How to Build a Lean-To Shelter

Lean-to shelter

The lean-to shelter is one of the most popular emergency shelters for survival. It is simple to build using minimal supplies and can be put together in a matter of minutes as opposed to the debris hut which takes much longer to build.

Although the lean-to may be a simple shelter, it is still a good choice for protection against the elements.

If you have a tarp or an emergency blanket in your kit, this will be a simple build but for the purpose of this guide, we are going to assume that you need to use only what you find.

Lean-To Location

The location that you choose for your shelter is very important and there are a few guidelines to follow.

  • Water – you need to make sure that you don’t build your shelter near running water. It might not be raining now, but it may later on and you don’t want to get flooded out.
  • Natural Shelter – try to site your shelter where you will be better protected from the elements (not on top of a hill).
  • Materials – you want to build the lean-to close to the natural materials that you plan on using so as not to waste too much energy going back and forth from the materials to your shelter location.
  • Dangerous Trees – look around and above you to ensure that you won’t be building where there is a possibility of a broken branch, rocks, or a tree coming down on top of you and crashing the party during the night.

A Lean-To shelter can be constructed quicker if a natural structure such as a fallen tree can be used as a wall. 

During the steps below, if you do not have paracord to hold it all together, you can use any natural materials such as vine or natural cordage.

Building the Main Frame

Lean-to shelter

You need to start by creating the backbone which will hold the weight of the shelter. The easiest way is to attach a long strong branch between two trees as in the image above.

From here, you can start adding smaller branches (ribs) at a 45 degree angle which will give you enough room underneath to sit up. If it is expected to rain, you may choose to increase this angle to give the rain a better chance of running off.

Opt to make the shelter on the smaller side as the bigger the shelter, the harder it will be to keep warm.

These ribs will keep the layers of debris from falling through into the shelter.

Adding the Inner Insulation

Next you need to place plenty of insulation inside so that you are not laying directly on the ground. Whatever materials you choose to use should be completely dry.

If you are in a wooded area, your best choices are:

  • Dry leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Moss
  • Or grasses

Adding the Outer Insulation

You should by now, have your main backbone and ribs of your lean-to shelter complete. Now it is time to add the insulation layer that is going to insulate the shelter from the elements.

This will be time consuming but if you fail to do this properly, you will have just wasted your time getting this far in the build as it won’t keep you warm or dry.

The more that you can add, the better. Don’t be afraid to keep piling on the insulation. This can be leaves, pine needles, grasses, etc.

Once the outer insulation is complete, start adding some branches over the top to hold the insulation down in case of high winds during the night.

To minimize wind draft, you may opt to cover the ends of your lean-to shelter by using the same methods as above and adding the ribs first, followed by the insulation.

There you have it, your emergency lean-to shelter. It won’t be the warmest but if needed in a pinch, may just be what you need.