Build a Debris Hut From Scratch

The Debris Hut:The ultimate survival shelter, the debris hut.

The ultimate survival shelter, the debris hut.

Now, a debris hut addresses conductive heat loss.

Conductive Heat Loss: Body heat lost due to exposure to cold air and contact with cold surfaces (like the ground).

The debris hut addresses convective heat loss to a maximum degree, so it really creates a nice capsule of dead air space around your body that your body can heat up, that the wind shouldn’t take away at all.

It also addresses evaporative heat loss.

Evaporative Heat Loss: Body heat lost from the evaporation of moisture from you skin (like sweat and water).

Moisture is the enemy when it comes to staying warm in a survival situation.

Example: when you get wet, and that moisture evaporates from your body, it takes heat away, and it takes that heat off into the atmosphere away from your body.

That’s how you freeze to death.

Staying dry is a crucial element in survival, and for protecting that stable 98.6 degrees your body is built to maintain.

The debris hut does that for you.

When built correctly, it protects you from even heavy rain and snow.

Also, when we’re talking about survival shelter, we want to up our radiant heat gain, so that means either incorporating fire or incorporating the sunshine to preheat and maintain heat into your survival shelter.

Let’s jump in!


There are a few different factors that go into finding your ideal location for a survival hut.

Obviously you want to focus on finding flatground, so you have a good foundation to build off of.

Ensure that all drainage is away from your shelter.

And remember, this is about keeping warm. So we want to make sure that you’re in an area of natural sunlight, or, at the very least, a good place to start a fire.


Your ridge beam will act as the main support for your entire structure.

Find a solid piece of wood, capable of holding up a couple hundred pounds. It will be responsible for holding layers of sticks and leaves.

It’s important to find a strong piece of wood. If it’s rotten or “waterlogged” it may end up collapsing on you in the middle of the night. And trust me, that will not be fun.

Set this up before doing ANY movement of ground


Begin removing the top layer of brush and twigs. Exposing the bare ground. 

The angle of your ridge beam is crucial.

Obviously, you must be able to “slide” your entire body in.

But, you also want to make sure you’re comfortable, so you get a good night’s sleep. Which is extremely underrated in a survival situation.

You want to ensure you have ample room for your feet and hips to turn sideways.

While keeping in mind you’re going to have 6-8 inches of compressed leaves underneath you.

Now, this is not a case where ‘bigger is better’. Remember, we’re relying on our own body heat to keep this place warm.

About 6-8 inches between your shoulder and ridge beam is ideal.

TIP: I’ve found over the past 30 years, that this hut is ideal for 2 people maximum. Sure, you’d think more people equals more body heat. But, I’ve found the integrity of the shelter starts to decrease as it gets larger. So yet another reason to keep it tight and cozy.


Next, we want to find something to “prop” up our ridge beam.

Ideally, if you can find a nice fork in a tree, that’s the best, strongest and easiest option.

But, sometimes you’re not that lucky. However, you can also use forked branches and create an interlocking tripod that wraps around the ridge beam.

In the picture above, you’ll actually see a combination of the two for extra stability. A fork in the main branch and a second forked branch underneath for reinforcement.

It’s important to make sure the ridge beam is secure and not moving.

Comfort Tip: I like to dig a little hip hole, a little depression right where my hip will be. It helps me get a much better sleep.


If you’re building on a hill, go and find some windblown logs. Line them along the sloped side of the hill. This will act to shore up your foundation and leaves.


This part will take you a little bit of time. But it’s important to do it right. Take sticks, and line them along your ridge beam at 45 degree angle. We call this ribbing.

The angle is important to be able to both shed water, while also holding the leaves we’re about to cover this thing in.

You want to make sure your rib tips only extend 1-2 inches past the ridge beam. What I’ve found through experience, is when it’s any further than that, they’re sitting out there catching rain, which follows the stick right into your enclosure.

TIP: The tighter you can make the ribbing, the better it will be at holding leaves.

(What it should look like when you’re done).


Now we get into the fun stuff.

Start piling leaves on top of your structure.

Don’t be shy, the more leaves the better. At least two feet thick.

Be sure to pick out any sticks or twigs as you go. Leaving them in will be an invitation for rain.

And will make the difference between a cold, wet night, and a warm, toasty one.

COLD REALIZATION: After 3 decades of teaching others how to build these shelters, I’ve found people don’t pile on enough leaves. I’m almost convinced everyone needs a night or two of freezing cold, before they realize how important leaves are to this shelter.


After you’re done piling your leaves on, you want to go and find “feathery” type branches to lay on top of your leaf walls as a light compression.

Otherwise, a good gust of wind, or heavy rain could come along and wash away all of your hard work, and leave you exposed to the elements.


Our last step is cramming the inside full of leaves.

Just like the outside, don’t be shy. This is your insulation, and mattress all-in-one.

When full, get into the hut, lay on top of top and roll to compress the leaves.

As you crawl out, keep adding more leaves. Focus on the areas around your torso for added comfort.

TIP: If the night is colder than you expected. You can pull in more leaves, and plug the entrance entirely, to really keep your heat in.

You’re ready for a toasty night, even in freezing temperatures!