Shelter system materials and techniques for design with minimal footprint

By Matt Reilly

[Editors note: the opinions are those of the author and he has taken responsibility for obtaining rights to the photographs used here.]

With the stress of daily routines, spending time in nature becomes an ultimate escape from the urban lifestyle. Being surrounded by peacefulness and stillness connects us to the environment and memorable experience of living according to it. The more time we spend in nature, the more we realize the significance of environmentally responsible behavior. Some people feel hostility about spending more than one afternoon without a comfortable couch and a TV. But does connecting with nature has to mean alienation from comfort? The answer is no: modern technology has the potential to bring comfortable camping to another level. However, how do we spend time in nature without harming it? We can decrease our impact on nature by using environmentally sensitive portable and non-portable shelters. This article represents helpful design ideas and shelter system materials for consideration by designers of overnight accommodations for  front-country environments.

Following are examples of accommodations which include convenience while leaving a minimal footprint. Suggested designs are not environmentally friendly solely for the material but for their functionality as well. They  can incorporate sustainable ways of water and power consumption through rain harvesting system,  portable shower systems, solar-powered technologies like portable solar panels and chargers, composting appliances (for instance outdoor composting bin), and promote modern waste reduction through practices like recycling, reusing waste material and utilizing biodegradable soaps and detergents.  This recommended set of ideas also takes into account positioning of accommodation which should be sited in such manner to capture enough sunlight in the winter and to lessen heat gain during summer.

The container shelter

The container shelter’s key features are that they are easy to transport and fix. This portable shelter solution is designed using burly shipping containers which can end up being commodious and useable living space simple to fabricate and transport anywhere. Standard shipping containers dimensions are W8m x L6m(20′) or 12m(40′) x H5.5m. This type of accommodation provides electricity, drinkable water, and sanitation. Those designing this shelter can also easily upgrade it with various green reinforcements such as with rainwater harvesting system, ceramic filtration system, and composting toilets.


The ekinoid shelter

The Ekinoid shelter is an innovative project that represents a self-sufficient and sustainable housing.  Spherical construction sits on stilts, and the elevation allows avoiding flood damage. Built strong enough to withstand intense storms and prefabricated, this ekinoid shelter also has incorporated the wind and solar power and rainwater harvesting model.


The buBbLe House

The buBble House project developed a portable housing that is a blend of simplicity, amenity, and environmental care. It is easily transportable wherever you go, and it provides inhabitants with all essentials for comfort. Aluminum frame is slab-sided with extremely lightweight bubble skin material, and it opens with a metal locker. It includes a small kitchen and lightning as well as eco-friendly laundry facilities. It is powered with an insulating chamber.


Straw bale homes

For those looking for a non-portable shelter that performs highly eco-friendly and is functional, straw bale house might be the best solution.  Hay bales serve to build house’s walls inside of the frame that should also be of a natural material such as wood. Straw bales can efficiently replace conventional building materials like plaster and concrete. They contribute to the functionality of your eco-friendly home by providing high insulation levels in a sustainable manner.


Bamboo Shelter

Bamboo is versatile. Its tensile strength and light weight make it the ultimate material for building both non-portable and transportable shelters.  The renewable character makes it even more desirable in an eco-friendly building.  Bamboo replaces bulky and costly materials and it perfect for constructing shelters for places hit by natural disaster since the building is fairly simple.



Tents made using natural and organic fabrics

Simplicity is never overrated. When terrain demands extremely easily transportable shelters so designers should take tents into account. The most environmentally sensitive tents are those made particularly from natural materials such as wool, hemp or cotton. Using these types of tents will leave minimal footprint behind in comparison to synthetic ones, however, they also require a significant financial investment.  Keep in mind that natural materials have to be additionally waterproofed in order to work well in wet weather conditions.



Tents made of  recycled and recyclable materials

Synthetically made tents continue to attract more buyers than those made of natural fabrics and materials. There are two crucial reasons why that is the case. Firstly, synthetic tents promise quality protection in wet conditions which natural shelters can’t guarantee and secondly, even though natural tents are lightweight, synthetic ones are even lighter and easier to transport. However, certain manufacturers and designers in the eco-friendly sector are adjusted to the market and launched tents made from recycled and recyclable materials. Creating alternative tents from recycled polyester and adding a waterproof solvent-free coating could motivate campers to purchase the green option.  Eliminating harmful and toxic dyes could also strengthen the green factor of these tents and tent designers could come up with a way to paint them in an eco-friendly manner.


Shelters using techniques  and materials like these, built in environmentally responsible manner, are more than just shelters. They contribute to raising awareness of green building as well as prove people that connecting to nature doesn’t have to be an unsafe or unpleasant experience.