Emergency Shelter

Stay protected (even cozy) when you're caught out overnight.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Your plan was to be in and out of the woods in a day, but a freak snowstorm whipped up. Now you'll be stuck for at least a night. When you're lost in the outdoors, especially in extreme weather conditions, one of your highest priorities is to construct a shelter.

There are two categories of emergency shelter-cold-weather and hot-weather. In cold weather, you need a shelter that will turn away the wind, keep precipitation out and retain warmth. In hot weather, the biggest considerations are to stay in the shade and perhaps keep the bugs out.

Since you're reading this in the dead of winter, I'll focus on cold-weather shelters. The most important thing is to keep yourself dry. As you work on your shelter, pay close attention to avoiding any source of moisture, including sweat. Pace your work. If it's raining or snowing, put on an emergency poncho to protect your clothes. Try to keep your boots, socks and feet dry as well.

Select a site that will separate you from ground moisture. If you're in boggy country and there's no chance to reach higher ground, build a floor using dead branches or stones.

If there are downed trees, use sturdy branches to bridge the gap between two of them, creating a raised platform on which to erect your shelter. Use available materials to erect an enclosure that will shed water and block the wind. Be creative.

Emergency shelters are, for the most part, easy to build. Before starting construction, however, consider these tips.

**1. Work Bottom Up: **When you attach roofing materials, work from the bottom up, so the higher layers drain onto the ones farther down toward the bottom edge.

**2. Close It Up: **Enclose the ends of the shelter, so wind and precipitation don't come in the sides.

**3. Watch the Wind: **Orient the shelter so that the opening is positioned away from the direction of the prevailing wind.

**4. Face a Reflector: **If possible, face the shelter toward a barrier. That barrier can also reflect warmth from a campfire back into the shelter opening to help keep you warm and dry.

[pagebreak] Portable Survival Guide
Waterford Press publishes pocket-sized reference guides on hundreds of topics, one of which is Wilderness Survival. The guide starts with basic survival strategy, followed by first aid, shelter, signals, water, fire, food, hazards and navigation. But remember, it's only a reference for techniques you have already studied.

Another guide in the series, The Night Sky, helps you to locate primary constellations. The guide is great for stargazing and orienting your position, but I don't recommend navigating cross-country at night.

Waterford Press Pocket Naturalist ($5.95; 800-434-255; www.water fordpress.com)

**Basic Shelter Styles **
These aren't dream homes, but they'll keep you dry and warm in the outdoors if you build them correctly. (see photo)

1. Lean-To
Start with a ridgepole lashed across two saplings or on a pair of vertical poles. Extend rafters diagonally from the ridgepole to the ground. Lace small branches across the rafters to support roofing material, such as bushes, long grasses or tree limbs. A poncho or tarp also makes a dry roof.

2. Windbreaker
This is by far the most primitive shelter of the three. Build a windbreaker when small branches, sticks and brush are scarce. Gather logs and rocks and pile them into a V shape. The point of the V should face the wind. This is basic protection; it does nothing more than divert the wind.

3. Wickiup
A wickiup is best described as a tepee without the hide for a cover. Begin by leaning long branches against one another to form a tepee frame. Next, cover the frame with smaller branches and brush material. Be sure to work from the bottom up so water will drain properly.