shelter building

instructional video

Two knots and a tarp...

I've put a lot of thought and trial into wilderness shelter building. I love lean-to shelters and wickiups and debris shelters, but the truth is they take a lot of time and even more energy. And there are just going to be some terrains where they are not feasible. That doesn't mean my boys and I haven't made them and enjoyed every minute of it. But in a pinch it's hard to beat a quick tarp shelter. In this video I show how to teach kids one of the quickest ways to put up a shelter and it only takes two knots and a tarp. 

This is the first in a series of videos I'll be doing about teaching kids essential outdoor skills. I'd love to hear what you are teaching your kids and what you want them to learn! Please leave a comment to let me know. 

When I teach my kids a new knot we always tie it several times in a row. Then in a hour we tie it again. Then the next day we tie it again. The absolute best way to make them permanent in your mind is to practice. That's why I created the Colter Co. Know Your Knots practice rope kit. Two high quality climbing ropes make knot tying a pleasure and makes the learning process easier. The knot guide comes in the form of one of our Know Your Knot bandanas. It has 16 essential knots AND serves all the purposes of a bandana at the same time. If you've got a young one picking up the skill of knot tying, this is a good way to get them excited and help them make their skills permanent. 

instructional article

Home Away from Home


I started a new tradition this year. I took each of my sons on overnight campouts, individually. Before planning each trip I asked them what they wanted to learn on the outing. My oldest son said he wanted to build a shelter. Challenge accepted. So I picked a nice, thickly forested little lake and we hiked in. I didn't realize until we got to the area, but camp fires are never allowed in this area. That was fine for us, since it's August and I was planning on there being at least a temporary fire ban. This permanent fire ban ended up being a huge advantage. The forest floor in that area is covered in dead branches and small trees that in most other places would have been gathered for firewood as soon as it fell. So we had more than enough material to work with! We started out by finding the perfect spot. We found a nice flatish area at the center of a ridge near the middle of the slope. I feel confident there will be minimal water run off that pools up there during a downpour. It's also just a stones throw away from a bubbling spring pouring ice cold water down the slope. It was heaven. 

The first step was to decide design. We found a newly dead standing tree that served as our vertical support. We decided on a two sided lean-to. We lashed a main support beam about 14 feet long to the standing tree and started leaning 3" diameter longs against that for the structure. Another reason we were building in that spot is because it was about 30 feet away from a giant windfall cedar. I cut the bark off in long, wide strips and laid that over the structure. We worked for about 2 hours on the thing and we're quite happy with it as a fair weather shelter. We plan on returning and adding several more layers of material to make it a stronger option during rain. We learned a lot from this exercise. First of all, how great it is to be able to just throw a tarp over a rope to make a lean-to. If you've got one...