7 Survival Shelter Designs You Can Build in 20 Minutes or Less

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I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to build survival shelters for various situations: getting lost in the wilderness, surviving a nuclear disaster, for extreme cold… There are a lot of these survival shelter designs on the web, but I’ve got a major problem with most of them: they take a long time and/or a lot of resources to build.

Let’s be realistic here. In most survival situations, you aren’t going to have 10 hours to gather supplies and put together a shelter. You will need to build a survival shelter fast. This is why I’ve included here 7 survival shelter designs that can be built in 20 minutes or less.

1. The Tarp Lean-To

tarp lean to design
Tarp Lean To

For this survival shelter, you just need a plastic tarp and some cordage. You can even make it with a poncho in a pinch. Just tie each end of the tarp to a tree.


  • Fastest to build
  • Very easy to build
  • Good for larger groups


  • Poor protection from wind and rain
  • Could easily break from falling sticks, hard rain, etc.
  • No protection from animals

2. Tarp Tent

tarp tent design
Tarp Tent

Just tie some cordage between two trees and drape your tarp over it. Then use some rocks, sticks or more cordage to anchor the sides of the tarp away from you.


  • Fast and easy to build
  • Protects from rain


  • Only moderate protection from wind
  • Could easily break from falling sticks, hard rain, etc.
  • No protection from animals

3. Tarp Teepee with Poles

Tarp Teepee design
Tarp Tepee with poles

You just need to gather some long branches (your poles) and prop them together to form the structure for the teepee (practice this; it is actually a bit trickier than it may seem to make the structure sturdy!). Then wrap your tarp around the poles. If it is raining, some rain will fall through the hole where the poles meet. You can fix this problem by draping another tarp or poncho over the top. Or, make a bigger hole and you can even have a fire inside your teepee!


  • Suitable for larger groups
  • Good protection from elements
  • Sturdy
  • Possible to have fire inside teepee; good for winter situations


  • Requires some practice to build
  • Need very large tarp
  • Will be hole at top of teepee where rain can enter

4. Tarp Teepee (no poles)

Fold your tarp into a triangular shape. At the point of the triangle, put a rock into the tarp. Then tie some cordage around the rock. Now hang this cordage from a tree. Anchor the bottom of the tarp down with rocks and you’ve got yourself a teepee.


  • Good protection from elements
  • Tree overhead provides additional shelter


  • Need a very large tarp or else will be very small shelter
  • Can be tricky getting cord tied to tree branch

5. Snow Shelter

What do you do if you are in an emergency situation outdoors in the snow? It will be too cold to spend a lot of time making a shelter. This survival shelter you can make very fast (especially if you have an emergency shovel). Just find a tree, prop a branch against its trunk at a 45 degree angle. Push the snow out of the way to form a “wall”. Prop another branch to support your tarp. Then drape a tarp over the branches.   You can line the inside of this survival shelter with pine needles and brush to act as insulation and keep you warm.


  • Good for winter survival situations
  • Can be made bigger or smaller depending on group size


  • Moving snow can be time consuming and draining without a shovel
  • Can’t keep a fire burning inside; a teepee might be a better option

6. Fallen Tree Shelter

debris shelter design
Fallen tree debris shelter

This is my personal favorite survival shelter because it can be easily adapted to the situation. It does rely on you being able to find a fallen tree though. You can do it multiple ways, such as draping a tarp over the fallen tree to make a tent. Or you can prop debris to act as your shelter wall. If it is windy or cold, use other debris to block off the entrance.


  • Easy to camouflage
  • Good protection from the elements, including snow
  • Adaptable to multiple situations
  • Can be made easily with a tarp or with just debris


  • Be prepared to share the shelter with bugs from the rotting log!
  • Will take some time to gather debris to block off entrance

Recommended ReadingHow To Build A Simple Lean To Shelter

7. Hammock Survival Shelter

jungle survival shelter design
Jungle shelter

Sometimes you need your survival shelter to be off the ground, such as in jungle situations where you’ve got all sorts of creepy crawly insects and animals around. This survival shelter design is perfect for that. It is basically a variation of the tarp tent, just off the ground.  Line the hammock with your extra clothes to provide some insulation.


  • Off the ground


  • Need hammock or extra tarp and cordage for hammock
  • Not much protection from the elements

Bonus: Tarp Tying Tip

You’ll notice that most of these survival shelter designs require a tarp. When making the shelter, don’t tie the cordage directly to the tarp. This will create a pressure point on the tarp and it could easily wear out and tear. Instead, put a rock into the tarp and tie the cordage around the rock. This will give the shelter design extra stability.

Have you tried making any of these survival shelters? Share your tips in the comments below.

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  1. Hey, if you are going to carry a tarp you can just as easily carry something like a “Spitfire Backpacking Tent” … Just saying

    • That tent is over 2lbs. I prefer to go Ultralight in my BOB. Now, I have an extra bag that I can throw in my car with comfort items like a tent.

    • When I was growing my mom taught me to be a conservative. My husband does not understand that, but I keep on doing it. i like learning more of what we can do. Thank you for all the extra info. Hope we never have to use it. Donetta.

  2. a figure eight and a carrabeaner would be imensly usefull in this or any sitiasion ny teacher was special forces training officer in the 1961 ish

  3. I have been using construction poly for 35 years now, have had no problems with carrying it as a piece 24 ft by 40 ft it 6weighs less than a pond. I use it for all kinds of shelters.

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