How to Build a Debris Hut in the Woods

 How to Build a Debris Hut in the Woods

The debris hut is an extremely versatile shelter that is suitable for many habitats and requires no tools to build, only the natural materials you find around you. Not only is learning to build a debris hut fun, but it is a very important skill.

How a Debris Hut Works

Built correctly, the debris hut works by insulating you from the elements using layers of natural material. The idea is to build the hut as small as possible for yourself to allow the air inside to keep you warm as it will be heated by your own body heat. Too large and your body will not be able to heat the area inside leading to you getting cold, never a good idea.

Construction of the debris hut won’t be a quick task so you must give yourself enough time to complete it. You need around 3-4 hours to build it.

Due to the debris hut being made of natural materials it does a great job of blending in with the environment. If your build is due to a survival situation, you would want to make it visible in order to be seen by searchers.

Where to Build a Debris Hut

There are a few guidelines to follow when choosing the location for your debris hut.

  1. Water – be very careful that you don’t build your shelter near running water. It might not be raining now, but it may later on.
  2. Natural Shelter – try to site your shelter where you will be better protected from the elements (not on top of a hill).
  3. Materials – you want to build the debris hut close to the natural materials that you will be using so as not to waste too much energy going back and forth.
  4. Dangerous Trees – look around and above you to ensure that you won’t be building where there is a possibility of a broken branch or tree coming down on top of you during the night.

Building the Main Frame

Build a debris hut a frame

The main structure of the debris hut is an A-frame. One end of a long branch (ridge pole) is suspended up in the air as in the picture above. The image shows this end being propped up in the crook of a tree but you can use any kind of support that you wish. The other end rests on the ground. Remember to keep your structure as small as possible.

Interior Insulation

Next you need to fill the inside with insulating materials that will act like a blanket trapping air against your body, which heats it. This needs to be done before adding the roof. If you are in a wooded area, your best choices are:

  • Dry leaves,
  • Pine needles,
  • Or grasses

When you enter the shelter, insert yourself into the middle of the insulation. The material below insulates your body from the ground. The material above insulates you from the air.

Adding the Ribs and Cross-pieces

In order to provide added support for the outer layer of insulation, we must first add structural ribs against the ridge pole. If you take another look at the image above, you can see these clearly running down the sides of the main ridge pole.

Lay one end of lightweight branches on the ground and lean them against the ridge pole, about one foot apart. If you have the materials available, you can place these branches closer together. Smaller branches (twigs) and stick debris can then be placed all over the structure.

Outer Insulation

This is the layer that is going to insulate the shelter from the elements. This will be time consuming but if you fail to do this properly, you will have just wasted your time getting this far in the build as it won’t keep you warm or dry.

This layer should be a minimum of one foot thick but the more the better. Don’t be afraid to keep piling on the insulation. This can be leaves, pine needles, etc.

Once the outer insulation is complete, start adding some branches over the top to hold the insulation down in case of high winds during the night.

Make the Door

The last step in the construction of your debris hut is to make the door. If you have used the ridge pole against the crook of a tree your door may be at that end. If easier you may wish to make the door on the side of the hut which can be done by creating two frames of sticks. Each frame being lashed together.

You can weave smaller branches through each frame using friction to hold them in place. Once completed, lay one of the frames on the ground and pile leaves on it. Then place the other frame on top, creating an “insulation sandwich”. Lash the two frames together and you have your door. I personally just use the end as the entrance but depending on the width of the tree, or how you have decided to prop up the ridge pole, it might not be so for you.

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