Lean-To Debris Shelter 6

lean-to debris shelter

I’ve written posts previously about debris shelters, including this one describing how to build a one person kennel and this one showing you how to build a 2 person kennel.  Although we’ve had lean-to debris shelters at our ancient woodland camp for a good few years I haven’t got around to writing about them previously.  But just recently I’ve seen a few photos on social media of lean-to debris shelters that have missed some of the basic design principles.  So I thought I’d try to show what I believe to be important considerations.  Now I’m not saying this is the only way to do it, just that by using a few basic techniques your shelter will be more robust.

Siting your shelter

Regardless of the type of shelter you are building, there are a number of factors you’ll want to consider:

  • Build in a place that’s near to the resources you’ll need, not only the materials for the shelter, but firewood, water, food etc.,
  • Make sure that there’s no standing or hanging deadwood in the trees above you (similarly, I avoid camping under beech trees because of their habit of dropping limbs),
  • Avoid low lying areas that are liable to flood,
  • Avoid cold traps in gullies, valleys and the bottom of hills,
  • Don’t build your shelter on top of an animal trail,
  • Take account of the predominant wind direction and align your shelter accordingly.

Design principles for a lean-to debris shelter

There are a few things that are crucial to building a robust lean-to debris shelter.  First up, make sure that the horizontal ridge pole is pushing INTO the 2 trees that you’re using as the uprights.  This means that when you add the cover to the shelter the weight pushes everything into the trees; if the horizontal is on the other side, the weight pushes the shelter away from the trees leaving it vulnerable to falling over.lean-to debris shelter

Secondly, make sure that the forked sticks are on the inside of the trees.  This means that it’s less likely that they’ll be knocked over.  If you can, use forked sticks and not ‘Y’ shaped ones; position the forked stick so that the main limb is bearing the weight and the side branch is holding the ridge pole in place.

lean-to debris shelter

When I add the sticks to the shelter I lean them at about 60°, this gives enough room in the shelter whilst giving a steep pitch for the rain to run off.  I try to make sure that the sticks don’t go too far above the horizontal ridge pole; the more stick protruding above, the greater the chance that rain will run down them and into the shelter.

lean-to debris shelter

It is probably clear that you don’t want the wind blowing into your shelter as this will bring smoke, and more importantly sparks, into the shelter.  What isn’t as obvious is that having the wind blow onto the back of the shelter can cause a wave like motion and cause the wind to curl back over the shelter and then blow smoke and sparks on you.   For those reasons I position a lean-to debris shelter so that it is in line with the wind. Because of this I’ll often block in one end of the shelter to prevent the wind blowing through.

lean-to debris shelter

The great thing about a lean-to debris shelter is that you can have a long fire in front to keep your whole body warm, especially if you add a reflector; for me this is their biggest advantage over a kennel shelter.


As with any debris shelter, you’ll need to thatch with whatever is to hand.  The shelter in this post has been thatched with bracken (which to be fair could do with a bit of work to patch up some areas where it’s a bit sparse) but I’ve also used leaves and turf, and in coniferous woods entire branches from fallen trees. Make sure that you have a good depth of cover on your shelter to keep out the rain and give good insulation.

Build a bed

Whatever kind of shelter you make, it is absolutely crucial that you make a bed as well.  You may remember from your school days that a solid is a better conductor than a liquid, which is a better conductor than a gas.  This means that the ground is a very good conductor and will literally suck the heat right out of you.  A somewhat contrived example, but if you were stranded with only a towel, you’d be better off putting it under you than on top of you – because you’ll lose more body heat to the ground than you will to the air.

The bed below is made from 3 short logs laid on the ground and then 5 longer logs laid across them.  Then I knocked some stakes into the ground to stop everything moving around.

lean-to debris shelter

To get even better insulation and to give some comfort, you can cover the bed frame with leaves, moss or bracken.

About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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