Guide: Heat Your Survival Shelter Without an Indoor Fire

Brace yourselves, winter is coming!

Sleeping in a survival shelter is all fun and games until the winter comes. In those difficult weather conditions, you will have to find a way to heat your survival shelter. Otherwise, a slow and painful death awaits you!

The easy approach to keep yourself warm would be to build a fire pit inside your shelter. I do not recommend this method for the following reasons:

  • Most survival shelters are made out of flammable materials, so your cozy night might end up faster than expected.
  • Unless you build a chimney, the smoke will accumulate in the shelter. According to, this is bad news for your health since the fine particles in the smoke can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases.
  • As you are making a fire in a confined space, it can be hard to get enough oxygen into it.

Therefore, it is wiser to use either hot rocks or a fire screen to heat your shelter.

Hot rocks: the easy way

Using hot rocks is great to safely heat your shelter.

The principle of this technique is straightforward: bury some hot rocks in a hole. The heat stored in them will keep your shelter warm for hours. Although it seems very easy, there are still some things to consider when implementing this heating system.

First things first, find several football-sized rocks. But do not pick submerged rocks from creeks or rivers, because if the rock is wet, the cooking process will turn the moisture to steam and put pressure on the rock, forcing shards of it to break off rapidly.

Once you have found your rocks, it depends on the situation:

  • If you want to heat the entire shelter, then dig a hole in the work area.
  • If you are about to go to sleep, you want to concentrate as much heat as possible where you will be sleeping. So you should remove the bedding materials and dig a trench in the sleeping area.

In both cases, the hole must be big enough to hold the football-sized rocks. However, you do not want the heat to spread in the soil, so make sure the holes are not too deep.

After that, place your rocks on the fire for at least one hour. Once they are as hot as possible, remove them carefully with a stick and bury the hot rocks in the hole. When covering with soil, make sure it does not contain dry dead plants as it could catch fire.

Pro tip: If you have a shovel, you can also transfer the coals in your hole.

And for the final touch, shave some small branches off of evergreen or conifer trees. Place those evergreen boughs on top of your warm ground to ensure decent isolation and maximum comfort.

Fire screen: a permanent installation

This technique is a little more elaborate: it consists of building a wooden screen near your campfire so as to reflect the heat towards you (as shown in the illustration below). In this way, you should be able to focus most of the heat on the entrance of your shelter.

A great way to heat your survival shelter.
This is how your fire screen should work.

Even though it takes some time to set up the fire screen, this installation is permanent and very effective. So it is definitely worth the effort if you have to spend a few nights in your shelter. Follow these instructions to build a robust fire screen:

  1. Find two robust and long logs. They will be used to keep the whole structure in place.
  2. Dig two holes at a safe distance from the fire. Their depth should be approximately a quarter of the height of your bearing logs.
  3. Fill the base of the two holes with about an inch of gravel. This will aid soil drainage and ensure that the foot of the bearing logs will not dry rot.
  4. Plant one bearing log in each hole. Do not forget to compact the soil tightly as you go.
  5. Finally, attach a bunch of branches between the two bearing logs. Make sure the fire screen does not let air through.

And for the final touch, set up a fire ready to get going all night long. To do this, I recommend our guide: how to keep a fire burning for hours.

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Now that you know all the secrets to heat your shelter, this is the last time you have to go through a cold and painful night!

Let me know in the comments if you had any problems heating your survival shelter and if you had a warm night.

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