4 Emergency Shelters You Can Build With A Tarp

4 Emergency Shelters You Can Build With A Tarp


Some elements of survival in the great outdoors have become common knowledge over the years. For example, even someone with the most cursory knowledge of the wilderness will typically know about the importance of an MRE or basic water filter, but some of the most vital parts of surviving in the wilderness under rough conditions often seem too complex for the average person to master. Chief among them are emergency shelters, but the following four examples will demonstrate how easily we can create a shelter with hardly any time or materials to work with.

tarp shelter

1. Wedge Tarp

The wedge tarp is something of an all-in-one emergency shelter solution. It's seldom going to be the absolute best option. But what it lacks in exceptional benefits it more than makes up for in ease of construction. The wedge tarp basically needs little more than, well, a simple tarp.

When people think about using a tarp for emergency situations they'll typically imagine something that's little more than a blanket. And it's true that if we put a tarp underneath us and use the top as a blanket that it will offer some benefits. This is sometimes known as a tarp burrito. But this really won't offer more than a very basic level of protection. It's good for preserving body heat and staying reasonably dry, but not much more. A few extra steps can take that tarp from a mild help to a vital part of wildness survival.

To begin with, we'll need to tie down a minimum of five points on the tarp. In a pinch, we can get by without actual cords, but it's always best to shop for tarps with metal rings that can be used with cords. Likewise, we should always have some cords with us when heading out into nature. Like the tarp itself, cords are lightweight tools that provide a wealth of benefits.

To make the wedge, we'll need to begin by staking down two corners into the direction of the oncoming wind. On the opposite side of the tarp, we'll tie up another line. Then tie the last two corners to the ground. As the name suggests, this creates a basic wedge structure from the tarp. This form factor has some inherent benefits.

The first benefit comes from the tarp's material. This structure will block both wind and rain simply because it's made from a tarp. Weather resistance is built right into the material. This means that we've got a good barrier against rainstorms. If the tarp is thick enough, it can even hold up under hail. If the rain is too intense we can also dig basins or furrows to channel water.


2. Desert Tarp

By this point, it should be clear just how important tarps are when we're out in nature. We've seen how they can help in wet and windy conditions. But what about the exact opposite? It's true, if we find ourselves in a dry and arid environment then a tarp can be our best friend. We can use that tarp to easily construct a desert tarp shelter.

First, it's important to secure the basic materials like cords. Sure, we might be able to fashion makeshift cords or ropes, but as with the earlier example, it's always best to carry some with us when we're already bringing along a tarp. As long as we have that, and can find some sticks or rods, then we've got an easy way to make a strong protective barrier against the heat.

Imagine the structure of a taco shell. We just need to construct a similar form factor with the tarp. This involves securing four edges of the tarp with cords to create a suspension that serves as a roof. Then we just need to fold the rest of the tarp over it and secure those four edges as well. The end result is a tarp covering over the tarp which serves as our roof. The utility of this dual fold might not seem obvious at first.

Think about how surfaces are heated. The sun hits that first tarp layer and heats it up. But that heat dissipates below it and is carried away in the air. The next tarp layer is fully shaded by the upper tarp layer. This essentially creates a shaded spot similar to what we'd find in a forested area. Keep in mind that the protection isn't just good for comfort. It's also a solid way of helping keep food chilled and safe for as long as possible. Though of course if we're using an MRE then temperature really isn't a concern.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

3. Quinzhee

We've seen how to create shelters in the desert. But what about a situation where we're stuck in the freezing cold? It turns out that a quinzhee, something like a snow igloo, is fairly easy to make if we have the right tools.

By this point, it should come as no surprise to find a tarp as one of these tools. However, building a quinzhee is a somewhat more involved experience. We'll ideally have the standards of a tarp and cords, but we'll also want to use the backpack those supplies came in. Ideally, we'd also have some solid waterproof gloves to use when working with the snow.

We basically just need to pack snow around a solid foundation created with the tarp, backpack and any other gear that we have along for the trip. We begin by creating a basic structure by piling up the gear and draping the tarp over it. The more material under the tarp the better since this is going to be the shelter's interior.

Next, we simply need to pack snow around and over the tarp. It should be firmly packed, and about two feet thick. Finally, we need to lay out long sticks or rods a little taller than our standing height. We drive these sticks in around the dome we've constructed. These sticks will serve as marker points. From this point on it's just a matter of digging out the side of the new structure to remove the supplies.

If everything's gone right then the structure's integrity will persist. A little hole in the top will ensure proper ventilation. This is especially important as airflow can be a concern when using snow or ice for safety. People often make that mistake when simply trying to dig into a snowbank rather than making a quinzhee. The resulting snow cave system is one of the more dangerous structures. In fact, a snow cave can easily bring as much danger as it does safety. Meanwhile, a quinzhee is easy to construct and won't pose any air quality issues as long as we remember that hole.

4. Tarp Wing

We can finish up the environmental comparisons with a more generalized climate. What if we're stuck in the wilderness with just the general issues of nature itself to contend with? We might not know if we'll need to worry about too much sun or too much rain. In that case, a tarp wing is generally the best bet.

To construct a tarp wing we once again begin with a standard tarp. We just need to find or create multiple elevated anchors for the tarp's points. Then we tie up opposite corners of the tarp. Two of them will be in the lower position and two in the higher. This creates a shape that looks a little like a wing or sail.

We can make this even more comfortable by creating a bough bed underneath the wing. This is just a collection of softer natural materials like leaves, grass, boughs or any other soft material. We just need to stay alert for any insects or small animals when putting the bedding together.

Ideally, a situation would not arise where it is necessary to construct a shelter to survive in the elements, but by being prepared with some basic supplies and knowledge, it could make all the difference in survival.

Back to blog