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.





Follow Bushcraft4kids on Facebook

3 Responses to Building Bushcraft Shelters for kids and everyone

  1. A Fixed-Gripper Tension Hitch that connects to the trees using Running Bowstring Loops would be ideal for the rope that is used with the tent-style shelter.

  2. I like the tent between two trees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: