How To Build A Permanent Shelter In The Wilderness - Explained

How To Build A Permanent Shelter In The Wilderness – Explained

A shelter is more than just a reprieve from the elements – it’s also the closest thing we have to home out wastes. If you’re up for a purer camping experience or find yourself frequenting the outdoors often, building your own permanent shelter in the wilderness is definitely a goal worth pursuing.

Building a permanent shelter in the wilderness starts with scrutinizing the area for potential concerns or complications. Steer clear of areas susceptible to natural disasters or unwanted animal presence. After that comes deciding on the best structure to base it off, each greatly differing on what they have to offer. 

Permanent wilderness shelters need some time and investment but aren’t nearly as daunting as people expect. Camping out in a tent or ad-hoc shelter is already a wonderful time but devoting some efforts towards something more enduring can only enhance the experience.

How To Build A Permanent Shelter In The Wilderness

Survey Your Spot

man spot view

Having a place to seek refuge whenever necessary is a fantastic thing to have. However, building a shelter to last needs plenty of information to work with. Getting a lay of the land is the most important step in building a shelter to last.

The easiest consideration is climate. Shelters are made to protect you from the elements, with different elements needing different means to mitigate them. A lean-to would give decent coverage from sweltering heat and rain but do little to alleviate frigid winters. Knowing the climate is important to give yourself a reasonable impression of what to expect within your planned shelter.

What You Want To Avoid

flooded place

Disaster propensity comes next, which is essentially troubleshooting what could go wrong. Areas could be liable to rockslides or flash floods – disasters that leave very little time to prepare if any.

Building on sandy or marshy ground makes the foundations liable to erode with time. Building lower than surrounding terrain risks water draining into your shelter. Building on uncompacted materials leads to stability risks, which could compromise the shelter in time. Seek out areas with firm, level ground.

Building higher may lead to the dwelling being susceptible to strong winds. These have been known to rip the roof off shelters or collapse them entirely in certain circumstances. Try to consider natural windbreakers in the vicinity, but only if they don’t pose other safety hazards. Notable ones include cliffsides that may drop rubble or runoff water, or trees liable to collapse.

Unwanted wildlife is also something to keep in mind. Anthills and wasp colonies near your planned shelter are dangerous to ignore. They’re also readily drawn to sweets and food crumbs, which could prove problematic. Most insects are drawn to deep grass and still water, and it’s best to these while scouting your future construction site.

Animals are normal dangers and are usually nocturnal to boot. Mice are a common concern in both cities and wildlands alike and will not hesitate to disrupt your sleep to get to their meals. Bears have an extremely powerful sense of smell and are noted to be drawn to interesting scents such as human urine. Even though bats aren’t violent, they may carry some diseases that you might contract.

Before settling on a venue, check for signs of animal activity – tracks, droppings, and tufts of fur. If there is any indication of a bear in the vicinity, it’s advised not to build on the area. Bears are known to crumple car doors and can easily outpace humans in a chase.

What You Want Available

stream running water

An accessible source of running water is ideal. Not having to rely on just the water supplies you brought on hand frees up time you’d have spent micromanaging your intake, on top of carrying less weight on future trips.

Still water is a breeding ground for bacteria and insects, though it can still be purified with effort. Running water is preferred due to it usually being cleaner and could potentially make for a nice fishing spot. Do not build close to bodies of water, as rain could lead to abrupt flooding that would damage your shelter. Rivers also frequently attract animals, so some distance from the shelter is needed to avoid unwanted intruders.

Wood is a nice resource to have for homestead building, allowing a lot of potential savings. The presence of trees also reduces erosion risk for nearby soil, which makes the entire area safer. Large trees make for good building fodder, while smaller branches and such are excellent kindling.

Readily available building materials could also save time and cost. Stone is a useful construction component due to not catching aflame and serves as a great buffer around firepits. Clay is also a nice option found in riverbanks and can be used to windproof a residence. Large leaves can also be woven together to provide waterproofing, with the most common example used being palm.

Decide On What To Build


A lean-to is by far the easiest permanent shelter to build and can even be made solely from components in the immediate environment.

Clear the soil around the area until the building site is as flat as it can be. Cut and stack a few short logs of wood, with a few small stakes wedged around them to keep the logs from rolling. This keeps you off the dirt and makes for comfortable flooring. Make sure to space the sets of logs 8 feet apart from one another – this gives just enough space for most people to lie down comfortably.

For the main supports, drive two sets of long poles deep into the ground in front of the flooring. This can be done with just a single pole but using two or more greatly improves the stability of the lean-to against rain or snow. Add some long, sturdy branches to connect the two poles.

Finally, the roof is made by long branches leaning on the top of the structure – hence the name. Simply stack a layer of branches atop the existing foundation, preferably at more sloped angles to allow the roof to shed needless weight from debris or rainfall. Layer the slanted roof with foliage or tarp to provide some degree of weatherproofing.

In warm weather, a lean-to serves as a reprieve from heat and rain. For snowier regions, the extent of what they have to offer is limited to dry flooring and elevation. The lean-to’s openness may also be subject individuals to troublesome pests, such as rodent and raccoons.


The wikiup provides much better protection than the barebones lean-to but takes significantly more dedication to complete. It’s a shelter commonly associated with Native Americans and persists in use even today due to its sheer practicality in most environments.

Gather a few long branches capable of supporting the structure – three can suffice, but it’s better to go for six or more main support structures for the frame of the wikiup. Root them firmly in the ground, then bend them inwards to form the center of the roof. Tie together with paracord, rope, or vines.

Reinforce the wikiup with either ropes or other softwood branches, tied around the circumference of the foundation at different elevations. Take note to knot them around points of intersection. Fill in the gaps of the structure with more wood and greenery as needed. Don’t forget to insulate the ground with protective layering – foliage will work well regardless of the environment.

The wikiup is an all-around shelter that protects against wind, heat, and cold. Larger structures even allow the luxury of an indoor firepit. This proves to be an asset in warmer climates but remains an invaluable one for colder regions. The wikiup is excellent for long-term use, with construction efforts being both feasible and resource-efficient for the cost.

Log Cabins

log cabin

The log cabin is likely the most grandiose permanent shelter to build and is by far the most resource and time-intensive. There isn’t much to offer on that front with regards to concrete plans, as each log cabin is tailored to distinct specifications and different available means.

The most important thing to bear in mind for log cabins is planning. Unlike lean-tos or wikiups, preparation goes far beyond simply flattening the area and digging a few poles into the ground. The average log cabin can take anywhere from 9 months to 22 months to construct, though this comes with the legal considerations and budget allocation taken into account.

Log cabins fall under permitted development rights, which are rights that allow homeowners to make certain changes to their property. These usually come with restrictions, such as only being permitted under a certain square foot area or not being used for living accommodations.

The main takeaway is that construction efforts for the project need all the legal concerns cleared and conformed to. Otherwise, you risk losing on all investment suck into the project, and may even risk enforceable consequences.

Log cabins make for excellent investments for permanent shelters, but the cost is much steeper than alternatives. The scale of the project also requires legal considerations other permanent shelters rarely warrant. If those concerns are planned and accounted for, log cabins make for one of the most enjoyable and protective dwellings at your disposal.

Final Thoughts

Permanent shelters make for great places to relax and indulge in the natural ambiance. On top of that, they make for a good investment when prepping for emergencies. It’s important to consider what each shelter has to offer and whether you’re willing to invest the time and effort to pull them off.

Chris Green

Chris has always had an adventurous soul, and his love for the outdoors eventually led him to become a professional life skills advisor. He explains a multitude of different topics ranging from disaster preparedness and wilderness survival to self-sufficiency.

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