Raw Survival – Building a Lean-to

There are many types of shelters you can build in the wilderness and one of the easiest is probably the lean-to.  Basically it’s simply some sticks laid up against a cross member with whatever you can find to help make it water proof. In the field I’ve made small ones using my poncho and big ones using tarps.  I’ve even made them using nothing but what the forest has to offer such as wood covered with fir tree limbs angled in such a way to help shed water. If you put a fire in front of one with a heat relfector it will stay relatively warm inside.  If possible put the back of the lean-to into the wind so that if it rains it doesn’t blow right in on you.


This is a big lean-to made from a tarp. I spent a couple of nights under it.

One thing to remember about a lean-to using all natural materials is that it’s very difficult to make it completely waterproof, especially if you’re going to be setting it up as a quick overnight shelter.

Something to know about any type of wilderness shelter is that it takes a lot of work no matter how simple it looks.  That’s why it’s best to build your shelter with as much natural help as you can get.  If you have a fallen tree that looks like it will support the weight of some branches go ahead and use it.  It’s much easier than trying to set one up from scratch and that’s the idea behind the survival game.

The more calories you save doing one thing the more you’ll have for something else.  I usually think of it as, “spending calories.”  Do I want to spend 500 to 1000 calories or more setting up a shelter or would I rather spend them foraging or hunting?  Both are important, but if I can find a shelter already half made that might give me time to carve up some figure four traps that will hopefully put me ahead of the game.


The more modern your tools the easier it becomes as well.  You can build a shelter with no tools at all, but it’s a lot of work.  If you have your survival knife and a small saw your life just got a lot easier because you can now easily cut wood big enough and to size for your shelter.  Also, a poncho or large piece of plastic will go a long way towards  helping waterproof it if you happen to have these materials with you or can find them in the woods.

You’d be surprised what you can find in the deep woods.  There have been many occasions when I’ve been hunting or hiking way out in the middle of nowhere and thought to myself, “Man, I’ll bet nobody has ever set foot here before,” then came across a wine bottle or an old metal pail.  Keep an eye out for these kinds of things if you’re in the woods as they can help you immeasurably if you’re in a survival situation.

If you’re making your shelter with just what the forest has to offer you’ll find that birch bark cut in long strips and layered properly can provide pretty good shelter from the rain.  Did I mention that these kinds of shelter are a lot of work?  When you’re hiking in the back country and you decide to make a shelter from natural materials make sure you give yourself enough daylight to build it.

Practice practice practice!  If you wait until you’re in a survival situation to try and build a survival shelter of any kind you might be surprised at how much work it can be.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  You need to practice your wilderness skills.  You can read about it all you want, but until you actually get out there with your knife and firesteel it’s all theory.  Easy to read about, but far more difficult in practice.

Have you ever built a survival shelter?  Tell me about it in the comments below.

-Jarhead Survivor