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Bug Out Bag Shelter Options

by Survival Dispatch Staff

There are a number of important things you’ll want to include in your bug out bag, including extra clothing and the tools necessary to purify water, start a fire and tend to any wounds you may suffer.

But while these things are certainly important – if not imperative – items to pack in your bug out bag, it is important to remember that shelter is usually the most pressing need in any survival situation. Without it, you can die from hypothermia or hyperthermia in only a few hours. You may need to use a tent in some cases, but more and more survivalists are moving away from commercial tents, and instead preparing themselves to construct a DIY shelter.

NOTE: Clothing is your FIRST line of shelter. Always leave home wear adequate clothing for your location’s weather.
However, while space in your bug out bag is often at a premium, it is often a good idea to make room for a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag, as these will help keep you more comfortable while waiting out the weather. They’ll also allow you to get a better night’s sleep, which will help better prepare you for the challenges you’ll face the next day.

Tent or Tarp

You can rely on a tent for your shelter, but commercial tents take up a great deal of space in your bag, and they are often quite heavy. This not only makes your bag more difficult to carry, it can slow you down when you need to cover miles quickly. Instead, it is usually preferable to carry the supplies you need to make a tent in your bug out bag, rather than trying to fit a commercial tent inside.

However, there are a few scenarios in which a proper tent may be necessary. For example, it may be hard to construct a suitably insulated DIY shelter if you are stuck on a frozen tundra or high above the tree line. Therefore, you may need to pack a tent if you are likely end up in such a place. You’ll just have to consider the circumstances that you are most likely to face in a bug-out scenario and make the best decision you can.

Makeshift or Do-It-Yourself Shelter

There are a variety of ways you can make a shelter to help keep you warm and dry while out in the wilderness. Many can be constructed with only the natural materials you find around you, but it is very difficult to make a water-proof roof for your shelter from sticks and leaves.

Accordingly, you’ll almost always want to have some type of water-resistant material in your bug out bag, so you can make a shelter that will keep you dry (remember, being cold is one thing; being cold and wet is an entirely different matter). Some of the best options are detailed below.


A few of the best materials from which you can construct an improvised shelter include:

Tyvek – Made by DuPont, Tyvek is a paper-like material, created from high-density polyethylene fibers. Commercially, Tyvek is used to make a variety of products, including home wraps, envelopes and light-duty hazmat suits. But large sheets can also make excellent shelters for survivalists. Tyvek is very lightweight (you can make a tent-sized shelter from Tyvek for about one-fifth of the weight of a commercial tent), durable and it breathes well, which limits moisture problems.

Tarps – Tarps have been used to create makeshift shelters for decades, and they still deserve consideration by survivalists. Most tarps are made from polyurethane-coated canvas or polyester, and they are available in myriad sizes and shapes. Tarps are not as light as some other materials, such as Tyvek, nor do they breathe as well, but because they are inexpensive and readily available (tarps can be found in sporting goods stores, hardware stores and big box retailers, as well as online), they are a popular choice for many.

Cuben Fiber – Cuben Fiber is a lightweight, rip-resistant, non-woven material used for a variety of different applications, including yacht sails and kites. Made from ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene and polyester, Cuben Fiber has recently caught the attention of ultralight backpackers and survivalists. Cuben fiber can be used to create a shelter in the same ways that tarps or Tyvek sheets can, but their incredible durability makes them a great choice for those trying to survive in rugged terrain.

AMK SOL Emergency Shelter Kit – Made for those who don’t want to create their own shelter kit, the AMK SOL Emergency Shelter Kit contains everything you need to make a rain cover or lean-to shelter in a pinch.

The USA-made kit includes a 96-inch-by-60-inch, 2.5 mil survival blanket that serves as a tarp, four adonized aluminum stakes, four 96-inch-long lengths of rope, four glow-in-the-dark tensioners and an instruction manual. Using a survival blanket as a tarp helps keep you even warmer than many other tarp-like materials, as they reflect approximately 90 percent of your body heat back at you, thereby keeping you much warmer.


Because your bug out bag only has a finite amount of space, it is always wise to fill it with items that serve more than one purpose. Take ponchos, for example. They can be used to keep the rain or snow off your body, as is their primary intended purpose, but they can also be used to cover your pack, protect a wood pile from the rain, shield you from the damp ground, or they can be used as the roof of your shelter.

High-quality ponchos are water proof, and will keep you dry in even significant downpours, but note that sub-par ponchos are typically only water resistant. While you’d rather have a water-resistant poncho than no poncho, it always pays to select a premium product which will keep you dry when it matters most.


There are a number of good ponchos available commercially, but two rise above the rest and provide superior performance at a reasonable price.

US Military Surplus Poncho – Because they are not limited by some of the budgetary and design constraints as military contractors are, a number of outdoor and survival product manufacturers produce tools and supplies that far exceed the performance of military-issue items. However, the US military still produces some of the best ponchos available.

In use since the 1960s, the standard military issue poncho can not only be used to keep your body dry, they can be used to make several different types of shelters. Because these ponchos have grommets at the corners, they are easy to rig as a shelter with nothing more than a bit of paracord.

Hazard 4 Poncho Villa – A 21st century version of the classic military-style poncho, the Hazard 4 Poncho Villa provides everything that military ponchos do and more. These ponchos are constructed from a breathable, yet waterproof shell, and all of the seams are fully taped to ensure complete protection from the elements.

The entire poncho can be stuffed into its front pocket for maximum space-savings and portability, and it features the same type of grommets that military-issue ponchos do, so you can use it to make a rain canopy or shelter.

Extra Gear

If you are planning on improvising a shelter when TSHTF, you’ll not only want a tarp or poncho – you’ll also need a few other supplies to make your shelter-building efforts proceed smoothly.

Paracord – Paracord is a versatile cordage material that can be used for wrapping tool handles, lacing your boots and tying a poncho or tarp in place.

Paracord doesn’t take up much space and it isn’t very heavy, so don’t be stingy – always bring more than you think you’ll need.

Trash Bags – While trash bags aren’t as effective as ponchos or tarps, they can keep you dry in a pinch. They can also be used as pack covers, to collect water or used as a ground cover. Trash bags are light, space-efficient and darn near free, so you can bring several of them in your bug out bag.

Mylar Blanket — Also known as survival or space blankets, Mylar blankets are always wise to include in your bug out bag. Not only will Mylar blankets keep you warm when used as intended, but they can also serve as a rain canopy or shelter roof.
Because they reflect most of the infrared radiation striking them, Mylar blankets will help keep you nice and warm, whether you use them as a blanket or canopy. Mylar blankets fold down very compactly and they weigh next to nothing, so there is no reason to leave them out of your bug out bag.

Stakes – A set of tent stakes are another good item to keep in your bug out bag. You can obviously use them to help set up your shelter and keep it stable in even the strongest winds, but you can also use stakes for a variety of other purposes if need be. You could, for example, use one as a makeshift digging tool, or you could use a couple to help set up some snare traps. Aluminum stakes aren’t very heavy, and they definitely provide a ton of value.

Bug Net – The most troubling animals you are likely to encounter in the wilderness are not bears, snakes or gators; rather, it is the tiny biting bugs that will cause the worst problems. Mosquitoes (and to a lesser extent other bugs) will be in full force throughout the spring and summer in most warm locations, and they are especially common around water sources. Not only can these blood-sucking bugs irritate you enough to keep you up all night, they can even transmit diseases, such as West Nile Virus and Zika.

Accordingly, you will always want to have a bug net in your bug out bag. Some of the toughest bug nets may even work for other purposes. You could, for example, use one as a net to trap small fish or game, or you could form the net into a tube shape, and fill it with leaves to make a DIY sleeping pad.

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