We recently posted an article asking if your child would be found alive if they were stranded outside. That led to a question of what situations would be best to stay where you are and what situations would you be best served by leaving the area. In most cases, you’re better off staying where you are rather than going off somewhere else. For those of you who don’t know my other posts on this site, I’m an active member of a Search and Rescue team in the Pacific Northwest, and I have a lot of experience in what’s effective at outdoor survival and being found.

Sometimes not doing anything is your best chance at getting out of a hairy situation alive. Several factors may influence the decision to stay put. You may be lost in an area you are not familiar with. You may not have reliable navigation. It may look like bad weather is coming in. If any of these are true, sheltering in place may be your best option for making it through the night and being rescued.

A lost person may panic and try to search for a way out of the wilderness in some way that makes sense to them. They may try to go uphill, downhill, upstream or downstream. In a panicky situation they may travel in any direction they believe carries even the slightest chance of getting back to civilization. But if you’re up a creek without a paddle, or up a trail without a compass, roaming around could only worsen your situation, and decrease your chances of being found and rescued. Your rescuers may have no idea which direction you went in, and therefore no direction on where to start looking.

Search teams work with your point last seen (where someone last had contact with you) and your last known point (determined by specific clues collected during the search). Deviating from where you currently stand without knowing where you are going will only increase the time it takes for teams to locate you. If you have a map, compass, are uninjured and have the means to endure the elements, then you will likely be able to make your way back without issue. But if you are lacking proper navigation and survival gear or are injured, your best option for survival and rescue is to hunker down. Wandering further will only increase your chances of being exposed to harsh elements. That exposure will lead to hypothermia, which will take a toll on your mobility and judgement.

You will need to establish some kind of shelter to protect yourself from the elements in your current position. An A-frame type shelter with branches, leaves and pine bows stacked over the sides can shield you from moderate wind and rain. And that’s just if you don’t have any equipment with you whatsoever. Having something as simple as a mylar blanket will drastically increase your odds of staying warm and dry. Add a knife and paracord and you have many ways to make a simple but durable shelter that will help you ward off hypothermia. The ability to build and sustain a fire further increases your odds and also serves as a signaling tool.

If you are in a position that is too dangerous to shelter in, move as short a distance as possible to take cover, and leave some kind of sign for rescuers indicating your direction. For example, make an arrow with sticks or rocks. Use whatever is available to tell people you are still alive and not far away.

The best way to avoid this situation altogether is to be both mentally and physically prepared. Know the area you are going to and know the weather forecast for the next 24 hours. Be sure to pack the essential items for outdoor activities, and enough food and water to last longer than you intend to be outdoors.

When it comes to dedicated survival kits, there are a number of options that are compact and lightweight for people who want simple shelter, fire and signaling solutions. You can also assemble your own from preferred components. As long as you don’t go without the essentials you’ll be able to go out and back safely. But remember, when things turn bad, there is no shame in making the choice to hunker down, stay warm and ensure your safety.

I’ve been having survival style dreams lately, where I’ve been in the woods in the snow and looking for a place to shelter. In another dream I was trying to to skin a squirrel to try and make a blanket. I think it’s because we’ve been having snow and ice storms lately, and while I’ve been keeping my home woodstove pumping, it still gets cold in the bedroom at night.

It got me to thinking, what would the ideal emergency shelter be like? I have emergency supplies in my home and in my car, of course. But I’m not lucky enough to have a bug-out shelter. I do have ideas for what would make a good one though. It’s a little embarrassing how much thought I’ve put into this, but here goes.

1. The building material.
First, I’d have a separate structure away from my home, like a large garage or tool shed. From the outside it would look like any normal garage or tool shed. But it would be built out of ICF. It’s a form of concrete construction I just discovered. ICFs are hurricane-resistant, fire-resistant, bullet-proof and termite-resistant.

2. The hidden wall.
Inside, it would look just like a normal garage or tool shed. Except I’d have a hidden wall that was , oh, a foot and a half in width, against the back wall, so it wasn’t obvious. I’d have a hinged door so I could open the hidden wall, but I’d have tall shelving units in just the right place to cover the hinges and the latch. No one would know it was there. Inside, I would stash my water cubes, seeds, ammo, guns and 25-year-shelf-life food.

3. Shuttered windows
I’d have windows with protective, armored shutters both inside and out. I’d have a crank on the inside of the shed so I could open and close the shutters on the outside from inside the shed.

4. The periscope
I really think this is my best idea yet. I realized that with the shutters closed, there wouldn’t be much of a way to see outside. I’d want to know if the National Guard was outside, or if it was just a band of gangsters, before I opened the dang door. And I’d want to be able to see all around the house, and perhaps some distance away as well.

To do this, I’d install a ladder that was similar to a library ladder that could roll along a track. When not in use, the ladder would be tucked away behind a panel. When I needed it, I’d roll it out and climb up it into the “loft” or ceiling area of the shed. I’d have a false ceiling reinforced so I could walk on it, and I’d install a periscope, like in a submarine, with a chair that swiveled, so I could see in 360 degrees around my shed. I’d use the extra space up there for more storage of survival gear.

5. I’d have a woodstove.
I’d probably only burn wood at night, so no one could see the smoke, but I’d definitely have a wood stove and lots and lots of wood. More on that later.

6. Warm clothes and boots.
Inside the shed I’d have a hook for a down coat, nice warm boots, hat and gloves that just stayed in there all the time. If I ever needed to lock myself in the shed they would be there.

7. Emergency bed.
I would also stash a good down blanket in a bag in the shed, along with a blow-up mattress.

8. Basic items
Of course, there would be some basics already in the shed, like solar lights, a solar panel, flahlights, a radio and stuff like that. Also, towels and some extra clothes. I’d hopefully be able to get some things from the house, like books or a deck of cards to pass the time. But if I felt like I wouldn’t be able to, I’d keep a stash of reading material or other items to pass time in the shed as well.

9. Access to outside.
If it’s snowing and for some reason it snowed enough that I was snowed in, I’d want to keep the snow undisturbed. I don’t want someone walking by my shed to see that I’ve shoveled the walk. I imagine a large porch and overhang on the backside of the shed, to keep some of the snow from piling up right against the shed. I want to be able to walk outside a little.

10. Access to wood.
A side door from inside the shed would connect by a covered and walled in walkway to a large shed filled with as much wood as I could. This would allow me to walk out of the shed and into the wood room without opening any outside doors or walking in snow, so no one would see footprints.

11. The toilet.
I’d have a composting toilet installed in the wood room, along with a backup supply of the microbe juice that makes the toilets work. If nothing else, a few 5-gallon buckets would probably be ok too.

I know some of you out there have thought about your dream shelter as much as I have. Some of you probably designed your shelters even better than what I’ve imagined. What did I forget? Is the periscope realistic or a stupid idea? Tell me in the comments what the ideal emergency shelter would be like.