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Articles / The lean-to: A favourite shelter

Published: 2010-01-22
Category: How To / Instructions

By Michael Nilsson

"Took a blanket and lay out at nights, sometimes in a hollow tree. There used to be a good many large sycamores. Get inside one of them, and sometimes tolerably warm. In rainy weather elsewhere our blanket was stretched up on sticks and we lay under it.."
- Samuel Mcdowell-Draper Manuscripts


Lean-to: A free standing structure of three walls and a sloping roof. The open side is sheltered away from the prevailing winds and rains. Often it is a rough structure made of logs or unfinished wood and used as a camping shelter.
- Wikipedia.

Home away from home
In some cases a simple fire can be the first priority, but depending on weather, a shelter from the elements can be just hours away from a disaster.
Learning how to set up an easy shelter during outings is rewarding. When perfected it makes the transition from domestic life into wilderness easier and in time it quickly transforms the casual "lunch spot" into "a home away from home".

Simple and basic structure
The tarp shelters are simple and probably the most basic structures you can build. They are very fast to setup and are generally used for short weekend outings or camps. There are as many ways to construct a shelter as there are human imagination and ingenuity.

In addition to your trusted friend, the tarp, you would only need rope and a structure consisting of a few poles to support the tarp.

Depending on size of tarp, it can be a simple structure consisting of two walls and a sloping roof or just the sloping roof. Opening in front is always higher than the closed back, so in case of rain, it will not drip on the fire. The opening should also be sheltered away from wind should rough conditions exist.

A shelter can of course be made without the use of a tarp. All depending on the time of year, mode of travel and your portrayal. I carry a tarp generally in most seasons, favoured in late fall and winter where it really performs well.

During spring, summer and fall, you will have plenty of ventilation and in some cases, shade. A small breeze keeps mosquitoes from bothering you as much as in an enclosed shelter.

Poor weather protection
With the front of this shelter open, weather protection is extremely poor considering harsh weather conditions and chillfactor, especially during winter.
In this case you should try to make a reflector to reflect heat from fire. A simple wooden structure or an extra tarp will suffice. With the fire fronting the opening, you can sleep under the shelter and still keep your feet warm.

Wedge tent lean-to
If portrayal and mode of travelling includes horses, you may pack a wedge-tent. This solution performs bad during winter season since you cannot make use of the fire in the same way as you can utilizing the lean-to.
However, recent experiments by the S.M.M. show that the wedge can easily become a lean-to by just laying it on its side, having the floor acting as opening.

We have also got to adapt to the 21st century. Much planning is needed prior to an outing. You can not use whatever you want to build a shelter. Nor can you raise a shelter or make a fire wherever you lay your hat.

Imagine this: A night of sleep in the wilderness, sheltered from the elements in a primitive fashion. Perhaps close to a babbling brook, listening to the wind, crackling of fire and the distant sound of nocturnality.. as you slowly drift away.

Quick tip
You would also not want to pierce your tarp whilst making a shelter. There are means of securing ropes without having to make a hole. Keep in mind that if not properly done, the hole will continue to tear. Instead of making a hole, take a lead-ball from your shot pouch, push it from under the tarp, and wrap a loop around it from above.
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