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 You Should Know About A Tarp- Lean-To Tent

Lean-To Tarp Tent

There are numerous types of DIY emergency outdoor shelters. My personal favorite is the lean-to tent. The lean-to-tent or tarp shelter is an excellent beginning shelter to learn as it is not overly complicated, minimal resources are needed and it is also quite practical.

This article will tell you how to build the lean-to. First, though I will evaluate the basics of the tent site selection and the different tent fabrics that you can use. Finally, instructions will be given for the US Army method of building your outdoor tarp shelter.

The Tent Site (Don’t Neglect This! Step)

Before you start to build your portable shelter, you need to ask yourself the following questions concerning your campground area:

  • Do I have the right type of basic equipment on me? I.E., Obviously poncho shelter can’t be made when you don’t have a poncho, emergency blanket, or another type of tarp material.
  • Do you have the survival tools and equipment to make it? I.E., Do I have bushcraft axes, or is my survival knife on me.
  • How quickly do I need to build my survival tent? If there is a storm or other harsh weather conditions coming, you’ll need to construct your tent fast.
  • Do You even need to build a shelter? For example, can you make do with a cave, hollowed-out tree stump, or another natural object?
  • Where should I physically set up my tent? I.E. Stay away from a dried-out creek or river beds that can be overrun by a flash flood.

Lean-To Tent Fabric Material

Every tarp shelter material has its own specific pros and cons. The best fabric for you depends upon your specific goals, which means that a fabric choice may suit you perfectly but be a poor choice for the next camper. As an example, heavier fabrics tend to be the strongest, more weather resistant, etc. However, the heavy fabric also means that you could have to carry 10 to 20 extra pounds of gear with you when you are hiking several miles for your backcountry camping.

For this article, a tarp is a generic term that covers various fabric covers that are made from a variety of fabric, such as, Nylon ,Ripstop Nylon , PVC Fabric , and Canvas

Nylon Pros and Cons

Nylon is one of the most common lean-to-tent fabrics and is also known for being quite cheap.


  • Strength
  • Stretching Ability
  • Water Resistance
  • Lower-Cost
  • Lightweight.


  • UV Exposure -Nylon may suffer degradation if it is exposed to excess UV rays. However, this should not be a big issue for most people, as it will most likely only affect high-altitude mountain climbers.
  • Not Water Proof-Untreated, nylon absorbs, but it does not repel water, which means that, when wet, it will weigh more.

Nylon’s water absorption problem can be solved by either purchasing water-resistant Nylon or applying a type of water-resistant coating yourself. Some of the most popular water-resistant coatings for Nylon are silicon, PVC, and acrylic.

Ripstop Nylon-Ripstop Nylon

Ripstop fabric was developed in WW II. It is known for its overall strength and it being rip resistance. It is made from silk, cotton, polyester, polypropylene, and nylon.  Ripstop uses a reinforcement, stitching, technique that makes it highly resistant to ripping and tearing. (It is called “RipStop” because small tears are less likely to expand) Nylon Ripstop is a popular high-end choice for tent fabric, and it is made tear-resistant through crosshatched treading. Ripstop is extremely durable and also is known for having the following qualities.

  • Waterproof or Water-Resistant– It can be up to 100% waterproof or, if you desire, have water resistance.
  • Resistance To Fire
  • Light, Medium, and Heavy-Along with different weights, you will also have different texture options.

Cotton Canvas

Canvas is an old-school tarp that is not seen much today as artificial materials like Nylon, and PVC fabric, have taken over. Canvas does, though, have its advantages and disadvantages that I will go over. (The below list pertains to untreated or non-coated canvas)


Breathable Fabric-Cotton fabric is quite porous, which means that it will not trap heat as much as other artificial fabrics like vinyl. This makes it an excellent choice for the summer months.

Aesthetic-For a survival shelter, this isn’t a factor. Canvas does have a rustic, classy look, and feels that it just looks good.

Environmental Friendly-Cotton is a natural and more green fabric than any of its synthetic competitors.

Sound Proof-As it is a heavy fabric, canvas also tends to absorb sound better than other lighter fabric.


  • Heavy-Canvas is quite heavy. So, other than perhaps an already made tent, it would be quite uncomfortable to carry it with you.
  • Only Water Resistant-Canvas is not fully waterproof; water will only slide off of the canvas.
  • Mold and Mildew-Canvas tarp that is not dried out and taken care of are prone to mold and mildew.


USGI Industries Military Style Poncho | Emergency Tent, Shelter, Survival | Multi Use Rip Stop Camouflage Rain Poncho (OCP)

There are many ponchos available that use many different types of material. I would personally recommend military surplus ponchos that are made from waterproof treated, Nylon fabric. The poncho is an all-purpose survival tool, that has many other uses than just a raincoat. Some of these uses are the following:

  • Ground Cloth-Use it as a waterproof barrier to place on the ground.
  • Sleeping Bag-A poncho can be used as a sleeping bag when the weather is 50 degrees or more.
  • Emergency Shelter-Numerous types of lean-to and other shelters can be made with a military Nylon poncho.

Emergency Blanket (“Space Blanket”)

ANMEILU Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets -Space Blanket Survival kit Camping Blanket (4-Pack). Perfect for Outdoors, Hiking, Survival, Bug Out Bag ,Marathons or First Aid

Emergency blankets are also called Mylar or space blankets. They are extremely lightweight and can be folded down to fit in an average-sized pocket, and are very cheap. So, take a space blanket with you when you are hiking a trail in the backcountry and also in your bug-out bag.

The Mylar Blanket has the following useful properties:

  • Windproof
  • Reflects Heat
  • Waterproof

The above qualities make the Mylar an excellent choice for makeshift lean-to tent fabric.

Step by Step Instruction Building a Lean-To Tent

Environment Needed-A forest or another area that has trees that you can attach a rope to it.

Needed Resources

  • One poncho/Tarp-(Any of the above materials listed in this article will work)
  • Six to ten feet of rope or paracord bracelet.
  • Three, six-inch stakes.
  • Two trees around seven to nine feet apart.

    When selecting the trees, you need to make sure that the back of your lean-to tents is facing the wind.

    1. Secure the Poncho Hood-Tightly pull the cord and then roll the hood long-ways into thirds. You then tie off the hood by using the drawcord.
    2. Cut your rope in half. With the long side of your poncho, you tie half of the rope to a single corner grommet, the other rope half you tie it to the other corner grommet.
    3. Attach a four-inch pole to each rope at around a 1/ 4″ to 3/ 4″ from the grommet. These sticks keep rain from running down the ropes into your tent.
    4. Tie the ropes to the trees using a round turn and two half hitches with a quick-release knot at around the height of your waist.
    5. Spread the poncho out into the wind and then anchor the poncho to the ground. You do this by placing three sharp sticks right through the grommets straight into the ground.
    6. Center Support- this is needed if you’re going to be using your lean-to shelters for multiple nights or when harsh weather conditions are expected. To make the support stretch, a rope between two upright sticks or trees lines up with the poncho center.
    7. Fasten more rope to your poncho hood; pull the rope upward so that the rope lifts the poncho center, and tie the rope firmly to the rope that you have stretched between the two uprights.
    8. Windy and Rainy Weather: – Place bark, leaves, brush, blankets, your bushcraft rucksack at the base of the shelter.

    Cold Weather- To minimize body heat loss place insulation (Leaf and pine needles will work great) on the ground of the tent.

    Other Tents

    Lean-to tents, as they are not too complicated and are good tents to start with. Other tents you may also be interested in, which are quite similar to the basic lean-to, are the Baker Tent and the Colonel Townsend Whelen Lean-To Tent. Below is an excellent video on how to build the Whelen Tent.

    Final Thoughts

    PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! Making a shelter is the only way you can be best assured that you will construct a portable shelter when you need it the most. So first, if possible, try making the lean-to tent in your backyard or other safe space. Then, set one up while camping during normal weather conditions. I.E., A National or State Park, or campground near civilization. And, if possible, try building one during inclement weather, and then sleep in it, overnight. Only by doing the above, will you be confident in your ability to build your lean-to tent when making one could mean the difference between life or death.