New Native Nation Debris Shelter

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New Native Nation Guest Essay
A Good Shelter: Debris Shelter Instructions
By JJ Murphy

The woods are a wonderful place for mountain biking, hiking and camping. Did you know all those branches and dried leaves scattered on the ground can be put together to create a shelter that will keep you warm and dry? Itís called a ďdebris shelterĒ or ďdebris hutĒ Ė but itís not trash. A debris shelter is fun to build. Follow the instructions in this article before you go camping and youíll be prepared if you need shelter in an emergency. The best part of making this shelter is that you donít need tools and you donít need to kill any trees. Use the same rules as you would if you were pitching a tent. Look for a southeast-facing, level area. Remember: A good shelter in a bad location is a bad shelter. Now look for someplace to prop a long pole Ė a fork in a tree, a stump or a rock - which is no higher than your hip. Next you will use your body to measure your shelter. Lie down on your back with your head at the prop, leaving one hand-span between your head and the prop. Next, make a mark in the dirt where your shoulders are and where your feet are. Now you know how wide and long to make your shelter.

Find a pole that is long enough to reach from the prop to the place where you marked your feet. Next, collect branches and lean them against the pole. Make sure the branches donít overlap the pole and at the same time they reach the marks you made. You want a slope steep enough, about 45-degree angle, so water can drain off. You also want to make sure the branches donít crisscross, creating a funnel for water.

Now youíre ready to pile leaves and twigs. If you like to make large leaf piles to jump in, youíll be good at gathering armfuls of leaves and heaping them on the prop. You can fill a windbreaker or a tarp to haul leaves, if you have these items. You know you have enough leaves when you reach down to the pole and the leaves are so deep they reach your armpit.

To keep the leaves from blowing away add a layer of branches on top. Test for any holes by going into the shelter, feet first. If you can see light, pile on more leaves and branches. Make sure that the very top of your shelter is piled especially high. If it rains, a 2-to-3-foot layer of leaves will keep water out.

Next, fill the inside of the shelter with leaves, pine needles, cattail fluff or anything soft. Youíll be sleeping on this, so make sure that you donít let branches and twigs inside. Stuff the leaves in so full that you have to squeeze inside the next time you test the shelter. The leaves will compress as you lie on them. Try to get three or four inches of compressed debris under you.

Your last step will be to make a door. You could simply get another pile of leaves and after you get into your shelter, plug the doorway. If you have time, you find boughs that bend and weave them together. Then fill those holes with dried leaves. In a real emergency your backpack or a jacket would work as a door. Crawl inside again, feet first, and pull your door closed. You may need to make some adjustments to make it fit. Once you build your shelter, try sleeping out one night. What to you notice about the experience? What smells do you notice? What sounds to you hear? What does it feel like to sleep on leaves? After you build a debris shelter a few times, youíll be able to complete a comfortable, safe, waterproof shelter in 3-to-4 hours.

For photos of each stage of this process visit:

Writer and naturalist JJ Murphy, :, offers creative nature curriculum, wild food recipes, fiction, poetry, articles and writing services for individuals, entrepreneurs, small businesses and ecologically aware companies. Article Source:

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