Yep, I’ve been there. You start thinking about how you’re going to spend the coming night…or nights.
As my gruff sea captain father-in-law growls sometimes, “What’s a mother to do?”
A swamp bed gives you a place to sleep above the wet ground and keep your stuff off of the watery, or water-covered, ground.
If you’ve ever been in a rainforest, marsh, swamp, or simply rainy conditions, you know how being in the water and muck gets old. Real old. Fast.
You can find conditions like this in hot or cold places, but the problem is the same. And a swamp bed can be the answer.
Start with the basics. Find some straight trees/poles and lash them horizontally between some upright trees. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you can do this just by using existing branches and/or notches in the trees without having to lash.
Crisscross rope, lash cordage, or put branches crosswise between these poles and secure them. After that, you can make it soft with anything you can find.
Options for Swamp Beds
You will see some suggestions on the Internet about how you have to build this bed in a square or rectangle. Here’s a little additional information.
Yes, if you happen to find trees lined up perfectly so that you can make a rectangular bed, that’s very nice. Or, if you feel like expending the energy, you can build a free-standing platform that looks like a regular bed at home or a kind of A-frame design that, to be fair, does a nice job of making a bed-and-roof structure.
Increasing Your Options, Decreasing Your Work
I like to reduce unnecessary energy expenditure. Some might say I’m “lazy”, but, in self-reliance situations, the less wasteful energy expended, the more you’ll have when you need it.
Stay open to the idea of a more triangular bed. There are often situations where these are possible.
You might find fairly level, strong branches spreading out of the trunk of a tree, making your effort to build a bed much easier. Or, you might be able to form a long, slim triangle-shaped platform between three trees.
Anyway, keep the triangle shape in mind and you’ll have a lot more options.
The Finer Points of Making Your Bed
First, think safety. Look out for what some outdoorsmen call “snag” or standing dead trees that could fall on you, building in lower areas that are easier to flood, etc.
You can make the bed any height but about waist-high is often practical and safe. You might find yourself in a place where building a little higher will ensure no late night flooding surprises.
Here’s another lazy suggestion. If you have the option, build near where you can find materials. This might not always be practical (ex: lots of branches downhill but the road where someone might find you is uphill.)
Cut medium branches and lay them across the two larger ones, packing them in close to each other. One tip: cut these cross branches extra-long so they have less chance of slipping and falling away. Another tip: If you can lash at least occasional branches, it will make a much more secure platform.
Lots and lots of websites will advise you to cover your platform with leaves and settle down for a nice night’s rest. That’s not always easy. After all, you’re in a wet place. The leaves are wet, too. So, you might have to look around the protected bases of trees for leaves, low soft brush, layer some tarps you have, or use similar bedding material.
Now, if you’re in a place like a swamp where a fire on the ground’s not an option, here’s a fun (and pretty useful) thing you might not have considered. You’ve built this nice bed, you’re off the water…what about the fire?
One way is just to place something fireproof (ex: a large can, flat piece of stone that’s not from water, car fender, aircraft door, etc.) on one corner. What does my lazy self like about this? It’s quick and easy.
No metal or usable stone around? See if you can get a hold of some clay, mix it with a little water, and make a platform at the tip of the “V”. Personally, that’s not my favorite way because it takes more time, effort, and has mixed results, etc., but it’s an option and a lot of people seem to like it.
If your bed has a long triangle shape, you can make use of the long pointy end by building the fire there, plus it stays out of the way nicely.
Keeping Out the Wind and Rain
Wait! There’s more you can do with your bed. If the area gets rain or wind, you might want to think about a roof or windbreak. The natural tree branches over and around your bed could do the trick. More often, you’ll need to rig up something.
If you have anything that can work as a tarp and some line, it’s pretty easy to just run a line over your bed and strap the tarp over it. If not, it’s time to get creative with branches, large leaves from tropical plants overlapped in layers, bark…whatever’s there.
A handy tip: Australian Aborigines have been known to build a structure like this, with a roof, and make a smudge fire beneath it to ward off bugs!
A smoldering, smoking fire under you might be a little hard to take but, if you’ve ever been swarmed by mosquitoes outdoors, you know how tempting it can be to get rid of them.
Note: Whatever you make, be sure there’s enough space between your sleep and the fire area! Survival situations are just that: times when your goal is just to make it through. They’re not always in a jungle or the woods, and they always have something you didn’t expect. You might need to build a swamp bed in something other than a swamp!
Maybe you don’t have trees around. Maybe you’re in an urban setting that’s wet. If so, secure a table on top of two dressers, put a house door or car hood between two fences, build it under an awning to offer protection from the rain, jam pipes into spaces in a brick wall, whatever.
Pleasant dreams and dry sleeping!
© Mark Dorr 2014, All Rights Reserved