How to Make an A-Frame Survival Shelter (with Absolutely No Supplies)


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Last Updated: November 11, 2022

There are a lot of ways to make a shelter, but the A-frame is considered the best for most situations, such as if lost in the woods. 

Compared to other shelter configurations, like the lean-to shelter, the A-frame is quick to make, traps heat well, and protects against the elements from all sides. 

If you have basic supplies like a survival tarp and rope, you’ll be able to make an A-frame shelter very quickly. However, it’s possible to make the A-frame shelter with absolutely no supplies. 

Here’s how to do it.

Also Read: How to Survive in the Wilderness

What Materials Do You Need for an A-Frame Debris Shelter?

A “debris shelter” is a shelter made with natural supplies you find in the wilderness.  In most cases, the debris is going to be branches, sticks, and leaves.  You can also use things like pine needles, moss, ferns, bark, or even mud and snow.

Important: Follow Leave No Trace!

If you are making a survival shelter for fun, don’t break any live tree branches or kill plants. Don’t use moss for coverage either (it takes a long time to regrow). And always take the shelter down when you are done. People like me don’t want to see signs of other people’s presence when enjoying nature.

How Long Does It Take to Make an A-Frame Debris Shelter?

Expect it to take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to make an A-frame survival shelter. In fall when there are lots of leaves on the ground, it will be a lot faster to make the shelter.  If you find yourself lost in the wilderness, make sure you start making your shelter long before darkness falls!   

Making An A-Frame Shelter Instructions

1.  Find a Ridgepole

The ridgepole is the “backbone” of your shelter.  It should be at least 2 feet longer than your body and sturdy enough to support the weight of your shelter.  You can often find a fallen tree to use as your ridgepole.

using fallen tree as a ridgepole for shelter
Fallen trees like this make good ridgepoles for a debris shelter. Just make sure it is stable enough so it doesn’t fall on your head and kill you!

2. Prop Up the Ridgepole

If using a fallen tree for your ridgepole, then you won’t need to prop it up anywhere.  Otherwise, you’ll need to prop up one side of the ridgepole. 

The easiest way to prop up the ridgepole is to find a V-shape groove in a tree.  Or you can prop it up on a tree stump, large rock, fallen tree, etc.

If you really can’t find anywhere in nature to prop up the ridgepole, then find two Y-shaped branches.  Use these and your ridgepole to make a tripod.  Make sure the tripod is sturdy though – you don’t want your shelter falling down on top of you!

Important: The entrance to your shelter should be pointed away from the wind.

prop up ridgepole for survival debris shelter
Wherever you prop it up, make sure the ridgepole is stable so it won’t fall down.

How High to Prop Up the Ridgepole?

When making an A-frame shelter for one person, it should be a bit below waist height.  If making the shelter for two people, it will need to be a little higher than waist height. If you are making a raised bushcraft bed under the shelter, then it will need to be higher.

Don’t make it too high or your shelter won’t trap heat as well. I like to lay down underneath the ridgepole to get an idea of how big the shelter will be.  

3. Make a “Broom”

You can use your hands to gather leaves and other debris, but you can end up cutting your fingers on thorns, broken glass, etc. Because of this, I always make a “broom” out of twiggy branches.  It makes gathering leaves faster too.

4. Sweep Debris Underneath the Ridgepole

You need a debris “bed” in your shelter.  Otherwise the ground will literally suck the heat out of your body and you’ll be cold.

I actually made a raised bed for my shelter out of sticks and leaves.

But, the easiest way to make a bed is to just put a big pile of leaves in your shelter.  I like to do this before making the shelter because it’s easier to get all the debris in there.

This is the “bed” I made for the shelter to keep us off the cold ground. More leaves were piled on top of this frame afterwards.

 

5. Add Ribs to Your Shelter

Gather lots of long sticks and lean them against the ridgepole to create “ribs.”  

The ribs should be set so there is 6 inches on each side of your body (or bodies if making a shelter for two people). Don’t make the shelter too wide or it won’t trap heat well.  Yes, it’s going to be snug inside!

Adding ribs to A-frame debris shelter

6. Add Coverage Over the Ribs

Look for branches with lots of twigs and leaves on them. Put these over your ribs.  You want these to make a “net” or “web” over the shelter.

They are what will hold the debris on top of the shelter. Without them, the debris would fall straight through the ribs.

Conifer branches work really well for this. But, unless it is an actual survival situation, please don’t break branches off trees!

Adding coverage over A-frame debris shelter frame

7. Pile Debris Onto the Shelter

Pile debris on top of “webbing” until the whole shelter is covered.  Also pile lots of debris along the edges of the shelter to keep out the wind.

You’ll need a LOT of debris to cover the shelter.  Aim to have at least 1-2 feet of debris on the shelter.

Adding debris coverage on natural survival shelter

8. Check Coverage and Add More Debris

Look inside your shelter. Is there any light coming through?  If so, then you need more debris. Keep piling debris until you can’t see any light coming through.

See all that light coming through? It means we need more debris on top of the shelter!

9. Add Branches On Top of the Debris

Place a few long branches on top of the debris.  This will help hold it in place so it doesn’t fall or flow off.

10. Make a “Door”

You need a “door” for your survival shelter to block wind from getting into the shelter and also prevent heat loss. There are a few ways to make this door. 

The easiest is to just gather a  big pile of debris and place it near the entrance to the shelter.  Crawl into the shelter and then pull the pile of debris towards you to block the entrance. Now you are ready to sleep. 🙂

It was a snug with two of us inside, but it was surprisingly comfortable in the debris shelter. 🙂

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