- An immediate action shelter can be deployed in minutes and is typically small enough to be carried by an individual out in the backcountry. Examples include a tent, bivvy sack, an emergency shelter bag, a lightweight tarp, or even two large trash bags taped together. An immediate action shelter can also be something that is already available, like a backcountry hut, or a cave.
- The second shelter type is a temporary shelter that can be accessed or assembled within 30 to 60 minutes. A temporary shelter should utilize as little energy as possible and usually requires tools, creativity, and previous knowledge. The best temporary shelters are built using something that already exists, like a downed tree or natural closure. Examples include a basic lean-to, simple debris hut, or simple snow shelter.
- The last type of shelter is a long term shelter that can provide superior protection for three days or more. Building a long term shelter requires a significant amount of energy, more resources, and advanced knowledge. Examples include a wickiup, a more elaborate debris shelter, a hut, a quinzee snow cave, and an igloo.
Particular activities may decide which shelter is preferred or needed. For instance, for a backpacking trip, shelter is already planned for, it’s the tent. For a short hike or a day out climbing, something lightweight and compact is ideal, like a lightweight tarp or emergency blanket shelter. For a mountaineering trip, two shelters are needed. One shelter for camp, like a tent, and one for day trips away from camp, like a bivy sack.
Note: A standard foil space blanket should not be considered as a shelter. These are often too small and too fragile to be used as a shelter. They should also not be relied upon for substantial warmth in extreme conditions.
The environment is a major consideration when deciding the right shelter option to carry. In colder environments, an emergency bivvy blanket with a heat reflective interior is a wise choice. In very wet conditions, something waterproof is essential. For intense sun and heat, a shelter that can adequately provide shade is mandatory.
In locations where shelter building material or natural places of protection are abundant, like in a forest, a tarp is more than adequate. In terrain that is bare of such materials and lacking in natural places of protection, a shelter that can be deployed without other devices or resources is essential. Such barren terrain would include the high alpine, glaciers, the desert, and plains and tundra. The best shelters for these locations are tents, bivy sacks, and emergency shelter bags, like the Bothy Bag.
People includes considerations about the number, preparedness level, capabilities, and attitudes of individuals on an outdoor adventure. It also includes yourself and your preparedness level, capabilities, and attitude. For large groups, a large shelter will be required like a tent or Bothy Bag, especially for groups with children. Individuals can also carry shelter.
Your own capabilities and preparedness level should be evaluated. Are you carrying a shelter that you know how to use and can quickly deploy? Have you tested it to determine if it’s an adequate size, or has the features you desire? Do you need other tools to use the shelter you are carrying? Familiarity and experience with your equipment is vital during emergencies and survival situations.
For most outdoor adventures, a lightweight tarp, large trash bags, or emergency bivvy sacks are all that is required for immediate action shelter. Other times, the right shelter should be selected based on the activity, the environment, the terrain, and the people on the adventure.