A debris hut is a survival shelter that houses one person, two people max. A survival shelter that can be built with no tools except your hands. For a debris hut to work and keep you warm and snug you must have enough insulation, i.e. leaves and grasses, and more leaves and grasses. Leaves and grasses trap the air between the layers. A well insulated debris hut can keep you alive to -40′ below zero.
Debris hut construction
leaf and grass are the best insulating materials. The debris hut uses debris from the ground, leaf litter and tall dry grasses being the best. The shape of leaves allow for trapping air. Grasses trap air in their stalks providing good insulation
Pine needles are the worst insulator
Pine needles from conifers are the worst insulating material for this shelter. However, Pine needles will work if you have enough to insulate.
Building your leaf hut
Gather debris and pile it on top of a stick frame. Ideally the roof and walls of the hut need a minimum of four feet of debris. 3 to 4 ft of debris is recommended for outdoor temperature of 0′ degrees Fahrenheit and colder. Stuff the interior of the hut fully. The bed, or floor of the shelter, needs 1′ to 2′ ft of compressed debris, leaves, grasses, to insulate your body from the ground.
The doorway is made small. Just large enough to squeeze your shoulders through
You then crawl into the shelter, pulling debris in behind you to plug the doorway. This will keep out the cold drafts that you are sure to experience. And now you have a debris hut survival shelter. (Just like the shelter in the picture at the top of the page.)
Your body heat warms the shelter
The idea behind this type of survival shelter is that your body heat warms the interior of the hut… you survive for another day. We had some problems of course, with wet debris! Imagine laying on bedding that is wet to the touch in freezing temperatures! Makes you want to be home in your easy chair enjoying the warmth of a push button thermostat. This shelter will work with green or wet debris but you have to add a minimum of 1/3 more material if wet or green. A grueling thought.
To live or die
Why would anyone in their right mind want to spend a night under these conditions. However, you may have to make a choice to build a debris hut in a critical survival situation.
Hugh’s EDGE overnight adventure
large soft snowflakes were falling lightly as the late afternoon sky began to darken. The rising north wind in just moments whipped the snow into a flurry of white reducing visibility on the ground to a scant few feet.
As the wind gusted through the little valley the air temperature began to drop.
Hugh, had already gathered enough dead limb wood to keep his warming fire going all night. His Lean-to shelter fire combination which he finished earlier in the day, is designed to withstand wind and snow. And as long as he was successful with his fire making, the Lean-to will give warmth and comfort from the long nights chill ahead.
If Hugh was able to light his warming fire it would transform the Lean-to into a functional survival shelter. Then Hugh would be okay.
As Hugh prepared his tinder bundle for making fire in the growing darkness. Out of nowhere a strong gust of wind scattered his tinder away from his futile grasp and into the night…
Hugh’s experience is exactly why he attended the EDGE course with me. He was able to put to task during his overnight the skills he had learned during the week. So, when he encountered a real survival situation he would have hands-on experience to fall back on.
What happened to Hugh?
Are you wondering what happened to Hugh and how he dealt with his unfortunate situation ? Continue reading and I’ll explain.
What about fire instead of a shelter you ask? Very few people can make fire in these wet freezing conditions without proper training. Making fire in a survival situation takes on a complexity that can be mind numbing.
Don’t take it for granted because you have matches, a lighter, or magnesium striker you can build fire. You must train to be successful at fire making. Training is instrumental to your survival when the situation demands it.
Fire is a living thing and it demands fuel and attention to be kept alive. What this means for you, is you will be using up your precious calories and sleep to keep the warming fire burning. But I wouldn’t turn down a nice crackling heat-producing fire if I could make one.
Debris hut benefits
One other very important thing to consider with a well-built debris hut, since your body heat is warming the shelter and warming the trapped air around you, you are burning about one watt of heat per hour. You don’t have to fiddle with a fire all night which means you may get more sleep in this type of shelter.
Comparing the debris hut and lean to shelters
Compare that to a shelter/fire combination such as a Lean to, where you are sleeping with one eye open and having to get up and feed the fire every 30 to 40 minutes or so. This kind of activity can leave you exhausted by morning, but alive. And that’s the point in any survival situation is make it back alive. You do whatever it takes. But getting enough sleep is critical to survival as well.
Materials on hand dictate the shelter
Building a functional debris shelter out west can be difficult. As a general rule the lack of large amounts of leaf litter often prevents us from building this type of shelter.
In California finding enough debris for a functioning leaf hut is a lost hope especially in Montaigne type environments. However, if that is what it takes to survive the night and you have no way to make fire then some type of shelter resembling a debris hut must do.
Your knowledge of fire-making, insulation, and available materials make you quite capable of building an emergency shelter that will keep you from experiencing hypothermia and or frostbite.
My rule of thumb when it comes to what survival shelter I build, is totally dependent on available materials. If built correctly, the debris hut or Lean-to fire-combination shelters are both very comfortable and warm. And the best thing of course, they just might save your life!
So what happened to Hugh?
During his EDGE training our intrepid adventurer learned several survival shelters including the Lean-to fire combination. When his ability to make a warming fire thwarted by mother nature he immediately changed his warming-fire dependent Lean-to shelter into a modified debris hut with the materials he had already gathered.
He dressed correctly for the weather from head to toe. Hugh didn’t skip a beat, and performed exactly as trained to do. There was nothing make-believe in this experience for Hugh.
Happy endings are the best
In the end fire was made and Hugh enjoyed the crackling warming fire as he waited for the long night to end. See Hugh’s lean-to shelter – Survival Shelters