In a survival situation, in bushcraft or simply during a hike, it is common to have to build a bivouac shelter to spend the night.
What techniques, equipment and materials to use? It is often difficult to know how to go about it.
So here are some tips for a good night’s sleep. Or in any case, the least worst one possible…
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Don’t neglect the construction of your bivouac shelter!
After a day of effort, your body needs a vital rest.
Not sleeping well can put you in a difficult situation. Or make an already bad situation even worse.
To rest and regain your strength, you need an efficient shelter.
Fast and Protective
An efficient shelter is one that is quick to create and that protects you from external aggression.
Day is not Night!
The biggest mistake is to think that the weather conditions of the day will be the same at night, depending on the altitude, the time of year and the geographical area, the temperature can drop by several tens of degrees between day and night.
And I know what I’m talking about…
A few years ago, in the middle of a heat wave in the valley, I went to climb a peak with a friend.
95o F in the shade and not a cloud in sight.
We left naively, planning to sleep under the stars.
With sleeping bags that had a temperature limit of only 50o F.
We camped at the foot of the summit.
At night, the temperature dropped to 35o F…
We both had a sleepless night, impossible to fall asleep with this cold.
And in the high mountains, it is impossible to find anything to make a fire.
We paid for our mistake and the next day, reaching the summit was painful!
I’m not going to give you ready-made shelter plans as an effective shelter for bivouac is adapted to the terrain.
That’s the golden rule to remember.
It is therefore more interesting to address the various issues you may encounter.
For a shelter to be really effective, it must respect 5 criteria:
1 – Protect from the cold
To limit temperature loss, the shelter structure should be as covered as possible.
Leave only a small opening for entry and exit. And add thermal insulation on the roof.
Depending on what you have on hand, it can be:
- Dead leaves
- And so on.
Moss is particularly effective and light in this situation.
If you use lightweight insulation, consider adding a structure over it to prevent it from blowing away overnight.
If you light a fire, in front or inside of your shelter:
- Provide enough fuel for the whole night.
- Provide an opening for the smoke.
- Be very careful with the risk of forest or bush fire!
With fire, the slightest mistake can be dangerous and make an already difficult situation worse.
I once made the mistake of falling asleep with the wind blowing the smoke back at me.
As a result, I woke up with my lungs in a bad shape.
2 – Protect from rain
Building a truly waterproof shelter takes time and experience.
Make the most of the terrain!
Nature often has all the necessary materials.
Trees, rocks, caves or cliffs will naturally protect you from the rain.
In any case, to protect you from the rain:
- Always build a roof with a steep slope so that water can easily drain away;
- Avoid materials that retain water (such as moss) and favor those that allow it to drain away (such as leaves).
3 – Protect from wind
Here again, the most effective way is to use the terrain configuration.
The wind can be strong and quickly prevent you from sleeping or even setting up a bivouac.
In some areas, a “corridor” effect can make the wind even more powerful.
“Break” the wind
You can “break” the wind and reduce its strength by roughly building a wall of stone or snow, for example.
For your shelter to be windproof, its structure must be particularly strong and its insulating materials firmly attached.
Give preference to stones.
If you use branches, plant them firmly in the ground.
Don’t exhaust yourself unnecessarily by trying to protect yourself on a 360 degrees radius.
Identify where the wind is coming from and only create protection against that direction.
4 – Isolate your bed from the ground
Too often neglected, and wrongly so, the insulation on the ground is also a key point of your shelter.
At night, the ground is cold and humid.
If you fall asleep on the floor, you may not be able to retain your body heat and to wake up soaked.
Build a plant litter
To stay warm and dry, you need to make some sort of plant litter.
Use thin branches, leaves or moss.
Ideally, place branches underneath for insulation from the ground and cover these branches with moss or leaves for better comfort.
5 – Always be discreet
In case of serious breach in normality (or bivouacking on private land…), discretion is often essential.
To make sure your shelter blends in, build it with materials you find locally.
If you use materials that are not natural (such as a tarp in the forest), cover them with local materials.
Finish before nightfall
Make sure to finish your shelter before dark and have time to check the quality of the camouflage in daylight.
If you need to start a fire, dig a pit and light it at the bottom.
Check that the fire is not too visible by walking around your bivouac.
4 Additional Tips
- Always count at least 2 hours before nightfall to finish your shelter;
- If you have food, place it high on a branch or cover it with large stones.
These precautions will prevent you from having it stolen in the middle of the night by a wild animal.
It happens more often than you think…
- If you are bivouacking in a busy area (e.g. a hiking trail), look for previous campsites.
These campsites are often established in the best locations, and sometimes already equipped!
To be efficient, you have to be lazy!
Make maximum use of the terrain to spend as little energy as possible.
You now have all the information you need to build your shelter for your bivouac!
I strongly advise you not to wait until you are in a survival situation to test these tips.
It is not in a hurry, with a few twigs and one of your shoe laces that you will learn to build a shelter to protect you and your loved ones.
Better to “have fun” spending a few bad nights because of a poorly designed shelter when all is well, than to get into trouble in an emergency situation.
A hike or bushcraft outing is always an opportunity to learn many things!
In addition to your shelter, take the opportunity to test several techniques and materials:
- How to start a fire;
- Identify and consume wild plants;
- Filtering and purifying water;
If you have children, don’t hesitate to take them with you.
It’s an opportunity to share a good time with the family, to teach them the basics of life in the forest and to make them more independent!