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Debris Tips

Ah, Debris huts. Well, I've slept in 'em many times with many different variations. Some simple, basic rules:

  1. It usually takes a couple of nights to work out the kinks (i.e. find and fill all the nasty little draft holes, water pathways etc.)
  2. There is usually always something that will work in a pinch if oak leaves or the equivalent aren't available, but there are exceptions as far as time of year and locations)
  3. They can indeed keep you dry in a drenching rain storm and will keep you warm if you build it right.
  4. It does take considerably more time to build a good one than 1/2 hour (although there are folks that claim it can be done in this time). Usually takes me about 3.

Other things that I have learned and tricks that help are:

If you are in an area where there is not a lot of good insulating material, a layers of sticks followed by smaller layers of what debris is available improves the insulating capacity of the materials you do have.
Best Insulation
Oak leaves or grass (preferably hollow stemmed) make the best insulation hands down! Followed by other types of hardwood leaves with pine needles taking a distant last place.
Other Material
Other materials will work in a pinch. I have slept in a debris insulated with sphagnum moss and small layers of leaves, sticks and pine needles. I was warm with a light shirt on, but then the temp. never dipped to far below 60F that night. I did take the precaution of covering the moss with slabs of birch bark to elevate the sponging (and thus drenching action). I stayed dry and warm through a drenching downpour that soaked other people in tents. Another material that probably would work as a supplemental material in a pinch would probably be dried cattail leaves. I personally have not tried this, though.
No Debris Available
There are times when there is simply nothing available to insulate with, or at least very little. A stint spent in the Wind River Range in Wyoming required Wickiup type shelters and fires. There just was nothing but sparse grass and very sparse and small evergreen needles. We found ample supplies of dead, punky wood that seemed to work adequately for a Wickiup, but I just couldn't imagine trying a debris hut. Maybe if it was stuffed with live pine branches. Although, it didn't look to inviting at the time.
Size is critical. Think very cozy sleeping bag, not tent. If you have an aversion to cramped spaces this is definitely not the shelter for you. A good door is important in most instances. I keep my opening very small (just barely big enough to crawl in) and usually use a combination of a debris plug and a shirt or jacket if I have one.

My cold record is 21F with a light shirt and a sweat shirt on. However there were very irritating mini drafts that needed to be plugged. I have never used debris that was already wet. I would imagine that using the layering technique I described above you could create enough dead air space to keep you from freezing to death. I think I would try it if getting a friction fire going was out of the question, however if I had other options I can't imagine I wouldn't take them. I have friends that claim they slept in these things naked in temperatures in the teens and were hot. One friend had a woven grass "sleeping bag" inside one at 20 degrees and had to come out he was so hot. He says he slept on the ground then with only the grass bag and was warm. I wasn't there to see it, so I can't verify it.

Mark Zanoni