Bushcraft and Wilderness Survival vs. Long-Term Wilderness Living (Part 7-Gear Selection: Intermediate Shelter)

by Justin Lowthorp on June 25, 2020

Now that we have covered the shelter materials for a scout kit, let us now take a look at intermediate level shelters. These will allow us a higher degree of comfort and functionality while we build permanent shelters from the materials on site. Having a larger, easy to set up shelter is especially helpful if you are out with multiple people, your family or your dog(s) and to store readily available tools and supplies.

If having a larger tent of some type is not a possibility or does not interest you, and if your tarp is large enough in your scout kit, you can always combine natural building methods with your current kit to make something more substantial. I will save that for another time when we will talk about skill. This series focus is solely on gear selection.

If you are out with multiple adults, it is easy enough to combine your scout kit shelter materials to build something more expansive. If you are out with your family and you have young children that can not carry a full kit, it is best in my opinion to hike in a large tent or tarp, especially if your territory receives plenty of inclement weather. Even if you are alone, having a quick, large canopy is extremely helpful when attempting long-term wilderness living.

One of my favorite set-ups is a walled tent with an additional tarp to suspend above it for extra protection from precipitation and to extend a covered porch. It also makes a massive difference in the warm months if you have such a set-up with a gap between the upper tarp and the walled tent roof. Air will flow between them and you will avoid direct solar radiation, keeping you much cooler inside the tent. Not only will it increase the level of comfort, but it will massively increase the longevity of your tent many times over.

To warm the tent, a wood stove is ideal, the size of which is dependent on the size of the tent. I prefer a stovejack that exits the wall rather than the roof so that it will not interfere with the function of the outer tarp. It also requires a sharp bend in the stovepipe which will help dampen any embers. Embers are a tent's greatest enemy.

The more stovepipe you have inside your tent, the more heat will be released inside making for a more efficient use of wood. Try to have as much stovepipe inside as possible and at as gentle of an angle as possible. A straight-up stovepipe rockets embers into the sky putting you and your gear at great risk.

A conical hot-tent would be one of my last choices. The area around the edges is lost space; too steep and too close to the ground. Under such an extreme angle it is very hard to store anything. If you sleep close to the edge, the roof of the tent is right up on you making for far more condensation than a set-up that lifts the roof at a higher point.

If you are to use a conical design, the tipi is by far a better choice. It is a design I'm quite fond of and rivals the walled tent in efficiency and comfort. In an area that has the possibility of high winds, it is the best choice by far and is vastly superior to the walled tent in such an environment. Due to the pitch of the sides, there is far more usable space within compared to a lower angle hot tent. With such a high peak, it allows for an open fire. That reason alone is good enough to make it a primary choice for an intermediate shelter.

For a tipi to properly function, you need an inner liner. The outer skin of the tipi is not fastened all the way down, but there is a small air gap between the ground and the outer skin. The inner liner is attached all the way flush to the ground and extends at least to head height. What this does is that when a fire is built inside, the air flowing from the outer gap flows upward creating a more powerful and efficient updraft. This clears smoke out of the tent and prevents a low smoke ceiling.

Always remember, in any shelter with an open or semi-open fire to have an air inlet leading to the fire-pit that feeds outside the tent. Fail to do this and risk death. Having the inner liner minimizes this risk, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Another major added benefit to the inner liner is the insulation it provides. The difference is astounding and without it, the tipi is far less efficient. 

 Another option is the yurt, which is very much like a hybrid of the walled tent and the tipi. You have the benefit of vertical walls for increasing usable space within the shelter and round walls and conical roof for strength against high winds. A round structure is also more efficient at circulating heat. A walled tent can have cold corners. A yurt is just about the perfect intermediate shelter, all things considered. 

Now let us do a quick comparison between the three:

A walled tent is easy to set up, has a great deal of usable space, can easily have a porch when an overhead tarp is used and with that tarp, it is much cooler inside during the warm months. It is also more susceptible to wind, which can be a MAJOR issue. In cold months it can have cold corners, which can be used as an advantage for food storage. A stove is pretty much the only option for heat and cooking within the tent.

The tipi is the strongest of all tent-type structures in high winds. It has far more vertical walls than other conical tents making the areas close to the walls far more usable. It is, in my opinion, the most aesthetic of all tents in both appearance and the ability to have an open fire within. Being stuck inside due to inclement weather is so much more bearable when you have an open fire to stare into. An open fire does use up far more wood than a stove and if you do use a stove in a tipi, much of the heat is out of reach due to the high roof. Make no mistake though, a tipi when properly set up can be very warm in the cold months.

A yurt is also very easy to set up depending on your wall set-up, but that same wall set-up can be quite bulky and a lot to transport. The vertical walls allow for a lot of usable space and the circular shape and conical roof is strong in high winds. The circular shape, like the tipi, has excellent airflow making it more efficient in cold weather. The lower roof, like the walled tent, keeps the heat down where it can be felt. Generally a yurt is heated by a stove but can also easily be set up for an open fire.

There are many companies that offer the tipi, walled tent and/or yurt but they can be quite expensive. If you own or have access to a heavy-duty sewing machine, or have the time and patience to hand-sew, patterns are easily found online or at your local library. Perhaps in the future we will go over such designs that we can make ourselves.

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