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How To Create and Survive In a Long Term Survival Shelter

Every seasoned survivalist, prepper, and adventurer knows that to survive in the middle of nowhere, you must be able to build a long term survival shelter. Without shelter, your chances of surviving and getting back to civilization drops due to extreme heat, cold, and the risk of being attacked by wild animals.

But what goes into building a long term survival shelter? How long does building a shelter take? Should you pack materials and tools to facilitate the process? 

Building a proper long term survival shelter requires some research and knowledge. This guide will cover the basics of long term survival shelters, types of survival shelters, and how to build them. 

What Is a Long Term Survival Shelter?

An A-frame survival shelter with a sleeping platform in it.  An A-frame shelter is just one option for a long term survival shelter.
An A-frame shelter that can serve as a long term survival shelter.

One of the three essential elements of survival is shelter. A shelter is meant to protect you from weather elements, wild animals, wildfires and keep you warm, dry, and comfortable. Building the appropriate shelter could make the difference between living and dying in a survival situation. While you may be tempted to set up a quick shelter, if it’s not protecting you from the rain, wind, heat, and other weather elements, it becomes a complete waste of time and energy. 

A long term survival shelter is built with the intention of staying in it for more than a month. When built properly, a long term shelter is strong enough to withstand all weather elements and keep you warm, dry, and safe.   

How to Set Up a Long Term Survival Shelter

The following are several easy steps you can follow to build a long term survival shelter: 

1. Find a Suitable Location for Your Shelter

A lean-to shelter with a fire pit next to it in a wooded setting.  A lean-to can serve as a long term survival shelter.

You have to be very cautious when it comes to choosing a location for setting up your long term survival shelter. The location will determine how long your shelter will serve you and whether you’ll be able to inhabit your long-term survival shelter during the day and rest and sleep peacefully at night.  

The following are factors you should consider when picking a location for your long term shelter:

Proximity to Water

Water is the most crucial element when it comes to survival. If you don’t have water, your chances of survival drop drastically. For this reason, when building your long term survival shelter, you need to make sure that you have a nearby water source.

You should be able to walk to the water source with ease. Conserving your energy is also crucial for survival. You don’t want to expend a lot of energy making a trip to the water source. Therefore, it’s ideal to set up your shelter not more than 200 feet away from a water source. 

Exposure to Environmental Elements

Exposure to weather and environmental elements is another factor you should consider when picking locations for your shelter. Putting your shelter in a location where it’s highly exposed to the environment and weather will put additional stress on the shelter, which affects how long it will serve you. Before picking a spot for your shelter, you should assess the surrounding area to make sure you won’t be building your long term shelter somewhere dangerous. 

  • Beware of the direction of the wind. Depending on your shelter’s location and orientation, wind can blow water and smoke inside your home, or worse, cool down your interior and waste your efforts to keep your shelter warm.
  • Don’t build your shelter next to a water source since the water levels could rise and flood your shelter within minutes.
  • Avoid setting up your shelter below loose rocks or at the foot of a cliff or hill. These areas are danger zones since they are prone to mudslides or rock slides and the debris can fall on you. Lower grounds are also prone to flash floods when heavy rains upstream cause a river to overflow and break its banks. 
  • Avoid wet, muddy, and bumpy grounds.
  • Building your long term shelter under dead trees also puts you in danger. Broken tree limbs, also known as “widow makers,” can fall on you at any time and could also fall on your shelter. You should generally avoid setting your shelter under any large trees, dead or alive. Heavy limbs can break and fall in high winds, due to ice buildup or heavy snow.  
  • Scan the area for signs of wildlife. Walk around the area to identify what types of animals live in the area or live nearby. Look for animal tracks, scratches on the trees, or bones. If if looks like wild animals frequent the area, the location may not be the ideal place to set up your shelter. 

Proximity to Fuel Sources

A rustic log shelter with a raised floor, rock fire pit , and overhanging roof -- a great example of a long term survival shelter.
A raised floor, rock fire ring, and overhanging roof make this a very solid long term survival shelter.

Just like water, keeping warm is essential for your survival. For this reason, you need to be sure that you build your shelter near fuel sources. You want to be able to keep your fire going without having to spend a lot of energy and time hiking or walking long distances to get firewood to burn. Your fuel sources should be within a short distance from your long-term shelter.  

The best location to build your long term survival shelter is on level ground, near all the essential resources you will need. It’s easier to build your shelter and start fires on level ground. If you fail to find level ground, you can dig trenches or try to flatten the ground. 

2. Determine Your Needs 

Now that you’ve settled on a location, it’s time to look at your situation and decide what type of shelter you want to build. Are you alone, or building a shelter for more than one person? How much time do you have to build your long term survival shelter? What’s the current average temperature of the area? What’s the overall state of the weather? Are you planning to have a fire outside or inside your shelter? How long do you plan to use the shelter? Your answers to these questions will guide you on the size and structure of the shelter you’ll build. 

While these issues may not be critical for a short-term shelter, you must consider them if you’re building a permanent long term surviving shelter. If you fail to address these issues, you’re at risk of exposing yourself to all sorts of complications. A little carelessness can easily put your body at risk of dehydration and hypothermia. 

3. Choose the Design for Your Long Term Survival Shelter

Like modern houses, long term survival shelters also come in a variety of designs that you can choose from. Each design has unique qualities that can work for you in different situations and meet different needs. Based on the answers you got from your needs and preference questions, you should be able to choose an ideal design that best fits you. Ideally, long term shelter designs that take up a considerable amount of time and effort are the best ones. 

The Best Survival Shelters for Long Term Survival  

Below is a list of the most popular long term shelter designs:

Lean-To Shelter

The lean-to shelter  is one of the most popular long-term shelter designs because it’s simple, quick to set up, and doesn’t require much energy to build.

To build your lean-to shelter:

  1. Find two strong, thick, long poles to act as your foundation and fix them about six to eight feet apart from each other.
  2. Locate a thick piece of wood and, using a rope, tie the branch across the two poles in such a way that they form a reverse U-shaped frame.
  3. Find and arrange branches across the frame, leaning them at a 45 ° angle from the bottom going up and secure them with the rope. 
  4. Line up the walls with branches and then cover the gaps with a lot of additional thick leaves, branches, poles, debris, bushes.
  5. Place a sleeping pad or plenty of leaves on the ground to help keep you dry.

Although it’s easy to build, the lean-shelter design is typically one-sided to protect you from the wind and rain. However, it has its disadvantages. The shelter is unable to contain heat and becomes ineffective when there’s a change in wind direction. 

Snow Cave Shelter

If you’re in an area with deep snow, a snow cave may be your best shelter option. Bear in mind, however, the snow cave is considered one of the most dangerous shelters since you may be buried alive if the roof caves in or suffer from low oxygen levels. To make a safe snow cave, set up your shelter using deep, solid snow.

To build your snow cave:

  1. Burrow snow in the sides to create a tunnel.
  2. Continue digging to create a platform to rest and make sure it’s level and flat.
  3. Create a 6-inch diameter hole in the roof for ventilation.


A quinzhee, which is like an igloo, but is made in similar fashion to a snow cave.  Shelters made from snow can serve as long term survival shelters in the right climate and if properly constructed.
In the right climate, a quinzhee can serve as a long term survival shelter for a winter season.

A quinzhee is a shelter made from snow. It’s shaped like an igloo but is easier to build.

To build your quinzhee:

  1. Create a pile of snow and smooth the outside.
  2. Dig up the pile carefully to create a tunnel-like entrance and continue digging up to establish a space for you to rest. Be conscious of how thick you’re leaving your walls. Thick walls have better stability and offer more insulation.
  3. For ventilation, create a 6-inch diameter hole on the roof of your shelter.
  4. Make your sleeping pad. You can use leaves or a sleeping pad if you have one. Snow drains heat from the body quickly, so some kind of layer between the floor and you will help you keep warm.    

Wicki-Up Shelter

A wikiup shelter covered with evergreen boughs with a small fire built inside.  A wikiup is a class long term survival shelter.
A wikiup can be a great long term survival shelter.

Building a wicki-up shelter is more involved than building a lean-to shelter. To build a wicki-up shelter:

  1. Gather dozens of branches of similar length and lock them together to form a freestanding teepee frame. The overall size of the shelter will determine the size of the frame.
  2. Once you make the frame, cover it by placing branches, leaves, bushes, grasses, and debris, and other vegetation to cover the gaps. 


Building a teepee is a bit more time-consuming because of its shape. It’s a great shelter since it allows for proper ventilation.

To build your teepee:

  1. Find three steady tall beams and tie them together at the top.
  2. Arrange small sticks on the support beams to start building the walls.
  3. Cover the gaps with leaves, branches, and any other vegetation to prevent water from getting into the shelter.

If you’re in a warm environment, leave the top uncovered to allow heat to get out from the top. If the environment is cold, seal the top to prevent water from getting in through the opening. 

Tarp Shelter

Tarps are an invaluable resource when it comes to setting up long-term survival shelters. They’re one of the must-haves in your pack when you go camping. They can not only be used during the building of other long-term shelters such as quinzhees, lean-to, and teepee shelters but can also be used independently to build different tarp shelters.

Some tarp shelter designs include:

Tarp shelters can protect you from rain and heat. You can add extra insulation by layering your tarp with leaves and moss. 


A ramada is a great shelter in hot and sunny environments as it provides shade. The shelter has a flat, non-waterproof top that is designed to only protect against the sun.

To build a ramada:

  1. Erect four strong long poles and arrange them in the shape of a square or rectangle.
  2. Find four other poles and attach them to the top of the four erect poles forming a square or rectangle.
  3. Fill up the top of your shelter using smaller branches.
  4. Add leaves, branches, and bushes to the roof for better protection from the sun.

How Can You Make Your Long Term Survival Shelter More Comfortable?

You can include various practices and features in your long-term shelter to make your stay more comfortable. These additions include:

1. Add a Fireplace

To keep warm, you have the option of lighting a fire in your shelter. However, fires may not be suitable for all types of long term shelters, so use caution.

If you plan to use fire as a heat source, be sure your shelter is properly ventilated. Your shelter should be tall enough to prevent the fire from reaching the roof. For roofs covered with vegetation, use fresh or wet vegetation as they are less likely to catch fire.

If lighting a fire inside the shelter proves challenging or is unsafe, you can make a fire outside your shelter. Be careful not to build a fire too close to your shelter to avoid fire risks. 

2. Conduct Proper Maintenance

No matter how strong your shelter is, you should perform maintenance checks daily. Your shelter will be experiencing the effects of different weather elements daily, which may take a toll on the structure.

Continually check the status of the wooden structure, the roof coverings, and your bedding area and perform necessary repairs. Regular maintenance will ensure you don’t have any surprises when you’re about to go to sleep. 

How to Stock Your Shelter for a Long Term Stay

If you’re planning a long term stay, you want to be prepared by stocking up on essentials. These include:

  • Water
  • Food, preferably ready to eat canned vegetables, meats, fruits, dried cereals, nuts, dried fruits, rice, canned juices, and any other foods that require minimal water
  • Clothing for all weather, including sweaters, rain gear, hats, and hiking boots
  • Hunting and fishing equipment to help you gather food
  • Tools such as hammers, axes, nails, shovels, screwdrivers, paracords, and ropes to help you with building your shelter and repairs
  • A flashlight
  • Matchboxes
  • A blanket and sleeping bag
  • First aid kit
  • Cups, plates, and feeding supplies
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Heavy-duty gloves


How do you heat survival shelters without an indoor fire? 

Another way of keeping warm in your shelter is by using heating rocks. You can collect rocks and place them in the fire for a few hours. Dig holes in your shelter and then place the rocks inside the holes. Heating rocks are often hot enough to heat your shelter throughout the night. 

How do you find food in the woods? 

You can find food in the wilderness by hunting for game, gathering wild fruits, or fishing. If you plan on fishing, you need to set up camp near a fishing spot. 

How do you waterproof a survival shelter? 

Tarp shelters are often waterproof because the tarp is made of waterproof materials. However, to make debris roofed shelters waterproof, you need to add layers upon layers of leaves on the roof. The more leaves on the roof, the more waterproof the shelter.  

Building a long-term survival shelter is easy. It doesn’t require any special training or skills. The effectiveness and stability of your shelter will depend on your preparedness. Once you’ve identified the ideal location, factored in your needs, and decided on a design, you’ll be well on your way to spending your time in the woods with a roof on your head.