How To Build A Survival Shelter: Debris Hut

Knowing how to build a rudimentary survival shelter from natural materials is one of those must-have survival skills. Without shelter, it isn’t easy to maintain your core body temperature.

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 To Making 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 by placing a long ridgepole on top of a sturdy base like another lock or a rockface.


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.


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


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. If you have a tarp or plastic sheeting, cover the sticks before putting them down the insulation.


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.


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


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


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

Photo #1 Framing for a Debris Hut

Photo #2 Another Framing Option
Photo #3 Framing is too steep; the debris (insulation layer) won’t sit.
Photo #4 Debris Hut with leaves for insulation
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 the rising ground that won’t flood. Also, make sure 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.

4 locations To Avoid Building A Survival Shelter

  • #1 Hilltops with direct wind exposure; instead, look to place your shelter on the leeward side of a hill or mountain
  • #2 Avoid Valleys and low-lying areas. These areas stay wet and are more prone to flooding and frost.
  • #3 Hillside terraces, if the ground holds moisture
  • #4 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 a heat reflector and aid with the dispersion of smoke from a campfire.
  • #3 Ventilation. Ensure the shelter allows the flow of fresh air, 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.