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Simple shelter , the Wickiup, in a day  RSS feed

 
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When I lived on Orcas Island people were taking the curved lower limbs from cedar trees and making domes. The frame could be covered with free plastic sheeting from lumber yard dumpsters. One guy, App Applegate, crafted one into a cozy cabin for many years. He said he had 7 layers so a few tears in the plastic did not matter. It didn't leak. I liked that it was covered in leaves and sticks. No painting lol. It was so easy to heat.
 
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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I had one without heat.  It was like a greenhouse, and trapped flies, so I opened the top, for a vent, and had a smaller piece of plastic suspended over this gap with two more pieces of cedar.  This allowed it to ventilate and the bugs to follow the air current upwards.  I lived there for two summers on a tidal beach on Haida Gwaii in Northern B.C.
 
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I never lived in one, but I built many as a kid, and taught my kids to build one. Ours was not a dome (but same concept), a bough structure. In our case my wife and I wanted to get the kids out of the house, show them they could enjoy our wood lot in winter, and ended up building a shelter, starting a fire, heating water from a stream, and having hot chocolate. As a disclaimer the streams here are safe to drink, and kindling a fire on snow is 100% safe.

We had a baby so this was a bigger deal then just life as a single person, but these structures are very comfy. I used to spend a lot of time in mine as a kid because with a foot of snow on them, they were very warm, even in cold Maine winters.

This one was hastily made because young children have very short attention spans, but we accomplished our goal...get out there. A real one would be much more substantial and heavily laden with fir boughs.





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Roberto pokachinni
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In 2004, I spent 7 months with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in Boulder Utah.  We tramped around the canyons and mesas and mountains of South Central Utah, building a variety of primitive shelters, including wickiups that had no plastic... just logs and branches and boughs.  We also lived in caves, shelters made of our military ponchos, or slept out under the stars with a bough bed, or just on the sand.

I highly recommend that people try some overnight camping as Travis has done in his youth, and as he is showing his kids to do just for fun day play.  It's not only really fun, but it is a great skill to have under one's belt in the case of an emergency.   
 
Jeremy Baker
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I'll second that Roberto: great to hear folks like Travis and his family are connecting with Nature. Wow, that's fantastic Travis. Glad to hear your children can drink the free flowing water out in Maine. I miss dipping into the streams in Oregon. Everyone should have that experience.
Yeah, Roberto, the vented roof idea makes a lot of sense to me. For the all natural shelters was it hard to find enough materials? That experience in the canyons sounds sublime.
A logical variation of this simple structure is a stretched out Wickiup, the Hoophouse. I think I could build a decent Hoophouse in a day if the site was flat and all materials were at hand. I lived in a greenhouse for two months and really enjoyed it.
  Or another fun variation is Wickiups grouped and linked with tunnels? Like add-ons.
Oh, these Wickiup like structures were also in use for sweat lodges there on Orcas Island.
  I've wondered sometimes about the tendency towards the illusion of permanence. Why not compostable huts? Simply build a new one and grow a garden out of the old one.
 
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From my most recent camping trip.
2017-08-06-10.23.06_640a.jpg
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Wikiup
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Depending on the location, yes it was sometimes hard to find materials for shelters.  We did sleep in caves and stream side caverns in places where there were few materials.  We sometimes spent an hour gathering enough material to make a soft bed for inside a cave, or we didn't make a shelter at all, and just bedded down under the stars on a pad of leaves or pine needles.  I had one shelter fail me, in that I was alone and built it as well as I thought was needed, but then it rained and it did not have enough shingling effect.  It was pretty thick too, and looked like Travis' style, but with layers leaning down from both sides of the lean to with a small crawl in door.  It was a cold night.  The next day, you can bet that I piled on the material.  That was part of a three day solo event on a 28 day trip.

The one I lived in for two summers was basically a modified sweat lodge design.  It was very much like the sweat lodges that I had taken part in building, except my shelter was made of dead cedar bows, whereas the sweat lodges were made of fresh killed willows, and instead of doing concentric parallel circles around the structure for support, I did a spiral.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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There was also a permanent skills camp in a meadow area on Boulder Mountain.  There, as at the basecamp near the hamlet of Boulder, there were some shelters already built.  At the basecamp there was a wickiup made of logs, branches, and thickly laid on ponderosa pine needles (like about a meter/yard thick), there was also a pit house which is the traditional village dwelling for the area.  These were large structures in which a dozen or so people could sleep with a fire in the center.  I got to the survival school a month or so early.  It was still winter.  I lived in the wickiup at Base camp when there was regular snow on the ground and falling at night, sometimes with a fire and sometimes just with my down bag.  At the skills camp there were two such wickiup structures, and people were encouraged to build there own, or a lean to version out in the pine forest nearby.  The needle layer on the large wickiups needed replenishing every couple years.  We used a primitive pick up truck to do the task!    I imagine that it would take a long time to gather that much pine needles without a truck.    
 
Travis Johnson
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I learned how to build mine from a book the Maine Game Wardens used to give out to deer hunters called, "You Alone in the Maine Woods". They gave it away back in the 1980's, but is tough to find now. It was quite a resource and got me through boy scouts. I saw one a few years ago, but $3 for it...they gave them away, but now wished I had not been so cheap and grabbed it. If anyone sees one, I do recommend it.

In some ways childhood is short lived as there is only a few short years where such things as cabin building in the middle of a Maine Winter is considered fun, and instead a kid turns their attention to girls. But I did notice that the bough cabins I built (much better than the one pictured which was just conceptional for the kids to see), stayed up for years. Oh the boughs browned up come spring, but they could be refreshed easy enough, especially in Maine where Spruce and Fir rule. Most of the time falling logs took them out instead of rot.

If I was to build one today, I might improve upon it before winter by shoveling out an earthen pit, partly for food storage, but mostly to act as a cold sink so the inside would be warmer in which to reside. I never tried it, but i think that is what I might do. I might also shingle the inside of the cabin rather then rely 100% on boughs. At the time I did not know how to make shakes, but now... a good round or two of wood, some froe work, and it would easily make the cabin water tight with very little time and money.

One other thing...and while I know this might be controversial...is a system of construction that the Japanese used in pole construction, and that is using wire to make the connections. The tensile strength is incredible of wire, yet no need for forked sticks. Just lash together the connections. I did this by accident when one of my cabins was by a barbed wire fence. It might have been why my cabins lasted awhile too. I suppose baler twine that is biodegradable might be a better option for those that feel wire would take to long to rust away.

Honestly, I do not think people give the arched shape, nor the holding strength of saplings as much credit as they should. My farm in 2008 was practically built on saplings until I could get established enough to put in better fence posts, barns, and the like.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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The best book that I know on the subject is Bushcraft by Mors Kochanski
 
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instead of wire, I use poly bindertwine.   It lasts for years if kept out of direct sunlight. 

the light stuff for round bales, with 110# knot strength.

it is light, STRONG, and when cleanup comes, it burns to nothing with the rest of the debris we want to get rid off.  We burn all the burnable garbage in our last good fire, and the rest usually fills half a garbage bag to bring out.

Oh, and it is CHEAP.  I can't tell you how many yards of poly rope I've had to discard due to untieable knots.  With poly twine, who cares.  one ball is 14,000 feet.  Need stronger?  double/triple it up.
one strand can hold a 10x12 tarp in any wind.  The tarp gives out before the twine.

I hate wire for the fact that if it ever comes loose and falls, it becomes a tripping hazard and a nuisance.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Yes bailing twine is a great asset.  I often get waste twine from a local sheep farmer.  I use it for many tasks.  And I can attest to it being much more resilient than the modern tarps that it is used to string up.   A friend of mine said that when he was a teen he and some friends used to make tree forts using waste baling twine and bungee cords, with a tarp roof.  He would attach a bungee cord to a tree with a bunch of twine, and then, from the other end, attach twine and go to another tree with a similar bungee cord anchor.  Several trees could be involved, and a bunch of branches, and once you have a platform enough to move back and forth between the trees (which could be accomplished quick with a piece of plywood or boards with some holes drilled in it), then the stringing becomes very easy.  It's kind of like a hammock, or a net when it's built, and it can be as dense or loose as you like it, so long as you feel safe.     The whole thing flexed in the wind, with the trees because of the bungee cords.  Sounds pretty cool to me.
 
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