adjustment. A single buffalo robe folded double and spread upon the ground, with a rock, or knoll, or some like substitute for a pillow, furnishes the sole base-work upon which the sleeper reclines, and, enveloped in an additional blanket or robe, contentedly enjoys his rest.”

As Rufus Sage described, a nineteenth-century trapper would simply sleep without any type of a roof, but stayed warm, bundled under a thick blanket or robe, upon a buffalo skin floor.

Taking that as a lesson, your roof is not nearly as important as having a wool (or warm, thick) blanket.  Wool is a unique material that will not lose its insulating properties even if it gets wet.  However, for cold nights, you would do very well with a quality sleeping bag over a bed of grasses for comfort.

Seal out the elements entirely or use like a traditional sleeping bag

Of course, a roof over your head is very important for warmth, for the simple fact that it can keep you dry and it will increase the temperature of your small space.  Also, it adds to your peace of mind, giving you a barrier between your slumbering and the wild unknown.

A Tarp Shelter

A tarp is light and small when folded, yet its usefulness is immense.  With a proper tarp, you can even use it to carry cargo; however, its most important function is to keep you safe from the elements at night.  Also, if your tarp is angled correctly, you can even harness heat from the fire in addition to your own body heat.

We mentioned what type of tarp you should buy in the last series, as you don’t necessarily have to buy an expensive one.  A cheap tarp from a hardware store should do well.  The most crucial aspect of your tarp is not the material used (as long as it is waterproof), but rather the angle of its construction.

For instance, on a cold night, you should keep your tarp lower off your body, and angled in order to reflect the heat of your fire back upon you.  Now, do be careful how close your tarp comes to the fire, as cheaper tarps will be made of materials that can burn, posing a serious fire risk.  Keep this in mind when situating your camp.  Overall, the less space you have in your shelter, the easier it will be to keep warm.

In addition, having a reusable space blanket will be extremely effective at keeping you warm, as it was designed for the express purpose of reflecting heat (not absorbing or conducting it).  If you are under a tarp shelter with a reusable space blanket suspended below it, angled to radiate the heat from your fire back to you while you are cozy in your wool bedroll or sleeping bag, you might actually need to shed a layer.


If you are hoping to create more of a permanent, secure shelter system, then both debris huts or lean-to shelters are excellent ways to keep warm and dry.  While these types of shelters may be rather time consuming to construct, making them is not difficult if enough resources are nearby.

Especially with the debris hut, many of these permanent structures can last for years.  Of course, they will require maintenance, as the materials settle overtime, but this is not difficult to do.  The biggest challenge to making permanent structures in the wild out of woodland materials is keeping them waterproof.  The rule of thumb is that you want no less than a thickness of three feet of debris (leaves, grasses, etc.) for your hut walls in order to contain your heat and keep moisture out.

Shelters like these can take a while to build, so having a tarp shelter constructed (which shouldn’t take more than ten minutes) would allow you to take all the time you need.  Especially considering that finding food is very important, having a few days to build an adequate shelter will be a welcome luxury.

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