The first article I wrote touched upon the most important priority of survival, Positive Mental Attitude. There are traditionally 7 Priorities of Survival which are controlled by our body’s needs and tolerances. They are set as a general list and some can move up or down on the list according to the environment. Since we are now in the winter months, Shelter moves up on the scale. The usual two priorities fight for second place are First Aid & Shelter, depending on the severity of the weather and medical condition. You determine that.

Before we go further, let’s determine how the Priorities of Survival are determined. It comes from the Rule of 3’s. In extreme conditions, we can’t survive much longer than the following without causing major damage to the body or death.

  • 3 minutes without Air
  • 3 hours without Shelter
  • 3 days without Water
  • 3 weeks without Food

These are general times and there have been many instances where people live longer- so these are not black & white.

Having a sail needle tapped to your knife sheath can really come in handy for field expedient shelter repairs.

The first defense against the weather is your clothing. Proper selection of clothing should be seasonal and considered whenever there is a chance of bad weather to shelter yourself from it. Its been said that, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. There is a lot of truth to that saying. Material fabrics are to be considered such as natural and man made. Wool has the ability to retain is insulating qualities even though its wet. It also has the added benefit of being fire retardant, a thing to consider when around open flames. The downside is that moths eat it. I’ve had some nice wool clothing ruined when I did not properly store the clothing in the off season. I now keep the wools in a zip lock bag and then placed in a closed plastic container. Synthetic material is easily obtained from a variety of retailers in a variety of qualities. Each manufacturer says their product is superior but I can’t afford to buy each piece to test it. I do often stick with a well respected brand and search online for used clothing in good shape. The things to consider once you have selected your clothing for the conditions, consider this in order to keep the clothing working the way it was intended.


  • C- Keep your clothing CLEAN in order for it to keep its insulating qualities.
  • O- Do not OVERHEAT because that causes sweating and in turn make your clothing wet. The clothing will dry itself by evaporation and evaporation causes cooling.
  • L- Dress in LAYERS which allows you to add or remove clothing as you warm up or cool down.
  • D- Keep your clothing DRY. Wet clothing is less effective when its wet.
  • E- EXAMINE your clothing for damage, moisture and cleanliness. Keeping up with this lets your clothing, as your first level of shelter, work as it is intended.
  • R- After examining your clothing, make sure you REPAIR your clothing so its not a bad idea to have some sort of sewing kit on hand. It could be a pre-made sewing kit dropped into your pack or an improvised one. I keep a sail needle taped to the back of my knife sheath for clothing repair or maybe remove a splinter. Repairing your clothing can also be performed by taping it up or pinning it together in some fashion.

After you have considered your first level of shelter, consider the possibility of having to build a shelter of some sort to wait out a patch of bad weather. This has a number of options from a tent, a tarp, or an improvised shelter. Our options here are to bring along your portable shelter in the form of a tent or tarp and lug the extra weight for as an easily erected shelter or forgo the shelter and lighten your load with the ability to build an improvise shelter which takes time and effort. Be sure you know how to erect your tent or build your improvised shelter before you need it in an emergency. That emergency might be when you realize the sun is setting and will have low light to erect your improvised shelter. I’ve built plenty of improvised shelters and make the consideration of how long it will take me to properly build one to endure.

An easy improvised shelter is a small one just big enough for one person lying down. It’s usually called a Debris Hut. Two wrist sized sticks are lashed together in an “X” fashion and then the ridge line stick is placed at the top of the “X” with the other end sloping to the ground. I found that placing this end on an object about a foot high gives you more foot room. The next step will be to lie on the ground underneath the ridge line then place small sticks into the ground along your body outline. This gives you the outline of the Debris Hut shelter. After that is completed, start placing the ribs of the shelter using sticks to lean onto the ridge line with the bottom part outside of the sticks you placed in the ground. Continue until the are enough ribs to hold leaves without falling into the interior of the shelter. If you have access to evergreen branches, they work well to cover the gaps in the ribs of the shelter. After you’re satisfied with this part, start throwing leaves, small branches, etc onto the ribs, starting from the bottom and working your way up to the top and the thicker the debris, the better insulation you will have. After you have completed it, add additional branches, limbs, etc on top so wind will not disturb the leaves. The finishing touch will be to add leaves to the interior of the shelter to act as your bedding. Keep adding then crawl in to mash down the first layer and repeat. I’ve slept comfortably inside one of these Debris Huts in 20 degree weather for an entire weekend.

One big suggestion before venturing off to forage or get water…. Mark your Debris Hut with something easily seen from a distance! After I completed my shelter, I went out to collect water and had a hard time relocating it. It blended in with the rest of the terrain and took a good half hour to find it and I was about 30 yards from the location I thought I had built it. I placed a brightly colored rain jacket on it so I wouldn’t lose it again. Another time, I built the frame work to a debris hut, minus the ribs and leaves. I used a tarp to cover over it and secured the bottom with a long limb to stop the wind. I slept in this one overnight while using a sleeping bag and ground pad.

Things to consider when locating a spot to build your shelter is the following and remembered as the “Four-W’s”:

  • WOOD- You wand to be in close proximity to wood as a supply of firewood and shelter building material.
  • WATER- You want to avoid placing your shelter where water might collect during rain fall and not too far away from your source of drinking water.
  • WIND- Find a location that will break the wind which will cause you to get colder and potentially cause damage to your shelter.
  • WIDOW-MAKERS- As you locate your site, avoid large dead standing trees or large broken limbs that might come crashing down if the wind might get strong.

If you happen to be caught out beyond your planned exit time, give yourself time to erect some type of shelter. A large leaf bag can be folded and placed in your back pocket id sufficient enough to make a small lean to shelter or cutting a hole out for your head and use it as a poncho then stuff it with leaves as insulation. Improvise and use your imagination. This will really be “roughing it” and anything better than this is just camping!

In the next article in this series, I will discuss WILDERNESS FIRST AID. I am a former Army Combat Medic and Wilderness EMT so I will try to be more in depth with this article.

Holy Serf

“My fire was in all its glory about midnight, and, having made a bark shed to shelter me from the rain and partially dry my clothing, I had nothing to do but look and listen and join the trees in their hymns and prayers.” -John Muir

Holy Serf is the nom de plume of a student of the wilderness and an amateur naturalist. He is a formally trained search & rescue tracker and wilderness survival instructor. He is a veteran of the war in Iraq where he served as a Combat Medic. He also served as a Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division as a Combat Engineer with a deployment to the Sinai Peninsula and a graduate of Panama’s Jungle Expert School. He has held certifications as a First Aid Instructor, Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness EMT. After retiring with more than 20 years as a law enforcement officer, he works on pairing his amateur radio skills and wilderness wandering. He holds an FCC General Radio license. This fall he will be instructing a basic human tracking course in NC.

Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!