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How To Build A Survival Shelter: Debris Hut

Building a debris hut is easy and a must-have survival skill because a survival shelter helps you maintain your body temperature and give you a sense of control which is essential in a survival scenario.

A survival shelter is used in an emergency to protect the body from the sun’s heat, insects, wind, rain, snow, and fluctuations in temperature.

Let’s get down to one of the easiest and quickest survival shelters you can build from natural materials—the Debris Hut.

8 Steps (how to build a debris hut)

Let’s learn how to build the shelter. A Debris Hut is made from natural materials like sticks, dry leaves, grass, or pine boughs. You do not need survival tools, but a survival knife and folding saw would be helpful.

Step #1

Make a tripod with two short stakes and a long ridgepole, or place a long ridgepole on top of a sturdy base like another lock or a rockface.

Step #2

Secure the ridgepole (pole running the length of the shelter) using the tripod method or by anchoring it to a tree at about waist height.

Step #3

Prop large sticks along both sides of the ridgepole to create a wedge-shaped ribbing effect. Ensure the ribbing is wide enough to accommodate the body and steep enough to shed moisture.

Step #4

Place thinner sticks and brush crosswise on the ribbing. These are for the latticework that will keep the insulating material like grass, pine needles, and leaves from falling through the ribbing into the sleeping area. Use a tarp or plastic sheeting to cover the stick frame and place the insulation over the top.

Step #5

Add light and dry soft debris over the ribbing or plastic until the insulating material is at least 3 feet thick. The thicker, the better.

Step #6

Place a 2 ft layer of insulating material inside the shelter. Leaves and pine boughs are excellent for this use.

Step #7

At the entrance, a pile of insulating material can be dragged to the entrance from inside the shelter to close the opening or build a door.

Step #8

Finally, add shingling material or branches on top of the debris layer to prevent the insulating material from blowing away. Pine Boughs are excellent for this purpose and add an insulation factor.

United States Army Training Manual ATP3-50

debris hut frame from found wood
Photo #1 Framing for a Debris Hut
debris hut frame over a fallen log
Photo #2 Another Framing Option
tee pee style debris hut frame
Photo #3 Framing is too steep; the debris (insulation layer) won’t sit.
debris hut covered with leaves
Photo #4 Debris Hut with leaves for insulation
debris hut covered with pine boughs
Photo #5 Finished Debris Hut

Picking a Good Shelter Location In Nature

When looking for an ideal shelter location, search for an area protected from the wind, dry, and on rising ground that won’t flood. Also, ensure the site isn’t at risk of avalanches or falling rocks.

Hot air rises, and cold air sinks, so avoid low-lying boggy areas because they will be much colder and wetter.

If possible, build the shelter close to a water supply, but not too close, and a wood supply.

If you are camping on a river bank, look for high water marks and build a higher up the hillside. Mountainous and some hilly desert regions flood quickly, and the water may be coming from a distance, so you might not know to look for it.

Don’t build a survival shelter in these four locations


Hilltops with direct wind exposure; instead, look to place your shelter on the leeward side of a hill or mountain


Avoid Valleys and low-lying areas. These areas stay wet and are more prone to flooding and frost.


Hillside terraces, if the ground holds moisture


On a game trail

Check out Ready Squirrel’s Article, Shelters For Survival: Beginners Guide, to learn more about survival shelters.

6 Things to Consider Before Building a Survival Shelter

#1 Size

A survival shelter should be big enough but require minimal effort to build.

#2 Availability

Use fallen trees, logs, rocks, and large trees to act as heat reflectors and aid with the dispersion of smoke from a campfire.

#3 Ventilation

Ensure the shelter allows fresh air flow, allows smoke and carbon monoxide to escape, and acts as a heat pump.

#4 Pitch

Put enough angle in your shelter roof to dispel snow and rain but not so much angle that insulation won’t stay put.

#5 Insulation

the more insulation, the better. Look for pine boughs, grass, leaves, or moss to insulate. Pile those leaves or grass as high as you can get them. This will conserve body heat.

#6 Framework

The skeleton of the shelter must be strong enough to support the outer layers and any precipitation and strong enough to withstand heavy winds.

Thank you for stopping by Ready Squirrel. Please leave comments below.

Keep on prepping!

Best Regards, Scott

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