In a survival situation, after finding water, next on my list would be shelter. Shelter, besides providing the obvious protection from the elements, also provides psychological comfort. It is always easier to sit through a rain storm under a dry overhang, knowing that you will remain dry, than it is standing in the middle of the downpour. With shelter comes the possible expenditure of energy, that is if you choose to build or even ammend a natural shelter. In a survival situation it is important to conserve as much energy as possible- remember that in our scenario you have a 50 mile walk ahead of you. If this were a primitive living exercise, spending time on a semi-permanent shelter would not be out of the question.
Using Natural Features
But where do we find shelter, how do we create it? Consider the elements- we are looking for protection from the sun, possibly from wind, rain, and most likely from the cold of the night. If the need is immediate- if dark clouds are rolling in and a downpour is on the horizon- I would first look for the obvious overhang, rock shelter or cave. In the canyons of southern Utah it is not hard to find shelter in the rock. When choosing a rock shelter, think toward the night- is your shelter far away from firewood, high on a shelf? If so, you may want to reconsider. Supplementing a rock shelter with some type of windscreen may be in order, depending on its orientation. But remember- and this is a very important consideration- even in a survival situation, stay away from ruins! Sitting out a rainstorm in an alcove having prehistoric occupation is one thing, but under no circumstances should you ever camp in, build fire in, harm, or dismantle any type of cultural reamins. Even in a survival situation we must maintain respect for the past. More information on how you can help preserve archaeological sites is available at the Colorado BLM's Anasazi Heritage Center website, and at the utah BLM's Cedar Mesa webpage (scroll to the bottom.)
If the need for shelter is not immediate, a simple windscreen/ reflector, in a protected location, would be my choice for the night. In this situation, I look for a dry patch of sand in the canyon bottom, obviously far enough away from water and safely higher than water level, which will provide a comfortable bed for the night. There should be enough room for a safe fire, with a rock wall behind it to reflect heat in your direction. I would try to have a natural reflector at my back- rock, a stand of trees, perhaps a fallen tree. A few reasons to shelter in this location include: sleeping on sand makes for a better night's sleep, being nearer that water in the canyon bottom will be warmer, there will be wood available for your fire, and you are close to your drinking water source. Sleeping on sand also allows you to easily create a coal bed.
The Coal Bed for Warmth
A coal bed is created by distributing the coals collected in a good size fire along a trench which you have dug in the sand. The trench should be deep enough for a layer of sand at least a few inches thick to cover the coals. Depending on how cold you expect the night to be, the coal bed can be the length of just your torso, or stretch from head to toe. Be careful using a coal bed. A tremendous amount of heat can be generated by the buried coals. When using this method, I like to build a fire right where I will be sleeping. Then when it is time for bed, I extend the trench out from the fire pit and rake the coals into it. In this way, you are taking advantage of the hot earth, the stored heat from the fire you have burned to generate the coals for the bed. I might also build a small fire against a reflector if the night will be very cold.
Next Up- the Debirs Shelter- check back soon
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Primitive Skills- Living Comfortably Off the Land
Primitive Skills- Learning the Basics, Water
Primitive Skills- Shelter
Primitive Skills- Fire
Primitive Skills- Food
Primitive Skills- Navigation
Primitive Skills- Primitive Weapons
Primitive Skills- Fishing
Primitive Skills- Flintknapping
Primitive Skills- Tracking
Desert and Wilderness Survival and the Survival Kit Page
Choosing Your Survival Knife