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Den building den building Den building den building

The Den Commandments

Once upon a time nearly everyone knew how to build a quick shelter. In days gone by, it was the only way for travelling people to be sure that they would be able to shelter from the rain, cold, wind or hot sun. Nowadays, den-building is usually for fun. 

1. Find the right spot

Find a good strong tree with a fairly flat and comfortable spot around its base. A slight slope won’t be a problem but avoid anywhere that’s very soggy or rocky, is close to deep water or a road.

2. Collect sturdy branches for your frame

Collect half a dozen or more long, sturdy, fallen branches and lean them firmly against the trunk of the tree to create a wigwam shape. Make sure the angle is right – if it’s too narrow, the branches may topple over; too shallow and there’ll be no room inside. And don’t forget to leave a doorway!

3. Gather thinner branches for weaving  

Gather lots of longer and thinner branches and twigs to weave through the larger ones. This will help to hold the ‘frame’ in place and make the shelter easier to waterproof.

4. Interwine your branches together

Pay attention to the tightness of the weave, and to how the twigs overlap. The idea is to bind the big branches together so that they can’t slip and to make sure that your shelter can cope with all kinds of weather.

5. Fill in the gaps

Next, stuff any gaps in the woven frame with leaves, twigs and leaf mould to make it rain and wind proof. If available, mud can be used here as ‘cement’ but – be aware – it needs time to dry hard or will wash away in the first shower.

6. Check the sturdiness of your den

Before letting anyone inside the den, do give it a couple of prods and pushes to make certain it won’t fall down on your head. If it’s wobbly, you may need to do more weaving or ask an adult to look at it. 

7. Add a bit of flair

Finally, decorate your den however you like! For instance, use extra branches for camouflage; add daisy chains or buttercups for a fairytale flavour; carpet the inside with leaves or sweet grass; create a border pattern from stones and cones.  

8. Test your den

If you’re confident about your waterproofing, test it by a method sometimes used at the end of Forestry Commission den-building courses. Sit inside and ask someone to pour water over the outside. If you’re NOT sure about the waterproofing you can still do the test, of course. Just invite someone else to sit inside while you do the pouring!

9. Take your den down carefully

When you have finished take your shelters down. This could be dangerous so take care. Do not go inside to do it. Drag the branches away carefully and take it down in the reverse order.

10. Send us your photos

We would love to see photos of your dens. Why don’t you share some to our Facebook page?


Last updated: 22nd June 2017

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