Seaside Camping: Basic Shelter and Site Selection

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Perhaps you’ve only planned for a casual seaside day hike, but someone in your party has become injured or sick. Or maybe you’re out alone on a remote beach hike, and you’ve become lost. When you’re unable to call for assistance or get home before dark, seaside survival skills and your ability to improvise can help you endure a potentially frightening or dangerous experience. If you’re out on a seaside hike and decide that you need to sleep out for the night, you’ll need to choose a campsite and build a shelter that will keep you safe and warm.

Seaside Camping: Basic Shelter and Site Selection

If you need to make a decision to establish a seaside campsite, make the decision when you still have enough daylight to construct the shelter in a safe location. If you are walking along a rocky or sandy beach, find a place that is far enough from the shore that you won’t be affected by changing tides, which are the rise and fall of sea levels that occur at different times throughout the day. Look inland for natural shelters, such as a cluster of trees, shrubs, or rocks to help protect you from the elements.

Before choosing your site, evaluate other general campsite selection considerations such as size of location, safety from animals, protection from insects, and potential for rescue. Choose a site that will be just big enough for you to sleep comfortably, as a smaller shelter will often have more potential for helping you retain essential body heat when it becomes cold at night.

If you are able to find a site that includes some natural shelter, such as trees, shrubs, or rocks, then you will still need to fortify the shelter and make it suitable for a night’s rest.

If you find a substantial cluster of trees, you may have enough resources to build your seaside shelter much like common woodland survival shelters, which include natural debris shelters and dugout shelters.

Seaside Camping: Debris and Trench-Style Shelters

If you choose to construct a natural debris shelter, choose a long branch or ridgepole as the base of your structure. Lay it lengthwise along the ground, and prop one end up on a stack of rocks so that it angles upward. Now, prop up branches and other debris from the ground onto the ridgepole in a perpendicular manner until you have created a shelter with an entrance hole where you have secured the pole to the rock pile. Make sure that you choose a ridgepole that is longer than you are tall, and secure it onto the rock pile so that it is high enough for you to crawl underneath.

If you are unable to find trees, but you are able to find driftwood, rocks, and grasses, then you can make a dugout-style trench shelter on a beach. Choose an area that’s above the high water mark, and collect driftwood and other natural materials to help fortify the shelter. Dig out a trench that’s slightly larger than the size of your body, depositing the sand you dig out on the sides of the trench to create a mound around it on three sides, leaving an area for an entrance. Then lay the driftwood across the top of the trench mound to form the framework of a roof. If available, use rocks to help secure the roof. Collect grasses to put on top of the driftwood for a more insulated roof, and add grasses to the interior of the shelter for insulation.

If you have any waterproof clothing or a tarp with you, you can also use these items to help keep you warm and dry. Put a tarp on top of the shelter’s roof, and secure it in place with rocks or other debris. If you are cold, avoid hypothermia and avoid sleeping on wet, cold sand by lining the bed of your shelter with grasses or a waterproof jacket, but make sure that you also have enough insulating material on your body and inside of your shelter to help keep you warm.
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