Survival priorities are those things that humans quite literally cannot live for long without. Depending on who you ask, there are five, ten or more than a dozen such priorities.
Shelter is among them, and one of the most basic needs for human beings. When we are talking about outdoor emergencies, shelter is even more crucial and often said to be even more important than water in the short term.
Considering how critical water and food are in the context of a survival scenario, why is shelter so important?
Shelter is critical in an outdoor survival situation because exposure to the elements (rain, snow, low temps) can kill in as little as a few hours if conditions are right, compared to a few days without water or weeks without food.
In the wrong circumstances, you may only survive a few miserable hours without shelter even in environments that are thought of as temperate, even pleasant.
Only by establishing an adequate shelter soon enough can you hope to avoid this fate. We’ll tell you more about the importance of shelter in the rest of this article.
Only Air is More Important than Shelter
In a survival situation, air is more important than shelter. However, without air there can be no shelter, so in that sense shelter is more important.
That said, if you are stranded in a hot or cold environment and have the means to breathe, establishing shelter is usually your top priority.
Outside of ideal climates, your body will struggle to thermoregulate itself, and with a bad turn of luck when it comes to weather or temperature you can start the survival “clock” on exposure.
In warm climates, you can die of hyperthermia or heatstroke if you do not have access to shade and cooling water.
In cold climates you can die of hypothermia quite quickly if drenched, and even if you are dry, as your body temperature plummets below what is necessary to maintain normal metabolism.
Shelter Can (Obviously) Keep You Warm
Shelter can help keep you warm in cold environments in a couple of ways. First and foremost it will keep the wind from having as pronounced an effect on you, or even prevent it from reaching you entirely. Even a gentle breeze in cold weather can strip heat away from your body with great rapidity.
Second, a properly designed cold weather shelter will serve to trap air in a small volume around your body, in essence creating a microclimate that will be a fair bit or even much warmer than the outside air.
Combined with appropriate clothing, a sleeping bag and perhaps a nearby fire you might actually be able to stay toasty warm inside your shelter despite the frigid conditions just outside.
Considering that it is cold weather that is disproportionately responsible for exposure deaths, any prepper who’s going to or living in a cold weather environment or in an environment where nighttime temperatures can drop dangerously low must brush up on the construction of effective cold weather shelters using a variety of materials.
Shelter Can Shade You from the Sun
Hot weather brings its own challenges to survival, and you’ll need shelter to adapt accordingly. Allowing your body temperature to climb too high and stay there for too long and hot, arid climates means you’ll be at risk of heat stroke which can be just as fatal as hypothermia.
That being said, aside from staying hydrated the best things you can do for yourself in these environments is to avoid working or exerting yourself in the hottest part of the day and stay out of direct sunlight.
The best way to shelter yourself from the sun is to simply erect something that will provide shade, and the larger an area of the ground that you can shade the better cooling you will get over time.
Additionally, any shelter that is dug into the ground for a little ways will quickly run into cooler substrate which can help also.
Aside from the ever-present necessity of providing shade, hot weather shelters are usually chosen based on the materials at hand in the environment and the ease with which they can be erected.
Shelter Provides Protection from Rain, Wind and Dust
Aside from direct protection from the climate in one way or another, a good survival shelter will also protect you from precipitation in the form of rain or snow while also protecting you from wind and windblown dust.
Any of these weather events can spell trouble for a survivor no matter the environment.
If you were already very hot, being soaked to the skin by rain might be pretty refreshing, but any other time it is going to be highly problematic in a survival scenario.
Getting wet and then being exposed to cooler temperatures especially when it is already windy is a surefire way to speed along the path to serious hypothermia. It should be obvious why you don’t want snow accumulating on you while you rest.
Aside from this, the wind itself as mentioned above will pull heat out of your body but beyond this it will chap exposed, sensitive skin and can aggravate you when you are trying to rest.
Much of the time it is not that the wind is blowing but what the wind is blowing, and windblown dust, ash and other fine particulate debris can prove to be a significant annoyance as well as a hazard.
A good shelter can protect you from all of these things or at least provide you with a measure of relief from them.
Shelter Will Allow You Take Meaningful Rest
Not to be taken for granted, even a rudimentary survival shelter set up to allow you to cope with environmental challenges will further help you during your trial by allowing you to get more meaningful rest.
Anything you can do to improve your body’s ability to thermoregulate itself and get even nominally more comfortable under the circumstances will allow you better sleep, or at least more recuperative rest.
Just ask anyone who has been forced to sit up out in the open while in the wilderness that was trying to catch some shut eye.
Between the environment and everything that is affecting their body, sleep might well be impossible or nearly so under the circumstances. A simple dugout or a lean-to shelter might not seem like much, but believe me it will make a difference.
More elaborate shelters can prove to be a comforting retreat and what is otherwise a terrifying and demoralizing situation.
This is why setting up a shelter should be high up on your list of priorities if you know you are in for an intermediate-, long-or indefinite term survival scenario.
Having a home of sorts, even one as modest as the kind described above, can make all the difference in your mental state.
Learn to Make Shelter Today
Shelter is critically important in survival situations because next to your requirement for air it is exposure to hostile conditions that is most likely to affect you.
Shelter will allow you to stay warmer when it is cold, cooler when it is hot, and provide a measure of protection against various weather conditions.
All preppers should have become acquainted with a variety of methods for constructing survival shelters in any environment and using any materials available.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.