Category Archives: shelter

book review: simple shelters

Simple Shelters:
Tents, Tipis, Yurts, Domes and Other Ancient Homes
by Jonathan Horning

Rarely do you get such a small book that feels much bigger than it really is.

This diminutive book, (measuring a mere 6 by 5 inches) with the title ‘Simple Shelters’, is anything but small in content and the shelters are anything but simple. In fact I am thinking of shrinking the size of my coffee table so it does not look out of place.

Throughout its 60-odd pages the illustrations of shelters are wonderfully detailed and clear – both in cross-section, plan and cut-out. It covers a multitude of shelter from primary forms, tensioned coverings, black tents, benders, woven shelters, tipis, kathe, yurts, yarangas, chorama dyu, earth lodges, pit houses, log cabins, hogans, bamboo huts, timber framed buildings, adobe mud brick and straw-bale constructions, igloos and geodisic domes.

Most of the construction techniques from across the globe are covered and, alongside the illustrations, a conversational text about their evolution, history and use is incorporated to give a cultural or practical context.

Whilst a book of this size has no pretence to being a technical manual, many of the illustrations give you an excellent idea as to where to start and how things fit together.

This book would be of great armchair inspiration for anyone interested in the basic principles behind both the tribal and the modern home. But far from being a quick, one-off read I find myself frequently drawn to the little book looking for ready inspiration and marvelling at the simplicity and ingenuity of its designs. Maybe the book should have included the Tardis…but in a way this little book is alot bigger on the inside than out.

Available from Wooden Books or Amazon – £4.79 – £5.99

ISBN-10: 1904263674
ISBN-13: 978-1904263678


pegs, tarps & knots

A two-minute video showing how to make some greenwood guy-line or tent pegs, rig a tarp shelter up between to trees using four simple knots. Includes close-ups of each step.

In black and white.


Kit list in video:

shelter, tripod, fire and tea

A short journey through the forest today ended at one of my favourite oak groves (the place I took my oak ring from).

There was a fine drizzle, everywhere was damp. So Eddie and I set about to rig my poncho, which I had been using as my waterproof, as a diamond-wedge shelter with room enough for two.

We lashed some hazel wands together for a cooking tripod and with a bit of effort with the bow drill got ourselves a fire for a cup of nettle tea.

A lovely way to spend 20 minutes before we ‘left no trace’ and continued our journey through the forest. The two minute video is below.

Please click on the image for video.

(click on image)


Although this looks like a simple, short set of tasks – behind them are a handful of key skills that we might take for granted.

  • Siting the shelter in a way that the wind and rain does not enter it but does not create a vortex for the smoke from the fire to suck it into the shelter.
  • Two useful knots: adjustable loop for the two guylines on the shelter and a tripod lashing for the cooking rig. If you want to see a close up of the tripod lashing used then please look here (for a larger version for cooking with many pots then click here)
  • It is tempting to bring a steel tripod – they look good and are durable. But they are heavy. Carry the knowledge to make one from your surroundings  – in this case green hazel – and it weighs nothing and takes up no space in your backpack.
  • A sit-mat: important insulation from the ground. A fact often neglected and a contributor to hypothermia – or very cold back-side!
  • Preparation of the site for the fire – clearing it of leaves to minimise spread of fire, not siting it to close to the roots of the tree which may damage them, creating a platform of wood for the fire off the wet ground and of course extinguishing the fire and leaving no trace (as at the end of this video clip).
  • Tinder and kindling selection – even more important on a damp day as this – mainly dry molinia grass for the tinder and larch twigs for the kindling – both very reliable and locally foraged. Careful grading of the size of the wood is important.
  • Safe axe use: hatchets are notoriously dangerous – the shorter the handle, the nearer the cutting edge can get to you! Note that I kneel on the ground so if I missed the wood I would hit the ground and not my shin. I also use a small log to cut on that lies between the axe and my body to halt the swing of the axe.
  • Fire by friction: in this case the bow-drill, and something that is harder to achieve on a cold, damp day.
  • Bringing water to the boil  –  a rolling boil for at least one minute – to make it safe to drink.

Kit used:

wildcraft perspectives: shelter

Copied directly from the Embercombe blog

For more details on the Wildcraft programme then click here

Shelter in its most basic form is just that: a shield protecting us from the extremes of nature – keeping us warm, dry, cool or safe. However, shelter is not just a physical sanctuary but a mental envelope – helping us face the challenges that these elements can throw at us; allowing us to withdraw – for a time – to a predictable place so we can regroup, recover or reflect. It is a place we might call home; a stable piece of land in a world of flux. A good shelter is one that becomes our bridgehead for pushing further into the unknown or a nest for when we have decided to stay a while longer. Sometimes this shelter might be a fallen tree or even the thin-ness of a hammock or a bivi-bag may be just enough separation from the raw elements swirling around you. It may be a more extravagant design for the longer term: it could even have a thatched roof and proper front door!

Learning how to build a shelter is an important cornerstone for Wildcraft. It teaches us about natural and man-made materials, different designs for different conditions, it teaches the practicalities of knots and lashings. It teaches us how to place and position a shelter in the landscape to ensure that it is safe, comfortable and has little impact. Best of all it shows that building it and living in it helps the bonds of the tribe become strong.

Making a shelter teaches you about your immediate environment (and much about the people who build it with you). However once you have mastered the basics of shelter building we like just sitting back and marvelling at the ingenuity of how our young Wildcaft architects set to making their own wonderful structures and show us that there are no limits to their untethered imagination.

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