How to Build a Long Term Survival Shelter

Any time you go out into the woods, there is the possibility that you may get stuck out there longer than you expected. In those situations, one of the most important things to know is how to build a long term survival shelter. With a proper shelter, you can hunker down and be protected from the elements if you need to ride out a long storm or figure out what your next move is. 

Building a shelter can be fun. It feeds the creative side of you and the more creative you get, the better the shelters can be. This is one area of survival that sticking to the book for the basics is important, but you have a huge space that you can play around with different designs and materials to see what all works well. 

A shelter is an easily looked over element of survival that many think can wait. In the right environment, going without shelter can mean not surviving the night or even the next three minutes. This is why we are going to go over the best ways to properly build a shelter and make yourself safe if you ever fall into that situation. 

Different Types of Long Term Shelter

There are loads of different forms of shelter that will keep you safe in a variety of different environments. Often, you need to assess the environment and the weather conditions in order to best determine what long term shelter you should build. 

The best preparation is to prepare for all kinds of scenarios. Survival shows are unrealistic because we often train in one main environment that is well-known to us. No one is an expert everywhere, but we can develop different skills that can be accommodated and adjusted to fit almost anywhere. 


A lean-to is the classic stick shelter that you learn how to build in Boy Scouts and maybe accidentally built as a kid in the woods. The design is incredibly simple and can be quick to set up when you need it in a cinch. 

Even with a lean-to, there are several different ways to build. In my opinion, the easiest to build uses a single support beam with sticks leaning on it from each side. You can only build up one side if you are confident the weather will not be too extreme and feel you will be protected with one wall. If this is the case, make sure this side is facing the wind to give you protection from extra windchill. 

The main component of this type of lean-to is the larger and longer support beam. You want to select something about twice your height if you are by yourself. The beam should be sturdy and thick enough to support a good amount of weight. Find a spot that will hold the beam steady like a Y in a tree that is about your height or shorter for more heat retention. 

The next step is to build up the walls. The first layer is going to be of sticks of various sizes that lean up against the beam and come down both sides. You want to get a thick layer of sticks that will support other branches you lay on top. 

To insulate the walls well you can use moss or leaves piled up on the branch-skeleton you have just built. The important thing is to have a thick, thick, layer of leaves as your final layer. Leaves will help to shed rainwater and keep you as dry as possible inside for the night. 

This form of shelter can be heated with fire just outside the entrance. Just be careful not to build it too close, as your new home is incredibly flammable. 


A TeePee is a great option to heat from the inside because its shape allows for proper ventilation at the top of the construction. This is a bit more time-consuming to build, especially if you want to do a proper job. 

To build the best TeePee, you want to avoid the method of just leaning really tall sticks together at a single point and hoping that it doesn’t cave in on you in the middle of the night. The best way to build a TeePee that you can rely on is to find three sturdy beams that you actually tie together at the top.

Next, you will lash sticks to the support beams to start building the walls. If you start at the bottom and move up, you won’t have an issue with them sliding down. This gives you a great foundation to then lay insulation and waterproofing with moss and leaves. 

If you leave the top uncovered, a proper TeePee will vent smoke out the top, but does leave a small space for the rain to get in. If you are in a cold environment it could be a lifesaver to have a fire stoked all night and right next to you. Build it tall enough to keep the TeePee safe from the flames!

Snow Shelter

Snow shelters are incredible. On the surface, they seem to be incredibly cold but are possibly the warmest option on this list. The most well-known snow shelter is the igloo, but it can also be difficult to build. The igloo does however give you a proper, long-term survival shelter. 

To give an easier shelter that can still be used for a long time, we will cover how to build a Quinzhee. These are shaped like an igloo but are worlds easier to build.

A Quinzhee uses piled up snow to give you a little “cave” to hunker down in for the night. Snow is an incredible insulator and will trap all of the warmth that your body produces, contrary to it being an incredibly cold thing itself. 

To build a Quinzhee, you want to make a huge mound of snow sized to fit you and your gear. If you want to build this for a longer-term shelter, you can make it larger but a small size will heat easier and suffice for a while. 

The hardest part is to now let the snow settle and pack down for about an hour and a half. This helps the Quinzhee hold its structure once you hollow it out. There are plenty of camp chores that you can work on while waiting for the snow to be ready. 

Now you will start digging. For snow shelters, it is best to make the entrance lower than where you sleep. This way your body heat doesn’t escape out the entry and stays up with you. Continue to dig, but be conscious of how thick the walls you are leaving are. The thicker the walls, the better the stability, and the more insulation you get. 

The final step is just to give yourself a layer of material to sleep on. This can be dead plant material or gear if you have some to spare. The snow will suck the heat from your body quickly and there won’t be any to retain, but a good layer between you and the floor will solve that problem. 


A bug out bag or any good prepping should always include a tarp. These are an invaluable resource in survival scenarios, and I prefer to just sleep under one any night in the woods rather than a tent. 

Tarps will give you an impermeable layer to add to a lean-to or a teepee, but can also be used alone for a great shelter. There are countless ways to use a tarp with different things that you will find in the woods in any environment. 

An A-frame shelter with a tarp, or a lean-to style setup both protect from rain and trap heat rather well. You can add extra insulation with moss or leaves, and then you have a warm and cozy night that you know is going to be waterproof. 

Learn the different ways to use a tarp and your life will change. This will become one of the must-haves in your pack every time you go hiking. 

Using Natural Shelters

One of the best moments is when you find a cave or an overhang on the cliffside that gives you full protection from the elements. With these existing shelters, you have a lot less work to do, but you do need to be wary of who may already be living there. It’s important to check the surroundings for any signs that dangerous animals are staying there. 

Building up a natural shelter can add to what is already there and make it more livable. Insulating a massive tree trunk can make it more sustainable for a longer time, but it can work well on its own for a night or two if you need it. 


Practicing building shelter is a sure way to get your friends or your family into being outside. This is every child’s dream, to build a huge fort and sleep in it. Building a fort doesn’t ever really get old, but the need for a serious shelter is a bit different. 

Like I said earlier, this can be fun. If you have fun with this and practice a variety of different building methods then you may find yourself with an ever-growing toolbox each time you go out in the woods. These shelters can save your life when you need them most, but don’t be afraid to use your imagination a bit in the building process. 

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