I’m a firm believer in bugging in whenever possible. That doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to bugging out when the need arises, just that I think that most people would be better off staying at home, where they have more to work with. However, even if your primary survival plan is to bug in, you should always have a backup plan to bug out, should the need arise.
As part of that bug-out plan, you should have your bug-out bag packed and prepared. Even with it your chances of survival may be difficult. Without it, your chances of survival are much lower. Of course, it’s impossible to carry everything you need in a backpack so many people end up leaving behind some piece of equipment or other, like a tent.
A tent is more of a convenience than a requirement. There are many other things you can do for shelter besides pitch a tent. The advantage of a tent is that it is quicker and easier to erect, preventing you from having to search for materials. However, there are natural shelters in the wild, if you know where to look.
• A Cave. This is probably the best possible natural shelter you can find in the wild. Not only will it protect you from the weather, but it can make you more or less invisible to others who might be looking for you. The one problem with a cave is that caves in the wild are seldom unoccupied. So, before you boldly go where no man has gone before, do a little careful exploration to make sure that there is nothing else living inside.
• An Undercut Bank. While not as good as a cave, an undercut bank can protect you from the rain. If there is a stand of trees in front of the bank, you might find that you are well protected from the wind as well. With minimal work, such a spot can be quite comfortable.
• Under a Pine Tree. Large pine trees usually have branches touching the ground. There is a fair amount of space under these branches, often more than in a tent. You might have to cut off some dead limbs that are under there, but once you do, you’ll have a very cozy shelter. The tree will protect you from the wind and rain, and if you are careful, you can even build a small fire under there.
• Deadfalls. Deadfalls provide all sorts of interesting possibilities. The root structure forms an almost impenetrable wall, which can be used as one side of your shelter, Branches from the lower side of the tree can be removed, making a space like that found under a pine tree. Often, the deadfalls will be caught by other trees or rocks, providing a natural space underneath them that is well protected from the wind and rain.
• Rock Formations. There are many places where large rocks form partial rooms, overhangs, and even natural fortifications. With a little work, perhaps stringing up a tarp for a roof or wind break, these can make excellent shelters. They can also be prime defensive positions, should the need arise.
• Animal Dens. Some animals make their dens in the underbrush by pushing aside the brush and plants to make a hollow they can sleep in. While it is not uncommon for them to return to the same spot time after time, these spots are often left abandoned. If you find one, you can use it, even though it might be a bit small.
• Trees. If you can’t find anything else, you can always pitch camp under a tree. I’ve slept under trees when it was raining and stayed drier than my friends who were in their tent. A lot has to do with the density of the tree’s leaves and where the rain is coming from. You can always improve upon an existing spot under a tree as well by stringing up a tarp and making a reflector for the heat your fire.
• Hollow Trees. An old hollow tree is almost as good as a cave, even if it is a bit small. For an emergency shelter, you can’t beat one of these to keep you hidden until the rainfall is over.
• Things Abandoned by Man. You’d be amazed at the man-made things you can find in even the most remote places. People have inhabited many regions that we would call wild today. In doing so, they have left behind mines, buildings, walls and other things that most would consider garbage. Yet, properly used, many of those will form shelters, albeit primitive ones.
The Bottom Line
Even if you bring a tarp or tent along with you, there’s no reason not to keep your eyes open for a good shelter in the wild. Many natural shelters can be much more comfortable and enjoyable than a cramped tent. They can also provide the beginnings of building a slightly more permanent shelter, if you have to stay in the wild for an extended period of time.
Caves and rock outcroppings can make some of the best starts for building a permanent shelter in the wild. The ancient dwellers in the Southwestern U.S. built many a home in the protection of a cave. Since they were quick to use what nature gave them, it was natural for them to build cliff dwellings, as well as use caves and rock outcroppings for their homes. The famous cliffs at Mesa Verde in Colorado are the best known example of this, although not the only one in existence.