Do you like the outdoors? If you are into camping, hiking or just being outside in general, then earth shelters are everything you didn’t know you were missing. As technology continues to entangle our lives and the grid relentlessly keeps us connected, not even the outdoors are immune to its sprawl. Trying to get away from it all is increasingly turning into a commodity itself, with everything from camping apps to high tech tents and hammocks.
Are we missing something here? The whole purpose of engaging with the natural world is to remember our place in it. Too much technology will only serve to dilute and pollute your wilderness experience. So ditch the tent and release yourself from the constraints of the modern world by using an earth shelters instead.
Think you don’t need an Earth Shelter because you’re into backpacking? Think again. When hiking long distances, cutting pack weight becomes the priority. Sleeping systems generally are the heaviest and bulkiest items in one’s pack and going without one is the ultimate ultralight experience.
What are Earth Shelters?
Earth Shelters, aptly named, are built using only the resources available in the wild. They are easily identifiable and all earth shelters exhibit the same 3 characteristics:
1. Easy to build. Escaping into nature would become a silly exercise if building your shelter was so large a time and energy sink that it became your only activity. Most earth shelters are only large enough to lay down in, built for the sole purpose of sleeping. Minimalism is the goal; a smaller design means more time available for other outdoor activities.
2. Constructed from natural materials. Earth shelters are made from the materials found in the very location of their construction. Sticks, branches, natural grottos, all can be used to make the shelter. Using common materials is an important hallmark and makes the building that much more rewarding. It also reduces the environmental footprint for any individual enjoying the outdoors. Instead of using a factory to produce a shelter, simply building one yourself eliminates any use of fossil fuels.
3. Impermanent footprint. Earth shelters are not houses or permanent structures, they will corrode and fall apart almost as quickly as they took to build. And this is the point of these shelters, short term use. Earth shelters should be used for 1 or 2 nights maximum before the user continues on their way. Always allow the shelter to revert back to its natural form.
Match your earth shelter to your surroundings
Forest: The forest is an ideal biome to build your own earth shelter. The amount of branches and logs ensures building a shelter will be an easy affair. The best shelters are also the simplest and easiest to build. Look for permanent artifacts such as boulders or overturned trees and incorporate them into the design. If you can use a rock or a log as part of your design it will save time in the construction and make the shelter even stronger.
Desert: Don’t be fooled by the lack of trees in the desert and think building an earth shelter is any harder than in the forest. Desert shelters do not need to keep the rain out or insulate against the cold, instead your main priority is shade. Cactus ribs make great building materials and can act as the skeleton for any shelter. Use shrubs or other vegetation to make shade. Look in washes for larger chunks of wood or logs washed down from mountains during rainstorms. Earth shelters are very useful while hiking through the desert. Sometimes the safest decision is to make a small shelter and sleep during the hottest part of the day.
Snow: Just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t build an earth shelter. Snow makes the perfect material and its utilitarian properties give a creative builder almost unlimited potential. Start by piling the snow into a large mound, taller than the person planning to use the shelter. After this initial step, the process is as simple as hollowing out the pile. Remember to keep your entrance large enough for the excavation project. Be sure to sleep with a shovel inside the shelter just in case you get snowed in!
Pro tip! When constructing your own earth shelter, the simplest solution is usually the best option. Look for caves or rocky outcroppings that already provide some shelter and fortify these with the building materials available to you.
For your next trip into the great outdoors, leave the technology at home. Get down and dirty with the natural ecosystem and build an earth shelter!
The video below exhibits a typical Earth Shelter built in the forest biome.