Building an A Frame debris shelter


I’ve written previously about building an A Frame debris shelter in this post from 2014 and it’s a good post (if I say so myself).  But a debris shelter that we built 8 years ago finally gave up over the winter so Nicola and I replaced it a couple of days ago.

Building an A Frame debris shelter | survival shelter | bushcraft shelter | Kent | Lomndon | south east

So I thought I’d take the opportunity to highlight a couple of things to bear in mind when building an A Frame debris shelter which I didn’t do in the original post from 5 years ago.  Before that though, a reminder on a few things to think about whan deciding where to site your shelter:

  • Build in a place that’s near to the resources you’ll need, not only the materials for the shelter, but firewood, water, food etc.,
  • Make sure that there’s no standing or hanging deadwood in the trees above you (similarly, I avoid camping under beech trees because of their habit of dropping limbs),
  • Avoid low lying areas that are liable to flood,
  • Avoid cold traps in gullies, valleys and the bottom of hills,
  • Don’t build your shelter on top of an animal trail (whether that’s big animals or very small ones, such as ants),
  • Take account of the predominant wind direction and align your shelter accordingly.

Once you’ve decided where to build, you’ll need to find a couple of robust ‘Y’ shaped sticks and equally robust pole to act as the ridge.  And they do have to be robust as by the time the shelter is finished it’ll be supporting a lot a weight.

Make sure that your ridge pole is butted up to something so that it can’t slide backwards.

Now when I’m setting up an A Frame shelter I make sure that the ‘Y’ shapes are ‘locked’ together; this greatly reduces the chances of them sliding backwards.

Building an A Frame debris shelter | survival shelter | bushcraft shelter | Kent | Lomndon | south east

We’ve also used longer ‘Y’ shaped sticks this time around.  This has the effect of making the shelter taller.  And in turn this has a couple of impacts:

  • As the shelter is taller you can sit up inside it.  This means that if you have a fire in front of the shelter you’ll be able to get heat from the fire to much of your body; if the shelter is so low that you can only lay in it then only the top of your head would get heat from a fire.  So if I couldn’t light a fire I’d build a very low shelter that I could just wriggle into and use the whole thing as a thermal mass.
  • The sides of the shelter are steeper; this means simultaneously that it will shed the rain easier but also makes the thatching more likely to slip down, especially if you’re using leaf litter.

When you’re building an A Frame debris shelter and you’re positioning the ribs, make sure that they’re more or less flush with the central ridge pole.  If the ribs poke up too high and aren’t covered by the thatching, then rain can run down the inside of the ribs and allow moisture into your shelter.

Building an A Frame debris shelter | survival shelter | bushcraft shelter | Kent | Lomndon | south east

Also be aware of curved sticks as they can have a tendency to swing inwards so that you lose space inside the shelter.

Building an A Frame debris shelter | survival shelter | bushcraft shelter | Kent | Lomndon | south east

We’re based in an ancient broadleaf woodland so we’re limited to leaf litter to thatch our debris shelters and it 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’s difficult to adhere to ‘leave no trace’ with a debris shelter, even if you take it down afterwards, the damage is done.

Regardless of what materials you’re using to thatch the shelter, start at the bottom and work up.  You need a deep covering, at least 30cm but aim for an arms depth.

Building an A Frame debris shelter | survival shelter | bushcraft shelter | Kent | Lomndon | south east

We spend time looking at debris shelters on our 1 Day Bushcraft Course, 2 Day Bushcraft Course5 Day Bushcraft Course, 2 Day Survival Course and 5 Day Survival Course.  You can see photos from all these, and all of our other courses, on our Facebook page.


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About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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