Braving the Wilderness – A Guide to the Best Emergency Shelters for Hikers

Best Emergency Shelters

Braving the wilderness - A guide for emergency shelters

Let’s say you spontaneously decide to go on a hike to get some much needed alone time. You make your way to the top of the mountain. As you’re on your way down, you realize that it's getting dark and you still have a ways to go. With the darkness it's getting hard to see what path to take, it will be easy to get lost if you keep hiking

You look at your phone and see that you have no service. So there you are halfway (you think) down the mountain and need to find a place to sleep. There's no way you can find your way down tonight. How do you make a shelter? It’s starting to rain so what direction should you face so you don’t get soaked? What about animals? And the list goes on.

By knowing your different shelter options, you will prepared for these moments when you get lost and need to prepare an adequate shelter.

The Different Types of Shelter

In addition to tents and sleeping bags, here are some options to consider bringing. Each of these options are extremely light and are fairly budget friendly.

  1. Bivy sack - This was initially made for backpackers who need emergency shelter. Bivy sacks are lightweight, keeps your sleeping bag dry, and is great for winter camping. However, they are not very big, which can be uncomfortable for people who do not enjoy sleeping in tight spaces. These are also not as good for summer camping since they are designed to keep the warmth in.
  2. Tarp - While tarps are not going to be the warmest solution, they provide some sort of shelter to protect you. When you have a tarp, you can simply make an A-frame over a tree branch. Another benefit is that it is waterproof and provides a decent amount of space. The trouble comes when there is no insulation and that it is larger to pack and carry on the hike.
  3. Large Garbage bag - Obviously, this is less than idea for shelter, but it does provide somewhat of a waterproof shelter. The tip is to bring 3 bags so you can connect them and cover your entire body. This solution is for less extreme climates, but are essentially free and can fit into your pants pocket.

What to do if you’re caught in the wilderness without these

quinzee snow hut

If you are in the snow - Build a quinzee snow hut, which is similar to a small igloo. In order to build this, find a large area of snow. Build a mound of snow and let it “sit” for a few hours. After a few hours, dig a hole in the very bottom middle of the mound (think an igloo entrance).

Once you have dug a hole big enough for you and your stuff to fit, build a very small fire and let it last for a couple of hours. Don’t have it last too long since it’ll start to melt your hut. But, it needs to melt the inside of the mound a little so that it freezes over once you put out the fire.

If you are in the woods - Make a lean to, which is one of the most commonly used shelter types. Connect a heavy branch between two trees (see picture below). Once you have that, lean multiple branches against the branch so that it creates a 45-degree angle. It is important to continue to test the strength of the fort.

lean to shelter


So when you are stuck in nature and need an emergency shelter, keep these options in mind. A bivy sack, tarp, and garbage bag all are great solutions for improvised shelters. However, if you don’t have those, make a lean to or quinzee snow hut.

Hiking can be some of the most enjoyable adventures, but you must always be prepared for the worst-case-scenario. Emergency shelters are not a luxurious hotel, but it gets the job done and keeps you safe from the weather.

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About the author

Justin Archer

Hi, I'm Justin Archer a family man with 2 boys and a wife. I'm an outdoorsman who loves hunting, fishing, hiking and lots of other outdoor activities. I love testing new outdoor gear, learning new things and passing on the knowledge I have gained.

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