April 21, 2019
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Often, your survival skills are tested when you are least prepared. If you are stranded in the wilderness with no proper camping equipment or supplies, the best you can do is turn to the surrounding nature for help.

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Remember that in colder regions, it is hypothermia – not a lack of food — that kills stranded people before help arrives. Constructing a hut with found material is something you should attempt even before a real need arises, because it’s extremely important to make a warm shelter quickly before the sun sets.

Building a Debris Hut

When it finally occurs to you that you’ve lost your way and need a shelter, the first thing to do is take a deep breath and look around. A quick scan will reveal how much protection you may need to survive in the terrain. Check out what kind of plant material is readily available in the area to make a debris hut. You’ll need some strong structural material and plenty of insulating materials.

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1. Identify the location

Before you start on the hut, you should scout for the best location. The debris hut site should ideally provide the following:

  • Plenty of debris – You should settle for a location that offers plenty of material. Gathering materials in one place and transporting it in armfuls to the construction site is just too impractical.
  • Protection from wind — Wind makes cold worse, and rapidly leads to dehydration and hypothermia, the two biggest killers in the wild. Build the shelter against a rock, tree or mound of earth that acts as a windbreak.
  • Proximity to water, if possible – If you’ve already located a water source, build the shelter near it.
  • Slightly sloping ground – This helps in drainage in case of precipitation.
  • Exposure to morning sun – A southeast-facing shelter will be warmed by the early rays of the sun.

Areas near rock ledges and trees can provide an added benefit (more on that in a bit).

2. Gather materials

Look for a long, sturdy pole to form the backbone of your hut. You will need more wood to form the ribs of the structure. Bring in as much dead leaves, pine needles, dry grass and moss as you can. Shrubs as well as green boughs that you can break off low lying branches of trees are welcome, too.

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3. Make the debris bed

Once you have decided exactly where the hut is going to be, you should line the ground with as much debris as possible. If you are short on leaves and grass, line the ground with small rocks and twigs first to create airspace between the cold ground and the bed you’re constructing. Cover this base with more debris to make a bed at least 2-3 feet thick.

4. Build the basic structure

Once the bed is ready, you will construct the hut over it. Find a rock ledge or fork in a tree to lean the main beam on. You can make an A-line frame by tying together two of the longest wood pieces in the remaining pile to give additional support to the head of the main beam. Ties can be made with peeled inner bark of green wood or a sturdy climber, if you don’t have a piece of string with you.

This is the basic structure of the hut. The height of the hut at the highest point should be just a foot or two more than your sitting height, not more. (An alternative structure involves making a hut only big enough for you to crawl into.) If you have a large tarp or plastic sheet, covering this basic structure with it will provide some protection, but a debris hut needs more reinforcement.

5. Reinforce the basic structure

Lean more sturdy wood pieces on either side of the main beam in such a way that they just enclose the debris bed. You don’t want any extra space inside that would reduce the warmth of the structure. Start from the head end of the hut, leaving just a tiny opening for entry. If you were able to gather the stems of climbers, you can tie these ribs at the top in pairs, to add more stability to the structure. Work with smaller wood pieces as you progress toward the tapering end of the hut.

You may need to weave pliable green twigs across the ribs to make a mesh that will support the debris to be piled on top.

6. Add layers of insulation

The remaining part of the debris hut project is insulating it from the elements with as much debris as you can. The sides can be built up with a layer of rocks and then twigs. Cover this layer with grass and leaves. Lay smaller twigs and lighter boughs over the ribs to keep the debris in place. You can scrape off moss and place it on the leaves to stabilize them. Build up the insulation layer as thick as you can, to protect against precipitation.

7. Check out the interior

Crawl into your hut and lie down on the bed to see how much extra space you have around you. If you think there’s unnecessary room, gather more debris to stack against the side walls. If your weight has compressed the bed too much, add more padding. You’ll need extra mounds of leaves to cover yourself with after settling in for the night.

8. Seal the hut

Find one or two leafy boughs that you can use to close the opening after you go inside. You can place your backpack in the doorway or hang any clothes that you’re not wearing for additional protection.

9. Settle in

Tuck your pants into your socks, and your shirt into the pants to keep your body as protected as possible against insects in the debris. It is essential to cover your ears tightly, too.

After getting in and closing the door with whatever you can, lie down on the debris bed and cover yourself with any remaining items of clothing you may have. Pile the debris over you as thick as possible, except on your face. It may not be exactly comfortable, and it may take some time for your body to warm the air around you, but a hut such as this can, in fact, keep you out of serious danger.

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