How to Build a Wilderness Survival Shelter with No Supplies

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Shelter is your #1 survival priority, so knowing how to make a survival shelter is something that everyone should know.  Ideally, you would keep a tent or a tarp in your Bug Out Bag in case you ever needed to flee into the wilderness and make your own shelter.

Making a tarp shelter is actually pretty easy once you’ve practiced it a few times (knot-tying skills come in handy here!). Here are some survival shelter designs you can make in under 20 minutes with a tarp.

But what if you don’t have a tarp or any other supplies with you?

I’ve read wilderness survival stories where people lost in the woods buried themselves in dirt or covered themselves in leaves to stay warm during the night.  That’s a great tactic – until it starts to rain or snow!

Here is how you can make a wilderness survival shelter without any supplies (aka brush shelter) in the wild.

Don’t forget to practice it so you’ll be prepared should you ever need this survival skill!

Step 1: Choose Your Site

Choose a spot for your wilderness shelter which is:

  • Dry
  • Flat
  • Not right next to a body of water.
  • Not underneath any cliffs, falling rocks, or dead limbs which could fall on you
  • Is readily visible or very well hidden (depending on whether you want to be found or not)
  • Have a good place for a fire right in front of the doorway

A note about choosing a flat site for your shelter.  This is not just for comfort!

If your shelter is on a slope and it starts raining, then the rainwater can come into your shelter.

If you are unable to find a flat spot for building your shelter and rain is likely, then you will need to dig trenches to divert the water away from the shelter.

Step 2: Assess Your Needs

A lot of wilderness survival experts will tell you that this or that method is the best survival shelter.  However, it really depends on your needs.

Here are some of the things you need to consider:

  • How many people are in your group?
  • Does your shelter need to be camouflaged?
  • How cold is it? Will you need to build a fire inside or directly in front of your shelter?
  • How much time do you have to build the shelter?
  • Is the shelter for long-term or short-term use?

Step 3: Decide On a Type of Shelter

This is actually the most important part of building a shelter in the wilderness.  If you know a few shelter designs AND know what they are best suited for, then you will be able to make the right shelter.

Here I’m going to go over how to build the most common types of wilderness survival shelters and WHEN TO CHOOSE THEM.

Option 1: The A-Frame Brush Shelter

This is a great short-term survival shelter for a single person because it is so fast and easy to build. It is also easy to find materials for building it.


  • One person
  • Fast to build
  • Very easy to build
  • Camouflaged
  • Temporary/short-term
  • Fire won’t warm inside the shelter

How to Build the Shelter:

  1. Find one long, sturdy branch. It should be a few feet longer than your height.
  2. Prop one end of branch up on a tree stump or log. Alternatively, you can prop it up on two shorter branches, making an A shape.
  3. Lean shorter branches against the branch. Now you have a frame.
  4. Now cover the frame with leaves, branches, or other brush.

*You can also make this survival shelter against fallen trees.  Or, for a larger A frame shelter, prop up both ends of your long branch.  With this method though, wind can blow in from the sides and it also won’t trap your body heat as well.

Here's what the shelter frame design looks like
Here’s what the shelter frame design looks like


A frame shelter
Here’s what the A frame debris shelter looks like from inside without the coverings added yet


A frame between two trees
You can make a larger A frame shelter by building it between two trees

Here's an example of the shelter frame, though rope was used to make this survival shelter

Option 2: The Tipi Shelter (Teepee)

You are probably familiar with this shelter design and maybe you even made a few (I know I made them as a kid).  These are relatively easy to build but you’ll need to have a lot of long branches around.

Another downside of the tipi shelter is that its high, vertical shape makes it relatively unstable during high winds.  Because it is large in size, it won’t trap your body heat as well as a smaller brush shelter would.


  • Easy to build
  • Good for larger groups of people
  • Requires lots of long branches
  • Not suitable for high winds
  • Doesn’t trap body heat as well as some shelter designs
  • Fire won’t warm inside the shelter
  • Will need to use leafy branches for covering as leafs and brush tend to blow away

How to Build the Shelter:

  1. Find three long branches that are relatively the same length. Prop these up to make a tripod frame. This can be relatively difficult to do without rope.  Alternatively, you can prop the branches against a tree to make a modified tipi shelter.
  2. Add more long branches to the tripod you built. The more branches you build, the sturdier the frame will be. Remember to leave a gap for the doorway to the shelter.
  3. Keep adding branches, including shorter ones. There should be as few cracks as possible in the frame.
  4. Cover the frame with leafy branches. Brush doesn’t work very well for covering because it easily blows away. Birch bark also works great for a covering – just don’t peel all the bark away unless you are in a true survival situation as it will kill the tree!
  5. If you do use brush for covering the tipi shelter, you’ll need to add more branches to the outside to prevent them from blowing away.


Tipi Shelter
This tipi shelter was made with birch bark coverings


Modified Tipi Shelter
Here’s a modified version of the tipi shelter design. The branches are propped against a tree for more stability since no rope was used.


Another modified Tipi Shelter
And yet another modified tipi shelter design with the frame made against a fallen tree


Option 3: Lean-To Shelter

The lean-to shelter is easy to make and roomy.  It doesn’t trap body heat as well as a completely enclosed shelter.  However, the wall of the shelter also acts as a fire reflector.

If you make a fire in front of the shelter, the heat will bounce off the wall and keep you warm.  To make it even better for cold weather, make a fire reflector/wind screen on the other side of your fire pit.


  • Not very warm by itself; will need to make a fire and preferably also a wind screen/fire reflector
  • Wind can get in from the sides
  • Not very camouflaged
  • Easy and fast to make
  • With addition of a “bed” and wind screen, it can be suitable as a long-term shelter

How to Build the Shelter:

For a practical demonstration check this post where we follow along with Matt as he makes a lean to shelter from scratch.

  1. Find two trees at least 6-8 feet apart (depending on how tall you are)
  2. Find a long, sturdy branch slightly longer than this.
  3. Using cordage (read how to make cordage from plants here) or flexible tree branches, tie the branch between the two trees.
  4. Alternatively, you can prop the branch on two tree stumps, between two forked branches that you’ve stuck in the ground, or even on mounds of dirt.
  5. Take note of which direction the wind is blowing. Now lay branches across your main branch so they will block the wind. You now have a lean-to frame.
  6. Cover the lean-to frame with sticks, brush, and debris for insulation and protection from the rain.
  7. If it is windy or rainy, block the sides of the lean-to shelter for additional protection.
Lean to shelter
Flexible branches were used to tie up this lean-to survival shelter


This lean-to shelter has sides for protection against wind
This lean-to shelter has sides for protection against wind

Option 4: Shelter with a Smoke Hole

There are a bunch of ways to make shelters with smoke holes.  You could make a tipi style shelter and leave a hole in the top.  Or you could dig an earthen pit house shelter with a hole for a fire inside.

Unless it is truly freezing cold, never make a fire inside your survival shelter!  The risk of burning your shelter — and yourself — is too great.  If you do need to make a fire, then it will need to be VERY SMALL and controlled.


  • Many possible designs
  • Takes a lot longer to build because the smoke hole decreases stability
  • Higher learning curve
  • Good for winter survival situations

Since there are so many ways do make smoke hole shelters, I won’t give you instructions here.  I’ll save that for a later, more detailed post.

Here's a design for a round hut shelter with a smoke hole
Here’s a design for a round hut shelter with a smoke hole

Note that there are plenty of other ways to make a wilderness survival shelter without supplies.

Go out and try some!

That is the only way you will be able to get a feel for which survival shelter is right for your unique situation.  Have fun!

Have you made a survival shelter before? How did it go? Let us know in the comments or join our discussion in our Facebook community.

+ Image credits:

My shelter in the morning” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  sudarkoff
DSC_0278” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  davidecasteel
Shelter me” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  mgstanton
shelter: step 1” (CC BY 2.0) by  eggrole
Wilderness survival” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by  Hobo Matt,_Ibsley_Common,

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  1. If you got there by car or truck, it’s far more comfortably, dry, warmer & safe from wind or falling branches etc. My 1960s half-kg nylon triangular tent with the top end ropes tied to rocks or branches is equally good anytime,

  2. As silly as it sound my brother and I use to build this types of shelters as kids for fun . Dad supervised and inspected our play fort . I from up thinking everyone’s dad taught their kids these . Later I realised he was teaching us wilderness first aid and survival

  3. My best friend and I used to build all sorts of forts in the woods to play in. Our favorite was a “straw house.” We built a frame from sticks, somewhat like the ones you show, but we had four walls and a roof. Then we wove long grass clippings from a nearby field through the sticks. Plenty of room for two girls to play in. We even furnished it with some furniture we rescued from people’s trash. The trees of the woods protected it from the weather pretty well, but the boys did like to trash it almost every night. We rebuilt every day. Who knew we were practicing survival skills!

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