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Creek Stewart

5 Tips for Where to Build Survival Shelters

There are lots of survival shelter designs out there, but ideally they should all be located according to these five tips.
There are lots of survival shelter designs out there, but ideally they should all be located according to these five tips.

Editor's note: The first step in knowing how to build a survival shelter is to choose a location. These tips from Creek Stewart in his new book, The Unofficial Hunger Games Wilderness Survival Guide, might seem obvious at first, but don't blow them off. In a survival situation, your mind might be racing and not thinking clearly. Fall back on what you've learned to save time and energy.

There are many survival shelter designs, but ideally they should be situated according to the following criteria. Then a fire can be built, water can be boiled and the odds of survival go way up. ~Ben

Survival Shelter Location Consideration #1: Dry

No matter what kind of weather, region, or environment you find yourself in, you must choose the driest possible shelter site. Wet and/or moist shelters kill people. If you are wet, you can develop hypothermia.

Remember, water travels downhill so, typically, elevated areas are drier. Southward-facing site locations are also drier because they receive sunlight as the sun travels east to west.

Survival Shelter Location Consideration #2: Away from Hazards

Flash flood areas mentioned above are prime examples of naturally hazardous areas. Other well-known hazards include:

  • Poisonous plants
  • Stinging or biting insects
  • Rock cliffs
  • Large, dead tree limbs overhead

Survival Shelter Location Consideration #3: Close to Resources

You need some resources to meet your basic survival needs. Make sure you have access to:

  • Water
  • Building materials
  • Fuel for fire

Survival Shelter Location Consideration #4: Meets Purpose of Shelter

The survival shelter designs you choose should be heavily influenced by why you need a shelter. What is the purpose of your shelter?

There are no black-and-white rules to shelter configurations. Every scenario is different, which is why it’s absolutely critical that you be able to improvise.

However, learning some basic shelter configurations for a variety of scenarios will give you a knowledge base to work from. Your creativity and on-hand resources will fill in the blanks.

Survival Shelter Location Consideration #5: Energy Conservation

Energy conservation should be at the forefront of every survival decision you make—especially shelter. Building even a simple survival shelter can be a very labor-intensive task.

I’ve worked eight hours of back-breaking labor building cold-weather debris huts that, in the end, gave me only the bare minimum shelter I needed. Working like this spends thousands of calories, and that will eventually catch up with you.

I’m not suggesting that you be lazy, but rather make intelligent decisions that help you save time and energy. Try to develop a partnership with Mother Nature instead of working against her. Let her do some work for you if you can.

How to Make a Debris Hut


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Editor's Note: This tutorial on how to make debris huts is excerpted from The Unofficial Hunger Games Wilderness Survival Guide book.

What is a Debris Hut?

Just as people use lightweight, fluffy insulation in their walls and attics to keep out the cold, we can keep cold away from our bodies by covering ourselves with forest debris — leaves, grasses, pine needles, cattail down – anything that resembles lightweight insulation material.

Like insulation, piles of dead leaves, grasses, and pine needles create dead air space. Dead air is air that is trapped within the debris. A layer of dead air helps keep cold air from reaching you from the outside and keeps your body heat next to your body instead of letting it escape.

Debris huts are simple to make. Make a huge pile of leaves and forest debris and crawl inside. Be sure to place some debris under you as well to prevent the cold earth from sucking the warmth out of you.

Remember when I talked about building emergency shelters near important resources? If you build a debris hut, you’ll want to be near lots of leaves, grasses, or pine needles. The great thing is that in cold months, when you need lots of dead leaves, Mother Nature helps you out by dropping them on the ground for you to scoop up.

How to Make a Debris Hut

A debris hut involves building a simple framework of sticks and then piling forest debris on top of it. It’s also important to stuff the inside with debris as well to help retain heat.

Here’s how I build a debris hut:

Step 1: Using two Y sticks and one long, center ridge pole, create a framework long enough to contain your body.

Step 2: Lean a framework of sticks against the center ridge pole 1″–3″ (3–8cm) apart to create a sturdy roof area.

Step 3: Pile on a bunch of smaller branches, briars, or brambles that will hold the debris in place as you dump it on.

Step 4: Keep piling until the frame is covered with 2'–3′ (1m) of debris – the more debris, the warmer the hut.

Step 5: Fill the inside with debris and crawl inside. Be sure to plug the door hole with debris to prevent heat loss out the front of the shelter.

Your Turn: Ever Made a Debris Hut?

What tips do you have for making debris huts? Post them in the comments section below.

10 Water Purifying Tips for Wilderness Survival

Filter water before purifying it. In this example, a bandana is used to remove particles before purifying water in a metal container.
Filter water before purifying it. In this example, a bandana is used to remove particles before purifying water in a metal container.

How do you purify water? Here are some quick tips for water purifying in wilderness survival situations.

Unlike snow, ice should be purified before drinking. This is because of the potentially dangerous contaminants frozen inside. (Watch what the snow is falling in or on, though.)

Turbid (murky) water has a drastic impact on the effectiveness of water purifying tablets. Your water must be clear and free of floating debris for water purifying tablets, or any other chemical treatment, to work. Filter the water before applying the chemical.

The same goes for using sunlight to purify water. Murky water contains particles that will block UVA sunlight from disinfecting. Clear water is best.

A sock, a bandana and a shirt are just a few quick makeshift water filters to use in a pinch.

Sycamore trees are a great indicator that water is nearby. Sycamores usually grow near water. Get to know how to identify their distinctive bark.

There are three kinds of biological contaminants to watch for in water: protozoan cysts (such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium), bacteria and viruses. Make sure any commercial product you buy, such as a water purifying straw, is capable of handling all three.

Keeping a pot of water stable over a fire can be tricky sometimes. Instead of managing a balancing act, heat rocks in the fire. Place the hot rocks in the water. This will boil the water. Don't place the rocks back in the fire for reheating, since doing so could drown the fire.

Sap from non-poisonous trees is drinkable and does not need to be purified. In a pinch, cut a V-shaped sap wedge a half-inch into the tree. The sap will seep to the bottom of the V. Placing a leaf at this intersection will act as a wick, and with a little finesse the sap will drip from the tip of the leaf into a container below.

When tapping a vine for water, make a slice in the vine about 5 to 6 feet above where you've cut it off. This helps to speed the flow. The cut acts as a breather valve, similar to one in a gas can.

After all that water purifying, don’t chug your water! Your kidneys can only process 8 fluid ounces (237ml) of water every 15 minutes. Pace yourself when rehydrating. Keeping with this schedule ensures the most efficient use of your precious water.

Editor's Note: These tips on how to purify water are excerpted from The Unofficial Hunger Games Wilderness Survival Guide.

Top-Notch Gear and Resources


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Aqua Vessel Insulated Filtration Bottle Black

5 Features To Look For In A Survival Knife



Your survival knife is without question one of the top three most important items in your bug-out bag. An ignition device and a metal container are the other top two.

For many, choosing a survival knife is a very personal decision. With thousands of knives in the marketplace, the choices can be somewhat overwhelming. But remember that the best survival knife is the one that meets your individual needs.

Don’t be fooled by what you see in the movies. The fancy knives seen in survival movies are more for prop collectors than for real survivalists. You don’t know how much you need a good, sharp cutting tool in a survival situation until you don’t have one.

I learned this firsthand on a three-day survival trip in which I was not able to bring a modern knife. I will never take my knife for granted again.

Best Survival Knife: What it Should Do

By design, a survival knife should be fairly simple. It should be about function not “flash.” Below is a short list of tasks a survival knife should be able to assist you with:

  • Cutting
  • Hunting
  • Dressing game
  • Hammering shelter anchors
  • Digging
  • Self-defense
  • Splitting/chopping
  • Making fire
  • Carving
  • Signal mirror (if blade is polished steel)
  • Building shelter
  • Food preparation

Best Survival Knife Features: Fixed Blade

The best survival knife in my opinion should have a fixed blade – not a folding or lockback style.

True, folding knives can be more convenient to carry, but strength is compromised at the folding joint. If the knife breaks during rigorous use, you are SOL.

If you really like folding knives, carry one as a backup, but not as your primary survival knife. I carry a Spyderco Native locking folder as my everyday carry knife and it will be my bug-out bag backup knife as well.

Best Survival Knife Features: Full Tang

The phrase “full tang” means the metal knife blade and handle are made from one solid piece of metal. The metal handle is then sandwiched with knife scales to form a grip.

The alternative to a full tang is a rat tail tang. A rat tail tang is much smaller and narrow.

A full tang blade is much more robust and stable. It can withstand incredible abuse from demanding tasks, such as splitting wood (often called “batoning” in the survival community).

Best Survival Knife Features: Sharp

Your survival knife should be razor sharp. It should shave the hair off your forearm. If it doesn’t, buy a whet stone and hone the blade until it does.

You should take pride in your knife’s razor edge. A dull knife is more difficult and cumbersome to use effectively. It requires more effort and pressure to perform tasks, which leads to erratic carving and cutting.

A sharp knife is actually safer to use and is a more precise cutting tool that requires less energy and time as compared to using a dull knife.

Best Survival Knife Features: Size Does Matter

As a rough estimate, the overall length of your knife should be in between 7″ and 11″. A knife that is much larger that 11″ isn’t practical for delicate and detailed tasks.

However, a knife smaller than 7″ is less capable of performing tasks that require a larger blade, especially demanding jobs.

Best Survival Knife Features: Pointed Blade/Single Edge

Your knife needs to have a pointed blade tip. The point comes in handy for all kinds of chores.

I broke the point off of my favorite survival knife and it drastically impacted the knife’s effectiveness as a useful tool. I eventually had to replace it.

Also, the knife blade should not be double-sided. Choose a single-edged blade only. You won’t have a need for two sharp edges. The flat back ridge of a knife blade can actually serve several functions.

Below are some of the most common:

  • Striking a fire steel
  • Used as a stabilizing platform for thumb or hand
  • Pounding surface while splitting or “batoning” wood

What's the Best Survival Knife for You?

Those are just a few of the features that I think make for the best survival knife. What about you? Leave a comment below and share the survival knives you've used.


BOB: 3 Must-Have Emergency Water Storage Containers


Because a bug out bag (BOB) is a 72-hour kit, I suggest you pack a minimum of approximately three liters of fresh drinking water per person.

Even with three full liters, there is little margin for error. Certain weather climates increase the amount of water a person needs to survive. You’ll consume more water if your journey is especially rigorous.

Personal hygiene can also tap into your water supply. The water you carry will constitute a large percentage of the overall weight of your bug out bag.

The good news is that the weight will decrease as you hydrate. In a survival situation, a good emergency water storage container can be invaluable.


3 Types of Emergency Water Storage Containers

The Aqua Vessel Insulated Filter Bottle keeps water cold and filters as you drink.
The Aqua Vessel Insulated Filter Bottle keeps water cold and filters as you drink.

Divide your supply up among three different emergency water storage containers. I never suggest carrying all three liters in a single emergency water storage container for two reasons:

1. If you have only one emergency water storage container and you lose or break it, you no longer have a viable way to carry and store water. This can present a very serious threat. Natural water-tight containers are not easy to find or make.

2. It’s easier to distribute weight in your bug out bag when it is divided into two or three smaller emergency water storage container. I suggest dividing your water into the following three different containers.

Emergency Water Storage Container #1: 32-oz. Wide-Mouth Nalgene Hard Bottle

Nalgene bottles are durable and crush resistant. Although “Nalgene” is actually a brand, the word has been adopted generically to describe any hardened plastic bottle (sort of like Kleenex and Xerox).

I have used Nalgenes in countless adventures and never has one failed me. I’ve even dropped one from 50 feet while rock climbing and it came out unscathed. Get the wide mouth version. They are easier to fill and they can double as a dish to eat from if necessary.

On their sides are printed measuring units, which is convenient for preparing dehydrated meals. I’ve also never had one leak. You can trust it in your pack.

Emergency Water Storage Container #2: Metal Water Bottle

Get this Stanley metal emergency water storage container direct from Living Ready.
Get this Stanley metal emergency water storage container.

These canteens weigh about the same as any Nalgene bottle. Rather than just carrying two Nalgene bottles, I suggest opting for a metal alternative.

A metal emergency water storage container can be used to boil and purify drinking water collected “in the field” should your immediate supply run dry.




Emergency Water Storage Container #3: Collapsible Soft Bottle

This Stanley collapsible emergency water storage container is one of the types of bottles the author recommends.
This Stanley collapsible emergency water storage container is one of the types of bottles the author recommends.

Packing a collapsible, soft emergency water storage container allows you to reduce bulk as water is used. Consume the contents of this emergency water storage container first.

When empty, they take up virtually no space and weigh just a few ounces.

They are not as durable, but with the two other containers listed above, you can afford to sacrifice durability for weight and space with this option.