It’s no secret that Colorado a is hub for outdoor recreation—a place where you can travel deep into the backcountry, far away from everything. However, great backcountry terrain and heavy tourism traffic brings heavy consequences and accidents. Colorado search and rescue teams are out saving lives on a daily basis. Some victims wind up in bad situations because of a lack of knowledge, skills or preparedness, while others get stuck in situations that are unavoidable.

We are going to provide some insight on a skill that anyone traveling in the backcountry should possess: how to build a backcountry shelter when you don’t have a tent. This is not professional training by any means, but more of a guide so you remember there are plenty of options for shelter using natural materials.

Summer Backcountry Shelter

In fair weather conditions, sticks and logs are usually available as shelter building materials. Building a round lodge, frame shelter or lean-to using sticks is a great way to block wind, rain, snow, and sun and can be constructed to accommodate a small fire with the addition of correct smoke ventilation. There are many variations of wooden survival shelters, but if you can construct something with a solid support beam and walls, it will probably do the trick to get you through the night.

Winter Backcountry Shelter

Building a shelter in cold weather is often life or death. A quinzee is much like an igloo but easier to build. The structure is built by piling snow into a dome shape roughly seven feet high and letting it settle for a bit. Then you dig an entrance and hollow out the inside to accommodate everyone. Don’t forget to make a ventilation hole in the top so you can breath.

A snow cave is another good shelter for deep snow, but you should should learn how to properly construct the cave from a professional as there are a number of things that can go wrong.

Ways to avoid these situations in the first place:

  1. Be more prepared: plan your trip accordingly, tell someone where you are going, and bring gear to make things easier if you find yourself having to build a shelter again (such as a tarp).
  2. Do your research on terrain, roads nearby, and cell phone service availability in the area.
  3. Consult literature such as Freedom of the Hills that covers a wide variety of basic survival skills for many different recreational activities and abilities.
  4. Look for natural shelters in caves. Finding an already built shelter will save fragile energy and time in emergency situations.
  5. Last but not least: you can always stay inside where it’s safe, but this is no way to live life.

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