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How to make a Wikiup survival shelter

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By Clint Jivoin, Living Ready

A wikiup is essentially a “teepee” style shelter made with forest debris. There are other less time-consuming primitive shelters that you can make in a pinch. However, in a longer term survival scenario in colder weather, the wikiup is king for an important reason: it allows the use of a fire inside the shelter.

Note that no tools are need to make this survival shelter. This makes it ideal for a scenario where you may have been separated from your survival gear.

Wikiup Step 1: Prep the Space

Start by clearing the forest floor where the wikiup will be built. Don’t throw those sticks and leaves too far, as they will be used later.

Wikiup Step 2: Make a Tripod

You then need to find three main support poles. These need to be strong, as they will be bearing a lot of weight by the end of this build.

You may choose to secure these poles together with a tripod lashing, although it is not necessary. I like to use poles with a “Y” shape on one end so that they can be locked together and spread apart at the bottoms to make the basic tripod for the survival shelter.

Wikiup Step 3: Add More Poles

Once the tripod is in place, continue to place straight poles around the circumference of the shelter. Place the poles as close to one another as you feel necessary, but don’t worry about closing all the gaps. They’ll be filled in soon enough.

Wikiup Step 4: Add Insulation

By this point your shelter will start to look like a home. However, the real work is about to begin.

The next objective is to get insulation/shingles installed. For that you will be using forest debris.

This is no different than putting shingles on a house. Start at the bottom and work your way up. The same is true with any primitive shelter. This allows the survival shelter to properly shred rain. If you get this wrong you may not get another chance to correct it.

Continue to pile leaves, pine needles and any other debris in the area to the wikiup. The more insulation added, the more dead air space that can be trapped and ultimately the warmer the inside of the shelter will become.

Wikiup shelter

A wikiup shelter is at least a five- to six-hour project, even taking up an entire day, and requires regular resupply of leaves. Remember to gather debris farther away from the build site and work your way in for less traveling in the later stages. 

Sleeping in the Wikiup

Once a sufficient amount of insulation and rain protection is installed, it’s time to think about the sleeping options for this shelter.

For me, provided that I don’t have any modern gear, I would opt for a post bed. It’s as simple as it gets. You first place a pole to one side of the wikiup (making sure to give yourself enough room to lay comfortably), and then you fill the cavity with the driest debris you can find.

The pole you place on the edge of the bed with help keep the leaves in places as you add to your bed, and also keep them away from the fire at night. I recommend adding as much debris as you can, then laying down on top of them repeatedly to condense everything into a thick mattress. This will keep you off the cold ground.

The last step is to gather firewood and bust out that bow drill kit, or ferro rod if you were prepared, and smoke the creepy crawlies out of the shelter before laying down for the night.

I have spent a lot of time over the years staying in wikiups and they are extremely comfortable, even on the coldest winter nights.


Be prepared. Knowledge is easy to carry. Visit Living Ready Online!

Clint Jivoin is an instructor at the Willow Haven Outdoor survival school alongside Creek Stewart. In addition to teaching others about survival skills, he’s an accomplished knife designer and musician. His website is



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