Winter Survival Shelter

5 Basic Survival Skills and Components That Will Get You Through Any Situation

Building a winter survival shelter differs from building one in a warmer climate. You have to think about the cold and its effects on the body. Hypothermia can set in rather quickly. It only takes a drop of 3 degrees Fahrenheit in body temperature to being shivering uncontrollably.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the importance of a shelter when you are stranded in the cold. In the winter, the northern mountain temperature can drop to negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of us have never felt that kind of cold, and consider a windy cold day of 37 degrees Fahrenheit to be freezing cold. While that is the temperature at which ice freezes, think about how cold it is when you subtract 57 degrees from that temperature and add more wind. Brrrrrrr!

The whole objective in that type of environment is keeping the body warm and dry. Dressing in layers is imperative to your survival. Believe it or not, if you are moving around to build a shelter, you will sweat, even in those cold temperatures. This sweat will eventually turn cold and keep your skin wet, which will drop your body temperature into the danger zone. With layers, you can remove pieces of clothing to avoid sweating, yet still be warm and covered.

Now let’s build a shelter …


Find a spot to dig into the snow and that is near to a lot of trees and plant life.


  • Branches
  • Evergreen bows
  • Cattail stalks
  • Wood
  • Leaves
  • Rope or cord


Think small. It should only be big enough for you to crawl into and lay down, without any part of you touching any of the sides. The smaller it is the warmer it  will be. You will be entering feet first, so make the shelter about a foot longer than your height and just about wide enough to put your elbows out and touch the sides.


The snow acts as insulation for your shelter, so remember it can be your friend. Leaves also insulate your shelter.

Building Your Shelter

  • Dig

Dig into the snow about a foot down and about 6 feet wide by 8 feet long, if you    are a full grown man, smaller if you are a woman. If you dig and hit ground, all the better, because the dirt will still have some warmth to it from summer and fall.

  • Wood Branches

-8 to 10 foot branch (without leaves), wood, or tree trunk

-Two 5 foot long branches (without leaves), wood, or tree trunks

Winter Survival Shelter

  • Create An X-Frame

-Lay the two small branches on the groun and cross them by tying them together at the middle so they form an X. Stand the X up and separate the bottoms by about 4 feet. Now place one end of the long branch on the middle of the X and the other end on the ground.

-Lay other pieces of wood up against the long pole, on either side, creating the ribs of your shelter, keeping the bottom ends in line with the bottoms of the X.

-Lay a tarp or blanket over the long pole, or lay branches with leaves against the pole to fill in the empty spaces.

-Cover everything with snow, about four to eight inches thick. The thicker the better.

-Lay evergreen bows, leaves, and debris into the bottom of your shelter to create             a bed. The thicker the more comfortable.

-Build a fire outside the shelter.

-Empty the contents of your survival bag inside and then fill your bag with snow.   After crawling into your shelter, pull the bag in tightly to plug up the hole. The      snow inside the bag will make it conform to your opening. You can also use a trash bag or anything else you can find.


When you’re inside your shelter, that is covered in snow, a rescue team or person could walk right by and not even notice you. Place something outside your shelter that would look odd and signal someone to inspect further, such as a pan, or any personal item. Something red is also a great thing to put out there because it is easily seen in snowy conditions. Hang a piece of clothing at the top so that snow doesn’t cover it. Brightly colored clothing works best.


The wilderness can be a beast and is not for the faint of heart. You must be prepared when venturing out so that your survival bag has the essentials to build a shelter, filter water or snow, and contain food for sustenance. You should also pack a knife, rope, a tarp, and warm clothes with a change of socks. Remember to keep warm and to keep dry. Hypothermia can set in rather quickly, and once it does it can be impossible to raise on your own. Build a fire and keep it going to warm up your shelter enough to keep you snug.


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