How to Build a Lean-To Shelter

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We learned it all in grade school (at least that’s when I recall first learning it): One of our primary needs is shelter. I don’t think I’m going to get much argument on this one. A good shelter can protect you from the elements, create a barrier between you and predators, and even provide you with a huge psychological boost. In this article, we’re going to talk about how to build a lean to shelter. What I like about this shelter is that it’s easy to build (even if you’re a beginner). Let’s take a look at how it’s done. (By the way, it wouldn’t hurt to invest in a couple of survival books and courses if you haven’t already done so.)

5 Main Steps

Step #1: Pick a Site

The first step to building any shelter is to find a good site. When learning how to build a lean to shelter, you want a site that’s close to wood, water, and other resources. Just make sure that you’re not too close to water. Also, make sure that you’re far away from falling objects (always look up when picking a site) and dangerous predators. For this type of shelter, look for a pair of trees that are about five feet apart. Once you’ve found a good site and a good pair of trees, you’re ready for step two.

Step #2: Gather Your Materials

Now it’s time to gather what you’ll need to make your shelter. When learning how to build a lean to shelter, it’s highly recommended that you have a good hatchet or axe with you. This will make the process much easier. First, you’re going to need a long, sturdy piece of wood a little longer than the distance between your two trees. This is known as your “Transversal Beam”. Additionally, you’ll need about 5-7 beams for the back of your shelter. Finally, unless you have a tarp, you’ll want to gather a descent amount of pine boughs.

Step #3: Attach the Transversal Beam

Take your transversal beam and attach it to both trees. You’ll need something to tie it down (paracord works great for this). Secure both ends of the transversal beam tightly. This is quite literally the “backbone” of your lean to shelter, so it needs to be sturdy. The next step in learning how to build a lean to shelter is to test your transversal beam. To do this, push down on the beam using your arms. Does it feel secure? If it feels secure, then you’re ready to move on to the next step in the process.

Step #4: Add the Remaining Beams

By this point, you’re probably starting to see why it’s called a “lean to” shelter. In this step, you’re leaning the remaining beams against the transversal beam. When learning how to build a lean to shelter, don’t space out your beams too far. If there are gaps by the end, you’re going to need more beams. Once you add the remaining beams, you’ll have a structural foundation for adding pine boughs (for insulation). Take your pine boughs and add them between the gaps of your support beams.

Pro Tip

Here’s how to tell if you’ve added enough pine boughs to your shelter: can you seen sunlight coming through into your shelter through the support beams? Then this means that water can also make its way in. If that’s the case, you’ll need to add more pine boughs. When learning how to build a lean to shelter, this is a tip you don’t want to forget.

Having a tarp is the best way to guarantee that no water leaks through the back of your lean to shelter. Tarps can be used for building a wide array of shelters, so it’s something you should always have in your pack. A single tarp doesn’t cost much (a 10′ x 12′ tarp costs $16 on Amazon). If you’re someone who regularly spends a lot of time in the wilderness, you need to invest in a tarp. It serves so many purposes that I couldn’t even begin to list them all on a single page.

Step #5: Create a Place to Sleep

You don’t want to sleep directly on the ground, especially if it’s a cold environment. Believe it or not, you lose a tremendous amount of body heat through the ground if it’s cold outside. As general rule, you want something that A) Insulates, and B) Elevates. This will not only keep you warm but also help protect you from bugs and critters. Here’s a handy video that will teach you how to build natural bedding in a survival situation:

A Good Hatchet Will Make All the Difference

Fiskars X7 Hatchet ReviewWhen learning how to build a lean to shelter, a good hatchet will make your job way easier. The Fiskars X7 Hatchet is a great model in my opinion. It’s light, offers plenty of cutting power, and has amazing grip. Every time that you enter the wilderness, you should have a good hatchet on you. This applies even if you’re familiar with the territory. All it takes is one wrong turn to get you seriously lost. If you currently don’t own a camping hatchet, and do a lot of hiking, then buy one as soon as possible.

How to Build a Lean to Shelter – Bottom Line

The reason why learning how to build a lean to shelter is recommended is because they’re very easy to build. Using minimal materials and time, you can have a life-saving shelter setup practically anywhere. If you live in a rural area, practice building this shelter in your spare time. There’s no sense in learning how to build a lean to shelter if you’re not going to practice it in real life! Don’t make your first time building this shelter be during a real survival situation.

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