Tuesday, 21 July 2015

One/ Two man debris shelter

When the good summer weather is upon us it will come as no surprise that I try and get bushcraft on the agenda and shelter building often features, and seeing  as our HQ has a wood behind it it's silly not too. I have also recently attended another Cub pack's 'survival' camp to build one too.

Normally, when doing a blog page I like to try and make it as polished as possible but I thought I'd do this one using their efforts to show what eight, nine and ten years can achieve in a short period of time. I've highlighted any improvements needed and used shots from more than one build as Cubs have a habit of getting in the way of pictures with their enthusiasm! 

I've given scouting a hefty bushcraft promotion here. Could this be you? 

To build the shelters I use my two man debris shelter Meccano kit! I've gathered together the wood needed to make the frame and the participants just need to apply/ supply the thatch. The above picture is a one man (A frame or kennel) shelter built on a three day Woodland Ways bushcraft course. Some of the two man shelter shots below are taken at Danemead Scout campsite which is where I helped to build the one man shelter that appeared in the Outdoor Adventure Manual. 

So like picking any spot to spend the night you have to do some checks, such as looking in the overhead canopy to check for 'widow maker' branches hanging precariously, checking that you aren't near species like beech which have a reputation for shedding branches without warning, noting the prevailing wind direction/ direction of sunrise (for early morning sunshine if possible), that you aren't in a low spot that may flood or become a cold sump (collect cold air), the closeness of game trails and ants nests...This construction is only for fun but it's prudent to explain it to younger minds. The two picture above show your average canopy on the left, but a dead tree amongst the canopy on the right.

I have built this shelter without any internal support but I elect to use a central forked stick 'pillar', mindful of lots of eager cubs I also decided to just tie the apex with paracord too, again not necessary but added as another over eagerness insurance. That said I've still had over eager Cubs kick the frame over. 

Then come the two ridge poles which need spacing some distance apart and will if the shelter was to be used it is worth checking that an individual will be able to fit comfortably under the ridgepoles. After checking the shelter footprint  for ant nests, sharp stones etc the shelter footprint it was onto the next stage.

I usually lay two lengths of bamboo temporarily either side of the ridgepoles to help with stick placement as they shouldn't be sticking massively proud of the ridgepole as they'll funnel  any rain down through the shelter. You can also use lengths of hi viz paracord as placement guides too). The sides should be sloped in excess of 45 degrees and in as straight a row as possible.  note that I've placed two sticks at the rear of the shelter too but more about those later.

The diamond shape (above) is made with the placement of two longish sticks against the ridge poles and this forms the entrance/ exit, hence the two ridgepoles needing a big gap between them.


It is advisable to place some sticks strategically on the structure otherwise it can soon descend into anarchy. I've got a few sticks that have a small fork on one end and these are useful to tuck in under the ridgepoles both for rigidity and as a fixed point to help prevent other sticks nearby sliding (which may happen at some stage). Make sure that any sticks don't have smaller inner facing branches as this will  potentially cause damage to the shelter as an individual wriggles in.

The back wall of the shelter, which forms the back of the 'porch', is done in much the same way and again, the more well placed sticks you have, the easier thatching is. After the ridge poles, this is the area where you'll need the most long lengths. It can be flat like I've done here, or can come to more of a point (effectively a continuation of the outer walls of the sleeping parts).


The sides are quite easy to do and if you've got sufficient sticks it means that the the gaps between them are minimised which is helpful when thatching. Note that this set is well placed and not excessively higher than the ridge pole.

This is the completed wooden frame. By and large the sticks are fairly well placed in this shot but some, notably the apex, are a little too tall. Even if it's for fun it will take a lot of extra thatching to cover them so it is worth walking round and subtly removing or repositioning badly place sticks.


 The other area that needs constructing is the 'lintel' over the front of the porch and is achieved using thin twigs and sticks. the lintel can go in once the two sleeping shelters have been formed and again, it needs keeping close to the ridgepoles width wise. Now two different layers need applying to the skeletal shelter.

For the under layer of thatching I have used a mixture of bracken leaves, thin twigs (silver birch is excellent for this) some hazel off cuts from a relative's garden and some off cuts from a coniferous tree in my own garden, the hazel and coniferous cuttings were utilised to prevent too many bracken leaves being harvested. One word of caution concerning bracken leaves, harvest them carefully as the stems can give the unwary a nasty 'paper cut' if the hand is pulled up the length, a hefty pull will uproot the plant and kill it and be mindful of ticks so think twice, harvest once.

Carefully weave the thin branches into the structure and insert the stalk of the leave  into the structure from the bottom upwards.


As with the wall sticks, make sure that that any flexible sticks you've used for the under thatching don't stick too far into the inside of the shelter because this too will potentially cause damage as an individual wriggles in. Once you are happy that the shelter has a decent under layer you can proceed to the leaf thatching. To thatch, grab a big two handed amount of litter and start thatching from the base upwards, chucking or sprinkling the litter at random is a waste of time and effort and starting at the bottom helps to tile the thatch to shed rain. As you can see in the right hand side picture above, it soon starts to go dark but do keep an eye on the quality of the thatch because as you can see, there is a bit of low level daylight still to be seen low down. 

 If your time and/ or  litter is limited it would be wise to use the most thatch on the two sleeping areas. Getting the under layer on starts to make this structure seem like home but the leaves really do give you a sense of achievement as the daylight slowly becomes pinpricks of light and then darkness. 


Keep checking inside to make sure all light is snuffed out and that the thatch is of a decent and even depth (utilise your smallest Cub or Scout for this as they can be real cart horses in and around the shelter). Fine weather would necessitate just a decent overall coverage, but to shed rain you need to get to over a foot deep and beyond that depending on just how heavy any expected rain may be. If you make this or any shelter in a public wood please keep an eye out for dog poo in the leaf litter.


If you have any spare sticks you can lay them on the thatch to help keep it secure. The two man shelters are a really satisfying project and with many hands it is possible to knock up a half decent (if not overly rainproof) shelter and the sense of achievement can be palpable. It is possible to knock them up this quickly due to the large and occasionally over eager pairs of hands and serves as a reminder that a self build will take hours.


As per the first picture at the top and those above I've slept in the single version of one of these and they are really are cosy and offer a good night's sleep too. If you can't source enough wood for a two man version then go for a one man shelter. The time saved on a smaller shelter could equate to more time thatching.


As you can see from the above A frame pictures the two man shelter is just two single shelters joined by a communal porch so all the basic construction details apply but you start off the entrance/ exit using two forked sticks which you lock together and pass the ridgepole across the top. Again, I've tied the forked sticks with paracord and you can also bury the ends of the forks into the ground...Note the one stick that's proud of the ridgeline. Incidentally, if you do form a shelter building kit and use it a lot you can gently blacken the ends of the poles that go into the ground in a fire to help waterproof them.

This is my model kit out and about with my two sons during a  school holiday.

Left hand side picture photo credit: Tudor photography.

And remember me saying that the Outdoor Adventure Manual shelter was built at Danemead Scout campsite? These shots are of the father and son team behind the IEAT Scouts activity base and I building it on the Scout Association photo shoot for the book. Incidentally the shot on the left is one of my favourite pictures.

 If you are a Scouter, perhaps it could be a project for a (survival) camp with the prize of sleeping in it overnight awarded to one or two Cubs/ Scouts/ Explorers who have performed well over the preceding term?

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