DO IT YOURSELF

DIY Backpacking Tent: Saving Costs on your Trip

diy tent in the woods
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

When you think of camping and backpacking, the first thing that comes to mind is a tent. Of course, when you think of a tent, you also think of arguing with your partner while setting it up while trying to connect an endless amount of poles together.

But, you can camp and/or backpack in an easier fashion. See, you don’t actually need to go out and buy an actual tent in order to go camping. In fact, you can actually make your own. We’re going to show you how to make your DIY backpacking tent.

Why have a DIY tent?

If you’ve gone tent shopping, then you know the endless amount of options you have to choose from. Brands are designing tents which give you features that you don’t necessarily need while camping and/or backpacking. A double-walled tent with a living room space is no longer a traditional tent.

double wall tent

In addition, traditional tents are heavy and not particularly well-constructed. However, if you’re looking for a lightweight tent, then you need to shift your focus to a minimalistic tent. Your tent is supposed to provide you protection from the elements, keep you dry and be easy to use.

What is the difference between a DIY tent and a traditional tent?

There aren’t too many differences. Traditional and DIY tents are essentially designed the same, however, traditional tents are, of course, produced by a manufacturer. Though, there are a couple structural differences between the two that we’ll discuss now.

  • DIY tents are floorless: In traditional tents, you’re given four walls and a floor – this is just the standard structure. However, with a DIY tent, you’re not given a floor. What you’ll end up doing is creating your own floor by tarps, foam and possibly an air mattress.
  • DIY tents are doorless: If you’re thinking that your tent will be able to easily zip up, well, with a DIY tent that won’t be happening.  DIY tents are essentially a two-wall tent. You’ll be protected from the elements, however, there are no doors to enclose yourself inside.
  • Traditional tents are fully featured: Nowadays, traditional tents come with a plethora of features from pockets to mesh to a skylight. These features are fine, however, if you’re concerned about weight, then they become an issue. Traditional tents are now more designed on providing you comfort.

floorless and doorless tent

Now that you know the differences between a traditional tent and a DIY tent, it’s time you know the pros and cons of a DIY tent. This way, you can see if it’ll suit your camping and/or backpacking needs.

The pros and cons

You may be wondering why you would even want to have a DIY tent, the name of it sounds like a lot of work, however, that’s not necessarily the case. But, we want to show you the advantages and disadvantages of a DIY tent for we tell you how to make one.

Pros

  • Durable: The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about a DIY tent isn’t durability, however, you’re wrong about that. DIY tents are highly durable and can withstand unpleasant weather conditions such as rain, wind, and uneven terrain.
  • Inexpensive: If you want to camp and/or backpack on a budget, then a DIY tent is the best way to go. You’ll need to buy the material, however, for $20, you’ll have yourself a tent. It takes very few materials to construct so it won’t be making a whole in your wallet.
  • Lightweight: Your DIY tent can weigh as little as 4 lbs, which is pretty light, especially when you’ll be backpacking. If you’re backpacking, weight is a serious issue, so a DIY tent will help shave off a couple of pounds that you’ll be happy to shake off your back.

Lightweight tent backpack

Cons

  • Lack of privacy: If you want a tent with a complete structure, including a door, well, a DIY tent will not give you that. You’ll have walls, however, you won’t be able to zip yourself inside your tent.
  • Insects: If you’re not a fan of bugs and insects, having a DIY tent may pose as a problem for you as you most likely will not have a door for your tent. However, this can be solved by using a bivy hood.

Bivy

So, now you know the pros and cons to DIY tents. You can use these pros and cons to see if a DIY tent is ideal for you.But now, it’s time we showed you the things you need consider when choosing a DIY tent.

Look at your needs

What do you need in your tent? You need to ask yourself this question so that you can design a tent which will support your camping and/or backpacking needs. Ask yourself these questions before designing your tent:

  • Do I need it to be lightweight?
  • How many people will be sleeping in it?
  • Will I need to store equipment inside the tent?
  • Are bugs an issue?
  • When will I be camping? Year round? Or just during the summer?
  • How high would I like it to be?

diy tent in backyard

By looking at your needs, you’ll be able to see how you’ll need to make your tent. You can make your tent more elaborate depending on what your camping/backpacking needs. So, before getting a tent, ask yourself those questions – it’ll help you narrow down your design.

Types of DIY tents

Many companies have designed “DIY tents” which simply provide you with the proper material that will support your needs for a tent.

Before we show you how to make your own DIY tent from scratch, here are some options if you’d like to take the easy way out. Let’s take a look at some of your options that you can choose from.

Tarps

Make sure that you size up the tarp properly so that you can make a tent that fits you. With a tarp, you can have a lightweight shelter that’ll be able to support one or two people. Tarps are usually one of the most popular materials used for tents because they’re extremely easy to set up. You can use a couple trekking poles and within a couple of minutes, you have your tent set up.

trap tent type in forest

Most tarp systems are traditional in design, meaning that they’re rectangle, however, can come with a double-wall and insect-free mesh that’ll make your experience more enjoyable. They’re usually lightweight, weighing no more than 5lbs, so you’ll be able to carry this tent around with you everywhere.

Pyramid Shelters

Pyramid shelters are essentially tarps with doors. They’re usually designed with a pole in the middle of the tent, which gives it the pyramid shape. With pyramid tents, you have complete control of whether or not you would like to pitch it high or low, you have the option of a bug net and you can use it during the winter season.

Pyramid Shelters

Some also come with a twin-pole but that depends on the type of pyramid tent you choose. They’re usually easy to use and is lightweight.

Single Wall Tents

Single wall tents are great if you’re needing immediate shelter. These types of DIY tents are a favorite with alpinists and skiers because they’re easy and efficient.

single wall tent

If you’ll be camping and/or backpacking during the winter, you’ll love this single wall tent. During the harsh winter months, you don’t want to be investing a lot of time setting up your shelter, so opt for a single wall tent.

Hybrid Tent

This is a blend between an open tarp and pyramid shelter, it’s semi-enclosed and doorless. Many outdoor enthusiasts love the hybrid tent as it offers a spacious interior, however, is minimalistic in design. It has an open “alcove” inspired entrance and is able to withstand harsh winds which is what makes it a favorite.

trap tents

Double-wall Tents

These tents are ideal if you’ll be using it during the winter season. It’s pricier than your usual DIY tent, however, it’s double-walled, which you’ll be needing during the cold.

double wall tent
Out of all these types of tents, pyramids and tarps still reign as the most favored DIY tent. But why do people choose one over the other? Are pyramids better than tarps? Let’s find out.

What’s better? Tarps or Pyramids?

Tarps and Pyramids are the most popular options for DIY tents.However, is one better than the other? Well, the answer is no. Your preference between tarps and pyramids depends on where you’ll be pitching your tent and the conditions. Let’s show you the difference between the two popular styles.

  • Tarps: Tarps offer more flexibility and offer the versatility of either providing campers with more or less internal space. They’re ideal for terrains which are more forested or low country. If you’re going into high-wind areas, we recommend you don’t use a tarp tent, they don’t withstand the wind very well.
  • Pyramids: Now, if you’re going to be using your tent during the winter or in a spectrum of climates, then we recommend you stick with a pyramid shelter. Not only can you use these tents in the winter season, but you’ll also be able to open them up to create a lean-to shelter. They provide users with enough headroom and shield from the wind. They’re typically more sturdy in comparison to tarps.

pyramid tent

How to make your DIY tent

If you’re set on making your own tent from scratch, we understand. It’s an accomplishment in itself, so if you want your own homemade lightweight tent, it’s time you learned how to make your own tent. Let’s show you how it’s done.

Materials & Tools

Before you make your tent, you’re going to have to gather the proper materials. Here’s what you’ll be needing in order to make your own tent.

  • Two 6-foot by 9-foot of either a tarp or housewrap
  • A hammer
  • Grommet kit, preferably ½ inch
  • Either thin rope or cords, you’ll need eight 12-foot-long pieces
  • A stick or pole

Instructions

  1. Lay one of the sheets of tarp or housewrap on the floor, folding over each edge by three inches.
  2. Using your hammer, nail your grommets into the corners and the center of your folded edges.
  3. Now, tie your thin rope or cord to every grommet.
  4. They’ll be a center grommet that you’ll insert your pole or stick into you.
  5. Taking the end of the rope or cord, you’ll then tie them either to a tree or rock to stabilize the sheet.
  6. With the second sheet of housewrap or tarp, use it as protection from the ground.

making a tent

It’ll take less than an hour to build and costs under $30 for all the materials. However, you should be aware that if there is bad weather, this shelter may not be able to withstand harsh wind and rain.

You can always experiment by using different materials and seeing which ones work the best for you. In our opinion, the materials we chose work well in most situations.

So, are DIY tents the way to go?

Now you know what DIY tents are, what the pros and cons are, the types of DIY tents available and how to make your own DIY tent. If you’ve now decided that you don’t want to go out and buy a fully featured tent, you don’t have to.

Now, you have some options like the DIY tent. They’re inexpensive in comparison to traditional tents and are also lightweight which if you’ll be backpacking is a necessity.

diy backpacking tent

Companies have even made the DIY tent easier for you by designed DIY tents that come in a pre-arranged package. If you really want to start from scratch you have the option to also literally make your own tent yourself. Either way, you’ll be able to lighten the load, save some money and take a simplistic route to camping and/or backpacking.

If you have experience setting up your own DIY tent, why not share your expertise with other readers in the comments below?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Carl Anderson

    Wow! I was surprised to know that with under $30, I can do my own tent. That is so amazing! We can also do this as a DIY bonding project for me and my kids. I will supervise of course. Thank you for the step-by-step guide Daniel. This is really helpful.

    • Daniel Carraway

      You are welcome!

  • Jon Morgan

    I love DIY projects so this will surely be next on my list. I have a tent already, but it is just nice to think that I can also do one from scratch. This is best for those who have enough time just like me. I plan to do a smaller tent for my kids and let them design their own.

    • Daniel Carraway

      Absolutely! Have fun.

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