Building your own tent comes in varying degrees of comfort. Your personal woodcraft, carpentry, or sewing skills can come into play.
The Rough Hut
The very simplest of building a tent requires nothing more than a hatchet and a woodland area where you’re allowed to cut.
You’ll want two sturdy poles with a fork at the top of each, and another pole to stretch between them. If you have only your woodland resources, you can lean branches against this central pole, creating a pitched roof shape. On top of the poles, you can layer evergreen fronds, dried grass, or leaves.
If you can find a local clay deposit, you can mix it with water and use the sticky mud to cement the parts together.
Overlapping layers of bark will help waterproof it. Or, if you’re clever, you can use long grasses to create thatching.
Adding a Tarp or Plastic
An easier approach is to use your basic roof shape, but add a tarp or even a sheet of gardening plastic to increase the waterproofing.
If you leave your DIY tent open on one side, you can place your fire pit in front of it. To keep the heat from escaping your immediate area, place four poles in the ground, with two of them being at one end of your fire reflector, and two at the other, spaced just so that you can slip poles between the upright end pieces.
With your campfire between this reflector and your tent, it will send the heat back into your lean-to shelter.
When “Tent” Meets “Primitive House”
Of course, if you’re creating a nature-built DIY tent, the longer you stay in one place, the more refinements you can add.
You might build a stone and mud fireplace at one end of it, and fireproof the roof by using sod, or layers of cobb to create it.
Cobb is a mixture of clay mud and grass made into loaves and stacked to build walls or structures. It might take some skill to make a cobb house stand up, but the craft is centuries old.
If the area where you need a “tent” is prairie land, you can cut sections of sod and stack it, similarly to cobb structures.
This sort of building was frequently used on the American Frontier, particularly in Kansas where stands of trees are few.
Using Trees as They Grow
Another tenting method for a woodland area is to find a grove of saplings, bend them together, and weave branches between them, somewhat like creating a large basket.
Again, the outside of it can be daubed with mud to improve waterproofing and to keep out the wind.
If you have the materials on hand, this basket structure could also be draped with a layer of plastic or a tarp.
Please keep in mind that you are not doing the young trees any favors here, so always be sure that saplings used in this manner are scrub brush that’s not needed for other things.
Sewing a Tent
The Medieval Tent
If you’re handy with a sewing machine (and you’ll need a sturdy one for this), you can make your own canvas or denim tent.
A simple tent could be a large piece of canvas with metal grommets placed along its edges. Remember those sturdy poles? Instead of filling in with natural substances or using a sheet of plastic or a tarp, you can use your canvas or denim topper.
Fancier tenting choices include creating a beautiful tent in traditional medieval style. An easy way to do this is to add a triangular piece of canvas to the top of a square of canvas, then sew the resultant shapes together, leaving one side open as an entrance.
This style of tent requires a central pole, as well as poles at each seam around the sides.
Originally made from hides, the tipi or teepee, is the ultimate in tenting technology. Essentially, a tipi begins with a frame of long poles that are fastened together at the top, sort of like a tripod. The tipi cover is a large, half-circle, piece of material.
The fabric was draped around the poles and fastened together at the front, leaving an opening at the top. This opening was designed to allow smoke to leave the tipi.
Traditional Native American versions also had a pair of poles that operated a flap at the top, enabling the user to direct the smoke opening so that wind didn’t come in, and the smoke went out.
More than that, tipis were double-layered, creating an air pocket insulation that increased their interior warmth. At the bottom, there’s a closeable door that can be left open for light and air or closed against inclement weather.
Mother Earth News has online directions for making a tipi, including measurements and a supplies list. Or you can purchase the book from which it is taken.
If you’re interested in building a tent that is portable, easy to set up, and extremely comfortable, it would be hard to go wrong with a tipi. The design and engineering are drawn from people who frequently moved about, and it has been tested through generations of use.
If you’re selecting material for a tent, you might as well think about building it a hot tent. This means using fabric that is flame resistant and creating a fireproof flap through which you can run a stove pipe.
Even though it might not be strictly traditional for some styles of tent, winter camping is made much more pleasant if you have a heat source.
Although a traditional tipi was designed to have an open campfire in its center, it might be easier to manage one of the nifty little backpacking stoves that can be found through several camp suppliers.