Hikers can find themselves stranded overnight in the wilderness due to bad weather, being lost, exhaustion, an injury or any of a host of other circumstances. Regardless of the reason, individuals need to avoid being paralyzed by panic. Instead they should busy themselves with the useful task of building a shelter where they can rest and regroup. By remaining calm, the vast majority of hikers will wind up safe and sound with a memorable story to share around a future campfire.
Location, Location, Location
Choosing a suitable spot for your wilderness shelter is a key consideration. A flat, elevated area with at least one large tree, stump or boulder is ideal. Use available spaces, such as rock faces that curve out, and other locations to shelter you when possible. Check for signs that your preferred spot also shelters wildlife first. Don't build your shelter in a game trail, or any other place the local fauna may be likely to investigate, such as a berry bush in bear country, for example. Pick a place that is near but not directly next to a creek or other water source. Keep an eye on changing conditions. That convenient stream may turn into a rampaging river if there are heavy rains upstream.
Find a sturdy branch that is at least 8 feet long as well as several smaller branches. Collect an ample amount of dried brush and ferns, leaves, pine needles and twigs. Any wood or other material that is left over when the shelter is done can be used later to make a fire. If you're in a pine forest, a bed of pine needles is better than the ground, and the boughs can help keep the rain off.
Wedge an end of the longest branch about 4 feet off the ground against a boulder, stump or tree. This will act as the spine for the shelter. Lean smaller branches on both sides so that they serve as ribs. Finish the walls of the shelter by filling in the ribs with brush, twigs, pine needles and ferns. Aim for an overall wall thickness of 2 feet to provide adequate protection from the elements.
Leaves or pine needles also can be used as a bedding layer inside the shelter. This vegetative debris will act as insulation against the cold bare ground. Although there is no door to lock, piling branches in the shelter's entrance when you turn in for the night serves a similar purpose.