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Disaster Survival
in the Wild:
How to Build a Survival
"A Frame" Shelter

By Dan S. Defense

If you get lost on a remote trail, or find yourself stranded in the wilderness, you'll need to build a shelter, in order to survive. In this article we'll explain how to build a survival "A frame" shelter from wood and branches that can be found in most environments. This works in survival situations as well as on your next camping trip for bragging rights. We'll show you how to build a shelter that could one day save your life. You'll see that building a survival "A frame" shelter isn't hard and can even be fun.

A survival "A frame" shelter provides three key benefits: first it protects your body from various ground level nasties that will bite you and suck your blood--from leaches to scorpions and other biting insects, since the "A frame" shelter will hold your body above ground; second it will isolate your body from the cold, wet and hard ground surface and therefore keep you warmer and more comfortable; and thirdly, it will offer protection from the environment and could block most rain and wind from hitting you hard.

"A frame" shelters are popular with military units during survival training. "A frame" shelters are also popular with adventurers traveling into thick jungles and rain forests. The British SAS (Special Air Service) uses survival "A frame" shelters in training and jungle missions. I'm not is the same league as the British SAS but I have had to do both, especially while hiking in South America, and I can now build very nice survival "A frame" shelter. With these benefits in mind, let's proceed and see how to build a survival "A frame" shelter.

The survival "A frame" shelter, as its name implies, is built like the figure A. We have two supporting wood beams on each side, in the shape of a reversed V. These create the supporting structure as well as the foundation of our make shift roof. We then have wood beams that create the platform you sleep or rest on, and these are the "--" in the A frame.

Finally we have the finishing touches, which include the roof, made from branches for frame and then grass and more compact materials, to block out rain and wind; followed by softer grass or straw on the sleeping platform for some level of comfort. Now that we have the basics, let's proceed to the step-by-step instructions for building a survival "A frame" shelter.

The survival "A frame" shelter is built in a few simple steps. First gather ten hardy (i.e. read as strong) pieces of wood, that are about 6 feet long and are relatively smooth. Since it's hard to fine exact measurements in the wilderness, try to find wood that's just about taller than you are, and don't worry about ones that are a bit taller, or shorter than others. These pieces of wood will create the bulk of the survival "A frame shelter".

Now we need material to tie the wood components together to create a structure. If you have some paracord on you, that's ideal and the reason I always have 100ft of paracord in my emergency kit. If you do not have paracord, you will need to find some material which is strong and flexible.

Depending on the environment you are stranded, this may be easy (tropical, swamp) or hard (desert, highland), still if you can't find any local material, look at items you already have such as shoe laces, ties from your backpack or in an extreme situation, you can slice and tie together your under garments (ones that do not contribute to heat preservation). Be creative and use anything on or around you to create the connective material.

For the next step in building a survival "A frame" shelter, take two long pieces of wood, and set them in a V shape, and make sure about a foot from the top of the V extends beyond the V itself. We will use this additional, smaller V shape to hold the roof beam. Now repeat this action again to build the second half of the survival "A frame" shelter. Next we will connect the two parts of the survival "A frame" shelter.

Now we will build the "--" part of the survival "A frame" shelter. Lean one half of the upside down V shaped woods you connected against a tree. Take a long 6 feet wood and tie one end of it to one side of the V. Be sure to tie it properly, since this will support your weight and it must be strong. Repeat the process on the other side of the V and then on the opposite side, to connect both parts of the survival "A frame" shelter. You now have the full frame of the survival "A frame" shelter. Now we can create your bed and assure you won't fall through the "--" part of the survival "A frame" shelter.

Up to this point we used five of the ten long pieces of wood you initially collected. Now, find four of the smoothest wood beams. Arrange them in even space to build your bed frame. Make sure the space between each wood is narrow enough to assure you stay on the survival "A frame" shelter. Tie each end of each wood on both side of the survival "A frame shelter".

To make this bed frame more comfortable, find soft grass, or straw or anything else around you, which is softer than the ground, and spread that over your bed frame. Do not use your sleeping bed (if you have one) since we will lay that on top of the bed to keep you warm. With the bed of your survival "A frame" complete, we can move to build the roof and makeshift cover from rain.

Put the last beam on top of the survival "A frame" shelter. This is where the small upside down V we created before comes into play. It will hold the supporting beam for the roof. More often than not, there is no need to tie that beam, but check and see if it is secure at the top of the survival "A frame" shelter. Now we can proceed to build the roof itself.

You have two options here, depending on the environment you are in. Ideally, you'll have some material which you can throw over the roof beam, and tie it down on each end, like a tent. An emergency blanket is perfect for this task. That support will keep rain and wind away.

If you are in a dry and warmer climate, you don't really need a roof, and you are done. If you have no material to build a roof, you will need to collect more wood and lay it against your shelter, surrounding the "A frame" with a skeleton of wood. Then pad the gaps between the wood with any material that will act as buffer.

Some folks tie wood beams across this wood section, to create a sort of checkerboard of cross weaved wood beams and branches. Whichever way you go, you can then use grass, branches with leaves, tree undergrowth and so on to create more insulation. The more padding you have the less rain and wind you'll get in your shelter.

In summary, being prepared is always your best bet for survival and good gear could save your life. Being able to build shelter, such as the survival "A frame" we described here, is much easier to do if you have paracord, a good knife, an emergency blanket and a sleeping bag. Once you have a shelter, you will need to start a fire, to keep yourself warm, cook food and keep animals away.

Finally, practice truly makes perfect and we highly recommend you practice making a survival "A frame" shelter in your back yard or during your next camping trip. It took me several tries before I got it right. Keep that in mind to avoid having to do this for the first time under the stress of a survival situation.

Until next time, stay safe by staying alert!
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