Friday, April 04, 2008

The Body Hollow

Every since reading Practical Primitive's article about the body hollow shelter, I've wanted to build one. Sitting in the backyard one day not long ago I gazed upon the large pile of tree branches given to us by our neighbor. Then I glanced at the yard composed of sand. The words "build a shelter" popped into my head.

In the desert of the southwest there are few trees. Those that are around don't have leaves suitable to build a shelter like the debris hut. So one way to make a shelter is to dig and make it underground. The body hollow is basically half underground and half above ground.

For excellent instructions on how to build one, go to the link in the first paragraph. It has a great series of pictures. I won't try to recreate that here, but I'll tell you my experience.

I used a shovel to dig out the trench. My neighbor thought I was digging a grave until I explained what I was doing. Since the soil was pretty soft and I didn't have to dig very deep, this didn't take too long. The trench is the length of my body.

I filled the trench about half full with debris (leaves, needles and other detritus), then laid sticks across the trench. After that I started adding more debris on top. I made a little A-frame at the entrance to make it easier to crawl into.

I scrounged around every corner of the property to find debris. I even crossed the street to a vacant property and stole a binful of leaves. I laid sticks on top to keep them from blowing away. In front of the entrance is a ball of pine needles to plug up the doorway after crawling in.

The shelter should really have another foot of debris on top of it but I just didn't have the resources for that without opening a leaf raking business. If I could have I would also have filled the inside up so that I'd have to burrow in. I tried to sleep in it two nights. Both nights I made it through about 3 hours before bailing. The first night it was 47 degrees when I crawled out. Inside the shelter I was a little cold, but I could have toughed it out if I had to. It was definitely warmer than 47. At least the bedding was comfortable to sleep on.

Since I don't plan to gather more debris, I'm going to wait till the weather gets warmer before I try again. I think I could do mid-50s. If I were to do it again I'd probably try to lower the roof over my legs to make less air space for my body to have to heat up.

3 comments: said...

Excellent! Thank you for sharing this shelter building method with us.

The shelter might be an excellent way to keep cool in very hot sunny conditions too, though it my area that is rarely a problem. The shelter sure has potential for being very versatile in a variety of conditions using available materials.

fooiemcgoo said...


i would have liked this story if when your neighbor asked if you were digging a grave, you would have said "yes, the kind that nosey neighbors fit into"

cool post. honestly, i wondered how to make a shelter in the desert after i watched surviorman. he just slept under trees and whatnot. i imagine it isn't worth the effort if you are trying to travel.

Chavo said...

"When I was a boy I dug a hole in the lawn
six feet deep, six feet long
Made it like a grave, and when I lay inside
I could see the sky above me
I could watch the clouds roll by"

---Charlie Parr, Posessed By The Devil