Building a Temporary Shelter: Basics of Outdoor Survival Skills

Written By iwasthinkingnatural

Passionate about nature and sustainability, and attracting people away from technology and into nature. 

One of the basic necessities for survival, especially in the outdoors, is shelter. The purpose of a temporary shelter in survival scenarios is to provide safety, protection from weather elements, and to prevent potential health issues like hypothermia. An efficient temporary shelter offers a sense of security, and in emergencies, a glimmer of normalcy. For outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, understanding how to build a shelter can make all the difference in a survival situation.

Recommended Materials

While it’s crucial to learn about using natural materials for shelter-building, advanced planning can immensely alleviate the challenge. One such preparation involves carrying a plastic sheet with you. Lightweight and compact when folded, a plastic sheet can easily fit into your bag, occupying minimal space. The benefits of carrying a plastic sheet can be lifesaving; they’re versatile, waterproof, windproof, and can serve as an essential survival tool.

Building a Shelter with a Plastic Sheet

In this section, we’ll explore the steps for making a few types of shelters using a plastic sheet: an A-frame shelter, a lean-to shelter, and a teepee shelter.

A-Frame Shelter:

Materials needed for this type of shelter include a plastic sheet, cordage (like a rope or paracord), rocks, or stakes. Making an a-frame shelter with plastic involves the following steps:

  • Find two sturdy trees spaced a suitable distance apart.
  • Stretch a length of cordage between the trees at a height that suits your needs.
  • Drape the plastic sheet over the cordage to create an A-shaped shelter.
  • Secure the edges of the plastic sheet with rocks or stakes. This will keep the shelter firmly grounded, even in strong winds.

Lean-To Shelter:

For a lean-to shelter, you’ll need a plastic sheet, a sturdy tree or pole, rocks, or stakes. The lean-to shelter construction with a plastic sheet involves these steps:

  • Identify a sturdy tree or pole at a suitable spot.
  • Attach one edge of the plastic sheet to the tree, and spread it out at an angle to the ground.
  • Anchor the other edge of the plastic sheet to the ground using rocks or stakes. You should have a simple, single-sided shelter.

Teepee Shelter:

To build a teepee shelter, gather several long branches, a plastic sheet, and a rope. Here are the steps for building a teepee shelter:

  • Select several long branches and arrange them into a cone-shaped structure.
  • Wrap the plastic sheet around the branches. Ensure to leave a doorway for entry and exit.
  • Secure the plastic sheet with a rope or by tucking its ends under to prevent wind exposure.

Alternative Materials for Shelter (If No Plastic Sheet is Available)

Reliable as plastic sheets are in a survival scenario, there may be times you find yourself without one. Nature provides many alternatives, so it’s essential to learn how to use these if needed. Here are some options:

Using Natural Vegetation:

Large leaves, ferns, or palm fronds can be used to cover a shelter. Layer the vegetation to increase water resistance, and always place the leaves in a shingled pattern to effectively shed water.

Branches and Brush:

You can construct a sturdy framework for your shelter using branches. Smaller twigs, leaves, and moss can then be used to cover the structure for better insulation. The bulkier the coverage, the better your shelter will be at retaining heat.


Peelable bark, found on several trees, provides an excellent material for shelters. Large sheets of this bark can be used to form an efficient roofing material for your shelter. The bark can be secured with cordage or vines.


In snowy environments, a snow cave or trench is an efficient shelter. If you have a plastic sheet, use it to line the cave or trench for moisture protection.

Clothing and Fabric:

Extra clothing, or any fabric like a poncho or rain jacket, can be useful for creating a shelter. Combined with natural materials, these can provide good coverage and insulation against the elements.

Practical Tips and Conclusion

Shelter building isn’t just about construction skills. Selecting the right location that is safe, dry, and relatively flat is equally crucial. Adapt the shelter design based on the weather condition and terrain. The shelter’s opening should ideally be away from the direction of prevailing winds. To maintain warmth, insulate the ground with leaves, branches, or other natural materials.

In situations where you are building a shelter for survival, ensure the environment is as dry and safe as possible. Practice various shelter-building techniques in different conditions for better preparedness.

In conclusion, the ability to create a temporary shelter is a vital survival skill for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Recapping the key points, a plastic sheet is an excellent tool for creating quick, effective shelters. However, in its absence, natural substitutes such as vegetation, branches, and bark, or a snow trench can suffice.

Keep practicing these techniques in controlled environments, learn to adapt, and always remember that safety and efficiency go hand in hand. Lastly, to connect deeper with nature and develop self-reliance, mastering outdoor survival skills is the adventure to embark on with a sense of joy and fulfillment.


Get a weekly email with new inspiration from our blog.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.