Joshua warming himself by the fire in front of his lean-to shelter.

Lean-To Shelter

Joshua warming himself by the fire in front of his lean-to shelter.

My son (who was home on leave a few months ago) and I recently went on a Bug-Out-Camp out, taking nothing more than bug out bags, a .22 and a shotgun we headed out into the Rocky Mountains for a couple of days. Our first order of business was to find a location that offered cover and concealment (this was a bug out after all), a near-by water source, and signs of wild game so we could supplement what little food we brought with us.

Once we had found a location we felt offered all the things we were looking for we set about building shelters to keep the rain off our backs (and fronts) and keep our gear dry.

Location, Location, Location…

Our lean-to location before it was cleared and leveled.

Our lean-to location before it was cleared and leveled.

After being cleared and leveled.

After being cleared and leveled.

 

Just like with real estate the first thing you need to do is find a location that is fairly flat (or can be made that way fairly easily), that has a near-by water source, and at least some evidence of wild game close by, and that has two trees (or other support structures) that are far enough apart you will be able to lay down and stretch out with room for your gear.

Once you have selected your location you will need to level any high spots, remove any rocks or roots, branches, etc.

The Ridge Pole

The ridge pole for the lean-to secured to the two trees with 550 cord.

The ridge pole for the lean-to secured to the two trees with 550 cord.

Once you have cleared and leveled the area you are going to place your lean-to it is time to find a branch that is straight enough and long enough to act as a ridge pole.

Once you have  your ridge pole you will need to lash it to the two trees on either side of the area you cleared and leveled with 550 cord, 100 mph tape (duct Tape), twine, or the like.

I suggest that you lash the ridge pole at about nipple height so you aren’t all hunched over when you are sitting in your lean-to.

Putting the “Lean” in your Lean-To and making it weather proof.

The"rafter"poles laid in.

The”rafter”poles laid in.

Pine bough "shingles.

Pine bough “shingles”.

Inside the Lean-To.

Inside the Lean-To.

 

Once you have the ridge pole secured, you need to figure out which way the prevailing winds in the area blow because you will want to lay in the “rafter” poles so that that roof “leans” in the direction of those winds. In other words you don’t want the opening of your lean-to facing into the wind.

You can, as we did here, fill in the open sides as well to give you a little more cover from the elements.

Once you have all of the “rafter” and side (if you choose to add side poles) poles in place it is time to cover them so you and your gear stay dry. We used green pine boughs to cover our lean-to’s but you can use grass, leaves, pine needles, a tarp, poncho, or any other material that will provide insulation and weatherproofing.

We ended up with 8″-10″ of pine boughs covering the back and sides of our lean-to’s before I felt they were weather proof. Once we finished with the roof and sides we put a healthy layer (about 7″-8″) of pine boughs on the ground under the lean-to to act as insulation from the ground. On top of that we placed our ground pads and sleeping bags (not pictured).

Keeping warm

Tinder Bundle

Tinder Bundle

Kindling

Kindling

An example of the firewood we gathered for the night.

An example of the firewood we gathered for the night.

Once the lean-to’s were finished it was time to dig a fire trench. I laid down in my lean-to on my side and stretched my arm out as far as I could without rolling and marked the dirt where my hand landed, I got up and dug the fire trench so the side nearest the opening of the lean-to was about 3″-4″ further out than where I marked (you don’t want to worry about rolling over and into your fire in the middle of the night now do you?)

Dig the trench so that it is about 1/3-1/2 as long as your lean-to, centered in the opening, and 10″ – 12″  deep, for some reason I neglected to get a picture of the fire reflector that was on the back side of the fire trench and I apologize, but once you have your trench dug you want to build a “fire reflector” on the back side of the trench. We built one out of rocks that we gathered from near our location and the other out of green pine branches. Stack the rocks (if that is what you choose to build a reflector out of) so they are 3″-4″ higher than your shoulder when you are laying down and about 3″ or so from the back edge of the trench. If you are using green branches you will need to put two stakes into the ground 3″ or so from the back side of your trench near the ends of the trench. Stack green branches behind the stakes until you have a height about 2″-3″ above your shoulder when you are laying down and put in two more stakes on the back side of this little “wall” to hold them in place.

Once your trench is dug and your reflector built, collect your tinder bundle, kindling, and firewood. A good rule of thumb when it comes to firewood is collect what you think you will need and then double or triple it. You don’t want to be scrambling about in the middle of the night getting more firewood because you didn’t get enough to begin with, I have tried it when the temperature was in the low teen’s and it wasn’t really all that fun.

There is an old saying about fires and the differences between an American Indian and white men when it comes to fires that I really like and relate to my survival students all the time that goes like this (or something like this anyway), “Indians build small fire stay warm keeping close to fire. White man builds huge fire, stays warm chopping wood.” You don’t need a bon fire to keep warm in a lean-to if you have constructed the lean-to and your fire trench correctly.

Note: The pictures show a small amount of firewood just for illustration purposes. We did gather enough firewood to keep us warm and secure for the 3 nights we spent on our “bug out.”

Conclusion

Joshua warming himself by the fire in front of his lean-to shelter.

Joshua warming himself by the fire in front of his lean-to shelter.

A lean-to is great if, like us, you are planning on staying in the same location for an extended period of time. By paying attention to prevailing winds and making sure you have a good layer of “roofing” material you can stay snug, dry, and warm regardless of what the weather throws at you. On our second night out it decided to rain for a couple of hours, by paying attention to what Mother Nature was saying, adding a “roof” over our firewood off the side of the lean-to and adding a small “roof” over our fire trenches that attached to the “front” of the lean-to’s, before it started raining, we were able to stay warm and dry without any trouble.
I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train To Survive!

Tom

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