Survival Skills: How to Build a Leaf Hut Shelter

I have always practiced primitive survival skills for two reasons. The first is that it is very satisfying to be able to provide for yourself using only things found in the wild.

The second reason is that it provides a back-up plan for modern-day survival. You may lose your man-made gear, but nature always provides replacement gear, if you know how to make it.

Take shelter for example. The leaf hut is a wilderness shelter that requires no sleeping bag or fire to provide warmth, just your body heat. The best part is that you can construct it with your bare hands from materials like sticks and leaves; no tools or rope are required. A leaf hut protects from the cold, wind, rain and snow. It can be made from wet or dry materials, and when properly built it can hold in most of your body heat.

There are few things that are as important as shelter, and it is always a great idea to have a low-tech emergency option, just in case you get caught somewhere with nothing but the clothes on your back.

This hut is a simple design that works well enough, if you put enough leaves or other vegetation on top of it for weather resistance, and enough material inside the hut for warmth.

Where Should You Build?
The location of a shelter is very important. A good shelter built in a bad location may have to be abandoned, leaving you with nothing but wasted calories and time. Use these guidelines to help you determine a good place to build:
• The site should be protected from the weather, not out in an open field or on a mountain peak where it will be hit by all manner of weather.
• Pick a place out of the wind, but avoid places where rocks, widow makers (dead limbs hanging from trees) or entire trees could collapse on the shelter.
• Choose a well-drained place where no water will pool or run under the shelter. Build on a slight hump or rise in the ground. Don’t set up your shelter next to any body of water.
• In North America, face the opening to the east to avoid the prevailing wind and any approaching storms.
• Avoid areas with dangerous plants and animals. Things to look for include poison ivy and a bear’s scratching post. Don’t set up near holes in the ground. They could contain angry yellow jackets, snakes, fire ants, etc.
• Keep your fire at least 10-12 feet downwind: Leaf shelters can catch fire easily.
Leaf Hut Materials And Construction

Select a long, sturdy ridgepole. It should be at least as big around as your arm and strong enough not to break under the shelter’s weight. The pole should be 9 to12 feet long. Prop it up in the fork of a tree, or set it on a rock, stump or two forked prop sticks, which you have tested for strength. The height of the raised end of the beam should be about 3 feet. Make sure it cannot fall on you.
These can be made from dead tree branches or extremely thick and rigid bark slabs. The ribs are placed at an angle along both sides of the ridgepole. Crawl inside during construction to make sure the shelter is wide enough, leaving nine inches of space on either side of your body. Place the ribs close together so that the leaves won’t fall through.

Next heap leaves, grass, ferns, moss, pine needles, brush or tree boughs over the framework. The vegetation can be wet. Live materials can be used, but dead materials are best. A layer of vegetation two to three feet thick covering both sides of the shelter should be enough to keep you dry inside.
The rounded dome of a leaf hut resists most wind and water, but bark slabs can be used as shingles for even better weather resistance. Remember that these huts are water resistant, not water proof. A layer of brush (sticks, twigs and branches) should be thrown over the whole dome to keep the wind from stripping the debris away. Natural shelters like this are difficult to see from a distance, so mark it with a scrap of colored cloth or plastic.

Your leaf hut can now protect from wind, rain and snow, but you could still freeze to death inside without proper bedding. The inside of the shelter should be packed with leaves, twice as much as you packed on the frame. All corners inside should be packed with extra debris to prevent cold spots. A large pile of leaves placed outside can be pulled in as a door plug.

Check out the photo gallery for step-by-step photos.