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The shelter will act as your primary protection from the elements. It can be the difference between an enjoyable outdoor experience and a nightmare with freezing cold and everything being soaking wet. The season, current weather and the climate of your location will determine what type of shelter that is suitable to use.

This page explains some different types of shelter designs you can use, what they are good for and the requirements to build them both skill and gear wise. When you have learnt to build some basic shelters you can start to build your own designs where you modify the basic designs, for example add some debris elements to a tarp shelter to provide better protection against the wind.

Choosing a shelter location[edit]

One rule of thumb to find a good shelter location is the "The Five W's", it consists of the following:

Water Ensure that you have close proximity to water, but not too close. If you are too close you risk getting flooded if the water source rises due to rain.

Widowmakers Widowmaker is the term for a dead tree or branch that risk falling down and make your spouse a widow. So make sure to check that you don't place your site close to any standing dead trees or branches.

Wildlife Check for wasp nests, ant hills and game trails before you setup camp. Being constantly surrounded by wasps can quickly remove the joy from camping.

Wood You want to have access to deadwood in order to be able to quickly gather firewood and living trees can provide shade if it is a hot and sunny day.

Wind Before setting up camp you want to figure out the wind direction so you can act accordingly, in addition to this you neither want to be on the top of the hill (windy) or in the bottom of one (risk of flash floods), so try and find a flat surface somewhere in the middle of an hill to setup camp.

Tarp Shelter[edit]

Image explaining the components of a tarp setup

Tarp shelters are often preferred by ultralight backpackers since they are lightweight compared to other types of shelters, and is much faster and easier to setup than a debris shelter. They do not provide any temperature insulation, but are effective protection against wind, rain and snow.

The price point for a tarp does not need to be steep, the cheapest would be to buy a non-camping tarp from your local hardware store for $5. If you want a decent tarp suitable for camping it would cost you about $30 from a low cost outdoor store such as Decathlon (example) for a full kit, and if you feel like spending money you can easily chip out more than $100 for a tarp.

Tarp materials:

  • Silnylon - The most common material used for outdoor equipment, consists of nylon coated in silicon to become waterproof. It is very light weight and not fire resistant, on the other hand it won't cause a raging fire either [1].
  • Polyester - Heavier than silnylon, a bit better fire resistance so sparks won't do as much damage, dries faster [2], better UV resistance but is not as strong as silnylon.

Inspiration sources:

A-Frame Shelter[edit]

Example of an A-Frame Tarp Shelter setup
Example of an A-Frame Tarp Shelter setup. Photo credit:

The A-Frame Shelter is quick and easy to setup and provides good protection against wind and rain. For additional protection one of the openings can be positioned close to a rock or tree. It is especially useful if you combine it with raising your sleeping area from the ground.

Difficulty: Easy


  • 4x Tent stakes (substitutes: Sticks or Rocks to anchor the tarp)
  • 1x Tarp
  • 1x Line


  • Good rain and snow protection


  • No floor

How-to setup an A-Frame Tarp Shelter:

  1. Find an area with two trees about 10ft/3m apart
  2. Tie a guy line between the trees in about chest height, make sure the line is tight to prevent sagging
  3. Put the tarp on the guy line so the center of the tarp is aligned with the guy line
  4. Put stakes in the corners of the tarp to fix it to the ground, when you have one stake in the ground, continue with the opposing stake
  5. (optional) Tie the tarp to the ridge line to increase stability

Basic Lean-To[edit]

One of the easiest shelters to setup, it provides wind and sun protection. This is a good shelter to setup for some basic protection if you are on the run since it is very fast to both erect and tear down. Can be setup with some overhang to provide additional protection from the rain.

Difficulty: Easy


  • Fast and easy to setup
  • Good sun and wind protection from one side
  • Good amount of space inside


  • No floor
  • No sun and wind protection if it changes direction

How to setup a Basic Lean-To tarp shelter:

  1. Find an area with two trees about 10ft/3m apart
  2. Tie a guy line between the trees in about chest height to create a ridge line, make sure the line is tight to prevent sagging
  3. Tie two corners to the guy line
  4. Put the stakes in the other two corners in the ground

Alternative designes for this shelter exists using poles instead of trees and Flat Roof Lean To.


  • If you setup the open end of the shelter towards a natural structure such as a large rock or tree root you can get better protection from the environment.

Diamond Tarp[edit]

Photo credit:

The diamond tarp is useful in windy and rainy conditions when you are using a hammock, it maximize the length of the tarp since the sleeping area on the diagonal. The height you should put the tarp depends on if you use a hammock or not.

Difficulty: Easy


  • 2x Tent stakes
  • 1x Tarp
  • 3x Lines


  • Good rain protection
  • Maximizes the length of the tarp
  • Easy to setup


  • No floor
  • Requires three lines

How to setup a Diamond Tarp

  • Find an area with two trees that are further apart than two opposing corners on your tarp
  • Tie a guy line between the trees in about chest height to create a ridge line, make sure the line is tight to prevent sagging
  • Put the tarp on the guy line so the diagonal of the tarp is aligned with the guy line
  • Attach the corners of the tarp with prusik knots to the ridge line
  • Attach guy lines to the other two corners and fix them to the ground with tent stakes

Flying Diamond[edit]

Example of an Flying Diamond Setup. Photo credit:

The flying diamond tarp setup is similar to the normal diamond tarp setup, the difference is that instead of using a vertical ridge line you either make it diagonal or anchor a third corner of the tarp in the ground using a guy line.

This variant provides more head room, but is not suitable if you wish to use a hammock beneath it.

Basic Fly Line Roof[edit]

The basic fly line roof[3] is a a good way to setup your tarp to provide sun protection and light rain protection. Not an ideal setup for sleeping, but can be nice to setup as protection above a sitting area or similar.

If there is heavy rainfall the rain can start to collect in the middle of the tarp.

Body Bag[edit]

The body bag is a design that sacrifice space to get good protection, it provides good wind and rain protection and also has a floor.

Difficulty: Easy

How to setup a Body Bag Tarp:

  • Hang a ridge line between two trees
  • Hang the tarp over the ridge line
  • Stake the side without ground cover to the ground
  • Stake the side with ground cover to the ground

Dining Fly[edit]

As the name give away the dining fly is a good setup to provide a roof to a dining area. It provides a nice shade during sunny days and provides rain protections during days with worse weather.


Tarp Hammock[edit]

Picture of a tarp hammock

Photo credit:

Not as comfortable as an off-the-shelf hammock and requires more time and energy to setup, but it is a way to make your own hammock without any extra gear.


Debris Shelter[edit]

A debris shelter is built using natural materials found in the wild, such as dead wood, natural formations such as large rocks and branches. It takes more effort to build than a tarp shelter, but is more rewarding when you are done. It also goes more into the traditional bushcraft spirit than a tarp.

Every part of this section has been quoted in full from:

Round Lodge[edit]

The round lodge is a hybrid from many cultures. Part tipi, part wicki-up, and influenced by many architectural styles, a round lodge can block wind, rain, cold, and sun. It is structured like a tipi, with the addition of a solid doorway. These typically have a smoke hole through the roof, and can accommodate a tiny fire for heat and light. This shelter can be thatched with grass or mats; or it can be buried with a thick coat of leaf litter. Lodge styles like this abounded in the historic and prehistoric American west. This architecture worked equally well in wetter climates, and was used in pre-Roman Britain.[4]


Sunny, hot environments require a shelter that offers shade. The ramada's flat roof doesn't give you leak-proof rain protection, but it does block all of the sun from beating down on you. Many ramada variations exist, but most are based on four posts, some lightweight beams and a suitable covering. Tarps, mats, or even brush will do well enough on the ramada's roof as a sun block. Add some removable walls to cut the evening breeze if temps cool down, and you have a very versatile desert shelter.[5]


The quinzhee is a dome shaped snow shelter, similar in shape to an igloo, but much easier to construct. Snow must be just right to build an igloo, while most types of snowfall can be packed together for the quinzhee. To build one, start by piling up some moveable gear under a tarp. Backpacks are commonly used for this. Then pile snow over the tarp and gear. Pack the snow down, estimating when it is two feet thick all the way around. Next, insert 12 inch long sticks around the dome. Use 3 or 4 dozen of these guide sticks. Burrow into the side of the quinzhee, and retrieve the tarp and gear. Excavate snow inside the mound until you reach the base of every stick. This will ensure uniform thickness of the dome. Make a fist sized ventilation hole in the roof of the quinzhee.[6]

Snow Cave[edit]

A snow cave may be the only shelter option in areas with deep snow. This is typically the most dangerous shelter to create, as the inhabitants could suffer from low oxygen or even be buried alive in a ceiling collapse. Snow selection is a critical part to the snow caves safe performance. Select a deep, solid snow bank or drift. Dig into the side of it, forming a tunnel into a low spot. This is the "cold well", which is a place where the colder air can fall and collect. Then dig up and over creating a shelf or platform to sleep on. This should be the highest part of the shelter. Dig a small hole about 6 inches in diameter somewhere in the roof for ventilation, especially if you plan on blocking the entrance with a doorway of backpack or big snow chunk.[7]


The lean-to is one of the simplest and most frequently constructed primitive shelters. It can be set up in less than an hour with a variety of materials. This basic, one-sided design will give you a haven from wind and rain that the wilderness might throw at you.

Securely support a long, stout pole between two trees. Cover one side with poles, brush or branches. Then, heap leaves, grasses, palm fronds, or any other vegetation that is available on top. This shelter has two main flaws: 1) it doesn't hold in heat well; 2) If the wind or rain changes direction you'll no longer be sheltered. Think of it as a house with only one wall and half of a roof. It offers little in the way of insulation; and merely deflects wind and reflects the heat of the nearby fire.

On the upside, it's quick and easy to build.

Don't forget: Natural shelters like this are difficult to see from a distance, so hang up something bright like a flag to mark the shelter.[8]


Hunting Tower[edit]

TA Outdoors has a video where he builds a hunting tower using dead fall wood, it shows every step from the beginning until completion. But you will need to take note yourself since it is not a tutorial style video: Watch on YouTube

Pallet wood cabin[edit]

TA Outdoors has a series where they build a wood cabin from pallet wood.