Shelter Pathway

Shelter Pathway

(shelter patch)


Welcome to the Shelter Pathway. Shelter is a core skill necessary for survival. Below are the skills requirements to lead youth through this pathway. This course is designed to lead students through a 6-10 week program (ex. after school), though you can also combine all of these skills into a weekend or week-long (ex. summer camp) program.

Skills Requirements

  • Tarp knots/pitching a tarp
  • Carving wooden stakes/ghost grommet/knots/reuse plastic shelter (knife safety skills)
  • y sticks/debris shelter/head shelter water test
  • Food hang/cooking on fire
  • fire/smudge sticks, Cordage
  • Make a hanbo
  • Hanbo skills

Student Experience/Covering the Basics

If you have new students we recommend that you teach the 4 Level 1 NiN skills and Knife Safety to the new students throughout your sessions. This is a great opportunity for experienced students to become teachers to the new students.


Playing games are the ninja glue that keeps the program fun! Here's a handful of games with tutorial videos that you can play with the kids. We recommend playing at least one game each time you gather with your ninjas.

Introducing Shelter to Students

Here are some ideas for introducing the theme of shelter:

  • Why do you need it? The risk of exposure (hypothermia or heat exposure).
  • What types of shelter do people build in nature (debris, scout pit, sun shade, hammock/above ground, snow/quinzie, etc.)
  • What could you use in an emergency in the wilderness of your region to build a shelter?
  • Personal instructor stories of sleeping in a shelter

Shelter Skills

Lesson #1: Tarp knots/pitching a tarp

Supplies needed: tarp, cordage

Tarps are a great way to introduce a quick shelter and knot tying. Below is a link for three helpful knots to teach.

Demo tarp- it can be helpful for kids to see an example tarp that you set up together or before class so they can see a correct set-up.

Ninja mission: Break kids into groups. Give each group a tarp and enough rope to set up a tarp. Give them a designated amount of time to pick a site and set up their tarp. After tarps are up, do group tours to compliment/critique their tarp designs.

Optional activities

  • Use the group tarp as a location for flags for playing capture the flag
  • Give them the challenge to set up a water catchment using their tarp to capture rain (they will need a container to catch the run-off). When visiting each tarp, pour water onto the tarp to see how well their rain catchment works.

If you have new students (and returning students): 1) Introduce the NiN program, 2) Play the sword evasion game (see 4 Level 1 NiN Skills above)

Lesson #2 : 1) Carving stakes, 2) ghost grommets, and 3) plastic tarp

The goal of this lesson is for students to pitch a small survival shelter using stakes they carve, rope, ghost grommets, and a piece of plastic.

Supplies needed: rope, plastic (for small tarp). This can be reused/recycled plastic. We recommend big enough to shelter 2 kids. Small rocks (marble size, minimum 4 per shelter).

Step 1) carving stakes. If you haven't covered knife safety, we recommend doing this first. See knife safety link above. We recommend green wood (it carves easier). Here is a video that describes how to carve a basic tent stake.  Sharpen the long end of the stake. Carve a notch in the upper end of the opposite end. Divide the larger group of students into smaller groups of 3-5. Each person should carve a stake.

Step 2) Ghost grommets. Teach the students how to make a ghost grommet. Here's a video that shows a basic grommet using a stone (ghost grommet).

Step 3) Assemble a tarp. Using a large piece of plastic (trash bag, rain poncho, etc.) have each group of students assemble a tarp using their stakes and ghost grommets.

Variations: 1) pour water on their shelter with the students under the shelter so see how dry they can be. 2) Give them a cup or container. Have them design their tarp shelter to catch rain water for drinking. You can pour water on the tarp to see how well their catchment design works. or 3) Use the shelters for capture the flags (flags are placed under the shelter ) with each group having a shelter in a different area of the forest.


Lesson #3 : Making a Lean-to Shelter

The goal of this lesson is to make a group lean-to style shelter. This can be used for a long-term home base in the woods for your program. It's a great place to get out of the rain, store your backpacks while in the woods (to keep them dry), or huddle out of the rain to warm by a fire. It can also be used to store firewood to keep it dry on a rainy day.

Supplies needed:  Rope (optional), saw, knife. Forest location with a good supply of trees and debris.

Step 1) Select your location. If you plan to use this shelter long-term, pick a convenient spot where you can build a shelter that is flat and has lots of debris. If it is windy, decide which direction the opening of your shelter will face.

Step 2) Choosing your vertical supports and ridge pole. There are many options for connecting your vertical supports to your horizontal ridge pole. First find a long sturdy horizontal  piece of wood, preferably 3" or more in diameter and long enough to make the width of the shelter you desire. If you have rope and two convenient trees for upright supports, lash this horizontal ridge pole to the trees approximately 3-4 feet above the ground (the height of your shelter is up to you). For vertical supports, you can also use "Y" branches that are 3-5 feet long and 2-3 inches minimum diameter. These can be pounded into the ground or lashed together with the ridge pole and stabilizing angle branches. Check out this article that shows several options.

Step 3) Adding roof ribs.  Gather branches that are 1 inch diameter or more and lean them against the ridge pole at a 45 degree angle. Fill in the spaces until the majority of the roof space is filled. Option- use strips of large bark if they are available to fill in spaces.

Step 4) Adding lattice.  Gather small arms-length branches from the ground and lay them on top of the roof-ribs. These will serve to hold the debris and keep if from sliding off the side of your shelter. Cover the entire roof with an interlocking layer of criss-crossing lattice branches.

Step 5) Adding debris.  Gather leaves and debris from around your shelter and toss them onto the roof until no light can be seen through the roof. You can test if you have enough debris by pouring water onto the roof. If no water drips through, then you have enough!

Additional options:

Adding sides.  Fill in the sides of your shelter (leaving the front open) following the same process as above.

Bedding.  Gather soft leafy branches (ex. from conifer trees), ferns, or other soft leaves and cover the floor of your shelter.

Fire.  Clear an area on the ground of debris 3-5 feet in front of your shelter (you don't want to be setting your shelter on fire) where you can make a small warming shelter. Before you leave your shelter you can gather dry firewood and store it in your shelter for your next visit.


Lesson #4 : Tree Climbing

Survival Shelter is about connecting with the trees on your landscape. Ancient ninjas mastered the art of quickly ascending into trees to disappear quickly (shoten no jutsu). The goal of this lesson is to learn the names and identity of 3-5 local trees and to practice tree climbing.

Supplies needed:  Ninja notebook. A tree that is easily climbed by youth.

Step 1) Teach the ABC's of basic tree climbing skills.

A = Ask an adult or instructor permission first before climbing. A= Awareness. What kind of tree is this? Are there any hazards in the tree or below the tree?

B = Body. Remove backpacks, knives from pockets, straps etc. from your body before climbing.

C = Climbing. Maintain 3 points of contact at all times (ex. two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand). Only grab live branches that are wrist size or larger.

D = Don't go higher than an instructor can reach with their hand from the ground unless given permission.

Have the students write or draw these in their ninja notebook. Ask the students as a group to name all of the ABC's. Discuss how different species of tree have different characteristics for climbing. For example: Bark type (smooth or rough), hazards (some trees like conifers often have dead low branches, flexibility (some trees have very bendable branches (ex. weeping willow), and some trees are places where poisonous vines like to grow or have sharp thorns.

Step 2) Learning some local trees. Bring your ninja notebooks and go on a hike. Pick 3-5 (more if you want) local trees to learn the name of and how to identify. Have students draw (trace) a leaf, draw the tree, or write information (their choice). Make sure one of the trees is your climbing tree.

Step 3) Climbing a tree. Review the ABC's. Have students practice asking permission. Scan the tree and discuss hazards before climbing. Ask them if they can describe characteristics of this species of tree? How would they identify it from others. Give this specific tree a name if you like. Then start climbing!

Additional options:

  • Go for a hike and find more trees to climb
  • Ninja challenge- sit silently in a tree for 5 minutes. The instructor circles the tree on the periphery (20-30 m away). Their challenge is to observe silently what the instructor does while walking a big circle around a tree (ex. tying their shoe, doing push ups, eating a sandwich, etc.)
  • Play meet a tree


Lesson #5 : The Head Shelter

The goal of this lesson is to make a small scale, 2-sided debris shelter that has enough debris to keep water from penetrating the inside of the shelter.

Supplies needed:  1) a forest area with a good supply of dead branches and leaf litter. 2) a jug of water

Step 1) Select your location. Pick an area that is relatively flat. If you have enough students to split into groups and are planning to play capture the flag (option below) choose separate areas of the forest where they can build their shelters as a team "home base" for the game.

Step 2) Watch the video that shows how to make a 2-sided head shelter.

Step 3) Make a demonstration shelter together.  Go through each step together of setting the ridge pole, ribs, lattice, and debris. Then choose a volunteer to put their head inside the shelter (or can be the instructor). Pour approximately .5-1 liter of water across the top of the shelter to see if the person inside gets wet.

Step 4) Divide your students into small groups (ex. 3-5 students per group). Each student group will build a separate shelter.

Step 5) The water test. Regroup all students. Visit each shelter. Each time chooses a member to put their head inside. Repeat the water test for each shelter.

Step 6) Discuss.  Discuss different shelter designs, materials, and what worked/didn't work. What would they do different next time. Discuss how a larger version of this shelter could be used to make a full-body shelter in a survival situation. Discuss options for making a "door" on the end (weave a door, rain coat, or just close with a large leave pile).

Additional options:

  • If time allows, make a full-body debris shelter with all students (instead of a head shelter).
  • Capture the flag. Use the shelters as the location where students place their flags that they will be guarding. Either place the flags inside the shelter or on top of the shelters.
  • Disappear the shelters when you are done (if you want to be totally invisible ninjas).
  • Gather tinder, kindling, firewood and store in your shelters for fire-making (to keep materials dry).


Lesson #6 : Knots, Ghost Grommets, and Capture the Flag

This is the final lesson that culminates with a fun group game of capture the flag.

Supplies needed:  1) four long pieces of rope (4-8 m ea.) per group (recommended 3-6 students in each group). 2) large piece of plastice (1m square or larger) per group. This can be recycled plastic. 3) flags for the game. 1-3 per group. 4) small rocks, or pieces of wood (acorns) for ghost grommets.

Step 1) Teach the knots: clove hitch, half hitch, and ghost grommets. Watch the video that shows how to tie the knots. Demonstrate ghost grommets using a piece of plastic.

Step 2) Build plastic/tarp shelters. Break the students into 2 or more groups. Each group should set up a plastic/tarp shelter using the rope. Each shelter should be far enough apart for a team home base for playing capture the flag.

Step 3) Play the game. The tarp shelters become the location where a team puts their flags for capture the flag. A team guards their flags that are under each tarp. Each team tries to steal the flags from under another team's tarp.

Step 4) A team wins if they get all flags. We recommend 3 flags under each tarp, or you can set a time limit for the game. If a team has all their flags stolen, and there is still time, they can continue to try to steal back their flags.

Step 6) Discuss strategies that worked/didn't work. Play several rounds of the game.

Additional options:

  • If this is the final day of a session, do a closing circle and give out patches. Honor each student for their accomplishments. Pass a talking object and have students discuss one thing they learned about shelter and/or their favorite thing from the class.



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