Can you make fire under a lean-to shelter?

That’s what one writer I wanted to hire wrote in the demo article. According to her, “the smoke goes out the sides while the heat trapped”.

Now, although I have strong opinions on things in general, I’m always looking to expand my knowledge. I don’t know anyone who’s actually put fire inside a shelter which, in my opinion, is downright dangerous… so I’m asking you guys:

Do you think building fire under a lean-to shelter is ok or do you think it’s dangerous?

There’s an obvious risk of the tarp or the branches used for the lean to could catch fire. There are some ways to make it work, such as using a tarp that’s flame retardant. Even so, it appears most tarps will burn if exposed to open flames.

As you know, due to lack of time most of the articles written here are from other writers, so I have to do my best to avoid publishing info that could not only be inaccurate and not based on personal experience, but could actually be deadly.

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14 thoughts on “Can you make fire under a lean-to shelter?”

  1. Aside from the assumption that any flames are an absolute threat to a shelter, and choking on the smoke and carbon monoxide from poor venting, the concept has a glimmer of logic. That said, if the heat is from a low coal bed in a trench or Dakota fire pit, it might work. Plastic sheeting and emergency blankets would still run the risk of melting, depending on how close they were to the heat source.
    Personally, I wouldn’t use a low triangular lean-to for this if I had the choice and resources, but opt for a slightly larger “Baker Tent” configuration and a long fire outside, or the Dakota fire pit filled with coals with the plastic between the pit top cooking area and the “chimney” side of the pit. The risks are still there, but slightly reduced.
    In sandy areas, old pioneers would rake the coals out, cover them with sand and wait until the moisture was forced out of the sand covering before spreading their blankets for the night. (Settle in under the blanket too soon and you would have a sauna experience. Not enough sand and your hips/clothing might suffer burns) I suppose this could be done in a shelter as well.

  2. Yes you can. A small fire is enough in most cases. As an infantryman I have burnt C-rat fuel tabs under a poncho. With poncho on and sitting against a tree I would bring my knees to my chest and in a small depression in the ground burn one heat tab. Warms you up but condensation is very real.

    A tarp shelter using the diamond or plow set allows one to build a small fire at the open front. A dakota hole works well here. You can have some warmth and cook while staying relatively sheltered.

    The key is A SMALL fire. I have used both methods.

  3. Yeah, just as I suspected. You can make one but I don’t see this as being sound advice for the average prepper. Even if the fire is small enough, someone would have to be there permanently to watch it. And if you’re alone and need to leave the shelter for a period of time, that fire would remain unattended.

    I think warming up near the fire outside, then using sleeping bags and putting on an extra layer of clothes is a much better option. Other options to warm up a lean-to would be to use a small propane stove, or bring the hot rocks near the fire under it (use one or several bandanas to move them).

    Let me know if you have other ideas..

  4. Dan, in general it seems like most people would agree that it’s possible to build such a fire and benefit from it, the overarching question is why, when other shelter types would work better (as others have pointed out). Without reading the author’s article, if it’s a truly do or die situation with no time or resources then I’d probably build a fire under the lean-to shelter, too, and hope I could dry out and warm up. In cold weather it could be life or death and so then, sure, everything goes.

    I wouldn’t say that this type of fire/situation would be deadly… there’s plenty of ventilation and with 3 points of egress no one should be caught in a corner of flames even if it did catch the place on fire. If the lean-to is tall enough there could be enough room to make it reasonably possible, and in all likelihood you would be doing what the others here are talking about, using a Dakota hole or at least a pit fire.

    If its blistering cold I really like the idea of an open top structure (teepee or other) to allow for in-the-shelter flames, or like Dave said, a Baker Tent would also be great… anything besides a lean-to. If you catch me in a lean-to then all hell has broken loose!

    • This seems to me like it isn’t or shouldn’t be best practice. Just like indoor cooking without taking proper measures to avoid CO intoxication. You may have air flowing in but it might not be enough so why risk it?

  5. I’ve used a fire under a tarp before, and haven’t had any issues. Just keep the fire small.

    That being said, I’m assuming the reason a person is using a fire under a tarp is because it is raining. In that case, I wouldn’t use a leanto configuration. In my experience, they are very close to useless when it is actually raining in terms of keeping you and your fire dry.

  6. PatrickM, I have done the same with a poncho, using tea candles as the source of heat. A small depression kicked or dug out, insert candle and done. I save my Trioxane for my stove for cooking, where tea candles don’t perform nearly as well.

    I never thought about heating a tent with this method – interesting topic ! Thanks for bringing it up.

  7. Been there done that as most anyone who’s had a few decades of woods runnin under their belt. Just has has been said above the key is a small fire (& yes it needs to be attended but since this would be done when you are in the shelter that is a non-issue).
    Stay safe keep warm have fun & whittle to keep your sanity. 😉

  8. We have covered our campfire while camping under a VERY
    high lean to style tarp but only because it was raining hard.
    It can be done but make sure someone is awake to tend to the fire and make sure all is safe.
    Preferably I would suggest having your fire outside but facing the lean to . Lightning

  9. A lean-to with a fire in front of it is the most universal of shelters in a temperate or boreal forest. Your long fire (body height) and lean-to should be parallel to the wind with your head to the windward side. Regardless of rain, with a good bed of a coals, a long fire will have no issues producing heat while you shelter one-step away under your lean-to. Even after a downpour, a good bed of coals should recover your fire quickly.

    In the temperate forest where I live, using ~8 Nalgene bottle thick logs for fuel, I can sleep 45 minutes to an hour or so before adding more wood. Interestingly, you get used to this and it feels natural to get up and tend the fire, almost to the point it doesn’t disturb your sleep as much as you would think. As you can lose 3x as much heat to the ground (conduction) as the air, you must also address your ground insulation when using a lean-to. Don’t think of a lean-to as just a lean-to, it is part of a system (at least in my mind).

    • In front of the shelter, sure, but under it? I’m still not convinced. Sparks can fly and set things on fire.. And if you happen to be sleeping.. I’m not saying this can’t be done, I just don’t see the point.

      You actually brought an interesting point here. A lean-to is indeed a bad shelter for keeping warm, so why would anyone risk starting a fire under it instead of making a real shelter?

  10. Like many things in life, just because a thing CAN be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done! The notion of building a fire inside a survival shelter falls, IMHO, into the latter category. Just don’t do it! With better survival education the situation, again IMHO, shouldn’t even be an issue. The lean-to shelter/long fire situation already referred to above is, as I understand from my survival training, should be the proper way to warm said shelter. Of course, as mentioned above, a major issue that perhaps was not considered by the author (a fact we really don’t know since none of us has read the article) is the notion of preventing heat loss from conduction. A proper campsite depends on a number of factors including the number of people to be sheltered, the weather, the location, and on and on and on. But back to the question posited–is it dangerous? Here’s my answer; given the average amount of survival training most people who might come across this article might possess, I think it might be imprudent to publish an article with this kind of information as a GENERAL GUIDELINE for survival. Many things can and have been done in extreme cases of survival but as a general rule, supporting such a dangerous notion is probably a bad idea for you, as the owner of the site. My suggestion, because I know you do have to solicit articles written by other authors, and because I am a professional and published author, is that you continue with your vigilance in previewing these articles and perhaps work with authors whose references and whose writing examples reflect skills, knowledge and the proper amount of research on the topic you are soliciting.


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