When it comes to survival, the choice of where to build your shelter can be as critical as finding water or food. The right location enhances your shelter’s effectiveness, providing warmth, safety, and a base to await rescue or plan your next move. Inspired by the 5 Ws of survival with regard to shelter site selection – wildlife, water, weather, wood, and widow-makers – here’s how to choose the best site for your survival shelter.

Site Selection with the Grey Bearded Green Beret, Josh Enyart.

Wildlife: Be Away From

The first W emphasises the importance of setting up camp away from wildlife. While the wilderness is home to various animals, proximity to them can lead to dangerous encounters. Predators or even seemingly harmless animals can pose threats, either directly through aggression or indirectly by attracting other predators. Selecting a site away from animal trails, nests, or signs of feeding can reduce the risk of unwanted encounters.


Water: Be Near To

Water is life, especially in a survival situation. When choosing a shelter site, ensure you’re close enough to a water source like a stream or lake. However, too close, and you risk flooding or attracting animals. A general rule is to stay within a reasonable distance—close enough for easy access but far enough to avoid the cons of being too near.


Weather: Wind, Be Away From

Weather, particularly wind, plays a significant role in shelter site selection. Building a shelter in a spot shielded from the wind can prevent it from being blown away and reduce the chill factor, helping you retain warmth. Look for natural windbreakers like rock formations, hills, or dense tree lines. However, ensure the spot is not a wind tunnel, where two natural formations could channel the wind directly towards you.


Wood: Be Near To

Wood is an essential resource for building the shelter itself and for firewood. Being near a supply of deadwood allows you to build and maintain a fire for warmth, cooking, and signalling without expending too much energy on gathering fuel. However, ensure you’re not depleting the area of resources or damaging the environment unnecessarily.


Widow-Makers: Be Away From Deadfall Trees

Lastly, the term ‘widow-makers’ refers to deadfall trees or hanging branches that can fall without warning. Avoid building your shelter underneath or near these hazards, as they can cause serious injury or death. Inspect the site for signs of dead trees, leaning trunks, or loose branches overhead, and choose a safer spot to set up camp.


Selecting a site for your shelter is a decision that should not be taken lightly. By considering the 5 Ws – staying away from wildlife, weather and widow-makers, being near water and wood – you can significantly increase your shelter’s effectiveness and your chances of survival. This applies to all site selection, whether it be for a tent or a survival shelter. Remember, the goal is not just to endure but to thrive in the wilderness until you can return to safety.


This guide is a general overview, and the specifics may vary based on your environment, situation, and survival skills. Always prioritise your safety and the preservation of the environment in your decisions.