Bivouac And Den Building
Den building a shelter in the forest is the perfect activity for a family or group of kids.
Not only is it really fun, it’s also a great way to get kids off their screens and engaging with the natural world around them.
Den building has actually been proven to be an important part of a child’s development.
You don’t need to be a wilderness expert to be able to build a good den; it mostly just depends on finding the right spot to make your shelter. Whether you have young kids, or almost-teenagers, everyone will be able to get involved and it’s sure to be a memory they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives.
Don’t forget to respect the forest
Collect your materials for den-building off the forest floor, you’ll soon realise there’s a lot to be found.
Make sure kids aren’t cutting down living branches and damaging trees. If you must cut down branches, only do so if you have permission from the landowners. Even then it should be a last resort.
Also, if you use string, rope, tarpaulin or any other man-made materials, then make sure you take them back home with you at the end of the day.
Dismantle the shelter once you’re finished with it- the best den builders make it look like they were never there!
How to get started with your bivouac or den building project
I would recommend surveying the area for any fallen or living trees that look like a good place to start, and then getting creative from there.
All it will take is a little imagination and you’ll have a five-star den erected in no time.
However, if you need a bit of inspiration to get started then there are a few classic bivouac shapes that any self-respecting den builder needs to know.
The classic tipi shape den
There are a few ways to make a tipi den.
If you can find a tree with a fork in the branches that is the height you want for your den (these are like gold dust for den builders) then lean long branches against this central tree.
Fan out the long branches to make a tipi shape.
Another way to make this shape is to get three large branches and using a piece of rope, tie them together at the top so that they are sturdy. Then lean other branches against this central shape.
Whichever method you choose, build up the walls by weaving smaller sticks and leafy branches horizontally between the larger branches until there aren’t any gaps.
Just don’t forget to leave a gap for the door!
The lean-to or tent-shaped den
For this shelter, you need to find a fairly tall stump, or a y-shaped tree. Find one long and big branch and lean this against either the stump or the fork in the tree, with the other end on the ground.
Then get smaller branches and sticks and lean these against the central branch to create a triangle tent shape.
Finally add leafy branches to fill in any gaps in your walls.
The wide triangle-shaped opening can be your door.
If you’re lucky enough to find two y-shaped trees close together then you could also rest the central branch between the two trees to create a lean-to.
Making dens using a tarp
If you have a large tarpaulin then you could also use this for den making.
There are so many possibilities for building dens with a tarp. You could lean it over a central branch to create a tent shape, or wrap the tarp round your tipi shape to make walls.
Making tents with a tarp can be a lot quicker than just using wood found in the forest, however it can also be surprisingly difficult.
I would recommend also bringing some string to help you tie it up.
Now the fun starts: games to play!
If you have a big group, why not make it a competition?
Split everyone into two teams, with each group finding separate areas of the forest to make their den.
If you have someone who doesn’t want to get involved they can be the impartial judge.
You could judge each team out of ten for aesthetics, durability, size etc.
Once the dens have been built, its time to play! A bivouac made out of branches can become a secret shelter for spies, war-time headquarters, or a survival den for explorers.
Kids can let their imaginations run riot! They could also visit the den after dusk with parents, so the kids can play in the den in the dark and you can all tell ghost stories.
If you want some more tips for what to do on your camping trip at night, then why not have a look here.
Relaxing in your den
Once everyone’s tired of playing, or if you want to do something a bit more chilled out in your den, why not take the time to make the inside really cosy.
You could bring in some logs to make seats, clear up the floor of the den, and even put up a few fairylights!
Now that the den has been made liveable, have a picnic in there, or snacks while you chat and tell stories.
Sleeping in the den
If you made the den near your campsite, and it is very sturdy, then why not let the kids bring their sleeping bags and sleep in it for a night. Make sure that you know the landowners, and get an adult to sleep in the shelter with the kids in case anyone wakes up in the middle of the night.
Most of the time, kids end up back in their parents tent during the night, but a few will make it through till morning.
My tips for sleeping in dens are to always check the weather forecast, as rain almost always makes its way through! (trust me, I’ve learnt from experience). Also, make the den with a tarpaulin for some extra protection from the elements.
If the forecast is for wet weather I’d recommend staying put in the tent instead.
The kids can still have fun! Check out this blog for lots of ideas for rainy day games and movies in the tent.
Hopefully this helps you with your own den-building activities. It’s a wonderful way to connect with the forest, and teach the kids vital skills like teamwork and problem solving whilst developing their imagination.
Read about Forest Schooling if you’d like more ideas about what to do in the forest and woodlands.
Here’s me signing out and thank you so much for reading.