As I write this, the false-alarm Snowpocalypse 2019 storm front is in the process of moving through, and is pulling a blast of frigid Arctic air along with it. It’s cold, y’all. And getting colder. It got me thinking about quick, simple tips I would be utilizing to try and stay warm if I actually had to spend a night out in this weather. My go-to would be a Kochanski Supershelter, but that’s another post. Regardless of what shelter I set up, one of the first things I would do to try and give myself an edge in the battle against freezing to death would be to build a reflector wall.
A reflector wall exactly what it sounds like. It’s a vertical barrier of material designed to reflect heat from your fire back into your shelter. It’s a simple project that can make a huge difference in your comfort level, and indeed, your chances of surviving. A reflector wall can be made of whatever material is most abundant in the area you’re in. In some areas that’s rocks, which work great since they absorb the heat from the fire and radiate it back to you all night. Just don’t use river rocks, as they can explode when water trapped inside them boils. In other areas, such as the Great Plains or the desert Southwest, it might be mud or earth packed with grass. That works well too, you’ll just want to make it more like a wedge instead of a wall so it isn’t top heavy.
But here in the Eastern Woodlands, reflector walls are made of wood. Here’s how:
- Cut at least half a dozen small saplings and remove the leaves and limbs. You’re making spars. The ideal diameter of these will be between 1.5” and 3”.
- Take two sets of two spars and hammer them into the ground with a baton or mallet. The two sets will be about 4’-6’ away from each other and 3” apart, and should be about 4.5’-5’ high.
- Cut the rest of your saplings to length and begin to stack them in the space created by the spars like you would in a firewood rack. Put your largest diameter poles on the bottom. You want your reflector wall to be approximately the length of your bed, so cut your saplings to length accordingly.
- Once your wall reaches at least 4’ in height (you can make it taller if you like), use bankline or paracord to lash the tops of your spars together with a figure eight lashing. This keeps everything nice and tight, and prevents the whole thing from falling apart under a stout wind.
I can’t overstress what a difference building a reflector wall makes. Here are some of the benefits:
- Reflects the heat from your fire back into your shelter. Even a small fire is enough to warm you if you have a reflector wall. If you have a nice hunter-style long fire made with some bigger logs, you’ll sleep great all night.
- Blocks the wind. If the wind shifts and is suddenly blowing into the mouth of your shelter, a reflector wall will act as a windbreak.
- Creates a chimney effect. A reflector wall will help pull smoke out of your shelter, so you won’t choke on it all night long.
Building the fire for this post, I noticed at least a ten degree temperature difference between the outside world and the space behind the wall, in addition to being out of the wind. It turned a raw, cold day into a pretty pleasant experience. While you may not have time or ability to build a reflector wall in front of your shelter in a very short-term emergency survival situation (like putting up a fast-action tarp shelter after the sun has already set), if you’re planning on staying in one place for more than a night, it’s well worth the effort, especially this time of year. You’ll be glad you did.
Want to learn how to build a reflector wall in a hands-on, interactive environment? Then join us for Sheltering Essentials with guest instructor Kau’i Morehead on Saturday, February 9th! Learn more and register here: https://www.sarcraft.com/course-registration/sheltering-essentials-registration