Winter shelter: semi-primitve in a blizzard

Google maps estimated the driving time to Kent Coffee and Chocolate Co., in Kent, CT, at just over 2 hours. My buddy Alex and I were to meet up there for a coffee before plunging into Macedonia Brook State Park for a winter wilderness blizzard semi-primitve survival outing.

I was excited to see the warnings on I-91 which advised planning cautiously around the already-upon-us nor'easter. Travel was slow but steady on the interstate, but was just barely possible once I exited to western CT's steep, winding state roads. The poor Mini just made it up the hills at 10 MPH, frustrating the 4x4 trucks behind me.

I met Alex at 830. We relished a cup of coffee and split a chocolate croissant, jokingly pondering staying in the cafe all day and night rather than braving the storm. After a little last minute planning, we set off to the state park. 

Big, bold-lettered “no camping” signs all over the park convinced us we needed to find another spot. We travelled a few miles north to Kent Falls State Park, which warned against going off the trails and parking past sunset, but not explicitly against camping.

It was a much smaller park. We hiked up to the gorgeous falls and then started bush-whacking, only to encounter roads or houses within a few hundred meters in all directions.

Looking at a crude map of the park, we decided to set up camp somewhere in a roughly square mile section amongst the park's trails. This wilderness experience would be a little contrived, but surely still valuable, since neither of us had camped primitively or semi-primitively in blizzard conditions before.

Stashing our gear while hunting for the right spot

As we searched for an ideal spot, I found myself in a mental fog, a side effect of a large dose of DayQuill I'd taken to stave off the lingering symptoms of a nasty head cold and cough. Simple tasks like filtering a bottle of river water confused me. 

To make matters worse, I was feeling intensely sad in light the recent first anniversary of my father's death and an argument with my girlfriend. I'm always writing about how mental state is the number one priority in a survival situation. I tried to stay positive and engaged, but was seriously failing on the inside.

We quickly found an ideal spot to set up camp. There was a massive boulder with a wide, flat and vertical side. A few meters away was a small cave opened up by an old fallen oak's root system. I always like to take advantage of any naturally formed, time-saving shelter I can find, so I would bed down here. 

There is a little cave in the dirt, under the side of this old tree's root system.

Alex began constructing a fire-based shelter next to the rock face, and I started building a roof over the top of the little cave. It was incredibly difficult to get in and out, which I suppose is a good thing.

I noticed there were several large passageways to the open air in my cave, besides the opening at the top. These would need to be plugged to prevent drafts. I found that by pushing away all the snow in an area of open ground, I could access the thick layer of oak and hickory leaves underneath. They were frozen into a crust of ice, so I had to repeatedly punch the area before gathering up the stiff debris. I was able to quickly secure huge armloads of the stuff, which easily plugged the holes in my cave. 

First I used an emergency blanket over supporting limbs for the roof. I sealed the entrance with a garbage bag full of snow.
The emergency blanket was inadequate, making the cave drafty. I added the tarp.
The entrance was barely big enough for me to squeeze through.
Close-up of the entrance. The "floor" of the cave is at a 60 degree angle, meaning I would be nearly standing up during the night. This is actually less clautrophobia-inducing than an ordinary debris shelter.

Inspired by Alex's professional-looking fire-based shelter, I decided to abandon my original body heat-based shelter in favor of a fire based shelter which would use the wall of tree roots as a heat reflector.

Alex's shelter from behind. Note the stacked debris walls to either side of the shelter area.
The shelter from front. Just to the left of this is a large, flat faced boulder which reflects heat from the fire. Note the bed of evergreen boughs under the tarp.
It would be a sitting-up shelter. I'd lean against the rock, with the tarp over me and a large fire in the pit on the other side of the tree roots. It seemed impossible to create a barrier against the wall of the cave to prevent conduction of cold from the ground, and the fire-based shelter seemed more lucrative.

The reflector wall is the roots and dirt to the left. Fire pit on the ground below it.

My idea was to tarp this over, and sit against the rock in the center, facing a fire.

Alex took down a medium-sized fir with his ax for the evergreen boughs. He created a bed of the boughs under his tarp. There were enough leftover for me to create a bed under where my butt and feet would rest, and against the rock where my back would rest. I tested it out, and it seemed very cozy.

My fire-based shelter, lined with evergreen boughs

The view from inside

Then we started collecting massive amounts of firewood. Alex planned to have a “long-log” fire, a big rectangular structure which would burn long, thick logs all night. I couldn't quite manage that because of how my shelter was set up, but I figured I could just feed logs perpendicularly into my pit fire all night.

As night fell, we lit a fire in Alex's shelter area to boil some snow for water and to cook a small stew. I had a bit of jerky made from a roadkilled animal, a carrot and an onion. Alex had some flour and raisins for making stick bread, and a cup of ramen noodles. The feast replenished our depleted metabolisms.

The long-log fire, with stew on the way!

The steady snowfall was causing my one-piece snowmobile suit to collect moisture at an alarming rate, so I cut out holes for my head and arms in a contractor garbage bag from my bug-out pack, and put it on. It helped.

Alex got into his shelter and was pleased to find it quite toasty.

Eventually, I went over to my shelter and lit a fire. I let it burn hot and huge for a while to cook the moisture out of the fire pit. Soon I realized the pit was too deep. As a result, I could not simply feed logs to keep it burning – there was too much space underneath, so the overhanging logs tended to burn themselves out.

I searched around in the snow for a large rock to fill the space with. Once I'd put the rock into the pit, it was very difficult to rebuild the fire on top of the cold, wet stone, with massive amounts of snow coming down.

I went out to find a bunch of small, easily combustible sticks. I came back to find that my bug-out pack had slid off its shelf and down next to the fire, burning up one of the straps.

I'd been feeling more and more negative all day, increasingly wanting to just call it quits and hike out. Go home to the lady, rent a movie, and try this again on a day when I was not loopy and sad. This silly little error of a burned pack strap was the straw that broke this camel's back. I decided on the spot to hike out, dig out my car and head home.

I attempted to explain this to my horrified friend, who advised against hiking around in the dark in the middle of a blizzard when I had a perfectly functional shelter right here. He was able to talk me out of leaving, thankfully. He helped me to get my fire going again, and I squeezed past the fire into my tarp shelter for the night.

The smoke made this spot completely uninhabitable. My shelter was sort of above the fire (plus I was sitting up), which meant any time the wind shifted, I was unable to breath or see. I could see now that this would never work.

Fortunately, I had my backup cave shelter. Unfortunately, I had not made any effort to line the ground/wall with evergreen bows. It was too late to improve the shelter now, for 2 reasons.

First, the snow was coming down so hard that leaving the doorway open for more than a few seconds would result in a snow-filled cave. Second, I didn't want to take apart and then rebuild the doorway anyway, because it was covered in a heavy layer of insulating snow that would fall down into the shelter. I would have had to remove the doorway to pack the cave with evergreen boughs because the entrance was so tight that I could barely, and with massive effort, get myself in and out of the cave.

I reasoned that it would probably be cold, but not dangerous. Not ideal, but functional. So, I squeezed into the cave and sealed the doorway shut. I would not come back out until morning, no matter what.

I'd brought my burned bug-out pack inside with me. I pulled out the other foil emergency blanket and began to unfold it. These things are usually tear-proof, but the extreme cold (about 5 degrees F) made it brittle and it immediately tore in half. I VERY carefully finished unfolding the two pieces, and then began patching it back together with little strips of Gorilla tape from the bug-out pack. A half hour later, I had it patched together and managed to avoid further tears.

Still fairly warm, I used my folded up wool blanket as a pillow and draped the emergency blanket over my head and body. In this manner, I stayed warm enough to get a few hours of sleep. By midnight, however, the ground had sucked a lot of heat from my body and I was shivering. It didn't help that my mittens, hat and suit were very damp from collecting and melting snow all afternoon.

Inside the cave, looking up

I carefully put the emergency blanket underneath me, against the ground. I put the wool blanket over my head and body. This was a bit warmer, and I was able to get little snippets of sleep for the rest of the night.

I periodically woke up in a panicky, lazy shiver, with my toes going numb. I had to move my toes in their boots vigorously every 20 minutes or so to keep them from going numb.

I eventually realized that by bracing my boots into the crevasse further up from the bottom of the cave (which is of course the coldest spot), and resting on my heels rather than soles of my feet, I could keep my feet much warmer. The pressure of my feet against the bottom of the boots compressed all the air from under them, causing loss of circulation and conduction against the cold rubber. But by creating a little space underneath, they stayed much warmer.

I spent the rest of the night repeating a half hour cycle of shivering, readjusting, and sleeping a tiny bit before waking up shivering again. It wasn't pleasant, but it was definitely warmer than outside, and I've been much colder. It was adequate. At some point I peed in my water bottle. Either I was very dehydrated or it wasn't too cold in the shelter – the pee bottle never froze at all. The snow inside my shelter never melted, so it was certainly below freezing, but it was surely warmer than the 5 degrees outside, and there was no wind or snow.

Alex invited me over to his fire just before 5AM. I slowly extracted myself from the shelter and happily walked over to the fire. He had burned a TON of wood that night and there was a massive pile of ash. As a result, he was plenty warm in his old down sleeping bag and wool blanket. 

Outside my shelter the next morning

We boiled some more snow for drinking. When the sun rose around 630, we packed up our gear. We were surprised during the hike out to see plenty of animal tracks already piercing the fresh, deep snow. Deer, squirrel, rabbit and fox (sorry Josh, not sure if it was red or grey), along with human and dog tracks, went in every direction. 

We had survived to see a new day, and it felt good.

I'm obviously not yet a winter shelter expert, but here are some lessons I will apply to my next winter outing.

It takes a ton of evergreen boughs to make a bed

It took an entire mid-size fir tree to supply enough evergreen boughs for the two of us. I was shocked by this as I've never used evergreen boughs for shelter before.

If Alex had not had his axe, we would not have been able to find sufficient boughs in this area. All the trees were so mature that green limbs were not accessible from the ground. I'm not sure climbing a tree repeatedly to get green boughs would be a good use of energy. I think we would have needed to set up camp in an area with many young evergreens in order for that to work.

Fire-based versus body heat-based shelter; natural versus constructed

For a fire-based shelter, I think it is critical to be as low to the ground as possible. My high-up, sitting-up shelter was flawed from the beginning becuase no matter how warm and cozy the shelter is, it won't work if you can't breathe or see in it. On the other hand, the smoke from Alex's fire never bothered him because he was low to the ground and protected from the wind.

For a body heat-based shelter, it is absolutely critical to have a barrier that creates dead air space between my body and the ground. A bed of evergreen boughs works nicely. Without the ground leeching body heat from me all night, I would have actually been very warm and comfortable in the cave, as I was during the first few hours of the night. Sadly, I've already learned this lesson before, when winter camping with a tent - my problem was I spent all my time working on the other shelter rather than properly insulating this one.

The body heat-based shelter is a much lower maintenance shelter, once it's built. Instead of needing to collect massive amounts of firewood and insuring the fire burns all night, you just go to bed. It is a trade-off, I suppose.

The body heat-based shelter which is built into pre-existing, natural structures (like my cave) is very easy to build, and takes relatively little time. I spent less than an hour building this cave shelter! If I'd taken another hour to line the floor of the cave with evergreen boughs, I would have had a perfectly warm, comfortable shelter (that functions well even in a 5 degree blizzard) in less than 2 hours!

I think one's choice of fire-based versus body heat-based shelter should depend on circumstance. What tools do I have? Do I even have matches, flint striker, etc? Is there a natural structure I can use rather than building one?

I will need to go out in varying winter conditions many times more before I can say anything more definitive on this.

Combining forces

There were 2 of us, and for some silly reason, we decided to build 2 (actually 3) completely separate shelters, with separate fires and therefore separate firewood supplies. If we had instead both built Alex's type of shelter on either side of the fire, with a rock face on one side and stacked debris wall on the other, we would have saved many man-hours of labor. This is a grave error in retrospect. What a waste of energy and time!

We were just a mile from our cars and from civilization, so we were in no real danger. But in a real winter survival situation such an error could be far more costly.


I felt goofy having spent the time and energy to build not 1, but 2 shelters for myself. On the other hand, if I had built only my fire-based shelter, and did not have the cave as back-up, I'd have been in trouble. I think the lessons I took from this outing are sufficient that I could build just one shelter next time and not need a back-up. I'm glad I had 2 shelters this time, but next time there will be just 1.


There must be a lesson in my unpleasant state of mind during this outing, but I haven't figured out what it is yet (other than: don't take cold medicine before a wilderness outing!). I'm not sure what more I could have done to stay sharp/positive mentally. Sometimes your dad dies and you're in a crappy mood about it a year later. Just something to ponder, I guess.

I will say I'm glad to have had a friend convince me to stay through the night. Otherwise I wouldn't have much of a post to write!

Food: short-term survival priority or not?

I recently purchased a tiny neck knife that came in a little Altoid-sized tin. An insert with survival instructions suggests that food should not be a priority in an emergency survival situation, because you can easily survive a week without it. According to the insert  - your survival priorities should be: (1) shelter; (2) getting rescued,  and (3) water.

It caused to to re-examine the purpose of this website. My goal is to develop both primitive and gear-based wilderness survival skills to the point that I can easily and (relatively) comfortably survive a week in an emergency survival situation. The point of this site is to document that learning process and help others to do the same.

Isn't there a contradiction in devoting entire posts to the task of finding food?

If I'm trying to figure out how to survive a week in a wilderness survival emergency, shouldn't I focus solely on shelter, getting rescued and water?

I think the answer is both yes and no. Yes, finding food is not a critical task if you just need to hunker down and wait for rescue or find your way to civilization. It should definitely be at the bottom of the priority list among those listed above.

But ignoring food-finding skills would be kind of a goofy strategy in developing survival skills. Following such a strategy would require me to make 2 assumptions: (1) I will never be in an emergency survival situation so long that food becomes a critical resource; and (2) It is just as easy to survive 4-5 days without food as with food.

While this site focuses on short-term survival, my goal is not to be able to survive the first week, only to die on day 8. There are plenty of survival (and not survival) stories of people who have been lost, isolated, or injured (and therefore stationary) in various types of wilderness for weeks and months. So the first assumption is rather silly - I don't need food to survive week 1, but what if the survival emergency goes for a month?

Have you ever fasted for 4, 5, or even 7 days? 

I've fasted for just 3, and the amount of energy I have even by day 3 is rock bottom. Trying to go 4 more days - while engaging in energy-intensive tasks such as shelter construction and heavy travel - is possible I'm sure. But not easy. I've hiked 25 miles without food before, and felt like I was losing my mind to hunger and exhaustion. What if you are injured and also have to hike/crawl 50 miles to the nearest road?

Perhaps the biggest part of surviving is having your wits about you, feeling confident and positive, and being aware of your surroundings. I would argue that mentality is survival priority number 0, before shelter.

Mental state/physical energy would be VASTLY improved in any emergency if you (a) have food and/or (b) are confident you can obtain food. 

Thus, the second assumption is goofy as well. Once you lock in a shelter, a rescue strategy, and a water source, it would sure as hell be nice to get some food.

I think you would never want to compromise any of the basic 3 priorities in favor of food. Don't spend all day building traps and have no shelter when night comes. If there is a road 10 miles from your location, don't hang out for 3 days collecting edible plants. Just get out!

I've tried to dream up some personally realistic survival emergencies before. Imagine the boat-swamp scenario in the deep wilderness of the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. We're a hard 50 miles of bush-whacking from the nearest road because we've lost the canoe. We've also lost every single piece of gear, except for a knife attached to my belt, and the lighter in my pocket (which later turns out to be water-logged).

With a solid set of primitive survival skills (including food-finding skills), the trip back to civilization could simply be a well-fed and well-sheltered, fun adventure, with group morale high. Without those skills, the trip will be more dangerous, and much more miserable. The group will be hungry, exhausted, and probably very negative. Chances of survival will be lower, I think.

So after a brief crisis of purpose, I feel justified in pursuing food-finding skills as part of a general survival toolkit - even if the focus of this site is short term survival.

Leave your thoughts in the comments...

Guest post: snare success

While visiting my in laws this past summer I wanted to put in some dirt time to train for my Pathfinder certification.

One of the requirements is survival trapping skills where you have to construct a trap and demonstrate its functionality. 

I also wanted to practice my tracking skills and the local area is lush with wildlife. My in-laws live in Northeast Ohio on a 23-acre plot of land that is mostly wooded and has a large lake fed by a number of smaller streams. I realize this isn't even close to remote, however I never pass up an opportunity to practice my skills.

This story is a bit graphic so please read at your own discretion.

While on a scout, I noticed animal scat by the waters edge while gathering firewood. I took a mental note of it but didn't investigate it further. Two days after,  I saw the same type of scat and about the same size a few days later and realized that the area is frequently visited by the same animal.

raccoon scat
I scanned the area, looking for tracks and noticed a small trail worn in by presumably the animal I was after. 

I decided to make a spring snare trap and lay it across what I thought was the path that the animal took. I didn't use any bait because I wasn't really trying to catch it, just mostly wanted to practice. There was a small white oak sapling relatively close to the trail which would make a good trap engine. It was only about an inch in diameter and I de-limbed of any branches that would slow the rate of speed of the the trap engine.

I then found a small forked stick and drove the Y part into the ground leaving about an inch of space between the crux of the Y and the ground. Across from the forked stick I drove in another stake that I would wedge the trigger stick across. The next step I took was to make a small toggle and tie it to the oak sapling with a small piece of cordage forcing the sapling to bend. The next step of the trap, I placed the toggle between the Y stick and the ground, then holding it in place between the toggle and the stake adjacent to the Y with the trigger stick.

This is the trickiest and most dangerous part of the trap because it can spring back at you at any time. 

Since the trap was loaded during this step I made sure I was always away from the bent sapling in case the trap went off while setting it. Knowing that the trap was properly adjusted I allowed the sapling relax by undoing the trigger and tied a separate piece of cordage to the sapling and made a simple snare by tying a bowline knot and running the tag end through in to form a loop. The snare was placed on the trigger stick and then I reset the trap.

This is a trap similar to the one I used here.
Notice the toggle under the Y stick to the right, being held in place by the trigger stick
I then set about doing some other tasks and forgot about the trap.

The next day I returned and to my surprise I actually had caught something; it was a raccoon! 

Since it was my first time trapping, I didn't really think I was going to catch something however there it was. I then became extremely saddened because it was a small raccoon and it was clear that it had died. The small sapling, which I thought would just be enough to spring the trap and allow me to release the animal simply by cutting the rope. This was not the case, the sapling had lifted up the raccoon off the ground about 3 feet it must have died struggling. The trap however worked perfectly and would have prevented any ground dwelling animal from taking my catch.

I decided that even though I hadn't intended to kill the animal, since it was dead I would honor its sacrifice in any way that I could.  The best way I could do this was by eating the meat, using the fur, and learning as much as I could from this experience.

I actually prayed for this sounds weird but I felt it was the right thing to do. 

I honestly did my absolute best however this would be my first time processing game. The animal had already begun attracting flies so i knew I had to move fast. So the first thing I did was make a fire to allow me to cook the raccoon eventually, but more immediately chase away the flies while I worked. Since I was close to my camp, I fortunately had a tripod already made which I tied the raccoon upside down and began to process him.

I have to say at first I was completely flustered and very sad that I killed this animal, however I realized how much I could learn from him and once the skinning process began it became much easier.

I first cut a ring around each ankle and followed the cut to the anus or "vent". I began peeling the skin from the legs making short cuts to the fatty membrane that attaches the skin to the muscle and was surprised at how easy it was. I then followed the cut down the belly being extremely careful not to puncture the organ sack and rupture anything that would taint the meat.

I wasn't sure what to do about the tail or head so I simply cut them off with my axe. I realized later that you can remove those cleanly with practice and skill in order to sell them.

I then decided to it was time to gut  the raccoon and made a small incision with just the tip of my knife in gut cavity and realized how careful you have to be because I could clearly see almost a full bladder of urine as well as feces inside the animal's large intestine. Not really sure how to do that I simply squeezed the end of the bladder to pinch it closed then cut behind my fingers to remove it, I repeated the process for the large intestine. I also checked to see if there were any funny looking spots on the organs.

I remember thinking that even though this was my first time dissecting a small mammal, the organs are very similar to those of people. We all know the different organs of the body from Biology class and I was able to identify the liver, heart, and lungs and they all looked healthy.

If I was in a survival situation I would have saved the urine as well as the organs to bait other traps; in this case, I simply threw them into the lake. The turtle and carp were delighted I'm sure. 

Once all the fur and entrails were removed I then removed the head and tail. I discarded the head but tried to save the tail, it didn't work. I then quickly made a spit with green wood and began to roasting. Now I've never eaten raccoon and had no idea how it would taste or if they were even edible, however I decided to quickly look it up on my phone and it said they were considered delicacies in the south. I then tied him up with some jute twine I had, to keep him from rotating on my spit and roasted him for about an hour and a half.

raccoon on the spit
I figured the legs would be the most well done. So I took my first bite and I have to say it wasn't completely gross. I could definitely taste that he was from the water because it had a bit of a swampy flavor but it really just tastes like dark meat on chicken...big surprise right? I read later on that raccoons that are more inland do not have this taste. While the swampy flavor was undesirable it wasn't overpowering and had I brought some spices, it would have been quite good.

After eating I turned my attention to the skin. Using the same tripod as before, I took my cargo needle and used no. 36 bankline to stretch the skin out. I wasn't sure how to do this since I've never been taught. I just remember seeing pictures of Native American tribes stretching deer hides in museums and did the same thing. I tried scraping as much fat as I could with my knife however I didn't want to puncture the skin, so I lowered the tripod over the fire and basically smoked the thing for about an hour.

stretching the pelt
After eating I figured that was the best attempt at processing I could do and went home to go over my experiences and research the whole process by experts. I consulted my survival books, Youtube, and my instructors at the Pathfinder school.

The whole reflection continues on even today, especially after I realized despite smoking and scraping the skin, I found maggots on it the next day and had to throw it away.

Since then I've watched the process of skinning, gutting, and preserving animals numerous times. I feel much more confident now how to properly do it. You can skin all the way to the nose if you want, it just takes skill and patience. The tail can be removed by using a tool that basically pulls the fur away from the muscle by creating a tight circle around the muscle and pulling down all the way. This tool could be easily recreated in the woods.

As for the skin, it needs to be not only stretched but thoroughly scraped. I've watched several people do this and the best way seems to spread the hide,  fur side down on a stripped log and taking a split stick or bone and scrapping all the lard off the skin then letting it dry in the sun on a stretching rack. You can also smoke it apparently but it takes much longer.

In retrospect, I learned an incredible amount from this experience and I know for next time the things I did right and the things I did wrong, making the lesson of the raccoon incredibly valuable. I don't believe in taking the lives of animals for no reason, however if you do accidentally or are in a survival situation, honor the animal by learning and using as much as you can.

Hybrid shelter: tarp, blanket and leaves

In my bug-out pack, I keep an 8x10 foot tarp and a military issue wool blanket. One of the missions of my latest outing was to experiment with the tarp and blanket to make a quick and effective (warm and waterproof) shelter. The weather was about 33 degrees F and rainy that night, so it was a perfect testing ground.

I chose a beech-oak-hickory forest on a south-east facing slope. The debris was dry on this side of the slopes because it gets more sun, whereas the debris elsewhere was quite soggy from recent rains. I found a small flat section amidst the steep and rocky topography, at which there was a massive fallen oak tree. The space from the base to about 7 feet out seemed perfect to drape my tarp over, and stuff with debris, in the shape of a debris shelter.

I simply draped the tarp over and secured each side with long heavy branches. I tucked the tarp carefully into the bottom end, to avoid drafts. Because the trunk was so large, it would be difficult to sufficiently lace up the open end of the tarp. So I tied a rope tightly around that end, so that the tarp was wrapped around the full circumference. That allowed me to lace shut the ends, loosely.

Seemed like a good shelter support
A little too roomy, in retrospect
Stuffed with debris and ready to be laced shut
I then used the wool blanket to gather leaves and stuff the tarp shelter. It took very little time, on account of the recent fall.

Gathering debris this time of year is incredibly fast and easy. The debris is so fresh and fluffy, not like the year-old, moldy, mostly rotted debris I'd used for my last shelter.

With that done, I just needed to secure the doorway. As an added barrier, I tied my wool blanket around the trunk, underneath the tarp and a foot inward (to protect from rain). That provided a fully covered, but breathable, doorway. The shelter was completed just as the sun disappeared from the sky – totaling less than an hour. A tarp is an incredible survival resource.

The shelter was very roomy because of the large diameter of the supporting log. This was nice on the one hand – I could freely switch from my stomach to my side to my back to my other side. On the other, there was too much loose air, increasingly so as my tossing and turning compacted the debris. It got cold. The inside of the tarp was wet with condensation, so I had to take care not to touch it lest I get even colder.

The cold was not anywhere near dangerous, just enough to prevent falling asleep. 

Between that and the barking dog off in the distance, I didn't get more than a wink of sleep for what was probably 3 or 4 hours. It rained on and off all night, which made me grateful to have a waterproof, if drafty, shelter.

I remembered the emergency foil blanket in my bug-out pack. I removed it from its packaging and began the aggravating task of unfolding a 2x3 inch square into the 4x6 foot piece of foil. On one's back, covered in leaves and with limited space in total darkness, this is not easy. 20 minutes later, I had it wrapped it around me. I warmed up very quickly. I wasn't exactly cozy, but I was able to just barely reach that uneasy equilibrium of warmth which you lose instantly if a square inch of your body gets exposed to the open air.

I finally knocked off for the rest of the night.

My shelter was barely adequate in several ways. Here is what I would do differently next time I build a hybrid shelter when it is cold.

Do not build such a roomy shelter. Instead of using a massive log as the main support, use a slender but sturdy pole, which will allow for tighter construction. Stuff the tarp with more insulation, and have extra on the outside.

Actually make shelter priority #1. Once it's set up, you can explore or travel for food, but you can't relax until you get it up.  

I'd waited until less than an hour before sunset to build my shelter. That worked out fine this time, but could easily create an unnecessary emergency if any unforeseen circumstances arose.