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Fallen Tree Shelter

Videos of people building complex shelters in the wild have become incredibly popular. In these uncertain times, it seems many are seeking the healing atmosphere of our wild places. They want to make fires and build a shelter.

Well, sometimes it’s the simplest shelter that can accommodate you best. Learning to build a fallen tree shelter will change your perspective on bushcraft shelters and wilderness survival shelters in general. It can be a lot easier than you think!

Small shelter made out of a fallen tree
Small shelter made out of a fallen tree

Safety First

When you are setting up your tent for a camping trip, I hope you pay close attention to the trees around you and what is overhead. Widowmakers, or large broken branches that are hung in the tree, are to be avoided when setting up a tent.

A 50ft hardwood tree weighs around 2,000lbs. If it falls on you then you are going to be pinned, injured, killed, or some unwanted combination.

It would stand to reason that if you are planning on building a fallen tree shelter then you have to be very careful with the tree you are choosing. A fallen tree shelter is literally made from a tree that has already fallen to some degree.

The best way to test the might of your fallen tree shelter base is to climb on top. The ideal tree is going to have fallen but the trunk will be pointing up in the air or resting on the resting right where it snapped. The space between the trunk and the forest floor is where you are going to call home.

Jump on top of that tree and walk around up there. You could even jump up and down a few times. If you hear a bunch of cracking or you feel that the tree trunk is not sturdy then you should move on to another one.

Jump on top of that tree to ensure its stability before building your fallen tree shelter
Jump on top of that tree to ensure its stability before building your fallen tree shelter

This stress test will give you confidence that the tree stump is supporting the trunk or that you are not building a dead tree that has rotted out.

Good Bones Make Good Shelter

If you are looking to create a short-term or a long-term shelter you want good bones. I mean you want a tree that has recently fallen. It might still have green leaves or needles on it and the bark is not falling off.

The success of any shelter that you build depends on “good bones” to hold it up. In other words, it needs a nice sturdy frame. The frame on this shelter is the tree itself. Of course, this makes a fallen tree shelter one of the simplest shelters to build because so much of it is just sitting there waiting for you.

In a true survival situation happening upon the right fallen tree can be a game-changer. It can be a shelter in minutes when you have very little energy or perhaps are coping with some kind of injury or illness.

What Else Lives There?

Red fox kit (Vulpes vulpes) standing on top of a mossy log
Red fox kit standing on top of a mossy log

Another important consideration is what else might live in your fallen tree shelter. This whole fallen tree shelter idea might sound too good to be true. Well, it is true but another creature may have claimed this easy shelter for themselves long before you showed up.

The broken trunk of the tree could be home to any number of small animals or bugs. Hit the trunk with a branch or trekking pole a couple of times and back away quickly. Ground nesting bees and hornets like to build their home in and around fallen trees.

Look for scat or other signs of animal life in and around the fallen tree. You do not want someone coming home unexpectedly while you are sleeping or just finishing up the shelter project.

Do your very best to make sure you are the first living thing to call this place home. Or at least that you share your shelter with animals and bugs that are basically harmless.

Building the A-Frame Fallen Tree Shelter

The process of building this shelter is pretty simple and you are basically fortifying the base of a nature-built shelter that can trap your body heat to keep you warm. It’s also perfect if you are a beginner to survival shelters. In most cases, the spine of your shelter or the fallen tree trunk is going to have more headroom near the larger part of the trunk and less towards the top of the fallen tree.

From here you are basically building ou the remainder of an A-frame shelter. Using shorter branches you are going to line both sides of the fallen trunk. These branches will become the “studs” for your walls. Or you could line these branches up very close to one another so they touch.

When building wilderness shelters you should be aware of the resources you have around you. You could find you do not have as many small saplings and branches around. Do the best with what you have around you.

I like to lean the branches against the trunk on either side and then plunge the bottom points of the branches into the ground. This makes the shelter walls a bit more sturdy.

Blocking Wind and Rain

man in tree branch shelter
Weave vine and add pine boughs, small branches, and leaves to help protect your shelter from the elements

If you can find some grapevine or other tough vine then you could begin weaving this vine through your walls or branches. Weave the vine through each branch then back, and work your way to the top. A tight weave will allow you to add pine boughs and other small branches with leaves to the outside of your shelter.

Slipping these things into your woven wall can provide you with protection from the wind and the rain. You want the leaves and the pine bought to all point downward as that will drive rain towards the ground.

If you are carrying a reliable tarp then you can stretch that tarp over your entire shelter and this will really trap your body heat, keep the weather out, and keep your shelter dry! You are creating a simple tarp teepee or tarp A-frame.

Basic Shelter to Keep You Safe and Dry

The fallen tree shelter is one of the simplest shelter designs. The tree itself provides you with additional shelter and you can simply fortify that shelter as much as you see fit.

In an emergency, this kind of shelter could literally save your life. You have to get out of the extremes of weather to avoid death by exposure which is one of the quickest ways people die in a survival situation. My best advice to you is to consider climbing under a nice sturdy fallen tree the next time you are in the woods.

Imagine how this could be transformed into a basic shelter to keep you safe and dry. You might even find that you enjoy it!