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Shelter

For anyone living in the outdoors shelter is a high priority and never forget that the first and most important shelter is the clothing that you are wearing. Understandably the industry supplying outdoor equipment offers many other shelter solutions, with tents being the obvious leader in the field.

Debris shelters are a simple but time consuming way of creating shelters in woodland. Such shelters should always be dismantled after use.Although debris shelters can be created with natural materials, they are not a low impact approach to camping. Such shelters should always be dismantled after use.

In some places the weight of a tent can be dispensed with by building shelters from natural materials. However, in most places this is impractical either because it takes too long or the lack of suitable materials without damaging the local environment.

A good compromise in both weight and that feeling of “connection” to the natural world is a tarp sheet.

A tarp, basha or hootchi as they are sometimes called, consists of a waterproof sheet that can be rigged in a variety of ways to give shelter from wind and rain.

Most tarps have fixing points around the edge for pegging and tying down. Many are both lighter and cheaper than the lightest of tents and in many cases they offer advantages as well.

Tarp materials vary from plastic and proofed nylon to traditional materials like cotton canvas. Synthetics tend to be lighter and more water resistant. Natural fibres are quieter and slightly more fire resistant.

A simple tarp shelter is often the bushcrafter's preferred shelter.
Providing shelter while still open to the night, a tarp is well suited to bushcraft use.

To work at their best the tarp material should be tight, as slack areas tend to collect water which can stress the whole construction.

The cord used to rig the tarp must be taut and this can be achieved either with commercial tensioners or good knot use. Another approach is to use elastic shock cord which can be stretched to give good tension but will give slightly in the wind.

This can be an advantage and a disadvantage as it will protect the tarp material from tearing but it may sometimes compromise the shelter in strong winds.Personally, I favour a combination of these methods according to the conditions.

Another big advantage of a tarp is that it can be used in combination with a hammock in woodland where level ground can often be difficult to find.

If only one high point is available this method works well.
Use existing shelter to good effect where possible.

Here you can see a variety of methods for using the tarp for shelter. I usually use a 3x3 metre cotton tarp which suits me for most applications but many people prefer nylon because it is lighter and dries much faster.

On occasions when I am travelling light I just use a poncho for shelter which allows me to dispense with carrying a waterproof jacket as well.

Rigging a tarp as a simple lean to with a tree and a pole.

A poncho is quite small for a tarp camp but with careful placement it does provide just enough coverage for sleeping under as you can see below.

Just remember to tie up the hood to prevent leaks.

A light weight poncho used for a low impact temporary camp.
A tarp rigged on the diagonal to shelter a hammock, my usual bushcraft arrangement.
Wayland Shelter-1

My favourite way of rigging a tarp for sleeping on the ground is done by attaching the middle of two adjacent edges to a ridge line and pegging the middle of the other two edges to the ground.

This leaves two corners that can be pegged down to make wind breaks at each side and a triangular flap that stretches forward to provide extra protection from rain.

I usually roll up the spare corner at the back of the shelter and guy out the centre point of the tarp as well to improve the internal space a little.

Using a 3x3m tarp this provides a cosy little shelter just about the right size for my bedding and gear but still leaves a side open to enjoy the evening air or even a small cooking fire.

Wayland Shelter-2

Take a look at my Extended Adirondack Shelter here.

Of course tarps are not the only kind of portable shelter available Tents of all kinds are popular but amongst indigenous peoples of the North one design has stood the test of time. The Tepee / Tipi or Laavu.

The advantages of this classic design are all round wind resistance and the ability to shed snow from it’s steep pitched sides making it idea for winter use in Northern latitudes.

The old design was based around a small central fireplace but more modern versions often use a collapsable stove and chimney for heating. Again a central metal pole now tends to replace the multiple wooden poles of traditional types.

I still prefer the outdoor feel of a tarp, but bushcrafting does not mean having to go without all luxuries.

A modern style of Laavu on a wintery morning.
Bell Tent

The idea was almost copied in the design of the classic Bell tent of course.

With the bell tent the lower parts are replaced with a vertical wall which raises the roof for much the same footprint.

Depending on how the space is used this can be more efficient but it does catch the wind a little more.

A novel new solution is the pyramid tarp.

Made from two tarp sheets that fit zip together to make a stable pyramid tent this shelter combines the advantages and flexibility of both systems.

Pyramid Tarp

Set up by hanging the top from a tree, using a cut pole or the handy nesting pole made by the same manufacturer, it is quick to set up but provides complete shelter in poor conditions.

But always remember the first and often most important part of your shelter is your clothing.

One notable exception to my reservations about building natural shelters is the use of snow shelters.

Northern-Lights-over-Camp-Quinzhee

A Quinzhee (or quinzee) can be built quite quickly with a snow shovel and provides excellent protection in winter conditions without being too dependent on ideal snow conditions.

( For a much larger sheltered area see the Parachute Canopy page. )

 

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