We teach debris shelters on our 2 Day Bushcraft and 5 Day Bushcraft courses. We tend to focus on the structure of the shelter, so making sure that it is robust and won’t collapse, but don’t spend too much time covering them. We have some skeleton shelters to demonstrate the design principles and also 2 complete shelters, a 1 person kennel covered with bracken and a 2 person kennel covered with leaf litter.
We teach this way for a couple of reasons, both based on the fact that as we don’t have any conifers in the woodland, and limited bracken, we are left with leaf litter to cover our shelters. What’s wrong with leaf litter?
Firstly, outside of this time of year, collecting leaf litter to cover a debris shelter is time consuming. How many fallen leaves do our students need to pick up to understand the process? I don’t think it’s many. And I have other things that I want to teach rather than watch people collect leaves for half a day.
Secondly, to cover a debris shelter requires a phenomenal amount of leaf litter. Scraping all those leaves up isn’t good ecologically. Leaf litter is best left to compost down and return minerals and so on to the soil. It disturbs invertebrates that live in leaf litter and It also exposes any seeds, bulbs or young plants in the area. You can also disturb winter food supplies that have been squirrelled away and will be needed shortly. (See what I did there?)
Personally, I think that if you’re going to the woods for a few days, take a tarp; it is difficult to adhere to ‘leave no trace’ with a debris shelter, even if you take it down afterwards, the damage is done.
With all of that said, people often have an expectation when they come on one of our bushcraft courses that they will get the opportunity to sleep in a debris shelter, so I’ve built a 2 person debris shelter in the camp area.
The 2 ‘Y’ shaped sticks were cut to about chest height from green ash. I know that you are meant to just pick stuff up from the woodland floor for debris shelters, but I like to be sure that these 2 ‘Y’ shaped sticks and the ridge pole(s) are strong and aren’t going to break. The ‘Y’ shaped sticks are about midriff height and the ridge poles are about twice as long as I am tall.
Normally on a kennel shelter, the 2 ‘Y’ shaped poles would be the entrance, but as this is a 2 person shelter, the entrance is at the other end. I’ve set it up so that it is on a south west to north east line with the wind blowing onto the enclosed end.
I then leant sticks up against the 2 ridge poles and in a circle around the end. Be sure that the sticks don’t protrude above the ridge poles as rain can run down them and into the shelter. Make sure that you keep the sticks the same distance out from the ridge poles and don’t start to creep in. You can end up with a shelter that is too narrow to be used if you’re not careful.
I also laid sticks across the 2 ridge poles (I knocked a couple of sticks vertically into the ground at the entrance to stop these sticks rolling down the ridge poles. You can see this in the last photo). I’ve used plenty of sticks, mostly hazel, to cover the shelter and tried to reduce the gaps between them to prevent the leaf litter from falling through. I also laid all the leafy ends of the hazel across the sticks to help with this.
Around and about the camp area we have a wide variety of species, including field maple, white beam, sweet chestnut, hornbeam, beech, hazel and ash. With that said, I’ve mainly used fallen leaves from sweet chestnut, hornbeam and beech. These species seem to have the densest layer of leaf litter underneath them and are easy to collect. Even so, I have collected the leaf litter from far and wide, only taking a small amount from any one area so that hopefully the impact is spread. I started covering the shelter at the bottom and worked up and have tried to achieve an arms depth of leaf litter all over the shelter.
I’ll let the leaf litter settle and see how it looks in a couple of months.