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.
And today, we’re going to show you how to make your DIY backpacking tent.
Why go for 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.
In addition, traditional tents are heavy and not particularly well-constructed. And then you have the extra money you have to spend compared to a DIY project.
However, if you’re looking for a lightweight tent, then you need to shift your focus to a minimalist tent. Your tent is supposed to provide you protection from the elements, keep you dry and be easy to use. And you can do it yourself!
Of course, if you still prefer going the traditional route of purchasing one, check our recommended lightweight tents here – they are perfect, you’ll see!
Types of DIY tents
Before we show you how to make your own DIY tent from scratch, here are some options that you have to choose from. Some are easier to build than others, but each has their own pros and cons.
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.
Most tarp systems are traditional in design, meaning that they’re of a rectangular shape. But some 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.
For more insight, check out our piece on how to properly set up a tarp tent.
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.
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 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.
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. These are the traditional tents that everybody uses.
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, even though it 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.
These tents are ideal if you’ll be using it during the winter season. It’s pricier than your usual DIY tent, but it’s double-walled, which you’ll be needing during the cold.
Tenting when it’s cold outside is really challenging, so make sure to check out our tips on staying warm in a 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? Tarp tent vs Pyramid tent
Tarps and Pyramids are the most popular options for DIY tents. However, is one better than the other? Well, the short answer is no.
Your preference between tarps and pyramids depends on where you’ll be pitching your tent and the weather conditions. Let’s show you the difference between the two popular styles, so you can choose the most appropriate one depending on where you’re going.
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 and need more experience to be properly set up.
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 but it depends what material you’re using when building them.
In conclusion, both types of tents are easy to set up and offer solid protection against the elements. The pyramid tent is a bit more popular, but in reality they both work best.
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 needed
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
- Lay one of the sheets of tarp or housewrap on the floor, folding over each edge by three inches.
- Using your hammer, nail your grommets into the corners and the center of your folded edges.
- Now, tie your thin rope or cord to every grommet.
- They’ll be a center grommet that you’ll insert your pole or stick into you.
- Taking the end of the rope or cord, you’ll then tie them either to a tree or rock to stabilize the sheet.
- With the second sheet of housewrap or tarp, use it as protection from the ground.
It’ll take less than an hour to build and costs under $50 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.
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.
Also, 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.
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 of DIY tents
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?
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.
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.
But if you want to go the traditional way, we also have some recommendations for you. Check out the best family tents here.
If you have experience setting up your own DIY tent, why not share your expertise with other readers in the comments below?
Daniel 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.