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How to Build a Lean-To

If you find yourself caught unexpectedly in a freezing rain or snowstorm while hiking, construct a lean-to shelter for protection from the elements.


  • Step 1: Identify the wind direction Identify the wind direction, since the wind should blow toward the back of the lean-to. Surrounding vegetation will indicate the direction of the most common winds.
  • Step 2: Locate two trees Locate two trees, slightly farther apart than the width of your tarpaulin. The line between the trees should be at right angles to the direction of the wind.
  • TIP: Hiking poles, clothing, trash bags, ponchos, and plastic sheets are all usable materials for a lean-to. A lean-to constructed from fallen trees with a covering of tree limbs, thick grasses, or bark can shelter you from wind, rain, or snow.
  • Step 3: Tie a rope to the first tree Secure one end of the rope to one of the trees at the height of the lean-to’s opening. The lower the rope, the stronger the wind your lean-to will be able to withstand.
  • TIP: If you do not have rope, look for plant vines to use as cordage.
  • Step 4: Thread the rope though the tarpaulin grommets Thread the rope through the grommets on one side of the tarpaulin.
  • Step 5: Attach the rope to the second tree Tie the loose end of the rope to the second tree at the same height as on the first tree.
  • Step 6: Weigh down the other end of the tarpaulin Secure the edge of the tarpaulin opposite the side supported by the rope to the ground with stakes or rocks.
  • FACT: Getting wet in a high altitude mountain thunderstorm places you at risk of developing hypothermia even if the storm does not seem particularly severe.

You Will Need

  • The wind direction
  • Two standing trees
  • A tarpaulin with edge grommets
  • Rope
  • Stakes or rocks
  • Hiking poles (optional)
  • Pieces of clothing (optional)
  • Trash bags (optional)
  • A poncho (optional)
  • A plastic sheet (optional)
  • Fallen trees (optional)
  • Thick grasses (optional)
  • Bark (optional)
  • Plant vines for cordage (optional)

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