Build a Woodland Shelter for Forest School

‘There is no such thing as bad weather….. just the wrong clothing’ is an oft repeated mantra amongst outdoor educators and especially in the field of Forest School. Maybe I am a bit soft but there are some days when I struggle psychologically with the rain and cold in the woods even when clad in layers of merino wool, fleece and good waterproofs. I just need somewhere dry to sit  for a while and have a hot drink and a chat. Even better if it feels a little homely and gives a sense of security in the driving rain.


Over the years I have used various shelters from canvas covered geodesic domes, to yurts, tipis, benders, parachutes, all sorts of tarpaulin constructions and my favourite tent  – the Laavu. The current kit store and huddle space is a rather tatty bender made of hazel poles and covered with an ancient tarp which is host to a developing ecosystem of algae, lichens and mosses. It feels like a dark cave and has filled up with bits of kit and firewood. There isn’t enough room and the hazel is dried out and starting to crack and split. It is time for something new. My criteria for the new shelter are; to be waterproof in the heaviest rain; heavy enough not to blow away; tall enough to stand up in; big enough for 10 adults to sit and whittle in; bright enough to work in; use as little wood in construction as possible; last for a few years in situ; be unobtrusive in a woodland environment; cost less than £100 and be easy to remove all trace of at short notice. Not much to ask!

This article shows the end result and how it was made. I offer it as inspiration rather than comprehensive instructions as I am not an architect or engineer and have designed and built it on instinct. i.e copy at your own risk or take professional advice.


1 x 5m long pole.

4 x 3.5 m long poles.

2 x 10mm diameter coach bolts with nuts

a 6m x 4m clear mono tarp (170g/m2) with eyelets at 1m intervals.

a 6m x 4m camoflage net with ties at 1m intervals.

20 ball bungee ties.

2  x 10m lengths of 6 mm sisal rope.

Lots of paracord.

8+ chunky wooden tent pegs.

4 x  100mm long nails





12mm Auger bit and drill



Most of this build can be done by one person but it is necessary to have a few assistants when it comes to erecting and securing the frame.

What we did…

Remove branches and peel the poles.


Measure and mark 3 meters from the base of each of the 4 shorter poles and drill a 12mm hole through each one.


Join the poles together in pairs using the 10mm coach bolts.

Stand the first pair up and spread base to make a big triangle. Lean the long ridge pole on top of triangle above the bolt.


Put up the second pair of supports 4m from the first. Have your helpers hold them steady then lift the other end of the ridge pole into position. Exercise caution here as the whole thing is heavy and unstable.

Lash the ridge pole to the uprights and a handy tree using a length of natural fibre rope. I anchored the other end of this rope in the ground with a chunky wooden tent peg. I then repeated this  with the other length of rope at the free standing end of the shelter. We then threw the tarpaulin over the ridge pole and adjusted a few angles until we had the desired shape.

Fix the ends of the uprights in position with really sturdy stakes on the inside of the poles. This stops them wandering towards the middle of the shelter. I nailed the uprights to the stakes to stop them spreading outwards.

Fasten the tarpaulin to the uprights using the bungee ball ties. I already had these from a portable bodgers shelter that I used to take to shows. They make it much easier to get the tarpaulin properly taught and also have a bit of give to allow the structure to flex a little on windy days. Peg  the base of the tarp to the ground. I used some more of the bungee ball ties and some quick DIY Ash pegs.

At this point the shelter is pretty solid and the tarpaulin is taught so that it will shed water and not collect puddles. It does however stick out like a sore thumb and to my eye looks like ugly and obtrusive. Time to throw over the camoflage net and fix it to the poles and ground using paracord.

To add a bit of cosiness and also to hide the back of the shelter from a woodland path, I recycled the tarp from the bender by attaching one corner to the apex at the back and tying it on to each of the uprights as for the tarp and net. I have just tucked the rest of it inside the shelter and weighted it with big logs but intend to cut it off and use the other end as a front door to be used on really rainy days. This Tatonka polycotton tarp is 11 years old and has spent at least the last 6 years permanently outdoors as a covering for a variety of shelters. Over any other bit of kit I have bought, this tarp proves the value of spending a bit more on quality equipment to start with rather than continually replacing cheap stuff.

Here are a couple of views from different angles. So far I am happy that all my initial criteria were met. It now just needs to be fitted out with a bench on either side and it will be ready for training courses, events and school groups in 2018.


Leave a Comment