When considering building shelters in the desert, or any really hot climate for that matter, we need to think of layers and air flow. Desert temperatures are really high, so special techniques must be used to reduce it. Just about any great desert shelter is made from two different layers that are open between them. The top layer will shade the bottom layer and reduce the UVs that heat the bottom layer. There is also a gap between the two layers to allow sufficient ventilation.
The open desert shelter is built by finding materials (such as rocks, boots, or bags) to hold the first tarp or poncho layer about two feet above the ground, while the area below may or may not be dug down some. By digging we cool temperatures more. A second layer is added about 4-5 inches above the first using whatever material is available. My go-to method of suspending things in the air is usually a stick, with a paracord stability line attached to keep everything upright, but that may not be possible, so we think critically and find any material that can do the job for us. I think this type of shelter is better suited for the heat, but not so much for the cold.
In Modern Survival, all of the survival tips point everyone to the idea that one of the best ways to keep a home cool in the heat is to place your home in the ground. There is tons of proof behind this. It will keep your home 10s of degrees cooler with NO additional cooling. It also has the reverse effect during the cold days.
In the desert, this same tempering of the temperature can be used for shelters. Many deserts are scorching hot during the day and freezing cold at night. A great way to keep the extremes away is a Below Ground Desert Shelter. This is basically a 20-30 inch deep trench dug into the ground with only one access point. It is covered with a poncho liner or tarp and then a 10-15 in gap again before the next layer of poncho or tarp. Because the air in this layer is only open on one side, there is less air movement, therefore will keep you warmer at night. You will anchor the sides of the tarp down with sand on three sides.
Big advantage is that these shelters can be built quickly since two tarps are held by piling a bunch of materials up to hold them.
These shelters can also teach us some techniques for our homes. What about someone living in a poorly insulated trailer in the south. One way to keep the house 20 degrees cooler is to build basically a wall less barn around the home where the roof shades it from sun and the wind can get between the structures and cool the air off keeping the trailer that much cooler. It is a great concept that has been lost to modern home design.
If ever in the desert, remember that you need to keep fluid levels high, and keep cool. You want to keep yourself shaded several hours before night because you DO NOT want to be sweating during a cold desert night. Keep these tips in your mind, so you always have these tools in your survival toolbag.
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