Survival Skills photo

A wintertime wilderness emergency can leave you with a lot to worry about. Fortunately, making a bed to get you up off the frozen ground is one of the easiest problems to fix–if you know how to make a bough bed.

I am sure that beds and mattresses like this go back to antiquity, but they became common in the later days of the fur trade era in the northern U.S. and Canada. To make a bough bed you don’t need much in the way of tools–just a pair of gloves should do it. This is one occasion when harsh weather can be of help, as pine branches become even easier to snap off when temps are below freezing. Gather three armloads of needle-bearing branches and boughs to get you started. For the bed in this photo, I used red cedar and Virginia pine. White pine and loblolly will make an even softer bed, with their long, soft needles. Any other needle-bearing trees can work, too. However, the sharp, square needles of spruce can be a pain. And fish out those pine cones while you are working, otherwise they’ll feel like rocks in your back.

For the bed frame, roll two logs longer than you are tall parallel to one another and about three feet apart. Fill the space between the logs with the boughs. Dry leaves can be a great addition if you can find them. In snowy conditions, you’ll just have to stick with the boughs. Make the mattress so thick that you are still at least 6 inches from the frozen ground or snow surface when lying on the bed. Keep adding armloads of boughs if the mattress compresses too much or isn’t warm enough, and that’s it. Far from rocket science, but like most survival skills, there are still some techniques at work.

For instance, when gathering branches, you have to learn which way to break them from the tree species you are using. Some break better by bending and rolling them toward the tree trunk. Others break with a simple straight snap, or by peeling and breaking them away from the tree trunk.

Have you ever slept on a springy bough mattress? Would you do it again? Let us know in comments.