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Living Comfortably in a Long Term Shelter

by Seth Recarde

There are many things you can do to make a shelter more comfortable. The type of shelter and its shape must be suited to the environment in which it is built. The tipi type shelters tend to keep the smoke level up high. This is great for areas which are frequented by storms and low pressure fronts that keep the smoke from flowing smoothly out the smoke hole. Having a few extra feet of room for the smoke to settle can make all the difference on a stormy day. The drawback to having that extra space is that much of your heat rises to tile top of the shelter, requiring you to have a larger fire and gather more fuel in order to keep the floor temperature comfortable.

The dome type shelters (wigwams, etc.) With their low, round ceiling reflect heat well and keep that heat closer to floor level than tipi shelters. But smoke can quickly fill its interior if a low pressure front moves in or the fire is not well maintained. This can be prevented by using small diameter wood in the fire and keeping it burning cleanly in a tipi shape. Also, having the smoke flap open into the wind creates a stronger draft which will help the smoke flow out of the shelter smoothly.

With a little care and attention, dome shelters can be warm, firewood efficient, smoke free, and very comfortable. They're great for areas with long winters and inhabitants that prefer working on skills instead of spending their time gathering firewood. The interior of the shelter can be made cozy and practical by focusing your efforts on a few key areas: Doorways that are extended out a few feet from the shelter (like a debris hut) allow you the opportunity to have two doors. A heavy outer door that can be well sealed and an inner door or door flap made of hides, etc. will cut down on drafts and keep the heat in the shelter where it belongs. It also gives you a place to keep your muddy moccasins or icy snowshoes.

Fire pits that are too deep radiate most of their heat up towards the center of the shelter, leaving you colder when sitting on the floor next to the fire. The fire pit should be 6" deep at the center and gently slope up to floor level. Making a ring of rocks or dirt around the pit cuts back on the heat reflected to the floor level just like a deep pit. This ring is useful when building a fire on flat ground in order to contain the coals and ash but if a shallow, sloping pit is used the ring is unnecessary and can rob you of floor level heat.

Beds built by making a rectangle of logs, stakes, etc. and filling the inside with pine boughs, pine needles, grasses, or dry leaves are very comfortable. The filling should be at least 8" thick after being compressed to keep you well insulated from the ground. The best beds are built a foot or more off the floor by pounding stakes in the ground, lashing a frame to the stakes, and making a solid platform on top of the frame. The platform is covered with any of the above bedding materials to make it soft and then the space under the platform is stuffed with the same. The insulation underneath does not get compressed which increases the amount of dead air space it contains. It holds heat better and you sleep warmer. Building your bed up off the floor keeps you away from the drafts and up in the warmer part of the shelter. You can also use some of the space under the bed for storage.

Tables and workbenches can be built like the raised bed without the insulation. These are great for preparing food, working on projects, or storing materials. Make them so they are a comfortable height to work on when you are sitting (or standing, if your shelter is tall enough).

Backrests are great if you plan to spend a lot of time sitting an working around the fire. They can be covered with a grass mat to insulate them. When you're sitting by the fire working on a project with a warm front and a warm back, you'll be glad you took the time to make one.

Cooking is best done in an outside fire if you have the choice. Heating questionable rocks inside your shelter's fire pit for rock boiling can be dangerous and in some cases damaging to your body should the rock explode. Most cooking is done over coals and not flames. Coals tend to create a lot of smoke which can quickly fill your shelter and drive you out. On nice days an outside cooking fire is best. If you are forced to cook inside due to bad weather, keep you main fire burning cleanly and pull a small quantity of coals to the edge of the pit. As the coals cool and begin to produce more smoke, swap them for some fresh coals from the main fire. If you must heat rocks, try to use rocks that have been heated previously and you know to be safe.

I hope these ideas and tips will help you live happy and comfortable in your long term shelter. A little bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to enjoying your time spent living in the outdoors. So now that you have a few new ideas and hopefully some time to spare, get out there and enjoy!

From True Tracks, Summer-Fall 1997, published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from True Tracks, visit the Tracker Trail website.