Most bug out bag lists you see today don’t include much in the way of shelter. Few people bother packing along a tent, even though there are excellent backpacking tents on the market, which don’t weigh very much at all. Instead, we tend to carry rescue blankets and a tarp. While that can work, there are times it may not work very well.
Of course, there are situations where we might need to survive in the wild, without having the convenience of our bug out bag being with us. In those cases we’d either need to build a shelter from the available material or find something that’s already available. While I have nothing against building a shelter from what nature provides, it just makes sense to see if there’s something already available, before going through the trouble of building something.
This takes looking with an eye to see beyond the obvious. Many of the natural shelters we find need a little modification in order to work. They are more partial shelters, than whole shelters. Still, using one as a basis and adding our tarp can turn it into a very comfortable shelter indeed.
In the Old West, cowboys and drifters kept their eyes open for shelter constantly, when they were on the trail. One never knew when they might need a shelter, if not that night, then another. Many of these men’s heads contained a traveler’s guide to trails, water holes and campsites they had never been in, but had heard others talk about.
So, what sorts of natural shelters can we expect to find, when out in the wilderness?
- Caves – Probably the best shelter that nature has to offer is a cave. Surprisingly, they can be found in almost any type of geography. However, they aren’t all safe to go into; so, take care if you find one. Make sure that something else doesn’t call it home, before making it yours.
- Rock Outcroppings – While a rock outcropping isn’t a cave, it can be a great start to a shelter. Often there will be rocks sitting together in such a way that stringing a tarp across the top will make an excellent shelter.
- Undercut Embankment – Flood waters flowing downstream can and often do cut away from the embankment, leaving the untouched rock or soil above. This can form a shallow cave, providing at least some protection from the wind and rain.
- Upturned Tree – Many times when large trees fall due to storms, the root ball provides an opportunity for shelter. At a minimum, it provides a wall which might block the wind. But if the tree falls in such a way as to leave space under the trunk, it can shelter from both wind and rain.
- Thicket – One of the simplest natural shelters is a thicket of trees. There’s usually enough room to get between them, where the overhead branches provide some protection from the rain and the trunks and underbrush provide some protection from the wind.
- Pine Tree – One of my personal favorites is a big old pine tree. There’s usually space under the bottom branches, even though their tips may brush the ground. That space will be covered with a blanket of pine needles to sleep on. About the only thing that usually has to be done is to break or cut off some of the dead branches under there.
Always remember that you should stop two hours before sunset, when traveling in the wild. Those two hours will be needed for gathering fuel, starting a fire and erecting a shelter. Once the fire is lit, the light from it will make it possible to cook dinner, so leave that until everything else is done.