Debris shelter built in the dark

If your anything like me, your not lost till it is well after dark. With this in mind, I want to know the ease or difficulty in building a shelter in the dark.

Back in my young dumb days, it was common to sneak out the window and run around having fun in the dark. We never took a flashlight. Navigating through the woods and town was never a problem. How we never got lost is beyond me. LOL. Today isn’t much different except I don’t have to sneak.

Getting around in the dark is rather dependent on a few factors. Moon phase and moon rise and set are the ones you can count on at any time from the beginning of time till now. If you have never been out during a full moon, it is surprising how much light just the moon can provide. The moon will cause trees and such to cast a shadow. With about 15 minutes to gain your night vision a full moon will provide enough light to do about any task. The other factor is “light pollution”. Light pollution comes from city lights. Clouds and humidity tend to amplify the effect. Both will reflect light back to earth. The atmospheric conditions, size, density, and proximity from a town or city will determine how much light you can use to your favor.

So back to the conditions we faced. There was a quarter moon, light clouds, about 10 miles from a small town. Temperature was a mild 45 degrees in late December. About all you could see was a dark shadow of the person next to you. It was DARK! Gathering materials would be difficult task.

Our challenge was to travel about a quarter mile in the dark and use only what we had in our pocket to build a shelter. For a list of what was in our pockets: 2 lighters, 2 wallets, 2 sets of keys, 2 pocket knives. This is the totally unprepared situation. Of course our clothes on our backs is in play for resources, but not to be used. In my view, max handicap (worst case scenario) makes anything less “easy”.

According to the rule of 3’s, shelter ranks higher than fire. There are conditions that I tend to flip that assessment. Being a bit chilly and a lack of light is one of those times. Fire provides warmth and a sense of “home”. “Home” is a source of light and heat. It, in this situation fire would give a point of contact and help not lose your rally point. Keeping a fire in sight ensures you wont lose your camp. As in a book I read once, “your not lost, your camp is lost”. The mind set is that “your not lost”. Mind set is huge in survival. Be positive, never quit, you will make it out alive, NO MATER WHAT!!!! Building a fire for an experiment and risk catching the woods on fire needlessly was part of the factor in NOT building a fire. This furthers the handicap.

We had our mission in mind. Lets do it! We walked down a fairly well defined trail for about a quarter mile with no light source. We had in mind to find a ridge pole to place in a V of a tree. That was the first obstacle. Having a design plan in mind and the reality on the ground was 2 different things. Finding a V in a tree was hugely difficult in the dark. After searching for the “prefect” tree to build off of, and not finding it in the dark with only light from a lighter, we moved to plan 2. Plan 2 ended up being using a knife to cut a notch in a sapling, pushing it over to provide the main support and ridge line. That was lesson 1: don’t get stuck in one design of a shelter design. The lighters were used in place of a flashlight. The best method we found was to hold the lighter out an shield your eyes with your other hand so not to ruin your night vision. This method only provides minimal light. As we found out later, processing materials with a lighter in your hand will cause you to lose your lighter. My buddy ended up losing his lighter. Materials are secondary. NEVER lose your source of light or fire!!! Not to bust on my buddy, it is just a lesson learned. Keeping track of your gear is hugely important, especially when your only equipped with minimal gear. I’m just glad it wasn’t me. (that’s a bust on my buddy, LOL).

Pine bows are the typical insulation from the ground for a debris shelter. Some woods just don’t provide pine bows, especially in the dark. Leaves, leaves, leaves… that’s the insulation. How much is enough depends on the ground temperature. In my assessment, enough is never enough. We only had about 8 to 10 inches of leaves for the ground barrier. For the conditions we faced it was probably enough. Fortunately the leaves were fairly dry. If had been wet, it would have been a different story. As a side note, every time you test fit yourself in the shelter disturbs your layer of insulation from the ground. Maybe, “or maybe not”, a minimal amount of “test fitting” might be best. In the wild its always a judgment call for your situation. Testing your skills and methods for the situations you may find yourself in is paramount.

Finding wood to use for the walls can be a challenge in the dark with little to no light. Leaves to use as insulation for the walls was fairly easy at the end of December. Leaves are light and fluffy at that time of year. The shelter we built had lots of thin spots. looking up from inside exposed many holes. With this being a test run for any future event showed having much more leaves piled up would have been better. Three times as much would have been best. We knew this when we started and finished the “project”. The next day emphasized that fact. Although we didn’t start a stop watch, it took an estimated 30 to 45 minutes for 2 of us to accomplish this shelter. Knowing the time to accomplish this task for the two of us gives us an idea of the difficulty in building a shelter in the dark.

Keep in mind that this exercise was with minimal light and 2 people, conditions are what they were for us. Night time extends the time for any task you wish to accomplish. Coming back in the morning exposed many more resources that could have been used. So close, but still so far.

Hopefully this post gives some idea of the hurdles you may encounter and overcome. A shelter of any sort is better than nothing. Allotted time and effort will be increased.

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