Ever fancied trying your hand at some bushcraft? From shelter building, foraging for food, fire lighting, willow craft and wilderness cookery, there are lots of activities to be enjoyed out in the great outdoors!
Based in Wales, Dryad Bushcraft teach traditional skills and crafts as well as finding the latest techniques and equipment from around the world, they’re dedicated to providing the highest standard of Wilderness Bushcraft training. Offering a wide range of courses for individuals, groups and organisations, as well as a fab Family Bushcraft Camp we’re sure you’ll find something that takes your fancy… Head over to the Dryad Bushcraft website to find out more!
“Hi, I’m Andrew! I’m the Head Instructor at Dryad Bushcraft where we provide courses in techniques for sustainable living through the medium of Bushcraft and other outdoor activities, and I’m also an experienced practitioner of a number of outdoor pursuits including Kayaking, Cycling, Rock Climbing and Mountaineering.
As a young boy, I became interested in learning how to live in the outdoors, learning to fish for Sea Bass and Mackerel with my father along the Gower coast. Always exploring the woods close to my home and reading about the great explorers ignited my passion for the wilderness and lead me to take part in an expedition in Malaysia. The experience set me on track to travel the world, discovering all I could about the natural world and the lives and skills of indigenous people.
Perhaps the desire to create a “home” out of the materials that nature provides is an evolutionary throwback to our hunter gatherer ancestors, a primal memory stored deep within our DNA. Or alternatively it could simply be the result of a romantic desire to return to a less complicated way of life in a world that is rapidly becoming more and more driven by technology.
Whatever the reason, building a shelter is a fun activity for a woodsy weekend adventure, but there are a few things that should be considered before you start to build your own “Des Res” among the trees!
There are very few outdoor activities that inspire the imagination more than building your own cosy den in the woods and as we head into winter my daughter Ruby and I would like to share some of our top tips to help you build your own perfect wilderness shelter.
Location, Location, Location…
If we were exploring the wilderness of Alaska we could probably get away with building a shelter wherever we wanted, but here in this tiny, overpopulated island of ours there are not many places that could truly be called wilderness. Most woodland in the UK is owned by someone and asking permission is a legal requirement and good manners. You may even get lucky and find a friendly owner who has some hedge cuttings or branches that you can use in the construction.
Your shelter should be situated on well drained, level ground away from obvious tree roots and rocks. Look up and avoid situating your shelter under any tree branches that could fall on you. If in doubt, stay clear.
The forest floor is a fascinating place and home to a whole world of insects, fungi, plants and other living things. With this in mind, we should try to reduce our impact on the environment as much as possible.
Here’s your biodiversity building code
🍂 Don’t use any deadwood off the forest floor over 20cm in diameter.
🍂 Avoid using ferns or moss to thatch your shelter.
🍂 Don’t break off any live branches, remove bark or uproot wild plants.
🍂 You shouldn’t need to use any rope or string in the construction of a shelter, but if you do make sure that you take it home with you when you finish.
🍂 Leave the woodland cleaner than you found it by doing a 2 minute litter pick.
What you'll need...
Creating a real shelter that you’ll want to spend the night in isn’t simply a matter of propping a pile of dead sticks up against the trunk of a tree. Shelter building is serious business and it’s well worth putting the effort into doing a good job of it. After all, you’re not only building a shelter, but also building memories for the future.
The types of shelter that you may want to build are limited only by your imagination and the resources available to you. For this we’ll stick with a basic A-Frame debris shelter.
It’s always a good idea to wear leather gardening gloves when making shelters, these will protect your hands against sharp thorns and brambles. If you have permission from the land owner it’s a big help (but not essential) to use a saw to cut the branches to size.
To begin, you will need one long and strong ridge pole and two supporting poles with Y shaped ends. These will form the main support for the shelter, so they should be strong and not rotten. They will need to take a lot of weight, so select these carefully.
The approximate diameter would be 10-12 cm for the ridge pole and 12-15cm for the upright Y supports. Using uprights with a Y shape means that you won’t need rope to hold everything together. The length of these components will determine the overall size of the shelter and as a general rule the ridge pole should be about twice as long as the uprights.
Don’t be tempted to make the shelter too big. You’ll be amazed how many leaves it takes to properly cover even a small shelter.
Creating your den!
The thickest end of the ridge pole should be embedded firmly into the ground and the upright supports positioned to hold the ridge pole in the Y section (This is a job for two people). The feet of the uprights should be pushed firmly into the ground to form an A shape as the entrance to the shelter. Leaning them back towards the rear of the shelter makes the structure far stronger.
The next job is to lean sticks against the ridge pole from both sides, maintaining the same angle as the main upright supports. They shouldn’t protrude more than 10cm above the ridge pole, so use the longest sticks at the front and the smaller pieces at the tapered end. Add to both sides equally to keep the shelter balanced. The straighter the sticks the better for this part of the construction.
Once you have created a good framework of supporting sticks you can start to cover the whole roof of the shelter with smaller twigs and branches. You don’t have to be too fussy with these as long as they cover any holes in the frame to prevent leaves falling through. This is where you’ll be glad you brought those leather gardening gloves.
I use a tarpaulin to collect the leaves after raking them into a pile with my hands. Using a stick or rake is quicker, but causes more damage to the forest floor, so I prefer to use my hands. I then dump the whole lot onto the highest part of the shelter and allow them to settle into position.
For the shelter to be fully waterproof it will need at least 40cm of leaves all over and none of the supporting timber should protrude through the leaves or they will funnel rainwater into the shelter.
It’s also not a bad idea to lay additional thin branches over the leaves to prevent them from shifting in the wind.
This is one version of the shelters that I teach on my survival courses. The leaves provide good insulation so it can be a lifesaver. And with a few fancy additions such as a nice leaf bed and a woven door this shelter can become a very cosy little home.
Our friends at the National Trust have given us an amazing prize for one lucky Frugi Fan!
Perfect for den building adventures in the woods!
The Den Kit Company - den kit experts since 2006 - providing robust, authentic components that both challenge and excite young minds and bodies. Versatile and non-prescribed construction - meaning there’s no wrong way, but a whole load of right ways to build them.
The Nature Hideaway Kit includes a natural frame and screening, camouflage netting, a waterproof tarpaulin and your own imaginative and ingenious mind.
Snuggle into your secret shelter with your spotter-sheet & monocular and copy on the birds, animals and mini-beasts that share your space.