How to build your own leaf shelter

Out in the wild without a tent? Don’t get caught in the rain. Here’s our step-by-step guide to building your own leaf hut.

Tents are brilliant. They’re just like a house that you can carry in a bag and take with you. They will keep you dry when it rains, and (sort of) keep you warm when it’s a bit chilly. But what if you didn’t have a tent with you when you found yourself stuck out in the middle of nowhere? Fear not, Outdoor Adventure Guide is here to help. Where previously you may have curled up and cried, here’s how to build your own make-shift shelter.


Obviously, not all shelters are built the same way, with designs dependent on what materials are easily available to hand and what kind of environment you are in. It’s a little pointless trying to build an igloo in the desert, for example. To keep things simple, we have opted for the straightforward leaf hut design. Take a little time at the beginning to plan your shelter and it should mean you wont have to run around in your pants in the middle of the night trying to fix it.

Things to Consider

Hazards You need to be safe in your shelter as well as protected from the elements. As a rule, hot air rises and so any dips are more likely to collect sinking colder air.

Pick somewhere fairly level, away from any potential flood zones or deadfall branches, but avoid exposed areas. Also, you don’t really want to be near any animal/insect threats that could ruin a night’s sleep.

Water and materials If staying for any longer than a night, consider proximity to food and water supplies and it makes sense to be near to any materials you will need for construction and fire building.

Timing Usually a shelter will be built as an emergency fallback rather than a first choice accommodation option. Therefore, it is likely that you will attempt to make it in a rush… that is not a good start. Over estimate the amount of time it will take to build a shelter.

1. Collect your spine


The first piece of wood you need is the long spine piece. This should be a fairly sturdy branch and longer than your height as the length of this will determine the length of the shelter. If you can find one with a curve along its length, then that’s even better.

2. And two load-bearing sticks

make-a-leaf-hut-2You will need another couple of slightly shorter logs to act as the load-bearing vertical supports for the construction. Sticks with forked ends are what you should be looking for, as they will negate the need for cordage to join everything together.

3. Start constructing

Bed the end of the spine stick firmly into the ground and create a tripod at the other end with the two shorter sticks. Apply some weight to the spine log to bed everything in place. If you picked well, you should almost be able to hang off the thing. If not, it’s back to the start for you.

4. Build it up


Create a kind of rib structure using medium-sized sticks resting on the spine log and bedding vertically into the floor. The rib section doesn’t have to be too uniform – in fact, it’s better if it’s not.

5. Begin weather proofing it


After the medium-sized sticks you can further build a lattice construction with small sticks. Once again, don’t be too precious about uniformity. This is  the first stage in weather proofing and creating warmth.

6. Fill the gaps


Fill in the gaps in the lattice with leaf matter and debris. Start at the base and work up. The idea is to have total coverage over the structure to a depth of around 30cm. Try to avoid having any sticks poking through. As the rain falls, they will draw water along their length, through the thatch, to the inside.

7. Climb inside!


And there it is, a palatial home in the woods. There are plenty of variations on this style and you should use whatever is to hand to build it, but by following these general principles, you should never have need for bricks and mortar again. Possibly.