There are plenty of survival necessities that one must have in any survival situation, but few get as much attention and emphasis as shelter.
While it is true that you will constantly see articles and receive advice about the importance of ever precious water, and admonitions to lay in plenty of food to see you through the far side of a disaster, both of these pale in importance compared to the topic of shelter.
In fact, it is no exaggeration to assert that shelter is second only to air when it comes to survival essentials for humans. That is a bold claim to make: so why is shelter so important to survival in prepping?
Shelter is crucial for survival because exposure the the elements such as wind and rain, snow and freezing temperatures can cause hypothermia, which can be lethal.
You can survive for a couple of days without any water and weeks without a bite of food but in the wrong conditions you can only survive for a couple of hours without shelter. Only by obtaining and maintaining adequate shelter can one hope to withstand the effects of hypothermia and hyperthermia in a survival situation.
There are several important considerations that you must take into account when devising and planning to provide for your survival shelter. We will discuss some of the biggest ones below.
Survival Needs Hierarchy
Not all survival needs are created equal, and though you might get different answers at different times depending on who you ask, we can place genuine survival needs in a distinct hierarchy biologically.
Though humans require many things in order to flourish, we need comparatively few macro needs in order to survive. They are, in order of importance: air, shelter, water and food.
Deprived of any one of them for long enough someone will die, though how long they have to live without it depends on various factors, some innate and some circumstantial.
As mentioned above, air is by far the most important and, luckily for us, the most abundant much of the time. Someone can only survive for a few minutes without oxygen intake before brain damage and death will start to occur.
Shelter is second in importance, at least when someone is existing outside of ideal temperature conditions. If the body cannot thermoregulate itself to maintain an ideal core temperature range, death may occur as a result of hypothermia, becoming too cold, or hyperthermia, becoming too hot.
In comparison, water is the survival necessity that gets a considerable amount of attention, but even without a single drop of moisture a person can survive for a couple of days, perhaps longer depending on conditions. Without liquid, the body will dehydrate and eventually desiccate.
Food is disproportionately the subject of our thoughts but most folks who have ample fat reserves can survive for weeks, even longer, without a morsel of food. Calories are fuel for our biological processes and they must come from somewhere.
As you can see, a lack of shelter will kill far quicker than a lack of water or food, and only a lack of oxygen will kill faster. When caught outdoors, especially in a cold climate or wet conditions, death by exposure can occur rapidly.
There are other ways to get warm besides taking shelter, but one usually cannot maintain them indefinitely. A suitable shelter is necessary to allow one to remain warm while resting.
A Good Shelter Retains Heat or Provides Shade
Most of the time, we want a shelter that will retain heat, providing a warmer microclimate for us to occupy in order to keep our core body temperature higher. It can accomplish this by trapping the heat radiating off of a body, and also catching heat from other sources such as a fire.
A smaller volume of air is more readily heated and thus will stay warmer, keeping us warmer than we would be in the exact same conditions without our shelter.
In hot conditions, the main function of a shelter is to provide shade, especially critical during the hottest part of the day or in a hot season.
Absorbing direct radiation from the sun will rapidly raise your core body temperature, and this can serve as a dangerous double or triple threat if the ambient air temperature is already hot, and you are exerting yourself.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can take effect rapidly, and must never be underestimated. Always seek shelter from the hottest part of the day in a survival situation.
A Good Shelter Will Repel Rain and Wind
Beyond cold or hot air, temperatures exposure can also result from simple wind and rain. If you get wet, you will lose body heat much faster than normal. If there is wind blowing across you, you will likewise shed heat even faster.
If you get wet and there is wind blowing you’ll be losing body heat extremely quickly. This is particularly dangerous, and more than a few people have gotten in serious trouble or even lost their lives because they arrogantly (or ignorantly) disregarded the threat posed by bad weather conditions on a pleasant but cool spring day.
A good shelter will keep both wind and rain off of you, or at least reduce its effects upon you, and enable you to keep more of your precious body heat.
Even if you are in an area warm enough where getting wet is not an issue in and of itself, being soaking wet is rarely a morale booster and having a dry, cozy shelter to retreat into when the weather turns bad can only be a good thing for your morale.
Even the Simplest Shelters Can Make a Difference
Some preppers, when they imagine a survival shelter in the context of an emergency or disaster, imagine something like a teepee, primitive cabin or a big tent.
These are all good shelters for various reasons, but a worthy shelter does not even have to be that advanced!
Something as simple and as primitive as a lean-to shelter made from a reflective emergency blanket or a snow cave tunneled out of a snow bank or drift requires almost nothing in the way of materials, and can dramatically improve your situation.
You might be putting the wagon ahead of the horse if you’re focusing on building large, semi-permanent shelters, when what you really need is something that is just big enough for you (or your group) to snuggle into together in order to stay warm.
In fact, smaller bug out shelters are often more efficient than larger ones because far less energy is required to keep the air contained by them warm – that will keep you warm!
Keep your eye on the prize when constructing a survival shelter, and don’t let any desire for technical proficiency guide you to make poor or sub-optimal choices when the chips are down!
Primitive Shelters Can Be Used as Permanent Habitation
Now, despite the fact that most people will only ever need a basic temporary shelter in a survival scenario, made from natural materials or man-made ones, there is something to be said for larger permanent shelters or semi-permanent ones.
In a long-term survival scenario it makes sense to improve your shelter according to how long the situation might last.
For serious protection from harsh conditions and barriers against wildlife- various mammals, snakes and insects- shelters of this kind can be just the ticket.
Employed by cultures around the world throughout history and still used by various remote tribes today, shelters like the wigwam, tipi, long house, igloo and yurt have stood the test of time because they’re indisputably effective.
The yurt in particular has some distinct advantages over other types of shelter, not the least of which is that it can be (relatively) easily moved if necessary.
Be they made from sticks and branches, bamboo, straw, snow, mud bricks, cloth or a combination of all of the above, every environment will furnish at least some of the materials needed for constructing shelters of this type.
Compared to the much smaller shelters previously discusses, shelters of this type are far more material- and labor-intensive to build, and will require tools and know-how to execute properly and safely.
These are not necessarily a “priority one” plan in most survival situations where self-rescue is possible or retrieval is expected, but for a seasoned survivor these are good things to know, just in case!
Shelter Is Only Second To Breathing as a Priority
Shelter is an incredibly important survival consideration because it is second only to air in importance when conditions are suboptimal. In as little as a couple of hours one can die from exposure, and you might be incapacitated before then.
Make sure you prevent such an unhappy and tragic ending by placing the proper emphasis on creating and finding shelter no matter the season and the region.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.