The Super Shelter

Being able to sleep in comfort when enduring extreme cold is hugely important to us. We need at least three hours of rapid eye movement sleep a night to survive. Without it we will soon be exhausted and we will be heading on a downward spiral to the inevitable. 

A shelter can take many forms, and we often utilise fire to heat them. Fire is hugely important to us for its heat, however, we must come up with a solution to prevent the loss of this heat. 

Our shelter must also deal with the effects of conduction, convection, radiation, reflection, evaporation and condensation. The super shelter is certainly incredibly effective in combating these.

The “super shelter” was devised by the renowned Canadian survival instructor Mors Kochanski. If you don’t know who Mors is, Google him. His books and videos on YouTube are some of the best available resources on the subject of survival and wilderness travel. 

The invention of the shelter was actually a lucky accidental discovery. Mors was teaching a group of students who had built a similar shelter, however, they had used clear polythene to prevent the smoke from the fire entering their sleeping area. This was effective, it also turned the shelter into a greenhouse and the warmth inside was tremendous. This greenhouse-like ability allows short wave thermal energy from the fire to pass through the clear plastic and heat the shelter, the shelter is then made as thermally efficient as possible using Mylar sheets and tarps.

The finished shelter is shown in the main image of this article, above.

The first job when creating a super shelter is to build the raised bed. This is a critical component. We must address the issue of conduction. We must not touch the cold ground. The earth will rob you of any heat and chill you to the bone.

Carrying tools and equipment is important here. The saw is our weapon of choice.

Create a level platform from logs. Notice that the ground was higher at one end so I did not use a log. This will not affect its thermal efficiency.

Next we need to lay three logs of body width across the bed, and finally two long poles for the side supports.

Try to make the bed around chair height. Lash all of these down using the Canadian jam knot. This is another Mors Kochanski find. It is actually a butcher’s knot but is one of the most useful knots in survival. If you don’t know it, learn it!

Now we create the “sprung mattress”. Lay long poles along the length of the bed using alternating thin and thick ends at each end. This will keep it springy and also level. No need to tie anything here. I would also advise you to make sure that the side support log not be so large as to block you from the heat of the fire.

Keep all your cut boughs, these will now be used to create a comfortable mattress. Lay these with the cut ends on the outside of the bed and in a herringbone fashion. It is remarkably comfortable and makes me feel like a gorilla laying in his nest!

Remember here that we must build up a mass around our head and shoulders and focus attention on our core. This is effectively from our head to our knees.

We must now create our “roof”. This framework is very simple and easily constructed. I first cut more flexible hazel poles. I then pointed and bevelled a strong stake and used this to create four holes in the ground. I then pushed the flexible hazel poles into these holes. Bend the poles into an arch and bend them around each other. Lastly tie with a jam knot. Make your second hoop lower at the back and create a few “cross beams” again by pushing into the ground and tied with a jam knot. 

The bed and frame are now complete and I reckon I used about 3m of cordage and all my materials were either fallen dead wood from within 25 metres and coppiced Hazel. 

Now we will add the Mylar. Mylar is commonly known as a survival blanket. It is not a blanket, it is a sheet and it offers no warmth. It does however reflect our own heat back towards us. You must understand how to properly use this fantastic material and also understand its nuances. Never allow the reflective sheet to touch you as this ruins its performance due to evaporation and condensation of your vapour.

Lay the Mylar over the shelter. Then put the large clear plastic sheet over that. Lastly, put the Tarp over the whole lot and secure it.

We now have a completed “super shelter” that will be toasty warm and a cocoon from the worst weather the Lake District can throw at me!

I generally sleep with the plastic front folded up, but when needed I can batten down the hatches. The bed deals with both conduction and comfort. I use a cheap roll mat as well. 

All in all it cost me about £40 and will last many years and will see plenty of use as my accommodation in our woods while delivering our survival training and bushcraft courses!

Everyone needs a home, this is thriving not just surviving!