Shelter: Why Tents Suck – Pt II – Siting & Effective Knots

UPDATE:  The Pro Knot Guide Card Set mentioned below at about $10 can be had here for less than $5….it’s a no brainer, and a superb item to have with you at all times.

In Part I, we looked at why tarp shelters are more effective in a survivalist or NPT scenario (you are hauling every thing on your back – every. thing.) than a tent would be for various reasons, not the least of which is the inability to see (or in some cases, significantly reduced ability to hear ) what’s outside the tent and that the tent will retain condensation (moisture), which may not be good for the individual, especially in winter.

You might want to conduct an objective evaluation before deciding that a tent is better and adding another 5 or 10 pounds (let alone the bulk) to your ruck:  How far can you hump your ruck?  Add in your rifle, harness/vest, water, chow, and pack, chances are that you’re not going to be able to hump more than 70 pounds total load (all of that combined) very far if you’re not practicing and doing your PT and carrying extra body mass you don’t need.

So, be honest, take stock, and first, cull your ruck to the lightest, most durable items you need, in the minimum amount, weigh it, and start doing ruck walks with it along with other forms of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.  You’ll be glad you did.  Our good friend, JC Dodge provides excellent advice on rucking here.   As the picture illustrates, there’s more than one way to get your PT and rucking in!

JC dodge ruck

We also looked at the various types that are available and some of their advantages such as speed of set up and tear-down and configuration options.  Before we go on, something needs to be mentioned on tents:  They are great for camping or semi-permanent base camps when you have the people or capability to haul all the things you might want, however, we are focusing only on scenarios where you are not going to be in one spot very long at all.  The situation may or may not be one where you are concealing yourself and team.

In this installment, we’re going to start with siting, or ‘picking a spot’ for your shelter.  It’s simple, really.  Level as possible, higher ground with good drainage somewhat out of the wind, and at least 30 to 50 meters away from any water source and concealed from casual view if at all possible (if the ground isn’t level (basically an incline), try to ensure you choose a place that once you’re set up, your head will be higher than your feet.  Makes for more comfortable rest).

Not a tall order, really, except when the terrain isn’t working with you, right?

You can mitigate the frustration to some degree by having a topographical map or aerial photograph and doing a bit of map study along whatever route you might be taking.  This, obviously, means that your ability to read a map and navigate using terrain association and dead reckoning will have an impact on your shelter siting.  If you don’t know land navigation, this is more motivation to learn.  You don’t want to be in a depression or a drainage swale should you run into some significant rain fall.


When you decide to set your shelter (or ‘hootch’) up, you want to ensure the open side, that is the side that you will basically enter/exit from, is downwind.  The closed side of the hootch is pointed at the predominant wind direction.  In my AO, that’s West to Southwest, so typically, depending on where I’m training, I point my hootch West Southwest and call it good unless there’s a storm coming from a different direction that’s going to hit me before I get back on the trail.   Pointing the hootch into the wind keeps eveyrthing you don’t want out – rain, snow, smoke, etc, and acts as a wind break which will help you to stay warm and rest more quickly.  Remember, water-soaked clothing robs you of necessary body heat.  It’s also bad for things like your feet.  Dry is your friend, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in winter, spring, summer, or fall.  Same principles apply.  The only difference being that in winter, if you have significant snow like we do, you’ll want to dig a snow trench down to ground level if you can, and make it big enough to sleep in and have room to move around.  Your tarp can then be set lower to the snow level, depending on your height and how much room you need/want, but other than that, all the principles are the same year round for setting your hootch up.

Here’s a couple of images of student hootches.

The one immediately below was the first night’s attempt (set up after dark).  The second night it was much improved.  Basically, he was able to keep the wind off him which kept him much warmer than if he had not put his hootch up.

Deep Freeze 5

This was another first attempt, and was put up during a semi-heavy rain.  It was made from a cheaper patterned tarp using 550 cord for a ridge-line and set up more like a pup tent.

Class 8

Next are the knots we use in conjunction with bungee cords as a light weight supplement to 550 cord.  A four pack of these do nicely, if you decide to add bungee cords to your set up (remembering, of course, that ounces will make pounds, and pounds will add up so fast you won’t believe it).

We use three basic knots:

  • The Trucker’s Hitch – Primarily because it’s easily learned, can be tied quickly, allows easy line taughtness adjustment, and if tied correctly, can be completely undone in a couple seconds.  We use this one almost exclusively in scenarios where quick tear down is essential, but still require two other knots because they have multiple uses.


  • The Prusik.  This is a great knot for line adjustment, but takes longer to tie and break down.   Pressure on the Prusik locks it on the line, but reverse pressure allows it to loosen and be moved in either direction.  It’s also a great safety knot when working a rope on steep slopes and can be used as a climbing knot as well.

Prusik example

  • The Figure 8 – Technically called, “Figure 8 on a Bight,” this is a great anchor knot and can be used for stakes or as a ‘pull handle’ on the running end of your line if you get really creative.  There are all sorts of uses for the Figure 8; your only limitation is your ability to generate ideas for it.


To be sure, there are many more useful knots one should be able to tie and employ as a NPT member or survivalist, however, these three fit the bill nicely for setting up tarp shelters.  If you’d like to know more on knots, and really would like to have a copy of the ‘knot bible’, DTG recommends the following masterpiece:  The Ashley Book of Knots

ashley book of knots

Yes, it’s expensive at $50, but it is the reference for all things knots.  You can find them on eBay a lot cheaper used if you look around.  If you’d like another great, and less expensive knot reference, try this one out (you can slip it in your pocket and have it with you):   The ‘Pro-Knot Survival Knot Tying Reference Cards‘.  It has 17 of the most common use knots including the ones we referenced above, and is about the size of a deck of cards, and made of plastic.  Very good expenditure of $10 $5.  See above update for link.

knot ref cards

More to follow as we think of the relevance.

1 thought on “Shelter: Why Tents Suck – Pt II – Siting & Effective Knots

  1. anonymous

    Probably goes without saying, but watch out for those ‘widowmakers’ above (branches / limbs which are already broken and are ready to fall down) – they will mess you up.

    Thank you for the post sir.

Feel free to comment! Debates are welcome, so long as they add to the discussion. Ad hominem attacks, accusations, uncontrolled vitriol, thread hijacks, personal threats, or any comment that otherwise detracts from DTG's stated mission will not be approved or posted. Repeat violators will be banned.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s