Tag Archives: tarp

Expedient Shelters

Photo by Michael Curtis

Photo by Michael Curtis

To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio – Interval sprint – 40m x 5, 100m x 5, 400m x 5, max 1 min rest between each sprint // Strength – 2 sets of strict pull-ups to max, dips max reps, sit-ups max reps in 2 min, push-ups max reps in 2 min, flutterkicks x 50, burpees x 25.

Basic Expedient Shelter Characteristics

Any type of shelter, whether it is a permanent building, tentage, or an expedient shelter must  meet six basic criteria to be safe and effective. The characteristics are:

  • Protection From the Elements. The shelter must provide protection from rain, snow,
    wind, sun, etc.
  • Heat Retention. It must have some type of insulation to retain heat; thus preventing
    the waste of fuel.
  • Ventilation. Ventilation must be tested, especially if burning fuel for heat. This prevents the accumulation of carbon monoxide. Ventilation is also needed for carbon dioxide given off when breathing.
  • Drying. A drying area must be constructed or available to dry wet clothes.
  • Free from Natural Hazards. Shelters should not be built in areas of avalanche hazards,  under rock fall or “standing dead” trees have the potential to fall on your shelter.
  • Stable. Shelters must be constructed to withstand the pressures exerted by severe

Also, in a tactical or SERE situation:

  • Does the shelter provide concealment from enemy observation?
  • Does the shelter location maintain camouflaged escape routes?
  • Do you meet the requirements of BLISS?:

B – Blend in with Surroundings
L – Low silhouette

I – Irregular shape
S – Small
S – Secluded located

Natural Shelters

Natural shelters are usually the preferred types because they take less time and materials to construct. The following are examples of natural shelters that may be used with some modification:

  • Caves or Rock Overhangs. Can be modified by placing rocks, logs or branches across open sides.
  • Hollow Logs. Can be cleaned or dug out, then enhanced with ponchos, tarps, or parachutes hung across the openings.
  • Buildings. If the security situation permits, structures found in urban or rural environments should be considered (i.e. houses, sheds, barns, vehicles) during SERE/survival.

Hazards of Natural Shelters:

  • Animals. Natural shelters may already be inhabited (i.e. bears, coyotes, lions, rats, snakes, etc.) or guarded/used by domestic animals that could alert unfriendly humans.
  • Disease. From scat or decaying carcasses.
  • Lack of Ventilation. Natural shelters may not have adequate ventilation. Fires may be built inside for heating or cooking but may be uncomfortable or even dangerous because of smoke build up.
  • Gas Pockets. Many caves in a mountainous region may have natural gas pockets in them.
  • Instability. Natural shelters may appear stable, but in reality may be a trap waiting to collapse.

Construction of Shelters

If a natural structure is not available, the fabrication of an expedient shelter is limited only to your imagination. To maximize the shelter’s effectiveness, take into consideration the following prior to construction:

  • Group size.
  • Low silhouette and reduced living area dimensions for improved heat conservation.
  • Avoid exposed hill tops, valley floors, moist ground, and avalanche paths.
  • Create a thermal shelter by applying snow or debris, if available, to roof and sides of shelter.
  • Location of site to fire wood, water, and signaling, if necessary.
  • How much time and effort needed to build the shelter.
  • Can the shelter adequately protect you from the elements (sun , wind, rain, and snow). Plan on worst case scenario.
  • Are the tools available to build it. If not, can you make improvised tools?
  • Type and amount of materials available to build it.

Expedient Shelters

You are limited only by your imagination and materials available. The following man-made shelters can be constructed in almost any situation:

  • Poncho Shelter
  • Sapling Shelter
  • Lean-To
  • Double Lean-To
  • A-frame Shelter
  • Fallen Tree Bivouac

Poncho Shelter. This is one of the easiest shelters to construct. Materials needed for construction are cord and any water-repellent material (i.e. poncho, parachute, tarp). It should be one of the first types of shelter considered if planning a short stay in any one place.

  • Find the center of the water-repellent material by folding it in half along its long axis.
  • Suspend the center points of the two ends using cordage.
  • Stake the four corners down, with sticks or rocks.

Sapling Shelter. This type of shelter is constructed in an area where an abundance of saplings are growing. It is an excellent evasion shelter.

  • Find or clear an area so that you have two parallel rows of saplings at least 4ft long and approximately 1 ½ft to 2ft apart.
  • Bend the saplings together and tie them to form several hoops which will form the framework of the shelter.
  • Cover the hoop with a water-repellent covering.
  • The shelter then may be insulated with leaves, brush, snow, or boughs.
  • Close one end with debris. Hang material over the other end to form a door.

Lean-To. A lean-to is built in heavily forested areas. It requires a limited amount of cordage to construct. The lean-to is an effective shelter but offers only a minimal degree of protection from the elements.


  • Select a site with two trees (4-12” in diameter), spaced far enough apart that a man can lay down between them. Two sturdy poles can be substituted by inserting them into the ground the proper distance apart.
  • Cut a pole to support the roof. It should be at least 3-4” in diameter and long enough to extend 4-6” past both trees. Tie the pole horizontally between the two trees, approximately 1 meter off the deck.
  • Cut several long poles to be used as stringers. They are placed along the horizontal support bar approximately every 1 ½’ and laid on the ground. All stringers may be tied to or laid on the horizontal support bar. A short wall or rocks or logs may be constructed on the ground to lift the stringers off the ground, creating additional height and living room dimensions.
  • Cut several saplings and weave them horizontally between the stringers. Cover the roof with water-repellent and insulating material.

Double Lean-To. The double lean-to shelter is constructed for 2-5 individuals. It is constructed by making two lean-to’s and placing them together.

expedientshelterdoubleleantoA-Frame Shelter. Also known as a debris hut/shelter. An A-Frame shelter is constructed for 1-3 individuals. After the frame work is constructed, bough/tentage is interwoven onto the frame and snow, if available, is packed onto the outside for insulation.

expedient shelter a frameFallen Tree Bivouac. The fallen tree bivouac is an excellent shelter because most of the work has already been done.

expedient shelter fallen tree

  • Ensure the tree is stable prior to constructing.
  • Branches on the underside are cut away making a hollow underneath.
  • Place additional insulating material to the top and sides of the tree.
  • A small fire can be built outside of the shelter.

Reflector Walls. Heating a shelter requires a slow fire that produces lots of steady heat over a long period of time. A reflector wall should be constructed for all open ended shelters. A reflector wall is constructed with a flat rock or a stack of green logs propped behind the fire. A surprising amount of heat will bounce back from the fire into the shelter.

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