A debris hut is a survival shelter that houses one or two people. This is a survival shelter that can be built with no tools except your hands. The debris hut when built effectively uses the body's radiant heat to maintain its internal core temperature between 96F (37°C) and 100°F (37.8°C). It does so by using insulation, i.e. leaves and grasses. Debris such as these, trap air inside the hut between the layers of debris. A well-insulated debris hut can maintain your core body temperature when outside temperatures are -0 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
Debris hut construction
Leaves and grass are the best insulating materials. The debris hut uses debris from the ground. Leaf litter and tall dry grasses are the best. The shape of leaves allows for trapping air. Grasses trap air between and in their stalks providing good insulative material.
Conifer needles are the worst insulator
Conifer needles are the worst insulating material for this shelter. However, Pine needles will work if you have enough to cover the outside of your shelter with a minimum 3 ft. of needle debris.
Building your leaf hut
Gather debris and pile it on top of a stick frame. Ideally, the roof and walls of the hut need a minimum of four feet of debris. Three to four feet is recommended for outdoor temperature of 0' degrees Fahrenheit and colder.
Stuff the interior of the hut fully. The bed, or floor of the shelter, needs 1' to 2' ft. of compressed debris, leaves, grasses, to insulate your body from the ground.
The doorway is made small, just large enough to squeeze your shoulders through
You then crawl through the small doorway into the shelter, pulling debris in behind you to plug it. This will keep out the cold drafts that you are sure to experience. And now you have a debris hut survival shelter. (Just like the shelter in the picture at the top of the page.)
Your body heat warms the shelter
The idea behind this type of survival shelter is that your body heat warms the interior of the hut... you survive for another day. We had some problems of course, with wet debris! Imagine laying on bedding that is wet to the touch in freezing temperatures!
Makes you want to be home in your easy chair enjoying the warmth of a push button thermostat. This shelter will work with green or wet debris, but you must add a minimum of 1/3 more material if wet or green. A grueling thought.
Debris hut benefits
Another important consideration with a well-built debris hut, is that your body heat is warming the shelter and the trapped air around you. Since you are burning about one watt of heat per hour, you don't have to fiddle with a fire all night which means you may get more sleep in this type of shelter.
Comparing the Debris Hut and Lean To shelters
Compare the efficient debris hut to a shelter/fire combination such as a Lean To, where you are sleeping with one eye open and having to get up and feed the fire every 30 to 40 minutes. This kind of activity can leave you exhausted by morning, but alive. And that's the point in any survival situation: to make it back alive. You do whatever it takes. But getting enough sleep is critical to survival as well.
Materials on hand dictate the shelter
Building a functional debris shelter in the western USA can be difficult. The lack of substantial amounts of leaf litter in many areas often prevents us from building this type of shelter. And having enough forest debris for a functioning leaf hut is rare, especially in mountain-type environments.
Your knowledge of fire-making, insulation, and available materials will make you quite capable of building an emergency shelter that will keep you safe from hypothermia and frostbite.
What is the best Survival Shelter? My rule of thumb when it comes to what survival shelter to build boils down to the available materials at hand. If the materials you need are available, and you can build correctly, the Debris Hut or the Lean-to fire-combination shelters are both comfortable and warm. And the best thing of course, they just might save your life!