Building a Shelter in the Woods and Sleeping in it: My Wilderness Survival Course with Canada West Mountain School

My first experience building a shelter out in the woods was really interesting.  Building a shelter really changed the way I felt in that environment.  At first, when I set out to find a location for my shelter, I looked around me at the thick brush and trees all around.  It all felt somewhat closed in, unwelcoming, and foreboding.  But as I  marched into the forest looking for my home for the night, I felt the discomfort in me ease away.  Then, when I had selected a spot and started collecting materials around the area, quickly over the span of only 2-3 hours, it became very familiar and it felt like a home-base to me.

So here’s the ‘before’ photo, of what I found and decided to make into my forest home:

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And here’s the shelter taking shape over the span of 2.5 hours of hard work.  I was pretty proud of it, considering it’s the first shelter I’ve ever made.  (We used fallen trees for all our structures, to try to leave as little impact as possible.):

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As you can see, I have a raised bed, which serves not just to look super cool but because the spot I had chosen was in a slight hollow, where rain run-off might run through.  So by having my bed raised up, the water could hopefully run under me or soak into the ground beneath me and not into my sleep system.  I did manage to stay dry overnight despite it raining on and off during the night, so the raised bed probably did help.  I also covered the bed in moss, thanks to my instructor’s suggestion, and it was shockingly comfy!  It was really fun pulling that moss off trees and branches – there was so much of it around!  All you needed to do was give it a small tug and the whole sleeve of it would slip off the tree.

My sleep system consisted of the raised bed, with a ground sheet on top of that (because the moss was damp), my thermarest sleeping pad, and my sleeping bag inside of the SOL Escape Lite emergency bivy.  I have to say, I slept toasty warm, and a large part of that is because of the extra protection provided by the SOL emergency bivy.  This was my first time using it, and I have to say, it’s pretty impressive for something so small and lightweight.  It managed to kept my sleeping bag from getting soaked even though my shelter was slightly too short so my feet were a bit exposed to the rain.  I was also grateful for its heat-reflective properties because when I would get cold in the night (usually my face / shoulders, which were more exposed), I would pull the top of the bivy up around my face, and I would immediately warm up again.  A small tear did appear on it after using it for the one night, because like I said, it’s paper thin!  But otherwise, it’s a nice thing to have, for sure.

As proud as I was of this shelter, I have to say I wasn’t psyched to sleep in. It was still a bunch of moss, dirt and wet logs, after all!  Plus, it was an open shelter, without the nice, safe walls of a tent, which although are paper-thin, always feel like very real protection when you’re inside.  I think a lot of is psychological, because with the tent walls, you don’t see the dark forest all around, which inevitably make you wonder if there’s anything out there.  But I managed to get through the night by soothing my nerves in various ways.  First, it helps to be very tired.  Second, I didn’t turn off my headlamp until my eyes were already closed.  Otherwise, I’d have had my eyes wide open in the dark, and that’s scary!  Third, I slept with bear spray next to me and a whistle lanyard around my wrist.  Overall, it was an uneventful night – just the sound of rain, some cold breezes came through, and occasionally, I’d feel something fall on my face…not sure if it was bugs? Dirt?  I try not to think too much about it.  So basically, I slept lightly but I made it all the way through to morning, and that’s what counts!  Woohoo!

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