Den Building


Den building will draw in even the grumpiest of adults and is a great way to get group members working together in smaller teams and well, to have a bit of a play. All you need is somewhere to build your dens and some resources to build with (few ideas below).

Shelter is one of the top priorities when faced with a survival situation, so it is essential to know how to construct a simple shelter (or den).

During the activity you can set various challenges such as:

  • Which team can make the biggest den, and how many people can they fit inside?
  • Can they make a weather-proof den? Judged by pouring a bucket of water over it.
  • Who can design and build the best looking den? Camouflaged and hidden from danger.

Resources for Building the Dens

Den Structure

  • Bamboo canes: these are lightweight, strong and fairly cheap to purchase (they can also be used for other team challenges).
  • Poles: if you can’t get hold of bamboo canes then you’re going to need something similar, such as tent poles or even broom handles.
  • Fallen branches: fallen, not just ones you can reach to snap off or pull down. If you can only find thin branches, try tying them together.

Den Strength

  • Rope, tracer cord or string
  • Bicycle inner tubes: cut them into strips 2.5cm wide (great for tying things together).
  • Old clothes and bedding: cut up old clothes and save old bed sheets to use to cover the shelter.
  • Para cord
  • Tent pegs

Den Shelter: Protection against weather

  • Waterproof materials: You’ll need some materials such as tarpaulins or plastic dust sheets to protect dens against the rain. Leaves are also a good option, but you’ll need a fair few if you don’t want dens to leak.


You don’t have to be too formal with knots, everyone knows how to tie a simple overhand knot and this should be enough for most situations. If you do want to teach knots, make sure you do some research beforehand and print off instructions. Otherwise, learning through and using whatever works tends to work best solution.

Den Building tips

  • Note where the sun rises and sets, it can be beneficial to point the entrance towards the east so the morning sun falls on you.
  • Work out the direction of the wind to avoid being exposed to cold weather.
  • Use the natural terrain and foliage such as slopes and bushes to help protect from the impact of the wind.
  • Avoid low ground between two high points as cold air sinks and rain water may collect there.
  • Keep your den lightweight, so if it does fall in, it won’t cause too much damage to any anyone inside.

Activity notes and guidance

Before you start your activity, check that the site you are going to be using is suitable and you have permission.

  • Avoid areas where there are animal trails, ants or insect nests to avoid unwanted visitors.
  • Make sure there are no dead branches above that could break and fall on dens (and your team).
  • If you allow your team to dig into the ground, ensure they don’t go very deep.
  • Respect the environment: Don’t damage the den site and ensure you tidy up after yourself. True denmasters leave no trace of existence.
  • Look after trees and plants: they take years to grow but only seconds to destroy.

Suggested Learning Objectives:

  • Cooperation
  • Creative thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Survival
  • Communication



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