When the preparedness minded individual pictures him/herself being thrown into a primitive situation the first picture in his/her mind is building a shelter or fire. The thoughts usually run along the lines of building a shelter, then a fire and waiting for the SAR birds to fly over head. Usually an evading soldier does not have that luxury. He still has to stay sheltered from the elements and keep his/her body temperature regulated. But, his/her real time priorities lay in the area of staying concealed, hydrated and fed. Without the luxury to build a fire an evader must take advantage of natural forms of sheltering concealment and insulation.
The scenario environment that you have been thrown into just happens to be a desert winter environment or late fall, early winter European climate. Hot to mild during the day and hovering around freezing at night. Throw in desert night snow, the temperature goes to 25 degrees or light rains all day and night in the Euro environment. This is an exposure casualty waiting to happen. Even if you are able to stay dry by finding over head cover there are still risks from cold blowing winds that sap your body heat. Its time to think seriously about fortifying against the elements and reducing or stopping body heat loss.
The first rule is, "any shelter that hides your position and protects you from the elements is better than nothing at all. " Sounds obvious ?! In the past stranded military personnel have lain down out in the open cuddled together, exposed to wicked conditions. Why ? It’s a simple answer; they possessed no improvisation skills. The next half of the rule is, if you put effort into building a shelter make sure it gives back as much as it took to build. Using a dry sewer pipe that leads far underground or a small cave in the side of a bank is doable. The insides of a large hollow log or in between hay bales are possible hide sites. Wherever it is it should be prepped for escape at a moment’s notice. Recon the area around it if possible. And insulate the shelter with natural or man made materials. Take precautions not to contaminate the area with your "sign."
The second rule is, the "deeper you dig the longer you live." Why dig ? Because getting your human form out of the line of site is a prime element on the evaders wants and needs list. Using a dry ditch or cubby in between rocks can supplement a dig site. Locating the hide site in thick cover or even low lying scrub bush is ideal. Disposing of dirt from the hide site becomes the first priority. A fatigue shirt can be laid out flat then pile dirt in the center. When full, wrap up the edges and carry it to a dumpsite. Dumping dirt in thick bushes or hollow logs is the typical dumpsites. Typical because this is where most of our students dump theirs. Wherever you exit your cover to dump you will disturb the foliage to the point that a trail may well be worn into the ground. Place a rock right at the edge of your cover so that a long step is taken out of cover to the rock. Then another step is taken from the rock on out away from the cover. When everything is finished the rock can be moved away. Because right where that rock sits is the spot that your boot will strike every time you exit cover and it will be the one track that homes a pursuer into you hide.
Don’t go crazy digging your hide. From 6 inches to 2 feet deep or any place in between there. It should be no bigger than the length of you body, plus 6 inches and no wider than your shoulders plus 6 inches. Its not a grave it’s a hide, remember that. It gets you out of the wind and out of site. And remember that digging with your blade is very hard on the your precious steel. Which is just another reason to carry tough, high quality steel that can take abuse and re-sharpen easily. Covering the hide is the next step.
Now its time to cover with natural insulating materials. An insulating material is anything that will trap air in its fibers. Some of the best is pine needle thatch (dead pine needles on the ground). The next best is dried grasses followed by dried broad leaves. Dried plant material of any kind will work better than green plant material (hay, straw, yard clippings, fluffed cattail heads etc.). The next best type would be conifer boughs (branches from evergreen or pine trees). Using any of these materials or like materials the hide is filled in to produce a bed of insulation. The next rule is, "double the amount under you that goes on top of you." The ground is a moist heat absorbing mass. It sucks the heat from your body. Lay down any insulating material from cardboard to newspapers to natural fill. Anything will help guard against heat loss. Two feet of insulation is a good start if at all possible. That’s easy to do with pine needles or pine boughs. But it takes some effort when collecting broad leaves (leaves off of most trees). In the long run it is worth it.
When the bed area is finished its time to construct a weatherproof roof over your hide. Constructing a very low lean-to over the bed is one of the best methods to shelter you from snow or rain. The lean-to should be at least 2 feet wider than the bed and 2 feet longer than the bed. If your hole is deep enough, stout poles (branches) 2-3 inches thick can be laid across your hole flat on the ground and the entire roof is covered in insulating debris. Natural insulation not only works well as an insulator, it is great camouflage as well. The roof should just be high enough at the front end to crawl under. 6 - 10 inches of natural debris makes a very waterproof roof.
Fundamentals of Debris Construction
Primitive peoples have been using natural debris insulation and improvised shelters for 1000s of years. But, Tom Brown Jr. brought it to the preparedness community’s attention. Many survival gurus will argue this fact. But, credit is due to Mr. Brown for publishing the design and details of the debris hut, some 15 or more years ago. U.S. RSOG instructors refer to it as Tom Brown’s debris hut on a daily basis. Knowing how to construct a debris hut or cocoon gives a survivor an advanced knowledge of shelter concepts. Is it the be all and end all shelter ? NO. But, it puts a survivor on a whole other level of preparedness.
A Little About Brown
Tom Brown is a world famous tracker as well as an adaptation skills master. There is a big difference between experts and masters. Experts have retained vast amounts of subject matter on any given subject. They can display a skill level that exceeds the common practitioner, on the given subject. But, a master turns those skills into an art form that experts strive to reach (whether they want to admit it or not). Mr. Brown has taken adaptation skills to the highest level. So, his experience can be used as a guidepost for military personnel to learn from. He passes on his knowledge through his TRACKER school and his many books. His debris hut is based on a squirrel’s nest. The nest is a large ball of sticks and leaves that create a room in the middle. T he weaving of the stick structure holds the insulating leaf material in place. The thicker the insulation is, the better it holds the squirrels body heat in and blocks out the cold winds.
To construct a debris hut a survivor only needs a stout ridgepole 3 - 4 inches in diameter and 9 - 10 feet long. One end of the pole is lashed to a sturdy tree trunk approximately 3 - 4 feet off of the ground. It can also be leaned atop a stump or pile of rocks or in the crook of a tree, etc. Under the ridgepole the survivor should place his/her bedding insulation down before starting on the rest of the shelter. Two feet of bedding in cold weather is not uncommon. Next, sticks 1 inch in diameter and 3 - 4 feet long are leaned against the ridgepole, tracing the outline of the bedding material. They should look like ribs coming off of a spinal column. The sticks are placed 6 - 8 inches apart down both sides of the ridgepole. At the high point on the ridgepole the ribs should be splayed out at least a 2 feet wider than your shoulders when you are lying inside of the ribs. After all of the ribs are in place, small lightweight, bushy branches are used to cover the entire structure. This is called the lattice and will hold the natural insulation material on the shelter.
Now armloads of insulation (pine needles, pine boughs, grasses) are thrown on the structure. An even thickness of at least 12 inches should cover it completely. U.S. RSOG cadre believe that this shelter is not the best choice for areas with broad leaves as the primary source of insulation. It takes excessive amounts material and effort to cover a debris hut. A lean-to with fire reflectors and a coal bed would be less labor intensive. Or stuffing a small cave or hollow somewhere, with leaves would be advisable. Six to 10 inches of leaves on a roof of a lean-to will make a very waterproof roof. It takes large amounts of material to insulate a cocoon type of shelter. The entrance to the hut is located at the high end right next to the ridgepole support. You climb into it like a sleeping bag. Then a large ball of insulation is pulled into the doorway, effectively sealing off the shelter from the outside environment. Get out of any clothing that you are wearing, so that your body heat can heat the shelter. Wet clothes will dry out over night if they are laid out or hung up inside of the shelter. This is just like a sleeping bag, pull insulation over your body and sleep. The inside of the shelter should be stuffed to the gills with insulation.
There are many variations to this shelter, but the main emphasis on construction details is based on the skeletal frame, lattice and insulating covering. That same insulation used for the shelter can be used to insulate the evaders clothing. This technique is used extensively by our cadre. Start by tying off the pant legs around the ankles and tucking the shirttail into the waistband. Button or tie off the sleeve cuffs at the wrist. Now stuff hand fulls of dry insulation into the clothing making a puffy, goose down type of suit. The socks can be stuffed with fluffed material that has been ripped and twisted over and over. The fluffed heads of cattail work well as do the obvious duck and bird feathers. Pulling socks over your hands that are stuffed with insulation works very well.
The debris hut is not the perfect shelter for all terrain’s and climates. But, it should be a primary weapon in any evader’s arsenal to battle the Reaper. More specialty shelters will be featured in other parts of this website.
One of the staple shelters of the preparedness community is the lean-to. It is simple to construct and doesn’t use a large amount of material in its construction. It is based primarily on the concept of keeping precipitation off of your head and blocking the wind from at least three sides. With the addition of a tall fire reflector on the open front and a fire, it will provide a good shelter. The most common mistakes that U.S. RSOG students make when constructing their lean-to is making the shelter too tall. It should be kept low to the ground and just high enough for a survivor to lay on his/her side with at least a foot of packed insulation under them. The fire reflector(s) should span the entire front of the shelter. If it was being built in a hot climate the two ends of the shelter would be left open and there wouldn’t be any need for the fire reflectors. Face the shelter to the southeast in the winter months and the north in the summer months. Roughing out a shallow trench around the "drip line" of the shelter will help to channel the run–off away from your shelter during down pours (U.S. RSOG cadre speak from wet experience).
The keys to being shelter minded is one, knowing that you need it. Two, using your skill of improvisation to overcome the shortcomings dealt to you by the Reaper. And three, a little practice in different terrain’s and climates.
Copyright © 2007 U.S. RSOG