The second rule within the rule of threes is “shelter”. Shelter
includes everything that protects you from the elements. When
evaluating “shelter”, start at your skin and work your way out:

  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Gloves
  • Hats
  • long johns
  • pants/skirts
  • shirts
  • scarfs
  • coats/vests
  • Rain coat/rain suit/poncho
  • umbrella
  • blankets
  • sleeping bags
  • sleeping systems
  • tents
  • improvised shelter
  • car/truck
  • camper
  • huts/cabins/caves
  • boats
  • houses

In addition to the above, “shelter” includes those things that modify
your environment to make it better for you.

So what are you prepared for?

A few years ago we were at a range day and one of the people that had
been brought as a guest was bragging:

I spent a year living in the back woods. When the SHTF, I’ll just
grab my go bag and disappear into the woods again. I can survive in
the woods as long as I need.

What are you going to do, you’re fat and out of shape?

And my lady, to her credit, had the perfect response:

I’m going to go home, cook dinner, read a book and go to sleep in my
own bed.

Yes, it is good to be able to “survive” in the woods for an
extended period of time. Knowing how to hunt, trap, fish, collect,
and grow your own food is wonderful. So is knowing how to create a
primitive shelter that keeps the rain off.

But the best shelter you likely have right now is your own home, be it
a single family house in the middle of nowhere or a tiny apartment in
the big city. After that, the next best shelter you likely own is
your vehicle.

From the Skin Out

Let’s take a look at what shelter really means and then start making
sure you last those first 3 hours.

What you are wearing is your first layer of shelter. There are a
number of conditions you are sheltering from:

  • Over heating
  • Under heating
  • Burning
  • Frost bite
  • Wetness (from rain or drenching)

Over Heating

My son is on the spectrum. This means he has particular sensory
requirements. One that he is working through at this time is color.
The color he picked to fixate on is hard to find except in coats and

For the last 3 years we’ve had to fight with him to take off his hoodie
in the summer, as he overheats. We did not succeed. The only thing
we were able to do was to find a t-shirt in nearly the correct color
which he was willing to wear instead.

Many people suffer the same way. They wear the wrong clothing because
of “style” or because their friends are wearing it. If it is hot
outside (or inside) make sure you are wearing clothing that works for

In the same vein, be aware that there things that we “know” that just
aren’t true.

The primary method used to keep from overheating is external cooling
systems. This consists of air-conditioning and air movement, ie: fans.

An AC unit moves heat from one location to another at the cost of
generating more heat and consuming power. Fans just move the air
around, or do they?

Fans of all sorts are a great addition to your cooling system. The
basic method of fan-based cooling is to move hot air from one location
to another OR to improve evaporative cooling.

When a dog pants, he is using evaporative cooling. The warm air coming
in crosses the dog’s tongue, part of the water on his tongue
evaporates, as hot air comes out still more water evaporates, thus
cooling the dog’s tongue. The blood pumping through the dog’s tongue is
cooled, then circulates and pulls heat from the rest of the dog’s body to
repeat the cycle.

So why does this work? It takes one calorie to raise one ml of pure
water one degree Celsius. Taking a drink of ice water will remove 37
calories per ml of water. Pouring ice water on your body will do
about the same.

But if that same ml of water were to evaporate, it will remove 600
calories of heat. And this is what is happening in the dog’s tongue.
For every ml of water that evaporates from his tongue, he is removing
600 calories of heat.

An average man generates 105,200 calories per hour. To remove that
much heat 174 ml of water must evaporate, taking heat with it. A man
does this by sweating and that sweat evaporating. You can help this
process by adding water to the system. I.e. pour some water over your
head or down your back, drape a damp towel around your neck.

Sweating is the human method of self cooling. When you pour water
over your head on a hot day, that is a quick cooling, but it is the
water evaporating from your skin and hair that does the most cooling.
Having good air flow where the air is mostly dry does a great deal to

Get Under Cover

The sun puts out a lot of heat. Those direct rays make you hot, so get
out of the direct sun if you can. Stay in the shade, and make sure
you have that air flow. Being in a steel box might have you in the
shade, but without air flow that steel box turns into an oven.

Find a place with air flow. This will help cool you down and will
often cool the area you are in. If you don’t have AC, you can use
evaporative cooling by getting a towel damp, not wet, hanging it over a
fan and letting the air push through the towel.

Remember, if you are using evaporative cooling, i.e. sweating, you need
to be able to replace the water you are using for cooling.

Hanging a damp towel around your neck can also help.

Wear clothing that moves air as you move. The reason the wool
uniforms of the civil war era didn’t kill people from heat was because
they buttoned their collars. As the solders marched or moved, their
clothing acted like bellows and moved air across their bodies, cooling
them. If they had an open collar there is no billows action.

If you can’t get under the cover of a structure, get under cover of an
umbrella or hat. There is a reason why the brims of hats get/got
larger as you moved south. The larger brims cast more shadow. To
this day, when I go out during the warm or hot season, I wear a
brimmed hat. NOT a baseball cap.

Under Heating, Hypothermia

The other end of the spectrum is hypothermia, this is when the core
temperature of your body drops below 95F.

In order to keep this from happening, you need clothing that
insulates, that keeps your body heat in. Your body is capable of
keeping you warm enough if you don’t lose heat to the environment.

With over heating, you can’t shed heat fast enough, but with hypothermia
you are shedding heat too fast.

Heat is transferred via convection, radiation and
conduction. Convection is the heat warming the air and then air moving
away. Radiation is infrared light leaving the heated surface.
Conduction is heat transferring from one solid or liquid to another
solid or liquid.

Conduction is the fastest method. It only depends on the difference
of temperature between the two surfaces and the amount of contact.
Different materials have different speeds at which they transfer heat
from one part of the material to another.

You can buy plates of aluminum that are coated with a non-stick
surface. If you take one of these plates and run it under warm or hot
water it will quickly heat up. You can then put a piece of frozen
meat on the plate. The aluminum will transfer its heat into the
frozen meat. The rest of the aluminum will transfer its heat to the
area in contact with the frozen meat. Finally, the aluminum will pull
heat from the air to warm itself.

Thus a simple plate of aluminum can help you defrost a chunk of meat
much more rapidly than just leaving that hunk of meat on the counter
in a bowl.

The materials you cover yourself with work the same way. Some
materials transfer heat very slowly, some quickly. In the summer time
you want materials that transfer heat quickly to help keep yourself
cool. You want to allow air flow, to help evaporative cooling and to
use convection heat transfer to work better.

When it is cold, you need to keep your heat in. To do that you want
to wear insulating clothing. Insulating clothing normally works by
trapping pockets of air. Air is a great insulator IF it is not moving.
Thus good insulating clothing works by making small pockets of air
that don’t allow the air to move.

Wool and cotton will both work for a base, and they both have the ability
to trap small air pockets. Wool does it much more efficiently. In addition,
when wet, wool continues to be a good insulating material. Over this,
you need another later. Depending on the conditions, this can be a
pair of long johns or similar.

Ladies, if you wear a skirt or dress out, make sure you have something
to cover you completely in your gear. Yes, stockings help, leggings
help, but a pair of thermal long johns works much better. So have a pair
of pants to go with them.

Notice I didn’t say “slacks” for either sex. You want something that
covers you from the waist down and stops the wind.

Socks are a must. Yes, I know you don’t like to wear socks with your
open toed sandals, so make sure you have shoes or boots you can wear
that cover your toes and your socks. Carry socks in your gear if you
don’t wear socks normally.

I’ve seen women trying to make their way to their car in 6 inches of
snow while wearing open toe shoes with heels. Please just swap into
snow boots before you make that trek across the parking lot. What
happens if you slip and fall and are outside for more than 5 minutes?
What if your door lock is frozen and you have to stand around in the
snow while you get the car open.

You chest and abdomen need to be kept warm. While you will not be
happy if your limbs freeze, you are likely to live. If your core
temperature falls too low you will die. Keeping your core warm enough
is important. Make sure all the skin is covered. Use multiple
layers. Make sure it all fits well. Make sure it stops the wind.

I once rode my motorcycle 200 miles with the temperature below
freezing. I was comfortable. I had a heated vest on over my shirt
and under my insulated coat. I had on insulated pants. I had good
boots on. I had on insulated and heated gloves. The vest collar
covered my neck and supplied heat there and my head was encased in a
helmet that was insulating.

It wasn’t a problem.

I was wearing the same gear in a hurricane driven rain front in
temperatures that were around 45F. After 10 miles I returned to my
hotel and spent the night there. I was shivering badly as I got into
the hotel because the water had soaked through all of my gear and was
draining my body of heat faster than I could generate heat or my gear
could provide heat (evaporative cooling in action!).

Wear gloves. Protect your fingers. If it is really cold or you are
going to be out for any length of time, consider mittens. They have
less surface area and thus you will lose less heat. Mittens can be worn
over gloves, as well, to provide extra warmth in extreme weather situations.

Wear a hat when it is cold. While the amount of heat lost through the
head isn’t as much as it was once believed, it is still a fair
bit. Also, whatever body parts are uncovered are going to lose heat
quickly, including your head, hands, and feet. The percentage doesn’t
matter, on a practical level.

Your body is a heat engine. It turns fuel (food) into heat while
providing some movement. Most of that heat is generated in your
core. That heat is transferred to your blood. Your blood is then
pumped everywhere. As your blood passes through colder areas of your
body, the heat in your blood is removed.

The same way that a damp towel around your neck will cool you in the
summer, it will over cool you in the winter.

Your head holds a boatload of blood. Lots of blood moves up and down
your neck carrying heat out of your body and into your head. A hat
and scarf keep that heat where it is suppose to be.

A coat with a hood will also work to keep heat loss from your head and
neck down.

Don’t Burn

That big orange thing in the sky half the day is a nuclear reactor
pumping out all sorts of radiation. Fortunately for us, most of the
nasty nasty stuff is gone by the time it gets to us on the surface.

One thing is not gone: Infrared Radiation. This is the same stuff
that you use to cook a roast in your electric oven. It is the same
stuff they use to dry out food under a heat lamp in the cafeteria.

This stuff will cook you. Yes, it is cooking you. If you get lucky
and catch it in time, it just results in a 1st degree burn. It is
painful and it will peel and other nasty stuff. It’s not nice. It
doesn’t take that much more before you start to blister.
A nasty case of sunburn can be debilitating. Without enough water it
can lead to dehydration and death.

Cover up. Any movie you have seen where the person lost in the desert
starts shedding clothing is a situation where the person is heading
towards major heat issues.

It doesn’t have to be a bright sunny day, either. An overcast day
still lets through enough IR radiation to cause a burn, and we humans have
a tendancy to forget that when it isn’t sunglasses weather. Having a
good tan or dark skin likely won’t save you.

I went to high school in a southern beach community. I spent a lot of
time in shorts outside. I rode my bike every where. I hung out on the
beach. I tanned but didn’t burn.

For our senior trip we went to Europe, including the Greek Islands. We
spent about two hours on a cruise boat going to an island. I sat on
the deck in a chair talking to my friends. We got to the island and I
was uncomfortable.

As we got back on the boat and I went to sit down, I figured out why.
I had burned the front of my thighs. Through my tan. My legs swelled
up so much I could barely get into my pants for the next two days.

And I had on sunscreen.

That big orange thing in the sky is nothing to mess around with.

Don’t Freeze Yourself

Frostbite is nasty. Your flesh dies while it is still attached to
you. You might not feel it as it happens, but you will feel it when
it thaws. And most of the time the treatment is removal of the dead

Most people aren’t able to grow back fingers, toes and, noses.

Your extremities are the places where the least blood goes. They are
the places where the heat leaves the fastest. As the temperature of
your fingers and toes starts to go down, blood vessels contract,
limiting the amount of blood going to those areas. This protects your

The lack of blood means less heat to those areas. This increases the
speed at which your extremities freeze.

In addition, your extremities have the most surface area. This means
that the wind whipping past will pull more heat from those areas.

Make sure you protect your fingers with mittens or gloves that block
the wind. Make sure your ears, nose and face are covered and
protected. Make sure your toes are in nice warm socks in nice warm
shoes or boots

From You Out

So you are dressed to the nines to handle any situation. You’ve got
your gear to change into if you aren’t in the right gear when the
event starts.

The alarm sounds and it is go time. You grab your bag and head out
the door. You have everything you need…

Except for thought.

It is almost always the case, in the modern world, that you have darn
good shelter around you right now. Your vehicle is better suited to
blocking the wind than most shelters you can build for yourself.

All you need is a little bit of heat and you’ll do fine where you are.

Vehicle Shelter

In the summer, your vehicle just needs to have the windows open to
provide you with significant shelter. I.e. don’t turn it into an
oven. If you live in one of those places with sunshine, get yourself
one of the fold up reflective screens that fit in your windshield.

Make sure that you are out of direct sun light and wait it out. You
are in one of the best shelters ever designed by man. It has the
ability to move if required, it has the ability to protect you from
80MPH winds. It will keep the rain off you and the snow outside.

Even if your vehicle is damaged, it is likely easier to do something
to seal the vehicle than it is to build something.

To that end, you should have gear in your vehicle to make it safe for
an extended period of time. Think 3 or 4 days without moving.

First, make sure you have a some sort of sleeping bag. My actual
suggestion is three parts:

  • A USGI rain poncho.
  • A USGI poncho liner.
  • A Sleep System or good sleeping bag
  • A couple of large construction garbage bags with duct tape

The garbage bags plus tape can be used to seal a broken window. If
you can, use two layers, one on the inside and one on the outside.
Keep the rain, snow, and wind out.

A USGI poncho liner is light weight, compresses down, is easy to
carry. And freaking warm. It doesn’t do much to stop the wind, but
it does keep heat in. We have them by the dozens around the house.

There have been more than a few times when somebody will wrap one
around themselves when they are in a car and a little cold, or even just
sitting on the sofa.

If you need more protection, the liner ties into the poncho. Now you
wrap both around you. You can actually fold the poncho in half. They
have snaps that line up so you can snap close one short end and the
long end and create a sleeping bag. If not that, the poncho will stop
the wind making a combination system that is very warm.

The liner provides the insulation, and the poncho provides a wind break.

The next step up is a sleeping bag. If you have a complete sleep
system, make sure you know how to configure it for the temperature
range you need. Remember that a bivy sack will help hold temperature
and stop wind.

If you don’t have a sleep system, using the poncho will reduce air
flow, increasing temperature retention.

Finally, consider getting a hard wax candle to keep in your car. The
amount of heat that a candle puts out is pretty amazing in an enclosed
space. Eskimos heat their igloos with just an oil lamp. The heat from
that lamp plus their body heat is enough to cause the inner surface of
the snow to melt and reform as an ice covering.

And lastly, if you are stuck in your vehicle in a snow storm and want
to use the car’s heater, remember to make sure that the exhaust gases
aren’t coming into the cabin with you.

People have died of carbon monoxide poisoning by running their cars
when stuck during a snow storm.

USGI Poncho vs Commercial Poncho

Much of my gear is based on USGI issued equipment. If not issued then
compatible. My reasoning is that this gear is designed for harsh
environments and users that are less than kind to their equipment.

I’ve seen how soldiers treat issued equipment.

Most commercial equipment has different design goals. Generally, the
commercial design goals are price point and consumer needs. Some
developer working on the latest sleeping bag for a soldier looks at an
extra 4oz of weight and notes it is within current limits. The
general that signs off never carries it.

The civilian hauling his sleeping bag 20 miles is looking at weight
and comfort.

This means that military gear is normally heavier and stronger.

The USGI poncho has heavy duty snaps around the edges that allow the
edges to be connected in various configurations. It has grommet holes
for tying in a liner. It is longer. When folded in half it is big,
long enough to completely cover a 6ft+ man and close around him as a
sleeping bag. Two can be snapped together to form a pup tent like shelter.

I’ve seen commercial ponchos rip walking through the brush.

Finally, commercial gear is often in bright colors and if not bright
solid. Most military gear is dull in color or camouflage. No matter
your opinion of how good the current camouflage pattern is, it is much
better than nothing.

A friend told me that the ACU pattern was horrible. I had his daughter
move down hill about 20 meters and lay down in the brush. My friend
then turned around and could not spot her. As soon as she lifted her
head, exposing her face, he did spot her. This stuff works.

Shelter Where You Are

So the SHTF and you are ready to shelter. Unfortunately you are in
your office, 40 miles from home.

Consider sheltering right there. If you can get your gear from your
vehicle so much the better. But almost any building is going to be
better than being exposed. Sheltering in place will have one huge
down side.

All your co-workers that look to you for what to do will see you not
running out the door and decide to stay put with you.

I know that I had a couple of desk drawers that contained nothing of
interest when I got to the office. By the time I left, it took a cart
to bring everything out. There were a few MREs, some tetra packed
ready to eat things, a BooBoo kit (in the drawer I let people access),
a blow out kit in a different drawer, emergency blankets, a poncho
liner and poncho. A dozen bottles of water, a water filter, a small
camp stove.

I was more than prepared to stay a week or longer in an unheated

The technical term for my desk was a “cache”.

The Take Away

Where you are is likely a better place to shelter than anything you
are going to find “outside”. Stay in place if you can.

The next part of “shelter in place” covers staying in your home.

First: The Rule of Threes
Previous: Keep Breathing: Medical and Personal Hygiene Preparations
Next: Shelter In Place – Part B

Spread the love

By awa

15 thoughts on “Shelter In Place – Part A”
  1. After watching a season of ALONE, I have serious doubts about anyone who claims they can just grab there bag and easily survive by themselves.

    1. It depends on what they intend when they “survive by themselves.”

      I do know a guy that lived alone in the woods of the NE for a couple of years. But his survival depended on his ability to gather goods from within civilization. I.e. he would go into the city/town and beg for food and money on a regular basis and then buy things he needed.

      What he was able to do is to provide a shelter for himself that was good enough for winters in the NE. He was likely poaching some game but I can’t confirm that, and he wasn’t growing or collecting food.

      Most of the people I know that are of the “grab bag and survive in the woods” don’t have the skills, tools, nor goods to last more than a couple of weeks.

      I’ve hunted, I’ve trapped, I’ve grown my own food, I’ve butchered animals, I’ve built shelters from the things I carry with me into the woods, I’ve built structures that are “up to code”. I have more than a few skills that would assist me in surviving in the woods.

      I couldn’t do it. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything that needs to be done and I’m a social creature. I want my family with me.

      This is entirely different from back country hiking or heading out into the wilderness for a multi-week hunting trip in a canvas wall tent. Lots of people have been there and done that. But all of those extended backwoods trips start with carrying in supplies and equipment. Not something I have on my back.

  2. Woody nailed it.. around here there was some people “prepping” and such. The talk was always about “bugging out” to some out of the way place (owned by THEM of course) and setting up “camp”… Yea ok, Im gonna go to YOUR place and be YOUR slave to earn the right to stay there…. Nope. Im stayin right here where I have everything I need. You go live in the woods b bye…

    1. The next article is a continuation of shelter in place, focused around staying in your own home for shelter.

      The article after that is “bugging out”. Moving to shelter outside of your home. Hopefully that won’t be as long as my other articles but it doesn’t seem likely.

    2. This is one of the things I’ve tried to impress upon people I meet who want to “bug out” if something bad happens nearby, and I happen to live about 20 miles from some place that already has seen 2 terrorist attacks in my lifetime. I’ve determined it’s a logistical nightmare to attempt to “bug out” with sufficient materials to support 2.75 adults and 2 pets. There aren’t enough roads to support a large contingent of persons doing so, in an orderly fashion. Ergo assuming i’m still alive and we’re not all glowing in the dark, “bugging in” is a far better option. My shelter has the materials needed to sustain us potentially to the hope milestone, for better or for worse. I have studied my surroundings and have gamed out what i hope are the best ways to support and defend my shelter, that i know how. In short, y’all run, i’m staying put until the coast is clear enough to make an orderly departure, if the need arises.

  3. I’ve been enjoying this series.

    Not enough time in the day, exactly one of the reasons there were such big families back in the day when you had to be more self reliant!

    I never understood the bugging out if you didn’t physically need too; why would I leave my house, all of my tools and supplies, and every other potentially useful possession behind? Not to mention neighbors and family that can be just as essential to survival; you’re most likely to form a community/cooperative/mutual defense force with your neighbors if things get to that state.

  4. Long, long ago, far, far away, Mel Tappan (I think: coulda been Bruce Clayton) spoke to the bug out vs bug in decision. He noted that a small town likely has nearly everything you gonna need. Local truck farmers: food. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers? Shelter. Likely local wells: water. Medical? Mebbe a local “Memorial” hospital, local docs/nurses/lab staff/dentists.

    Rural folks hunt. There’s your neighborhood protection team.

    Did I miss anything?

    Boondocking is a strategy courting failure.

    1. @Reltney McFee: Must have been Bruce. I don’t remember Mel putting things that way. He did recommend already living in a small town before the SHTF, which would make you and your people Us instead of Them, though.

    2. It is fiction, but Jericho is a good series that illustrates just that point and get the mind to see the potential. Small town where they are basically self contained with everything they need for a bug in.

  5. Dear awa,

    Good post!!!

    You cover a lot of the fundamentals that your readers should heed and share with family and friends!!!

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on survival/prepping.

    Needless to say, …

    I would like to plug my efforts at “Prepper: Surviving the Tough Times Ahead.” You may buy it from a reputable Bookseller as an e-book, or read it for free at the blog then send the fine gentlemen the purchase price to keep Gunfree Zone going.

    Sincerely, Benedict Arnold

  6. In a less-than zombie apocalypse but still emergency situation, your vehicle is a lot easier for searchers to find than your body. Stay with your car. If you can make it more visible, do it.

    1. I have a Dodge minivan and it can’t carry all my needed “stuff”, like food/water/wife. I will survive right here or I take as many as I can with me to prepare for my arrival in the afterlife. 😉

  7. Late to the party on this one but thank you for the article. You explained a lot of the things I was taught to do as a kid on a construction crew but not told why or how it worked particularly with evaporative cooling.

    I particularly enjoyed the idea of caching at work and gave my locked cabinets a pat of solidarity.

  8. Re sunburn: beware of sun on snow. That can nearly double your exposure, from the combination of direct light and what reflects off the snow. The worst sunburn I ever got, by far, was as a teenager on vacation in the mountains, a day hike over snow fields in shorts. I was stuck in my tent for several days, and hurting badly for several more.

Only one rule: Don't be a dick.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.