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Lean-To Shelter

The woods and wild places are drawing people to them. A weekend in the woods can wash away the stain of florescent lighting and it can reset your circadian rhythm. It seems that most of us understand the damage that our hyper convenient, over digitized, and sedentary lifestyle is doing to us.

More people are seeking the “tonic of the wilderness” as Thoreau called it.

Making wilderness shelter is something that calls to people on these wild adventures. So, let’s talk about how you can make the most fundamental and one of the most effective wilderness shelters of them all. I am talking about the lean-to shelter.

Primitive lean-to shelter in the woods with a fire pit
Primitive lean-to shelter in the woods with a fire pit

The Importance of Wilderness Shelter

What is the main reason for learning to build these wilderness shelters? Aside from just the fun of building your own fort out in the woods, there is a very important reason for studying and learning to make wilderness shelter.

This is your answer to needing shelter in a wilderness survival situation. When you need to get out of the elements and you need to affect your core body temperature a good shelter can capture your body heat and combined with fire could even save your life!

The lean-to can be a quick answer to that wilderness shelter to help you survive a wilderness emergency.

What is a Lean To Shelter?

It is called a lean-to shelter because the main wall of the shelter leans on a ridge pole. The leaning wall does double duty to protect you from the weather that could be falling above you and also the wind coming from behind. This leaning wall also traps some of your heat and holds it in your shelter.

Be sure you choose a nice flat area to build your shelter and it would help if you set up near some water sources to assure you can stay hydrated.

These shelters are easy to build and require minimal materials. This is why they are so popular when it comes to building a shelter for wilderness survival.

Gear Needed to Build a Lean To Shelter

The gear you need to build your lean-to shelter is minimal but if you have the right tools it will make an easy job even simpler.

  • Folding Saw
  • Cordage
  • Tarp
  • Survival Knife

Lean To Between Trees

Lean-to wilderness shelter between two trees
Lean-to wilderness shelter between two trees

The most common build for the lean-to shelter is between two trees. The hardest part about this build is finding the two trees to place the shelter between.

You are looking for 2 sturdy trees that are about 7 feet apart from one another. Pay attention to the land between those two trees. The more level the ground the better.

Now you are going to find yourself a nice sturdy ridge pole that is about 8 feet long. I find that cutting down some greenwood is best for this. I usually seek out some young American Holly. It’s strong wood and will be nice and sturdy as a ridge pole. Cut yourself an 8-foot ridge pole.

Set the ridgepole up no more than 4 feet tall. Lash the ridge pole three times with paracord. If you have 2 people this process is a lot easier. If not you can still pull it off.

With the same cord lash three times to the tree. Then three more to one side of the ridge pole and again three lashes around the tree. I run the remaining cordage between the tree and the pole warping to create tension. Tie your cordage off and move to the next side of the ridge pole.

Repeat the process on the opposite side of the pole and the second tree.

With your ridge pole in place, you can start looking for green branches to start leaning on the shelter. Green pine branches are great for this and will become the ribs of your shelter. Lean them on the ridge pole at about a 45-degree angle.

Once you achieve a collection of these branches all lined up then you can place pine boughs or just use a tarp to finish off the shelter.

Attach the tarp first at the ridge pole. You can tie it down to the trees or the ridge pole on either side. Then pull it tight and stake it to the ground.

If you have a nice big tarp then you might even want to create a simple A-frame shelter for yourself.

Lean-to shelter made with a tarp
Lean-to shelter made with a tarp

Detached Lean To

The detached lean-to shelter is built on the very same principle but your ridge pole is not lashed to trees. This is a good shelter to know how to build if you are in sparse forests. It can be a challenge to find trees that are set apart in just the right manner with the right ground underneath them.

In this case, you can create a couple strong tripods. You might think that building a tripod is only for smoking meats or cooking over a fire but the tripod can become the basis for your entire shelter. Look for some nice thick pine branches. You are going to need 6 of these in total.

To create your simple tripod you are going to lash the first branch three times with paracord, grab the next branch and continue with the paracord by lashing this next one. Then finally lash three times on the last branch and this will connect them all. The cordage will also keep the tripod nice and snug.

If you want you can create your tripod and then wrap more cordage around where all the sticks meet.

When you have created two similar-sized tripods you are going to place your ridge pole on top of both tripods and build your lean-to shelter normally.

Inside the Lean To

No matter what lean-to you have constructed you can also consider the inside of the shelter and how you would like to sit and sleep and store your gear.

You can make smaller lean-tos but I like to have room to store gear and get things out of the rain if need be. You can scoop up pine needles and put your sleeping pad and bag on top of them. This will add some cushion beneath you and also keep you from losing lots of heat to the hard ground through convection.

Some people will cut logs and create a wood floor in the bottom of their lean-to shelter. It is also nice to shove those pine needles to the back of the shelter to trap more of your heat inside the shelter. Pine boughs can make a nice bed, too.

You can customize this quick emergency shelter how you see fit.

Wilderness shelter with fire reflector wall built in the snow
Wilderness shelter with fire reflector wall

Warm and Dry Through the Night

The lean-to wilderness survival shelter is a simple design that every woodsman should try to assemble. If you have the right gear and a little knowledge you can set yourself up with a comfortable shelter that will keep you warm and dry through the night.

Wilderness survival shelters could be the difference between a cold night or hypothermia if you find yourself in a wilderness survival emergency.