Saturday, February 8, 2014

How to build a lean-to shelter in case of an emergency – or for fun

A nearly completed lean-to shelter.

Use branches, bark
to keep rain, wind off you

If forced to stay a night in the wilds – or as just a fun activity to do while hiking with teenagers – knowing how to build a lean-to shelter can be a life-saver.

As to staying a night in the wilds, you may need to shelter to keep rain and wind off you as well as to provide a sense of security. As to hiking with teenagers, learning how to build a lean-to can provide a number of great learning opportunities that gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Roof beam
The first step is to make a roof beam. Find a log that is about three feet longer than the body length of the tallest person in the hiking party. Remove any branches from the log.

Prop one end of this log between a tree’s trunk and one of its low-lying branches, preferably one that is about four feet off the ground. The other end of the log goes between another tree trunk and its low-lying branch. Be sure to select a spot that is flat and high with no water flowing below the placed log’s two ends. Also, check the wind’s direction; you don’t want the log ends to be facing into the wind but instead want the log’s width to.

If you have rope, lash the two ends of the logs to their respective tree trunks so that the roof beam is more stable.

Next, collect several dozen small tree branches, about an inch or so in diameter and five feet high. Strip these branches of any smaller limbs or leaves. Separate the stripped branches so that the thinner of them are in one pile and the thicker ones are in another.

Lean the thicker of these tree branches at a 60 degree angle against each side of the roof beam. Alternate them so a branch is on one side of the beam, the next branch is on the opposite side, the third branch is on the same side as the first one, the fourth branch is on the same side as the second, and so on. Keep the branches about an inch apart. These are your rafters.

Weave the smaller branches horizontally through the rafters on each side of the roof beam. Start at the bottom and work your way up to the top. Alternately, birch bark can be used. Insulation can be added by piling leaves, bark, or pine cones against the weaving on the rafters.

Flooring can be added by placing pine boughs or mats of moss on the ground. If you have a tarp, use that either as flooring or as flaps for the lean-to’s open ends.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.