Forest activities: How to build the perfect den

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Den building

When was the last time you went deep into the forest and built a den? As the summer vacation season approaches, we’re all looking for ways to keep our families amused – whether on vacation or simply so that we can return to work! Building a den is a fun, family-friendly idea.

The forest offers up many opportunities for summer activities – from relaxing shinrin yoku to high octane climbing through the treetops with activity leaders such as Go Ape. One of the easiest – and free – activities with which to entertain your family in the forest has to be den building. The UK heritage charity The National Trust lists den building as one of its “50 things to do before you’re 11¾” – a manual of exciting activities designed to keep children amused.

Den building is great because it costs nothing and requires no preparation. You need only use the materials lying around in the forest. If you do give it a go, please remember not to damage any trees or pick any wildflowers in the process.

Forestry Commission England’s Y-shaped Den

The UK’s Forestry Commission England suggests basing your den on a Y-shaped tree and building out from there. According to the Forestry Commission this is the simplest way to build a den.

It says, “You don’t need any special equipment, just fallen branches and twigs to use as building materials. To get started, find a sturdy, living, Y-shaped tree and prop the longest branch you can find against the ‘Y’. This will be your den’s frame. Lean other branches and sticks against the long branch until you have a wall that shelters you from cold winds. You could put sticks on both sides of the branch to build two walls but remember to leave a doorway so you can get in and out! Fill in the gaps between the branches with fallen leaves to make your den really cosy and windproof.”

The National Trust’s Wig-Wam Den

As part of its 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ the National Trust recommends you build your den by leaning sticks against a suitable tree in a conical design. This way, it says, you don’t have to do as much building.

It says, “Whether you’re building your den in a local wood or your back garden, you’ll need to find a good tree to start. Look for a sturdy tree with lots of nooks and nobbles, or a low branch. This will help keep your sticks in place when you start building… Search for some strong branches on the ground that will make a good framework for your den to start. Make sure they’re wedged into your tree, so they won’t move easily. Then you can start filling in your walls by placing more sticks close together.”

For a messier alternative, it also suggests, “you can fill in the gaps between your branches with twigs and leaves. Mud is also a great building material so don’t be afraid to slap it on your den’s walls.”

The Woodland Trust’s Indoor Den

The forest charity The Woodland Trust also has some great tips for den building on its website. Notably, it warns would-be den builders to steer clear from using bracken to fill out the walls of your den. That’s because bracken can often be home to ticks – and you don’t want to get bitten!

The charity also reminds den builders to dismantle their den after a day of building fun. This way, you leave the forest in its natural state – and ready for the next set of den builders to have their fun!

Helpfully, for those of us who don’t live close to woodland or who are trying to keep the kids amused on a wet and rainy summer’s day, the charity also includes some suggestions for den building at home using cushions, a few old sheets or blankets and a couple of chairs.

Further reading – more ideas for keeping your kids amused this summer:

Read more about forest activities and forest management: