survival shelter: debris hut

Survival Shelter: How To Build A Debris Hut

In a survival situation, particularly during raw weather, the single most vital action you can take, is to construct a shelter. During cold weather, you require heat and protection from elements and in hot weather, you need cover for the sun and rainfall.

Should you be in a natural area which has debris on to the ground, like a coniferous forest, a broadleaf forest or even just grasslands, the debris hut is among the best shelter to keep you warm and dry.

The debris hut is simply a structure of twigs, sticks and branches covered and stuffed with forest debris such as leaves, conifer boughs and grasses. A thick and dense covering of debris both insulate and block wind. The insulation value of leaves is comparable to that of wool. By creating tiny pockets of dead air warmed by your body heat, a pile of leaves helps you stay warm even if wet. The outer layer of sticks that keeps the debris in place works as a shingle to shed rain.

In essence, the debris hut is at the same time a sleeping bag and a tent.

Debris Hut Drawbacks

  • It takes a lot of time to build: 2 up to 6 hours of work, depending on location and weather conditions.
  • It does not have space for storing and working. As remedy, you can build an awning.
  • You will need a couple of nights to become accustomed to and enjoy the debris hut.

Debris Hut Advantages

  • You can construct a debris hut in most environments.
  • It is reliable in most weather conditions.
  • You can build a debris hut without tools.
  • It can be a wonderful project to do together with your kids.
  • It requires minimal to no maintenance.
  • It needs no external source of heat, you’re the heat source.

Detailed Steps

Step 1: Shelter Location

Invest some time to choose the right place: a good location improves the quality of your stay. Also it’s smart to look for roots or rocks that might be uncomfortable to rest on.

Step 2: Debris Hut Measures

You have to build your debris hut just large enough to fit you, particularly in cold weather, because you’ll heat it using your body heat. In warmer weather, you can make your shelter more ample. In general, a small shelter can save you irreplaceable time and energy.

Start by laying down and measure using the following hints:

  • The ribbing base will be placed one span away on either side of your body. Place a twig straight into the ground one span away from each shoulder. A span is the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger.
  • To define the height of the higher end, roll onto your left side. Place a vertical branch to mark one span over your right shoulder, you’ll remove it after placing the ridge pole.
  • To set the height of the lower end, place a vertical stick, 5 centimeters longer than your feet, near the soles of your feet.
  • Mark on the ground the door position. It should face east or slightly southeast to capture the first rays of the sun. Make an effort to position the entry away from the wind. Wind and rain blowing in the direction of the entrance will steal the heat from your shelter.

Remember: taking precise measurements is crucial for a comfortable night.

Step 3: Clear The Ground

Clean the shelter location from debris. At a later point you’ll be stuffing it with leaves, but for now this sends away insects. It also aids to dry out the shelter floor.

Step 4: Collect Insulation Materials

Collect debris (pine needles, leaves, bark) for insulation. This is the most important step because if you’re in a rush or the weather gets worse you can build a Squirrel Nest, a simpler shelter that I’ll detail in a future post but it is essentially a pile of leaves you burrow in.

It’s better to gather more than you think you will need. As a rule of thumb, collect debris until you think you have enough and then start to collect the same amount.

To collect leaves and debris, you can use your hands or a branch as a rake. Start away from your shelter location and move your piles closer.

Step 5: Collect Frame Materials (ridge pole, tripod stakes, ribs)

You have to find a ridge pole, the key beam of your shelter. It needs to be long at least 1.5 times your height and sturdy enough to hold your weight. Be certain that there aren’t any termites or other critters already using it as a home.

Search for something to hold the ridge pole above the ground. The height should be a little taller than you are where you are sitting. You can use as support anything sufficiently strong such as a tree with a forked branch, rock or a tree stump. If you can’t find anything, it is possible to lash two poles together to make an A-frame.

Collect a lot of sticks from thumb to wrist diameter that you’ll lay against the ridge pole as ribbing. Instead of making numerous travels to collect sticks, bundle then together using cordage, your belt or a green branch.

Step 6: Set the Ridge Pole

Secure the ridge pole to the support. The ridge pole should run from the support to the ground, passing from the vertical sticks you have placed during the measurement step.
It is crucial that your ridge pole doesn’t extend too much past the support. This keeps water from dripping down the ridge pole and into your shelter.

Step 7: Prepare the Entrance

Place 4 forked sticks into the ground at the desired height, and cover the top with sticks. This tunnel should be at least 1 meter long: when you’ll go to sleep you’ll pack this ample space with leaves.

Step 8: Lay the Ribbing

Lean large sticks, close together, against each side of your ridge pole at 45+ degree angle to make a tent-like framework. The steep angle is wonderful for shedding water and moisture.
Be sure the ribbing is wide enough to accommodate your body as defined in the measurement step. It’s advisable to routinely enter and check it for size.

Lay finer sticks and brush in a cross hatch way over the ribbing. The reason is to prevent the insulating material (leaves, pine needles, and grass) from dropping through the ribbing into the shelter.

Pack the dirt against the ribbing. In this way you block the wind that would normally slip in underneath your shelter.

Step 9:  Cover

Start piling on debris, covering the entire shelter, until the insulating wall is at least 1 meter thick (in cold weather). In warmer time 50 centimetres seems to do the trick.

In case of a leak, you have to patch your insulating layer. I recommend that you have a huge pile of debris just outside your shelter.

Step 10: Add a Shingling Layer

As last step in constructing the framework, add shingling material such as bark or branches on top of the insulating material. This helps to keep the debris layer from blowing away.

Step 11: Prepare The Bed

The bare ground can drain your body heat very quickly. To avoid this drawback, stuff the interior with a 30 centimeters layer of insulating material. Try to choose stuff that is comfortable.

After few weeks, the bedding leaves will be grind into powder. It is important to regularly remove the leaves, pack them on top of the debris hut, and collect new ones for the bed.

For the first times, I highly recommend that you use a sleeping bag. Once familiar with sleeping in a debris hut, you can start using just leaves. Keep in mind that exposure is an authentic hazard in the outdoors. Train your shelter building skills with backups and warm weather until you have a good understanding.

Step 12: Add a Door

There are 2 simple ways to build a door for the debris hut shelter:

  • At the entrance, pile a heap of leaves that you compress with your arms and drag to you once inside the shelter. Once pressure is released, the pile of leaves expands closing the entrance.
  • Another option, it is to build a door. Build two grids, weaving green sticks or lashing finger size dead branches. Sandwich debris between the 2 grids, and Lash the grids together.


As for all the other survival skills, the key is to practice before you need. The first times you’ll make errors. For example, the water will run along the ridge pole and into the shelter or the wind will push the smoke of your fire inside your shelter. All of these failures will be your teachers. If you listen to them you’ll quickly learn precious lessons and save you a lot of misery.

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