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How To Build A Debris Shelter

The debris shelter is one of the simplest and most versatile shelters used for survival. It is made of sticks and branches, covered with leaves and other debris materials.

Debris shelters are simple but sturdy shelters made from natural resources. You can create them out of wood, stone, mud, etc. These huts provide protection from the elements, and they are easy to make. Best of all, no special tools are needed to make a debris hut, as long as there is wood, you can make a debris hut.

Debris Shelter

Debris shelters are fun to build and a great way to practice your bushcraft skills. To practice building, find a national park or forest, they have plenty of materials and provide endless locations for your build. When building, make sure to only use dead materials and deconstruct your debris shelter when finished. Remember, leave no trace

Benefits of A Debris Shelter

Quick and Easy To Build

A simple debris shelter can be built in an hour while a more extensive shelter may take a few hours (or days if you really want to get fancy). They also require no tools and can be built with only natural resources.

An average debris shelter will likely take 3-4 hours to build. Make sure that you have enough daylight left to finish your hut. As soon as you know you’ll be spending the night outdoors, that is when you should start building your debris shelter.

Easy To Heat

Because this is a temporary survival shelter, it will likely be quite small. But with thorough insulation, you can stay quite warm in a debris shelter using only your body heat.

If you build your debris shelter too big, your body won’t be able to heat up your surroundings and you will end up cold.

Minimal Impact To Your Surroundings

Debris huts can be constructed using only dead materials found in your environment. This means that no damage to your surroundings is necessary.

Choosing Your Location

Before you begin building a debris shelter, pick your location carefully. Look for a relatively dry, well-drained area. There should be an abundance of leaves, grass, pine needles, or similar debris close by. It would also help if you can build your debris shelter in a dense stand of small timber or bushes. It would be a natural barrier to make your shelter more effective.

What Makes A Good Debris Shelter Location

Sheltered Environment

Build your house away from the cold winds. Don’t build on a barren hill or at the bottom of a valley. Make sure you choose a place where there are plenty of trees and shrubs nearby to break the winds.

Near Materials

Being near your building materials saves time and energy, both of which become valuable resources when in a survival situation.

Areas To Avoid

Running Water

Water flowing through an area is a sign that it should be avoided. Avoid any areas that show signs of water flow. If a rain comes while sheltering, you will quickly find yourself, wet, cold and in a bad situation.


Beware of falling tree branches! Don’t be fooled by the beauty of nature. Stay away from anything above you. Tree branches fall down all the time. Choosing a sheltered location under a tree with branches that may potentially fall isn’t worth the risk.

Game Trails

Avoid game trails. You do not want wild game passing through your shelter at night and scavenging through your food supplies

Building Your Debris Hut

STEP 1: Look for a sturdy (waist high) base to use as an anchor for the shelter – a fork in a tree, a stump or a rock. Find a long sturdy piece of wood you can use as a main beam. Prop and secure one end of the beam onto the anchor just high enough so that you can get under it.

STEP 2: Use your body to measure for the width of the shelter. Mark the ground no more than a hand’s length away from your body all around. You want a tight space to maximize warmth.

STEP 3: Gather strong branches and lean them against both sides of the main beam with the bottoms reaching the marks you made on the ground. Create a ribbed effect being sure to leave an opening large enough to crawl into. Make sure the opening is not facing the wind. The branches should not overlap the main beam too much. It will create a funnel effect causing water to gather and flow inside. You want to keep the slope steep for water to drain off.

Debris Shelter

STEP 4: Weave finer sticks through the rib frame creating a screen or net. This will keep the debris from falling through the ribbing into the shelter.

STEP 5: Gather leaves, twigs, pine needles, and any light, dry materials you can find and pile them onto the ribbed frame. The debris should be piled on thick and high for protection, holding in the heat, and keeping dry (the thicker the better) Remember to keep the walls steep for shedding water. Lay some additional lighter branches or sticks on top of the debris to keep it from blowing away. If available, you can also use bark to create shingling.

Debris Shelter 2

STEP 6: Pack the inside of the shelter with layers as dense as possible of dry materials. Crawl inside to compress the debris and pack again. Repeat until you have a very thick layer of padding beneath you. Stuff once more, loosely for insulation around the rest of the shelter.

STEP 7: The last step of building your debris shelter is to seal up your entrance. Gather a large pile of leaves and sticks near the entrance to drag in with you. After you crawl inside, lay the sticks over the opening to keep the debris from falling out. Push the debris against the sticks to seal the entrance.

Wrapping Up Debris Shelters

Debris shelters are simple, fun, and potentially life saving. Knowing how to build this simple structure might be the difference between a warm nights rest and a cold one.