Any time you find yourself in a winter survival situation, the elements are undoubtedly your single greatest enemy, since hypothermia will kill you far faster than either lack of water or lack of food.
Therefore, if you ever find yourself stranded in a survival situation in winter, then a properly constructed and properly insulated survival shelter should be your top priority. Furthermore, it is absolutely imperative that any winter shelter you build must be both wind proof and rain proof; otherwise, the effort required to build it is greater than the benefit gained from doing so. Fortunately, with a little knowledge, a little ingenuity, and a little effort, a good winter survival shelter is not difficult to build from the available materials at hand, and doing so may very well save your life.
Building a Debris Shelter
My favorite type of winter survival shelter is one called a debris shelter, and it is a very appropriate type of shelter to build when you are stranded in the forest. As the name implies, this type of winter survival shelter involves forest “debris” and is constructed by first finding a fallen long, a tree stump, a forked tree, or even a large boulder upon which you can lean a pole. Then, you locate an appropriate log to serve as the ridge pole and “dress it” by removing any protruding limbs. Next, you place one end of the ridge pole on the stump, into the fork, or on top of the boulder and rest the other end on the ground.
Then, gather any debris you find around you or in the immediate vicinity, ranging from small limbs to small logs which you then lean against the ridge pole in order to create a hollow cavity beneath it. But note that while a thin layer of debris will serve to block some wind and some rain, a really thick layer is need to make the shelter truly warm and dry. Furthermore, if you find yourself in a deciduous hardwood forest, then you can gather dry leaves from the ground around you and stuff them into your shelter to provide additional insulation.
On the other hand, it seems to be a general rule of nature that whenever you find yourself in a sparsely wooded area, you also have a plethora of rocks at hand and thus, rather than lament the lack of wood, you should instead use the material at hand to build your winter survival shelter. The practice of stacking rocks into a wall without the use of mortar is called “free stacking” and, provided that there are plenty of rocks at hand, you can free stack them to construct a low wall that will help to protect you from the wind. If you can find enough wood to construct a ceiling, then you will have a cozy little shelter that will help to retain your body heat. In order to insulate your shelter, you can gather grass from the surrounding terrain, compress it into small balls, and then stuff the balls into the spaces between the rocks to block out the wind.
Building a Snow Cave
Last, if you happen to find yourself in a survival situation in an environment covered in snow, and if the snow is deep enough, then you can construct a snow cave. While it might seem like an oxymoron to ensconce yourself in what is essentially a refrigerator, the temperature inside of a snow cave can be amazingly warm compared to the temperatures outside, especially when the wind is blowing.
There are two kinds of snow caves: 1) those that you dig and, 2) those that you construct. So, to construct a snow cave, you start by choosing an appropriate location and then you remove the snow from a given area in the shape of a circle and use it to construct vertical walls which you create by packing snow into place with your hands. Then, as the walls begin to rise, you cause them to begin sloping inward until they finally meet at the top, thus enclosing the shelter. Of course, to build the other type of snow cave, you first need to locate an appropriately deep, and solid, snow drift and then, starting from the leeward side, you begin to dig a small tunnel into the side of the drift and, after a few feet, you proceed to excavate a small cave inside of the drift, which serves as your shelter.
So, while none of these winter survival shelters can be said to be as cozy and warm as a well-built log cabin with roaring fire in the fireplace, they will serve to block the wind and the rain in a survival situation and thus, they can prevent you from suffering from hypothermia, frostbite, and/or death. Learning how to construct them may very well one day save your life.
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