A good shelter with a few fatal flaws isn’t a very good shelter at all. Over the years, I have seen some awful blunders (and made a few myself) in the art of shelter building. Here are five of the most common mistakes.

Improperly Secured
This one stems from a modern-day affliction: the inability to use one’s hands effectively. So many people no longer do any significant manual labor in their daily life, that most of the world has forgotten how to build or make anything, tie knots, or do much else that is actually productive. Thankfully, this is a problem that can be resolved. Learn to work with your hands and learn to tie some knots. Check out our Knot Gallery for tips and instructions if you are short on knot tying skills.

This mistake usually happens when you are using a shelter covering that is not breathable. Plastic sheeting and tarps often trap the moisture from our bodies and bedding. The moisture then condenses on the inside of the shelter covering as water drops or frost, depending on the temperature. The fix for this problem is ventilation. Increased ventilation will cost you some warmth, but will improve dryness in the long run.

Too Big and Open
In an emergency, you shouldn’t try to build a circus tent. Many shelters that I see are just too big and open. You don’t need a giant door gaping wide open. You don’t want your sleeping shelter to be a one-sided half-shelter like a lean-to. Protect yourself from the elements by reducing the openings, adding a second wall to your lean-to, etc.

Overestimating Warmth
Maybe you got tired when you were constructing your new home. That’s inexcusable. Maybe a serious injury set your emergency situation in motion. That’s actually excusable, but excuses won’t help you now. You thought a small pile of grass would keep you warm down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Or you thought (or hoped) that your tiny tarp shelter with the big door and no floor would be warm and cozy. You guessed wrong. The best fix for this mistake is some serious overkill on the front end of construction. Build your shelter with tons of insulation. Make it hurricane proof. You can always open it up a little if you get too hot during the night. Trust me, it’s never fun to wake up in the freezing cold and have to look for more insulation in the dead of night.

The “Man Trap”
A “man trap” is a shelter that could collapse on its inhabitants causing injury or even death. Just because you think a log or a ridgepole will stay in place, doesn’t mean that it will. The rule here is to set up the main structural elements of a shelter in a way that they support their own weight, plus more. Snow loads, heaped-up roofing material, and even rain will add to the weight that your shelter must carry. Build strong frames. Before you hunker down, figure out if the shelter can fall, and if so, where it will fall.