The thought of being in the bush with no tent/tarp or sleeping bag sends shivers up the spines of most people.

Building a shelter from plant material aound the camp site is a basic requirement of my higher survival courses. It is not easy - a shelter may take up to 4 hours to make, but it gives people confidence in their ability to survival if they were caught out in the bush with nothing.

Bush shelters are surprisingly warm if you put the effort into them. They are not as comfortable as sleeping in a normal bed, but they can save your life. They can be made waterproof if covered by sheets of bark from the ground, and even if not covered will keep out light showers. Having two people in a shelter is even warmer because of shared body heat, and it takes a bit less time to build with extra hands.

The Australian bush does not give a lot of leaf litter to make a traditional debris shelter, so try to find a basic shelter frame that nature has started, like a large log, hollow tree, or hollow under the roots of a fallen tree.

There are a few shelters that I show people how to build on my courses.

Pit Shelter - This shelter is built on sandy or soft soil. Try to dig it on a sand dune or slope so water or cold air will not sit in it. You did out a pit to sleep in, with a stick or discarded can if necessary. Make it deeper and wider than you think you will need. Fill it with leaf litter or ferns to give a good insulation layer from the soil. Then cover it with sticks and then a thick layer of plant material up to a metre thick. Remember to keep some aside to fill in the 'doorway' after you get in.

Before you fill and cover the pit, you can build a fire in it, then after it has burnt down to coals, cover the coals with some of the sand you excavated before filling and covering it. This will keep you warmer for hours. If you can find stones to put in the fire, it will keep the pit warmer for longer.

Debris Shelter - Find a long stick or straight branch about twice your length and place one end onto a trunk or branch fork around 3 feet of the ground. Use more sticks to lean against the pole to form a framework that you can fit your body into.

When you have a framework, heap plant material into it (for insulation from the ground) and on top of it to a depth of about 1 metre. Make sure you don't make a fire close to a debris shelter. The last thing you need is for a stray breeze to throw a flame onto your shelter while you are in it.

Try to use nature to help with your debris shelter. If you can find a hollow tree or large log, you can often lay your framework of sticks against it and use less plant material, and time, to build your shelter.

Humpy - In mild weather you can make a dome or teepee type shelter out of sticks and slabs of bark. This type of shelter will protect you from wind and perhaps rain, but is not very insulating. You can build a small fire near the opening to keep warm.


If you have a tarp or even a rain poncho with you, you can place it over the shelter to keep the rain off.


This debris shelter was made by two blokes who slept in it comfortably. With little leaf litter available, it was made mostly with bracken fern and bark. The weather was cold (winter) and they only recieved a few drops after some showers during the night.

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