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  • Paul Tappenden

Building a Debris Shelter in the Woods

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

One of the primary needs of man is shelter, especially during the colder months. If one were to find oneself lost in the woods at this time of year and in need of a temporary shelter, the debris hut is an excellent way to stay relatively cosy on a cold night.

I was with my good friends Joanna, Peter and JJ, discussing how one would survive the winter in the local woods. We agreed that the number one need would be shelter. So, we decided to hike into the woods near Peter’s house and practice constructing a debris hut, out of what we could find laying around the immediate vicinity.

We began by finding a large rock, against which we placed a fallen log. We each laid under the log to make certain that there was sufficient clearance. Next, we began to create a framework of broken branches which would support the covering of debris (which might include leaves, tree bark, moss, pine bows or whatever we could find).

We had no tools, so we used the wood that lay on the ground, breaking dead branches across our knees or propping them against a rock and snapping them with our feet.

Peter used a couple of forked sticks and a cross bar to help in creating an entrance at the top end of the shelter, then we continued to add sticks and twigs, which we loosely wove together to fill all the big holes. Once we had built up a network of fine twigs, it was time to pile on an insulating coat of leaves. Luckily, it hadn’t rained recently and the surrounding leaves were nice and dry.

We continued to pile on leaves until the structure was well covered with a thick layer. In order for the shelter to be truly efficient, the layer of leaves needs to be as deep as the length of an arm. However, we had started quite late in the day, and by this point it was starting to get cold and dark. Since this wasn't an emergency situation, we decided to complete the project the following week.

After a couple of days of rain, the shelter was still in good shape and remained dry inside. We continued to build up layers of sticks and leaves. This time, we had had the foresight to bring along a rake and took turns raking up the leaves, whilst the others carried the piles over to the ever growing shelter.

We built up the layers of leaves and twigs, until we were certain that nothing could penetrate to the interior, then we searched the area for fallen trees that were shedding their bark. We figured that the pieces of bark would make perfect shingles to hold the leaves in place, and to help keep out the rain, and so they did. The completed shelter now took on a whole new appearance.

Next, the interior needed be stuffed with dry leaves to create a sort of natural sleeping bag for the occupant to crawl into. After plugging up the doorway, to keep out wind and rain, this makeshift shelter should provide for a cosy night's sleep.

All we needed now was a door to keep out the wind and the cold. For this, we lashed together sticks to create two frames, the shape and size of the entrance. We lashed them together stuffing them with leaves, for insulation. and Peter fitted the door in place.

The shelter was now complete. All that remained was for one of us to spend the night there.

Later that winter, we went back to visit the shelter. It was hard to locate at first as it was buried in snow. However, we found it, pried open the door and checked the interior. Dry as a bone!

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Feb 21, 2021

Grandson will be trying this next weekend in the woods of Maine!

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