The ABCs of building a lean-to

Now it might sound like a choir but it’s a lot of fun!

We built our first lean-to last spring after the snow had melted in late April/early May.

It was cold on the first night I spent outside in the woods. It was in September and on that clear night the temperature went down near the extreme values of my sleeping bag. The night sky was filled with stars and we got to experience both moon and sunrise so despite the cold, it was worth it.

An idea formed in my head – an idea about a more permanent shelter. I’d like a wooden floor instead of the lumpy ground.

According to regulations in our municipality, one can build a small shelter or structure outside of zoning and beach areas without having to file for permits. All you needed was the landowner’s permission.

During the course of the winter our firstborn designed, along with Arto, the main ingredients to our lean-to. Most of the building materials would be procured on site and the rest we’d get from recycling. After the snow started melting in April the building began.

We had chosen a spot next to the very same rock where we spent that first night outdoors. The distance between that and the parking lot was about 200 meters and we used an ATV to carry everything on site.

This is how we did it

The terrain was even enough but the base should be off the ground to prevent decay. This is why we gathered rocks under the corners.

The bottom frame was made from cut down trees that we peeled and stuck firmly in place. They were about 2,5 meters in length, so the surface area would be 2,5 times 2,5 meters. The front and back logs were raised on top of the ones on the sides to create a small rise.

We lined up and nailed down planks next to each other on top of the logs. We also placed studs in the corners. On the studs we attached trunks on the front and back and planks on the sides. We also placed diagonal support logs to strengthen the frame.

On the top logs we nailed ceiling ribs and screwed a tin roof in place. We stringed birch branches as walls.

Done! It took two guys a few afternoons to complete our little shelter.

It wouldn’t have taken this long had we had the chance to carry all the materials and tools on site at once.

Building materials

  • corner stones
  • pine trunks
  • birch brances
  • recycled planks
  • nails (4 and 5 inches)
  • screws
  • axe
  • chainsaw
  • hammer
  • screwdriver
  • water and lunch

We spent our first night in the lean-to in July

We took our sleeping bags and sleeping pads, fire-making equipment, food, drink and warm clothes along and headed to our new structure. We had made a fire pit out of boulders and chopped firewood next to the lean-to. Arto even made a lath in the woods and my son whittled spoons for cooking.

We had just created our very own lean-to with all its luxuries.

We roasted bacon by the fire, cooked tomato and ravioli soup and had pudding with freshly picked blueberries and raspberries for dessert. Come sundown the guys continued their whittling while I was busy knitting. With the wind sighing in the trees, we took in the atmosphere and silence.

The fire crackled and no one had to be anywhere else.

Then came the challenges

The water canister we bought for the night started leaking. We should’ve brought more than one container but we didn’t. We should’ve tested the faucet beforehand, but we didn’t. We should’ve invested in a better quality container, but we didn’t. So we placed cups and mugs under the leak.

This taught us to bring enough – or rather, extra- water along when there’s no water source nearby.

The weather wizards were feeling merciful and/or ironic, because it started raining. Hard. So the water crisis was over before it really began. Our dry firewood burned nicely despite the rainfall.

The eaves we had built didn’t hold up water and it got into the lean-to from the front. A tarp near the doorway would’ve helped but the warmth of the fire wouldn’t have reached us.

We listened to the rain against the tin roof and just lied there.

After a while Arto’s sleeping pad deflated. A small stick had popped a hole in it. Thankfully, since the whole thing was brand new, we had a patch-up kit. If you use an inflatable sleeping pad, remember to pack the kit as well.

Me, Arto, our son and two dogs had no problem fitting in the lean-to.

It rained all night. It was warm in the sleeping bag and we kept a fire going. Arto had placed a bigger log in the fire and some pitchy stumps so we didn’t have to keep adding wood.


On our earlier stays we had noticed a moose’s heat pit nearby. So there was a small chance we’d be trampled by their herd. We didn’t see any wild animals, though. Maybe because of the noise we and our dogs made constantly.

In the early hours of the day, the mosquitoes arrived. First one, then a hundred and then a thousand of their friends. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to a Finn, right? Ear plugs would’ve helped with the increasing roar of their flight. But we didn’t have any. I suggest you bring some.

Morning came and saved our sleep-deprived group.

We had porridge with fresh berries for breakfast and made some tea. We packed our stuff, cleaned up after ourselves, extinguished the fire. The maiden voyage of our lean-to was complete. We’d been lucky with the patch up kit and the rain. Plan B would’ve been to return to civilization before dawn.

Maybe it takes sleeping outdoors to learn to sleep outdoors. We’ll keep at it!


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