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Survival Lab: Gimme Shelter

Losing daylight and don't have a tent? Don't panic: We tested three shelter-making techniques that will help you survive the night. Plus: Three bomber bivies.

BEST: Improvise an A-frame

Do It Find a strong, navel-high tree limb growing roughly parallel to the ground, or sloping toward it, to use as a ridgepole (or make one yourself by placing a branch atop a stump or in a tree notch, shown below). Lean branches against the limb on both sides, creating an A-frame that’s just wide enough for your body. Continue piling sticks and debris until no light penetrates. Fill the inside with insulating leaves and foliage.

Protection When conditions were cold and windy, this shelter topped our testing as the warmest and sturdiest. It held heat and offered protection in fog and full-on downpours (with an added plastic layer). The only downside: Building it takes time and energy (a few hours if supplies are nearby). If you’re in a littered forest, uninjured, and hydrated while awaiting rescue, testers say the comfort is worth the extra effort.

Pro tip Have a garbage bag? You should. Cut it open and place it between layers of the roof’s material to add low-tech waterproofing. Got two? Make a door to block wind.

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