Saturday, June 8, 2013

Basic Prepping - Shelter


Shelter: something that covers or affords protection

“Shelter” is one of the four primary components in my “Rules of Three” for survival. In its primary form – our homes – “shelter” is something that is used every day and seldom given any thought. Of course, mother nature can quickly remind us that we are not nearly as protected as we may think – a lesson taught to our community on July 11, 2011.

My neighbor’s home was completely destroyed:


And our home sustained substantial damage as well:



We were but a tiny snapshot of the havoc 22 minutes of 122 mph+ straight line winds can do to a community. 75% of our trees gone, damage to virtually every home within the community, power out for over a week . . . . “shelter” can be a very transient thing.

So let’s chat a bit about shelter, the different categories of shelters, some examples and some skill sets you should put in your bag of tricks.

Permanent: Well, as permanent as they can be. That was the purpose of the above photos. Short of an in-ground safe-room/bomb shelter, there is no such thing as a permanent shelter. But, for the vast majority of people – throughout their entire life – their home/apartment does act as their permanent shelter.

Cars/Trucks/Trailers: Cars/Trucks/SUVs are common modes of transportation to and from work as well as around our communities and nation. They offer temporary shelter as we drive. In times of emergency – they may well become a source of primary shelter as well. When expanded to include RVs or some type of camping trailer – a temporary shelter easily flows into a more permanent type of shelter.

Packable Shelter Systems: I have a wide range of shelters I use on my treks and paddles. They range from a simple tarp to a family sized dome tent. Each serves a distinct purpose and each can be “stretched” into a broader, longer term shelter.

Natural/debris shelters: These types of shelters typically are brought into play when things have gone sideways in a very unexpected way. On winter pack trips, my favorite example would be the space under a pine tree. The bottom level of branches usually provide good shelter and help insure you don’t have to shovel away a pile of snow before it’s a usable shelter area.

Each of these categories are important to understand, to “prep” in their own way and to use and practice to insure you and your family have the skill set to employ them quickly.

Permanent Shelters:

Perhaps the biggest lesson to learn about “Permanent Shelters” is that they aren’t . . . . permanent. In my neighbor’s cast – 22 minutes of wind destroyed their home of 10 years and most of its contents. The blessing was that the family escaped unharmed. While our home was habitable, temperatures in the very low 100s pushed us out to friends a few communities away until power was restored. Add to these instances the standard fare of tornado and hurricane damage along with fires . . . and hopefully you get the point. Do not depend on your Permanent Shelter as you ONLY shelter, that may well bite you in the ass one day!

It’s also worth it to add a safe room to your home. In Iowa, virtually all new construction have such a room – reinforced, poured concrete walls and roof – as part of the foundation. If you don’t have such a room – see what you can do to reinforce an interior bathroom or walk in closet.

As part of this mix, add in defendable positions in case of home invasion. I’ve covered most of this ground in my “Home Defense” posts so I will let you read those separately.

Old sayings have value because they have been proven throughout a long period of time. Sayings like “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” apply to Permanent Shelters. If you home contains EVERYTHING – emergency supplies, weapons, ammunition, travel gear, tools . . . . and it is lost to a tornado or hurricane or fire . . . . you have a real problem. Staging gear with others of a like mind set, in storage facilities, at a cabin, in a small trailer that can be easily moved . . . may well save you some day.

Take time to look around your Permanent Shelter, take an inventory of everything you are dependent on and then imagine that it’s all gone . . . . everything. Start there and put plans/procedures in place to mitigate this possibility.

Permanent Shelters ARE NOT permanent.

Cars / Trucks / Trailers:

Every year multiple folks die because the slide off the road during a blizzard and decide that they MUST walk to safety. Darwin at work. Your fastest means of escape from a threatening situation is probably your car/truck/SUV. It only makes sense that you pre-stage gear in that vehicle. We have “The Kit” in our vehicles. It has everything we need to stick out whatever for three or more days. My vehicle has a full set of trekking gear that would enable us to live in a given location for as long as needed provided we could find a source of food and water. And no, it doesn’t fill a trailer . . . . merely half of a 6500cu backpack with room left over to carry extra food.

Small trailers are also solid back-up options. I’m not talking about the 35 foot monster being pulled by a “small semi” – but rather a small travel trailer that could be easily outfitted for a quick move, sustained living and provide a solid living option should the need arise. You can see these things for sale all over the place for prices between $1,000 to $2,000. Make sure the frame, axel, wheels and brakes are functional. If you are “handy” (I AM NOT), you can take the time to make whatever repairs you may need to provide you a portable shelter in the event you need to move.

Trailers also provide you options for staging them on a property away from your current location. There are risks of discovery and break-in – but good OPSEC can help mitigate that as well.

You have all the time in the world – TODAY – to throw a kit in your car, put together some camping gear, put a 3-day supply of food in an old ammo can in the trunk of your car . . . . you may well need them tomorrow.

Packable Shelter Systems

Packable Shelters are exactly that – you can carry them easily. They fall into two broad categories – Tents and Tarps. I always carry both – some type of tent, depending on the length of the trek/paddle, the environment I’m going to and the number of folks that will be sleeping in the tent. And, I always carry a tarp since it provides quick shelter from storms, nice shade during the heat of the day and may well replace the tent if the bugs aren’t too bad.


I have multiple categories of tents each one provides some flexibility depending on where I’m going and what I’m doing.

1-man tents are primarily for a trek where I will be sleeping by myself. The primary consideration of a pack trip is always weight! What’s the best shelter for the weight. I have three different types of tents I use:

Kelty Clark:


Weighing in at around 5 pounds, it’s a great tent. The outer rain fly goes all the way to the ground and in heavy wind and rain it will absolutely keep you dry. There’s not a lot of extra space here but that’s one of the trade-offs you face when trying to trim weight. Unfortunately Kelty seems to have stopped making this particular tent, but there are similar ones in their current product line that look to offer the same benefit of good protection and low weight.

For about the same weight, you can gain quite a bit of space by going to a single-walled shelter. These are typically made of silicon-nylon impregnated nylon, are light weight and provide very good protection against the elements. Their biggest downside to me is that they don’t “breath” as well. The humidity from your breathing gathers on the inside wall and can offer you quite a “shower” when you are getting out in the morning. Still, the tradeoff between that and extra space makes this type of shelter a good choice. My favorite is made by MSR and used to be called “The Missing Link” – now-a-days it seems to be called “The Fast Stash”. Regardless, it’s a solid option to consider for a person on the move.


Yet another option to drop more weight is a hammock. The advantage here is that you can leave your mattress pad behind, any required tent stakes and poles – all of which add weight. However, they are not the best option during very cold weather because you are essentially “hanging out in the breeze” and you cool much quicker. One of the leaders in the industry is Hennesy Hammocks. Mine is similar to what is now called the “Scout Camper”.


If you are traveling with a family – larger is better, 4-man or larger. I have two variants I like – the “A-Frame” and the “Dome” tent. In my opinion there is no better A-Frame than those made by Eureka Timberline Outfitter’s 4-Man tent. I have used the simple Timberline (same tent actually) for over a decade. I’ll upgrade to the Outfitters version this year. It will keep you warm and dry through the worst weather imaginable. I have actually seen them float in truly heavy rain and never take a drop inside.


There are any number of Dome Tent manufacturers out there – I like REI myself. These are usually 6-8 man tents that offer high ceilings and lots of floor space. We moved to these when our children came into our life – we actually used to take a “pack and play” along to have them sleep in – inside the tent. Now we simply like all the extra room.


Find a tent system to fit your needs (or maybe more than one). Then use it! Camping is a lot of fun and the skill set you develop will serve you well should you ever need to leave your Permanent Shelter with your family.


Tarps are typically quick types of shelter that can be erected in any number of configurations to provide protection, shade or sleeping quarters.




Tarps are my primary shelter on most camping trips after the bug are gone. From late September after the first killing frost through mid-April when the first gnats and mosquitoes show their fondness for humans – tarps are the way to go. And, on a trek or paddle when a heave shower can show up quickly – a tarp offers great shelter for little weight. The photo taken through the canoe paddle was on a long afternoon with heavy rain. We spent most of the day chatting, reading and finally cooking – all in comfort under our tarp.

My favorite tarps are made of lightweight silicon-impregnated nylon. The Campmor 10x12 lightweight backing tarp is simply a required item on anyone’s gear list.

Natural / Debris Shelters

Natural shelters can take many forms - mall caves, tree stands or, my favorite – the pine needle bed under a large pine tree. In a true survival situation, seek shelter where you can until the storm or the night passes, then regroup the next day.

If you are going to construct a Debris Shelter, there are two primary types – a lean-to and a Debris Hut.


A lean-to is simply a framework built out of local material and covered with leaves. More leaves – better protection. If you find yourself away from your Permanent Shelter, you have no portable shelters or tarps with you and you will need to stay in this location for a bit – take some time to prepare a place to keep you warm and dry. This type of shelter is a good option.

A Debris Hut is similar in that you use natural material to make a hut.



Once the frame is built and “shingled” – cover it with leaves and fill the cavity with leaves as well. This provides a tremendously warm shelter while you wait out a storm.

Shelters – that’s a lot of options to take in. That said – please remember your Permanent Shelter is simply NOT PERMANENT. Your local/regional conditions may change is such a way that you are forced out of your Permanent Shelter. Have a plan. Have the gear necessary to provide you with solid options to shelter yourself and your family. Practice with this gear – and camping can be a fun way to get the experience you need. Finally, in a raw survival situation – even without modern equipment there are a number of shelter options available.

Providing solid shelter for yourself and your family is a skill set every person should have. You have all the time in the world TODAY to do something towards learning to use what we have chatted about here . . .

. . . today might be a good day to start!


  1. I'm betting 95% of the folks today have NO idea what they would do... "I" like the hammock set up because of my back/hip issues... Lying on hard ground is NOT fun for me anymore.

  2. Still got an old A-frame tent ordered from the Boy Scout catalog way back when! Also have a larger tent that will fit the wife and daughter as well, and several tarps in various sizes. Haven't done the "natural" shelter in quite some time, but I camped a lot with a guy who was out practicing his wilderness survival skills, and slept through a south Georgia thunderstorm (almost as impressive as Texas thunderstorms) of sufficient ferocity to erode a 20' deep canyon across the causeway around the lake at the campground. He woke up dry the next morning.

  3. My family & friends laugh about my go bags, and camping gear. I laugh too, secure in the knowledge that I could handle most situations.
    I would take a night in a tent by a mountain lake over a fancy hotel room anytime.

  4. Old NFO - yep, "it could never happen to me" thinking is pervasive

    Rabid - those things just do not wear out. It took nearly 15 years of use to get ready to upgrade to the Outfitter model. Great tents. Survival work is fun actually, most people have no idea how easy it is to create good shelter from the materials at hand.

    Brighid - it's funny how people are shocked at a loaded pack in the back of my Jeep - yet wouldn't get in their car without insurance . . . . just sayin'. And fully agree a camp by a lake tops a hotel any day of the week.

  5. What do you do when traveling (short or long distance) with someone you suspect doesn't have a go bag?

  6. I must confess my go bag is kinda "fat" - more than enough to get 2 people by for 3 days. But, a good question. Some thoughts.

    Ask if they have a go bag along. Will give you a chance at educating them and let them know the average prepper isn't some kind of nut-case.

    Play "what if" in your head. Where could you stop for a quick kit? My go-to stuff for food is jerkey, cliff bars, some hard candy. Couple bags/boxes of each will get you a long way.

    If you feel things going "south" - trust yourself and stop, gather supplies and fill your traveling partner in on what you're doing and why.

    You should also know if they're armed. I simply ask. They may not know the laws of the cities/counties/states you're traveling through and you don't need surprises.

    I'm sure there's more but that's what came to mind.

    Thanks for stopping by - have a good one!

  7. Reading a book on this very subject. Great post!! I admit(sit down it is a shocker)I had no clue what I would do a few years ago and I really do understand why many do not have a plan.

    Thankful for posts like these that helped learn not only why, but how.