Shedding the weight of a tent on the occasional backpacking trip can be a big relief. After a long day of hiking, outdoor adventurers can take a deep breath when they remove their packs and lay down in one of these five-star backcountry hotel rooms.

Lean-tos are comparatively lavish accommodations for being so deep in the wilderness. Solid, usually dry wood floors, a storm-proof roof overhead, and a sleeping bag view worthy of only having three walls make these shelters prime campsite real estate and an option every backpacker should have in his or her quiver.

But, for those more familiar with nylon-enclosed nights out, these cozy shelters can take a little adjustment. Optimize your stay by considering these tips:

Carry Leanto in the Adirondack Park. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Carry Lean-to in the Adirondack Park. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

1. Understand the lean-to’s rules

Parks have rules in place to ensure the lean-tos’ longevity. Oftentimes, tents are not allowed to be set up inside, and only certain materials can be used to block off the shelter’s front. Lean-tos, as well, may have a fire ring, but some only allow the use of camping stoves. So, check the park’s website before heading out on your trip!

2. Have a backup plan

Sometimes, your map will bring you to an empty spot where there used to be a lean-to. Or, the shelter where you planned on staying may already be full. Although, with a shelter able to hold eight people on average, it’s a courtesy for inhabitants to squeeze until that limit is reached. So, always make a Plan B in advance.

3. Find a nearby stream

When you arrive, check your map and go exploring to find a stream. Filling up your water supply right off the bat ensures that your campsite duties run smoothly, from boiling water to washing dishes. Just make sure you filter out anything you don’t boil!

Fifth Peak Leanto in the Adirondack Park. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Fifth Peak Leanto in the Adirondack Park. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

4. Keep everything organized

Organization is key in making sure any overnight outdoor adventure is enjoyable. Keep your gear organized inside the shelter, and divide tasks up between the people in your party to ensure smooth sailing at your campsite.

5. Bring a pair of camp shoes

Having a pair of clean camp shoes keeps all the dirt and mud from your hike out of the lean-to. It also gives your feet a chance to breathe and your shoes and socks some extra time to dry out. And, because you’re probably not bringing a tent, your pack has ample space to carry along something light.

6. Find out if a composting toilet is nearby

When nature calls, knowing the location of the throne makes life much less hectic. If the area has no composting toilet, be considerate and hike at least 150 feet from water, trails, and campsites and dig a cathole.

Nightime at the Adirondack High Peak's Uphill Leanto. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Nightime at the Adirondack High Peaks’ Uphill Leanto. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

7. Bring your normal camping sleep setup

Although lean-tos offer a flat, cozy place to spend the night, the humble amenities only include a wooden floor. To prepare, be sure to bring a sleeping pad and sleeping bag.

8. Leave no trace!

This is the golden rule for enjoying the outdoors. Lean-tos and established campsites help minimize human impact on the forest, and odds are in a given season, hundreds of people will stay in any single lean-to. So, do your part, and keep both the shelter and the surrounding area clean and free of garbage.

9. Be prepared

Lean-tos are only closed on three sides. This means, if the wind is strong enough, rain can get in. Bugs and wildlife also have no problem sharing the lean-to with you. And, during the winter, snow can pile up outside and may blow inside the shelter.

To create a shield in front, consider bringing a nylon tarp and rope, but be sure to read the lean-to’s rules in advance, as nails are not allowed. If snow is predicted, bring a lightweight shovel, because you may need to dig your way out in the morning.

10. Respect the area

Lean-tos are a gift and should be respected and appreciated. If something needs to be repaired at a shelter where you stayed, let a park official know, or even volunteer your own time to do it. Keep your trail-karma high by always leaving the lean-to area better than how you found it!


The next time you stay in a lean-to, keep this information in mind. Can you think of any other tips? Share them here in the comments section!

Credit: Edmund Falkowski
Credit: Edmund Falkowski

Edmund Falkowski

Born in Buffalo, NY without easy access to mountains, Edmund grew up focused on academics, music, and team sports. After a back injury at age 15, he discovered trail running and climbing. It wasn’t until his freshman year of college that he actually experienced the mountains, but he immediately found a home-away-from-home in the Adirondacks. He now pursues his passions of climbing hard and hiking fast as a Trip Leader in his college’s Outdoor Adventure Club while juggling his college education in Physical Therapy. At the end of the day, Edmund is just really stoked to spend time outside, and is always planning his next sufferfest.

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