Illustrations by Matt Hall; shelter information based on notes from Shaun Deller
THE LEAN-TO IS ONE OF BUSHCRAFT’S MOST BASIC AND FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURES. Simple and quick to build, the lean-to can provide room to sit up or lie down in many different environments and circumstances (varying sizes, materials, levels of protection). Additionally, it can be built without any tools. These attributes make it an important shelter to have in one’s survival repertoire.
What follows is a brief, general guide to constructing a lean-to in various configurations, as well as some considerations to consider, broken down into five basic sections:
WHEN SELECTING A SITE FOR YOUR SHELTER, be aware of potential hazards such as flooding, falling tree limbs (AKA Widow Makers), wasp/hornet nests, et cetera. Find an area with flat ground and good drainage that’s abundant in sticks and other debris with which to build your shelter. Any natural protection from the elements (large standing trees, boulders, etc.) is desirable as well.
FIND A STRONG TREE LIMB three to four inches in diameter for a ridgepole (the main horizontal support); it should be at least as long as you are tall. Two supports with some sort of forked end (see illustrations for various setups) are needed to hold the ridgepole at about shoulder height. Standing trees make for the most stable uprights, but can be difficult to find with the right dimensions. If sufficiently stable forked uprights are not available, secure the ridgepole by lashing it with rope, or vines/roots/strong grasses if no rope is available.
ONCE THE RIDGEPOLE IS SECURED, accumulate a bundle of thin branches to form the base of the roof. Depending on the roofing material used, different angles should be set: a thicker, water repellent material like bark slab shingles can accommodate a shallower angle, around 45-50°; a more porous roof of greenery requires 60°+ to shed water effectively. Build up layers of roofing material as needed to provide protection from precipitation and wind (again taking into consideration the porousness of your supplies).
CONSTRUCT A BEDDING WITH SEVERAL INCHES OF GRASS, LEAVES ET CETERA. A thick bedding not only provides comfort but insulates your body heat. If there is snow on the ground, remove it from the interior of the shelter.
BE SURE TO CONSTRUCT YOUR SHELTER PARALLEL TO ANY PREVAILING WINDS; failing to do so will result in a shelter full of smoke. Build your fire up to as long as the shelter, providing tip-to-tip warmth if needed. Additional barriers such as a stack of wood outside of the fire or an emergency blanket draped along the inside of the shelter’s roof reflect the fire’s warmth back towards the shelter’s interior.
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