Category Archives: Dens and Bushcraft Shelter

Building Bushcraft Shelters for kids and everyone

Lessons in build a shelter

Building Bushcraft Shelters From Tarpaulin or Natural Materials

Type of Survival Shelter using a Tarp or Poncho.

If you have read the previous articles about selecting a shelter site and the first lessons of shelter building, you will realise it isn’t just about starting to build bushcraft shelters. Once you have answered the question posed previously you will be ready to start looking at what type of shelter you are going to build and how to build bushcraft shelters.

If you are lucky you will have some resources at hand to create a simple shelter. It is a piece of kit that is versatile and has been used over time for many uses. It is the Tarpaulin “Tarp.” Or as was used and still is by some soldiers the poncho.

The Lean-to Shelter.

The lean-to on one of two simple and effective shelters that can be erected quickly and provide effective shelter from the elements (Sun, wind, rain and or snow) One benefit is that you don’t need any tools and minimal resources.

Lean To Tarp Shelter Building shelters

Lean To Tarp Shelter Building Bushcraft Shelters

The Lean-to is the most basic shelter and all that is needed is a tarpaulin and 2 to 3 meters of some sort of twine/cordage (Paracord is often used for this purpose and is recommended to be carried when outdoors because it is versatile and strong.) Ideally you also need three or four stakes approx. 30cm (one foot) long. These can easily be made by sharpening one end using a knife or large rock. The final element needed is two trees two or three meters apart. You can use poles for this either improvised ones made from fallen branches, walking poles or tent poles.

Prior to starting to construct the center you should have selected a suitable area. With this shelter you should consider the wind direction. You want the back pointing towards the incoming wind. Some people have suggested you can have the wind coming from the side and the side will be blocked off by some other means. What ever you do don’t have the wind blowing directly into the front of the shelter. It will make it un comfortable sleeping in it, cold and wet if it rains. Plus, your shelter might be blown away at any time.

If using a poncho remember to tie off the hood or you might have a leaking shelter.

  1. Cut your Paracord/cordage into two and tie one piece to the corner grommet of the Tarp and the other piece to the other adjacent grommet.
  2. Tie a “Drip stick” approx. 5 to 10 cm from each grommet. These sticks should be approx. 10cm long. The purpose of these is to stop any rain water from running along the paracord/cordage back towards and into the lean-to. This technique can be used along any grommet on the shelter. Tying a drip stick to a short length of cordage can help control the water caught on the tarp flowing back into your shelter.
  3. Tie the cordage at the corners to the trees around waist height. It is good to get into the habit of using quick release knots for this. It makes it easier when breaking camp. Keep the tarp taut between the two trees
  4. Spread the tarp out tight and fasten it down using stakes through the grommets.

Additional tips.

If instead of using trees you use stakes in the ground, you will need to use additional guy ropes to keep these tight.

If you are going to be using the shelter for more than one day you need to put a center support. If this is a poncho you can tie cordage around that and over a branch. This will stop water pooling in the center of the tarp. Some people suggest using large rocks to cause water to pool at the bottom of the tarp and cause it to wear quickly.


Tent Style Shelter.

There are benefits and disadvantages to the tent style shelter. The low profile gives increased shelter and traps the air around you in the small area. The disadvantages are it has less storage space and is restricted when getting in and out.

To build this type of shelter you need a tarp or poncho, two lengths of paracord or suitable cordage each 1.5 to

Tent type Tarp Shelter Building shelters

Tent type Tarp Shelter Building Bushcraft Shelters

2.0meters (5 to 8 feet) long. Six sharpened sticks approx. 30cm long and two trees approx. two to three meters (7 to 10 feet) apart

Again, start by tying off the poncho hood if using a poncho, as you would with a lean-to shelter.

Tie a 1.5 to 2.0meter length of paracord/cordage to the center grommet on each side of the tarp. The opposite ends need to be tied  to the trees creating a tight ridge line for your tent style shelter. The sides of the tent style shelter should be pulled tight and pegged down using the wooden stakes through the grommets in the corners of the tarp.

If you are going to be using the tent style shelter for more than one night you should use a center support. This could be the same as with the lean-to shelter, tie a piece of paracord/cordage around the hood and over a low branch.

An alternative is to build an additional A-frame outside, over the center of the tent. To do this use two stakes approx. 120cm long, one with a forked end. These rest together forming an A-frame for the center line to attach to. The only issue here is stability of the A-frame. To improve this you can use additional lines tied from the a frame to the trees.

The tent style shelter, can be made using stakes instead of trees. A pole should be put from the ground to center grommet along one side of the tarp. The same should be repeated on the opposite side. As with the Lean-to style shelter you will need additional guy ropes to make this stable. If this method is used it reduces even further the room available for accessing and exiting the shelter.

Survival Shelters From Natural Materials

Bushcraft Shelters using What nature provides.

The following shelters can be made in a wooded area using materials that can be found or made from what nature provides. All you need is a knife or blade tool (Even this can be made.) In this article I won’t be going into making cordage. When starting to build these types of shelter I would suggest using Paracord and learn to make cordage as a separate task. Then you can concentrate on making a good strong structure. When working with young people I would recommend the same course of action. These types of shelter take a lot of time, effort, energy and resources over shelters made using a tarp.

Lean-to Shelter

To get started you will need the following.

Lean to Shelter Building shelters

Lean to Shelter Building Bushcraft shelters

  • Two up trees (or strong upright poles) about 2 meters (7 feet) apart.
  • One pole approx.. 2 meters (7 feet) long At least 2.5cm (1 inch) in diameter.
  • Five to eight poles approx.. 3 meters (10 feet) long 2.5cm (1 inch) in diameter
  • Cordage/Paracord for lashing horizontal beams to the trees
  • Saplings to cover/crisscross the beams.

How to build a lean-to shelter.

  1. Lash the 2 meter (7 foot) pole between the two trees or support at approx. waist height. This will form the horizontal support.
  2. Place the 3 meter (10 foot) poles on one side of the horizontal support. As with the lean-to made with a tarp ensure the shelter is facing with the front exposure facing away from the incoming wind.
  3. Alternatively if you have access to many long poles, put a 2 meter (7 foot) poles on either end of the horizontal support. Then lash an extra 3 meter (7 foot) horizontal support half way up between the two poles you have placed at either end of the top supporting pole. Then prior to moving onto the next step place more 2 meter (7 foot) poles next to each other creating a solid lean-to shelter roof. The continue to step 5.
  4. Crisscross saplings or vines across the beams
  5. Cover this with Brush, leaves pine needles or grass. Start at the bottom and make your way to the top.
  6. The thicker this final covering the better the insulation above you.
  7. For additional warmth at night some people recommend heat deflectors. There are arguments as to whether there is any benefit from these deflectors given by these. Personally I would recommend if you have a tarp hang it over the front of the lean-to creating an enclosed sleeping area, with the option of having it open. I believe that this along with additional insulation is the best way of keeping dry and warm.

Adaptations Of This Lean-to Shelter.

Once you have mastered this technique of building structures it is possible to make more adaptations. The Obvious one is to make it into a design similar to the Tent style shelter made with a Tarp. These structures if made well can last years and with a little maintenance will be as efficient as the day you built it. But the time effort and materials needed to make these means it is worth taking time to start making what you want from the beginning with the view to expand. For example, instead of building a straight forward tent style Shelter I would consider a design with a small log wall to give a little more head space.

The Debris Shelter.

This shelter in its basic form is one of my favourites to build with young people. Although they are quite small they are very efficient at keeping in the heat and keeping you dry. The principles involved in building this are simple, the key to success is building it well. It is time consuming but worth the effort.

To start building this you need.

  • A ridge pole, between 2 to 3 meters (7 to 10 feet) ideally over 4cm diameter
  • Two poles to make a Bi-pod to hold the ridge pole up at the entrance. One with a forked end.
  • Sticks of various lengths to stand against full length of ridge pole.

Building A Debris Shelter.

  1. Take the two pieces for the entrance and place them together. They need to provide a support for the ridge pole.
  2. Place the remaining sticks along both sides of the ridge pole. These need to be able to support some weight. As seen in the picture. These need to be relatively close together. Gaps will be closed in the next stage.
    Debris Shelter Building Shelters

    Debris Frame Shelter Building Bushcraft Shelters

  3. Take finer sticks, weave them along the sides, starting to fill in gaps and make the sides stronger. Continue weaving these sticks until stop small debris like pine needles, leaves, grass etc from falling through.
  4. Start adding fine, ideally dry debris to the structure. Although the lattice is to stop this debris falling through, I would recommend trying to start with larger debris. Try and start with dry leaves, a layer of dry leaves will close most smaller holes. There is nothing more demoralising to put effort in to collecting debris to then watch the majority fall through gaps to the floor of your shelter. It is like taking two steps forward one back.
  5. Debris Shelter Building Shelters

    Debris Shelter Building Bushcraft Shelters

    After you have your initial layer on the shelter continue putting the debris until you have at least 1 meter (3 feet) of debris on the shelter. It is a case of more the better. A good judgement is that it should be as thick as the length of an adult’s arm, hand to shoulder.

  6. For the entrance make a lattice door that can be pulled over the door when you are inside. The thicker the better. Once you have you lattice door weave thin saplings into the door. Keep as many leaves on as possible. You can also push leaves or grass into the structure. The thicker the door the more insulation it will create.

Additional Insulation for Shelters

When we are outside we need to remember the importance of keeping warm.  the rule of 3 in survival is an innovative formula, it prepares you to fight with the incapacitating power of nature and give life a fair chance to live. It prioritizes your basic needs in order of priority.

You cannot survive:

3 minutes without air

3 hours without shelter

3 days without water

3 weeks without food

As you can see shelter is second in the list, stating you can only survive approximately three hours without shelter. This statement is based on the assumption that your core body temperature can fall without action being taken to a level you will cause you to die. This can happen day or night to anyone, it is important you are aware of your environment and take action to keep warm. At night it is important that you take precautions before you sleep.

Most heat is lost at night through the ground when people are sleeping. There are two things you can do. First and most important is to ensure you have insulation between you and the ground. The best way to do this is put a layer of material under you like a mattress. Use thin branches, pine needles, grass and dry leaves. Ensure the material is dry and is approx. 30cm thick. Do not use bracken as it often has ticks which can lead to Lymes disease. Saying that, if it is all you can find it is better than hypothermia.

Items of use for building shelters and den building.





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Selecting A Shelter Site

Selecting a Shelter Site

Selecting a good shelter site is the first step to a great shelter

In a survival situation shelter is a high priority, it is important to select a good shelter site as soon as possible. Whilst doing so, bear in mind what you will need at the site.

In relation to the site there are two priorities that initially come to mind, when selecting a shelter site.

Lessons in build a shelter

Lessons in shelter building

  • Contain material to make the type of shelter you need.
  • Be large enough and level enough for you to lie down comfortably.

In addition when you are selecting a shelter site you may need to consider the following:

  • Provides concealment
  • Has escape routes, from animals or people.
  • Is suitable for emergency signalling, if necessary
  • Offers protection against wild animals, rock fall and dead trees that might fall.
  • Free from insects, dangerous reptiles, and poisonous plants.
  • You must remember the problems that could arise in your environment. For instance, avoid:

Flash flood areas in foothills.

  • Avalanches in mountainous terrain.
  • high-water marks.
  • the season of the year has a strong bearing on the site you select. Ideal sites for a shelter differ in winter and summer because you have different needs. During cold winter months you will want a site that will protect you from the cold and wind, but will have a source of necessary fuel and water. During summer in the same area you will want a source of water, but you will also want the site to be almost insect free.

To select a good shelter site follow B.L.I.S.S.

When you are selecting a shelter site you should use the following acronym. B.L.I.S.S.


Blend in with the surroundings.

Low silhouette.

Irregular shape.


Secluded location.

The next step is to start building. To do this you can find all you need outdoors. If you are doing this activity with children you may want to be prepared and have some items that may be useful.Pieces of wood, tarpoline or paracord.


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Prepared to Build a Shelter-First Lessons Bushcraft

Build A Shelter – First Lessons

Are you prepared to build a shelter?

The initial thoughts people have when asked the question “Are you prepared to build a shelter” is “Yes of course I am.” But in reality there maybe questions you haven’t thought about previously. When we teach young people about Shelter building we need to do more than teach how to build a shelter or tie a knot.

Lessons in build a shelter

Lessons in shelter building

It is looking at what our needs are and are we able to meet those need in the time we have. Planning is one of the most important skills you can have to be able to survive. When planning to build a shelter in a survival situation you need to plan more than where should I build it.

Many articles have been written about shelters. Very often the focus is the environment you find yourself, for example a snow hole when there has been heavy snow. Although this may be a factor when considering a shelter, there are many other factors to be considered. Some of these are more important considerations an individual may have to consider.

In my opinion, the most important consideration to be made is what are your needs. Although shelter is a priority in a survival situation, it is also a task that can take a lot of valuable, energy, time and resources. So, your first thoughts should be to answer questions surrounding the following areas.

  • Purpose of your shelter. Build what you need
  • Time, A valuable resource.
  • Resources, Building with what you have not what you want.

What is the reason to build a shelter?

This is where most people make a mistake and a point that many articles fail to cover. So, before you decide to start building it is important you stop and think about what you need. If you are planning to stay outdoors for a long period of time it may be a idea to build a substantial shelter that one that will take more time, energy and resources in the near future. Once you have decided what type of shelter you need you can then consider other critical issues. You might not need a water proof shelter, but you may need one that provides shelter from sun and or wind. Creating the wrong shelter can cost you a lot of time effort and energy.

Time. A valuable resource.

Time is something that has an impact on everyone, no matter what situation we are in. Whether it is our busy everyday lives, at home or at work or a survival situation where your life could depend on it. The first “time question” should be “Why do I need a shelter? You might be thinking that’s obvious, to keep you warm and safe. The problem is you don’t gain anything from that. You need to change your perspective on “Why you need a shelter.” Is it to survive a night or possibly two or are you planning on using your shelter long term. The answer will have a huge influence on what type of shelter you need.

Secondly, how quickly do you need the shelter and how long do you have to build it. If it is getting late on in the day and you need shelter it is unlikely you are going to build a shelter that will last days let alone weeks or months. So, you may have to build an initial shelter that

time prepared to build a shelter

time to shelter

is temporary, until you are able to build a shelter suitable to your needs. That simple shelter may be all you need if you are in a situation where you believe you are only going to need it for a night or two at the most.

I would rather spend a brief period of time to build a shelter that will meet my needs for one night in a limited amount of time than attempt to build something that is half finished and leaves me vulnerable during the night.

Resources, you can’t build with what you don’t have.

You may have decided on the type of shelter you need, but do you have access to the materials you are going to need. Initially you may look around and think “Sure I do, I am in a forest” But collecting sufficient quantities of materials that are suitable for what you plan to do can take a lot of energy and time. There may be plenty of resources but collecting it may take longer because you don’t have enough energy or time. You may need a temporary shelter to enable you to get the resources you need.

When making these decisions you also need to bear in mind do I have necessary tools to coolect the resources needed to build your shelter.

As you can see when it comes to building a shelter it is important you take time to plan what you need, what resources you need, how you will collect them and what shelter you may need in the interim. Planning is important in a survival situation as much if not more than everyday life. Your life may depend on it.

When doing activities with young people you may start with simple den building activities and make the activities more difficult as they build on their skills. To make the activities varied for young people you can add scenarios to the activities. These can be…

  • Providing them with limited resources
  • Limited resources
  • Time limits
  • To build a shelter for a designated environment or situation.

Adding these variations lets the young people learn new skills but also how to develop skills that are useful in everyday life. Plus, it can make the activity much more fun.

We all need to have the practical skills to survive, we also need to have the skills and abilities to use those skills in a way that you meet your needs when you need to.


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Den Building, Basic Bushcraft Shelters For Kids

Clove Hitch

Den Building, Basic Bushcraft For Kids

When I think back to my childhood den building was something I loved to do. Whether it was permanent dens in trees or hidden away, or temporary dens that lasted a few hours of fun. The main thing I remember is the fun, sometimes it would be cowboys and Indians others, Robinson Crusoe, living out tales or adventure and fun. Other times I would be a spy building a hide to watch my quarry. As time went by these developed into more substantial structures made to keep my friends and I dry and warm whilst we tried to stay outdoors in all weathers.

When I mention we are going to den building or shelters the reaction is always the same, excitement and smiles. If you aren’t confident being outdoors you can start at home either indoors or in the garden and start using cardboard boxes. if you decide to start with cardboard boxes make sure you check the weather. There is nothing worse than cleaning up soggy cardboard and watching your hard work slowly collapse into a soggy mess.

Uses of Den Building/Bushcraft Shelters.

When you build your first shelter it is likely just to be a fun thing to do with your children. When you have finished you will see your children’s imagination come alive, whether they are pirates, marooned men like Robinson Crusoe, Cowboys and Indians, playing with teddy bears and dolls, or what ever the latest television show is about. The point is they get a chance to be outside getting fresh air and having fun whilst using their imagination.

When children are a little older they may be interested in watch wildlife, nature, bushcraft, fishing or some other outdoor activity. Making a simple shelter and camouflaging it can be fun and either keep you dry or out of the sun depending on the weather. In the UK you are likely to have to do both within the space of a day or even a few hours. When you set out bear in mind the colour of the Tarp you are using. Even if you camouflage it orange or fluorescent yellow will still stand out.

The final activity you might like to do with your child is sleep out. Whether it is in your shelter or under the stars, it will be something your child will never forget. I believe every child should experience sleeping out under the stars with their parents at least once. It doesn’t matter where you do it, it can be in the garden or further afield and part of a bigger adventure. What ever you decide to do it will be a memorable time for everyone. Starting in the garden can be good for your first attempt then if it rains or you have any other reason you can retreat indoors.

Being Prepared For Den Building.

The best option is to purchase a few basic items. This will allow you to build a more substantial den/shelter. You can then re-use your den building equipment again and again. You can take it with you to the beach or park and have fun den building anywhere. You could start with a piece of plastic (A Tarp) and a length of Paracord. you would be amazed at the variety of shelters you can make with these two items and a couple of trees. But with a few more items you can do a lot more and learn a few skills along the way.

Here is what you will need for your den building experience:

  1. A piece of plastic, or a “Tarp”;
  2. Paracord;
  3. 6 long pieces of wood, log broom handles are suitable;
  4. Dozen tent pegs.

Remember: When you are building this shelter the size of tarp and the lengths of wood determine the size. Using Broom handles will make your den quite low to the ground, but suitable for young children.

Den building is fun and exciting and gives parents a chance to learn and share with their children. The skills taught here will also give you some basic bushcraft skills you can the develop further and build shelters in the woods.

Den Building Skills.

When you are building a den or a bushcraft shelter you are likely at some point going to need some or all these skills. They are all quite simple and will come in useful when you practice other bushcraft skills with children.

Don’t let these names scare you they are easy to learn with a little practice you will have your “Bushcraft Kid” helping you with these.

Here are some links to get what you need to build shelters and dens with your children. Whether it is in the garden or somewhere further afield in a park or local woodlands.

Clove Hitch

Clove Hitch

Remember  At least two poles are needed for den building, unless you have two conveniently spaced trees. you can use broom handles. Or an alternative more sturdy method using 6  broom handles.

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For some simple simple ideas for shelters visit Basic Den Designs.

If you decide to use Cardboard you can use the Basic Den Designs, but it is best to let the children use their imagination and you to be the chief labourer adding some knotting and lashing skills.

Basic Survival Shelters And Dens Designs For Bushcraft, Survival And Family Fun

Double Sided Lean to Survival Shelters and Dens
Lean To Style Survival shelters and dens

Lean To Style Survival shelters and dens

Basic Designs For Survival Shelters and Dens.

Once you have learnt Clove Hitch, Timber Hitch and Tripod Lash you can create numerous designs for survival shelters and dens. Whilst you and you child are learning these basic knots you can still have fun designing you den. You can start with a blanket and a couple of chairs or even cardboard boxes. Children are amazing when they are encouraged to use their imagination and build. Depending on you and your child’s confidence and if you plan taking your adventure outdoors you can give various guidelines. Six year olds understand that if you get wet and, or cold you can become ill or die. So challenging your child to think about keeping dry and how you will keep warm are good issues to start of with.

Uses And Issues Surrounding Survival Shelters And Dens.

Here are a few discussion points.

  • Why do Homeless people sleep out doors?
  • What do they use to keep warm?
  • Why do they use cardboard boxes
  • Can we help in anyway?
  • What is hyperthermia and hypothermia?
  • What types of slopes are Best?
  • Will the roof hold water or will it drain off?
  • Is the roof strong enough?
  • Will the survival shelter and den design blow away?
  • How can you fasten it down?
  • What can Survival shelters be used for?

The final question is good to ask children you might be surprised at the replies. There are the obvious sleeping under, play, keeping dry and warm when outside at the beach or park, or using it as a hide to watch and or photograph local wildlife. The list goes on and on.

Building shelters can help you look at various issues from design, social problems, outdoor skills uses of Survival shelters and dens.

Double Sided Lean to Survival Shelters and Dens

Double Sided Lean to Survival Shelters and Dens

Below are some sketches of some basic shelters. These shown are using a “Tarp” and poles. You can buy poles specifically for making a bivi, survival shelter or den. Alternatively you can make some from brush handles or branches you find in the wild. There will be another post showing some techniques for making survival shelters.

Lean To Style Survival shelters and dens

Lean To Style Survival shelters and dens

When designing the shelter you need to think about whether you will need a crosspole to help support the tarp or whether a taut piece of Paracord will do the job. You will also need to think about where the guy ropes will go. Guy ropes will serve two purposes.

  1. Giving strength to your structure, or keeping a piece of Paracord taut to support your tarp.
  2. To hold your survival shelter and Den in one place if you experience wind.



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Bushcraft Survival Shelters And Dens

Bushcraft Survival Shelters And Dens

When you start building dens and shelters, it is best to start simple. Remember there is no right or wrong when you start with your child.Imagination is important when starting out. They may want to be pirates, in a space ship or their favourite T.V. Survivalist. It gives you time to have fun and learn with your child to talk and laugh together. Bushcraft skills are great because you get to be with your children and not have modern day distractions.