Wednesday, January 8, 2014

If lost on winter hike, build an emergency tree well shelter

The well at the bottom of a tree where no snow falls is
the perfect place to build an emergency shelter.
Photo courtesy of  Wikipedia.
If forced to stay out overnight in the wilds during winter, you’ll want to find shelter right away. This will keep you out of the wind and hopefully ensure you don’t have to lay on the snow, which can lead to hypothermia. Don’t worry if you can’t find a man-made shed or cabin, though – you can build your own shelter in a pinch. One of the easiest to construct is a tree well shelter.

As hiking past evergreen trees, note how there’s a depression of snow around the trunks. Each tree’s canopy of branches limited the amount snow from falling in this zone, which is called the tree well. It’s a perfect place to set up an emergency shelter.

Begin by collecting other boughs that you can prop against the evergreen branches, with the branch’s woody, pole end going into the snow. This is the wall for your shelter. You may need to layer the boughs to minimize the wind coming through it and to ensure that if one bough falls down that there’s no hole in your shelter. Be sure to leave an opening for a doorway and setting aside boughs that can be used to close it.

Next, remove the snow from the tree well by gently pushing it against the boughs used to form the shelter’s walls. Then cover the tree well with boughs. This is the sleeping mat that will keep you off the cold ground.

Have everyone take a potty break at least a hundred feet downwind from the shelter. Finally, once everyone is inside, close up the doorway. Don’t start any fires within this makeshift shelter.

As snow is an excellent insulator, a properly built shelter combined with body heat can result in a pad that is up to 40 degrees warmer than the temperature outside.

Related articles:
g If lost, reassure kids by getting them involved in signaling for help
g Staying the night outdoors because you're lost? Set your priorities
g What to do when lost with children on a hike
g When you have no food but are lost overnight

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