For a good shelter in cold weather situations there are a number of factors that you want to consider in building a cold weather shelter.The first of these factors are the different ways that your body can lose heat. The first being conduction.
Conduction. Conduction is the transfer of heat between two objects through direct contact. Heat will move from the warmer object to the cooler object. In the case of a winter survival shelter, the warmer object is going to be you, and the cooler object will be the ground.
This means for your survival shelter, that you want to minimize the amount of heat transfer between you and the ground, by creating an insulating layer between your body and the ground.
Convection is the second way you can lose heat. When air currents pass over you skin, or water gets on your skin, heat can be pulled away from your body. The first line of defense that you have against this is your clothing. The second line of defense is your shelter. Walls that help block the wind and hold in warmer air can make the difference between survival or hypothermia and death.
Radiation, the third way you can lose heat, is the simple act of heat moving away from your body. It is literally radiating from your body. There is no way to really stop this, however, having four walls, and a roof is a good start, because the walls and ceiling can help prevent some of that heat from getting to far away from your body.
All of these factors are centered around loss of heat. Our final factor that needs to be considered in shelters, however, is all about stopping the loss of heat. Insulation. Insulation is the materials that are placed between you and the environment to prevent the loss of heat.
Insulation works by limiting air movement, and creating spaces of still air. Why do we want still air? Because still hair helps eliminate convection and it also has low conduction potential. This helps prevent heat from moving away from you. If the heat is no longer moving away from you body, you remain warm.
Reflective insulation is also a good option to look at if it is available. This is because the insulation creates that pocket of still air, and it also has a reflective surface which can reflect heat back towards the source, which in this case, would be you.
Taking into account all these factors you can begin to get a good idea how to put together a shelter that will help minimize heat loss, and maximize your possibility of survival. In fact if you have a well built shelter, you will generally not need a fire because your shelter should be able to hold in your body heat well enough to keep you warm. Though of course when it comes to cold weather survival, a fire is never a bad idea.
Now that you know the elements you need for a proper shelter, here are our top three wilderness and urban survival shelters.
Wilderness: Wilderness shelters are what most people think of when you talk about survival and shelter. Anyone who is going to be spending time in the outdoors, whether it is doing hiking, backpacking, camping or sports, should have a basic idea of how to build shelters. So if you find yourself in a survival situation in the wilderness shelters are something that you should know how to make one.
Brush shelters are any kind of shelter that is made using brush materials, which in the winter will generally be boughs from evergreens and pines. A brush shelter can take on many forms from a lean to a teepee. In all cases the shelter provides walls to block the air and wind that can take away heat. The boughs also provide insulation, because a pocket of still air will be created with in the boughs and insulate very well.
When built right the boughs will also create in effective roof that will shed rain, as long as the branches are pointing down.
When it is very cold and there is a sufficient amount of snow, a snow trench is a great cold weather survival shelter. I'm sure that there are a number of people saying, but what about an igloo? An igloo is an great winter survival shelter, if you have the right amount of snow, and you actually know how to build one. Most people don't know how to build an igloo and so a snow trench is a great easy shelter that works with many of the same mechanics.
Just like other shelters you are not looking to create a big shelter. You want to make something that is big enough to fit yourself, but not much bigger. A snow trench is made by simply digging out a long trench shape in the snow.
The snow is the main insulation in this kind of shelter. However using debris or boughs as a ground insulator is a great way to improve your shelter.
At the same time the one thing that you snow trench doesn't start with is a roof. A roof is an important part of your shelter so finding a way to add a roof is a good idea. Anything from a tarp to boughs can act as a base for your roof, and more snow can go on top to create more insulation.
In conditions where there isn't too much snow on the ground, and you can find sufficient foliage and building materials, a debris hut is the way to go.
When many people think of a debris hut, they think of just using sticks, branches, and foliage as insulation. However snow can also be adapted to work with a debris hut, and used as insulation.
It may seem counterintuitive but snow is actually a good insulator. Because there is a high percentage of air trapped among the snow crystals, it creates the layer of still air that you need for insulation.
When building a debris hut in the winter you want to start out the same way you would with a regular debris hut. Start by putting down an insulating layer of leaves or boughs on the ground. From there you want to start building a frame of sticks and branches, to be further covered by boughs if possible.
Remember when building your frame that you want your shelter to be small. Just big enough to fit your body snuggly inside. More space than that is unnecessary and allows more air to try and suck heat from your body.
Once you have your frame it is time to start with your insulating layers. If you are using snow as an insulator on your shelter you need to have a good layer of boughs or debris to start, to prevent moisture from getting inside your shelter. Once you have a thick layer of boughs and debris, you can put snow on top to provide more insulation from the cold. Eighteen inches is about the layer you want over your debris hut before you start adding snow.
When it comes to debris huts more is better. The more debris, boughs, and snow on top of your shelter the more insulation you will have. In general for a debris shelter you want at least two and half feet of insulating material.
Honorary mention: Buildings
When in the wilderness, most of do not expect to just run across a building, however it can happen. It is not something that you should count on. However if you run across a building then you should always try and use the building. By not having to build your own shelter you conserve energy. Also a structure means humans and it could mean a possibility of contact with other people, which could get you rescued.
Urban: Often times when we think of building shelters to survive the elements we think of wilderness shelters. Shelters that we might need if something goes wrong when we are out in the wilderness hiking, backpacking, canoeing or engaging in some other kind of outdoor activity.
However most of us don't live in remote wilderness areas, and for those of us who do, most still commute into or near to an urban environment. If shtf you may find yourself in a urban environment, and in need of a shelter.
Urban environments are generally based around the idea of an automobile. Cars are a major factor in how we build and create our urban environments, because in this day and age, cars are pretty much everywhere.
The car may be your own, or someone else's. Either way, when it comes to surviving a cold weather emergency scenario, it is still shelter. Cars can give you both walls that help break the wind and prevents some radiated heat loss. There is also an insulating factor through the interior upholstery.
The biggest downside to cars is that they are still largely made out of metal, and metal can get very cold very fast, meaning the inside of the car can also get cold fast. This means that if you are using a vehicle as a shelter, then you want to increase the insulation on the inside if at all possible.
However if it comes down to using a car as a shelter or being exposed outside in cold weather, we'll take the car any day of the week.
Yup, trash. Urban environments are full of trash. It can be found on streets, in alleys, dumpsters and trash bags taken out to the curb. In a survival situation it could mean the difference between life and death.
There are a number of different materials that can be found in the trash that can be used for shelter building an insulation. Thrown away cardboard, plastic, mattresses, cushions, trash bags, newspapers, magazines, aluminum foil, styrofoam, wood and wood pallets can make great materials building a shelter and providing insulation.
Remember, just like a wilderness shelter you want to make your urban survival shelter, smaller and more compact, leaving less air space for losing heat through radiation.
Yes I know this is not an actual shelter that you can make. However a premade building sits at number one for us because a building is premade, and will be better made in many cases (though not all) than any shelter you can make.
There will always be plenty of buildings in an urban environment so if you can take advantage of them, you should. An occupied building can be your best bet if your not in a major disaster scenario. Not only is it likely to be lit up and heated, but there will also be people there who can help you.
However in a serious disaster situation you should be careful about the buildings you chose to use as shelter. If it is occupied and order has started to break down, entering the building may put you in more danger so it is always good to be cautious.
In the event that you cannot or should not enter any occupied buildings to get help and stay warm, there are always abandoned buildings, as well as public spaces such as a subway station that can provide some cover from the elements. For structures such as abandoned buildings make sure you check for possible structural issues that could be dangerous as well.
Even with premade walls around you, you need to make sure that you still have sufficient insulation around you to help prevent loss of body heat. Sturdy walls means that you don't have to build your own walls, but it is only one aspect of a shelter. If your using a premade shelter make sure that you have insulation so you can make it through your cold weather survival emergency.
Remember smaller shelters and good insulation is a the way to go when the weather gets cold. To all those experiencing the bitter cold temperatures and the tons of snow stay safe and warm.