Skids Up No. 6: Protection (Part 2)

In Part 1 of Protection, we looked at the importance of FIRE. It applies to all the principles of survival.

Shelter can protect you from hot and cold temperatures, the sun, insects, wind, rain, and snow. It can give you a feeling of well-being. It can help maintain the will to survive. The need for shelter even takes precedence over the need for food and water. Always dress according to the conditions that you may face in any particular environment. As discussed in ´Dress to Egress´, if you are cold walking to the aircraft, you are not dressed correctly. If you are hot inside the aircraft, turn down the heater!

If safe to do so, the first and easiest shelter you should consider is THE AIRCRAFT. It is a readily available source of protection, and it is what the rescue team will be looking for.

The most common error in making a shelter is making it too large. A shelter must be large enough to protect you, but small enough to contain your body heat. This is especially true in cold climates. Remember, we are surviving, not camping! You may have an emergency sleeping bag/survival shelter in your current survival kit. These are only useful for short, overnight survival before they get damaged. Also, they are often orange; the worst color to see from the air. Blue, 55 gallon, industrial, garbage bags are far more effective and robust. Unfortunately, both types are often used incorrectly. Even manufacturers portray their incorrect use:

To be used correctly, you have to go against everything you have been told about plastic bags. Put it over your head! Either cut the corner off, or make a hole to allow you to breath. Then put it over your head and sit down:

With careful management, you can light a candle inside during sub-zero temperatures. Even without a source of heat, your head, shoulders and upper body is now completely covered.

But these are only temporary measures. They are not very practicable for more than an emergency, overnight shelter.

Utilizing the resources found in nature, a far more robust shelter can be established.  The type of shelter will depend on a variety of factors and considerations. Take the following into consideration: 

  • The time and effort needed to construct the shelter. The most energy you will have is NOW.
  • Will the shelter provide adequate protection from the elements? 
  • The type of materials needed for the shelter.

Rather than confuse yourself, start simple, and learn two types of shelters. Then you can practice in whatever environment you find yourself in.

´One for areas where you need to be off of the floor (e.g. the jungle) and one ´for everywhere else´.

With the right knowledge, these can be manufactured from any available materials. Shelter site is also equally important. Choose a site that ´feels nice´, if possible. If your location feels cold, it will get colder! Avoid river beds due to the risk of flash floods and insects that converge on stagnant water.


The lean-to shelter is probably the easiest and quickest type of wilderness shelter to build, and it is suitable for most terrain. It can be built as complex as you require with materials readily available in nature. 

This picture shows a jungle lean-to that was built in approximately 2 hours by a student in a survival school in Guatemala. His only tool was a machete. The lean-to requires 2 things:

  1. A cutting tool.
  2. An abundance of building materials.

Always build this type of shelter with its back to the prevailing wind. 

  • Gather two, 4 feet long, Y-shaped sticks. Bury one end in the ground, so that they stand about 3 feet high. Gather another branch, about 6 feet long, to use as a ridge pole. Lay the ridge pole between the two forks. The lean-to can then be made more secure by using whatever materials that might be available to tie the ridge pole in place. 
  • Next, lay several other sticks across the ridge pole. Securing them in place will assist in making a more sturdy shelter. The opposite end can be buried in the ground, or you can place large rocks on top to assist in holding them in place. This will provide the basic skeleton of the shelter. 
  • Cover the skeleton with whatever material is available. Natural materials can be used, but they should be layered from the bottom to the top. This provides a thatching that will keep water from dripping into the shelter.

This shelter is perfectly suitable for the jungle since it raises you from the floor and protects you from rain). It can even be used under Arctic Circle conditions with the addition of a parallel fire. Without a sleeping bag, you can sleep comfortably in temperatures as low as – 50 degrees Celsius.

Thermal A-Frame

My favorite shelter of all time is the thermal A-frame. It is a very simple and highly effective thermal shelter for one person. It allows you to survive extremely cold temperatures, if you are unable to make fire. It is also good for those that may find themselves in a tactical / high threat environment. It is the shelter that I teach to military aircrews.

This shelter is easily constructed with basic materials. When properly built, it is easily warmed and provides protection from both wind and water.

  • Mark out the length of your body on the ground with 2 sticks or rocks to give you the length. 
  • Create an “A” for the tent door by resting sturdy, diagonal branches opposite each other that meet where the head will be.
  • Place a long, sturdy pole to serve as the ridgepole into the “A”. Check that your body fits into the framework. Use vines, thin green branches or rope to lash together all support points.
  • Create a ribbed frame with branches to set along the ridge pole. Make sure it’s wide enough, so that you have enough room inside.
  • Cover, from the ground up, with any thatching material that you have available; dead leaves from the forest floor, bracken, leaves, or snow. Just make sure you cannot see daylight through your thatching.
  • Improve the thermal characteristics of the shelter by manufacturing a ´door´. Once inside, close the door, and your body heat is retained inside the shelter more effectively.

Here is a cut-away view of a thermal A-frame construction utilizing dead leaves for thatching:

Keeping Animals/Insects at Bay

The most effective insect repellents usually contain a high concentration of DEET-based solution. This is safe to spray, or to rub onto your skin and clothes. If you don’t have this, find a citrus-based fruit to rub its juices onto your skin. Clothing should cover your arms and legs; the darker colored and thicker, the better. However, you should always check your clothes and footwear for insects. Shake them out before putting them back on, especially if you’ve been air-drying your clothes outdoors. Likewise, with any sleeping bags or blankets you may have, give them a thorough shake and inspection before using. The smoke from your fire is also a good way to keep many animals/insects at bay. However, you must accept that you are a visitor in their home.

Protection is a multi-layered approach. It involves the clothes you wear, your ability to make fire, your survival equipment at hand to aid you and avoid wasting energy, and the knowledge to construct a simple shelter that is time and energy efficient. In the next blog, we will look at the second principle of survival: ´Location´. We will touch on various types of location marking devices that will fit your budget.

You are only a survivor when rescued…….

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