Seal Your Tent's Mesh Panels





Introduction: Seal Your Tent's Mesh Panels

Tents with large mesh panels are not suitable for camping in a desert environment which has extreme dust storms. While mesh vents are usually desired for cooling and to exhaust moisture, they become liabilities in the windy desert. In a dust storm, everything inside the tent will be covered with a thick layer of fine dust in short order. A full-coverage rain fly will reduce dust ingress, but will not eliminate it.

I chose to sew ripstop nylon over the mesh panels of my tent.

Just beware, this does render the tent unusable in most other environments.

The photos below indicate before-and-after views.
Subsequent pages discuss design choices and sewing techniques.

Step 1: Design Choices

Overall solutions are obvious:
- buy a tent with no mesh panels
- buy a tent with zippable covers over mesh panels
- cover the mesh panels of your existing tent
The tradeoff here is simple: time vs money. I chose the last option.

There are several choices for cover material:
- thin fabric (like a bedsheet)
- thick fabric (like blanket batting)
- furnace air filters
- plastic sheeting
- ripstop nylon
Tradeoffs here are more interesting: dust-exclusion effectiveness, strength, heat build-up (in direct sunlight), noisiness (flapping in the wind), cleanability (after you leave the desert), weight, appearance. I chose ripstop nylon.

There are several choices to affix the material to the tent:
- Permanent attachment
-- adhesive (silicon caulk, hot glue, epoxy dots, etc)
-- tape (gaffer's tape, monster tape, etc)
-- sewing with thread
- Removable attachment
-- Zippers
-- Velcro
Tradeoffs involve skill and complexity to assemble, heat resistance, cleanability, and (quite importantly) the ability to reduce heat build-up in full sun. Because I do not occupy the tent during the light of day, I could ignore heat build-up, and chose a permanent attachment. And because I like to clean the tent in a large industrial washing machine after camping, I chose to sew it on with thread.

Step 2: Materials and Procedure

I chose to sew the cover by hand with a coarse stitch. I chose a coarse stitch to make the project go faster and to reduce the number of holes created in my tent. I chose a large diameter UV-resistant thread based upon recommendations from several kite-making forums.

- Ripstop Nylon: A few yards of bland grey ripstop nylon from Jo-Anne Fabric store.
- Thread: 1 Roll Coats & Clark, Outdoor, UV-Resistant, 100% polyester, T67 diameter, 200 yards.
- Needle (to fit)
- Brass thimbles (to protect fingers)
- Small buttons (optional)
- Big pink rubber eraser (optional)

Personnel Tips:
- Enlist a helper. Sewing goes faster with one person inside and one person outside. A friend or family member is recommended. A spouse is not recommended.
- Obtain a stool or pillow for the inside person to sit or kneel upon.
- Play soft pleasant music. No house. No techno.
- Practice patience. Your helper will not have the same quality standards as you.
- Prepare foregiveness. Your helper will stick the needle into your fingers.
- Do the work in short sessions. There is a learning curve.

Sewing Tips:
- Set up and work on the tent indoors.
- Sew the cover on with the tent assembled. The tent may not stand up right if you sew the cover on with the tent disassembled.
- Where possible, sew through the tent's seam flaps (folds of tent wall material stitched together) rather than through plain tent wall surfaces. Too many holes will weaken the tent walls.
- Use a big pink rubber eraser as a 'backstop' when pushing the needle through. The backstop will help the fabric layers stay properly aligned when the needle is pushed, and the rubber will 'catch' the needle and protect your fingers.
- Sew a pair of small buttons back-to-back on either side of the cover and tent to act as a strain relief wherever you envision weak spots.

The photos are self-explanatory. Good luck with your project.

Step 3: Postscript

I also decided to seal the rear window of the tent.

This tent has a zippable flap over the rear mesh window. Originally, it was stitched at the bottom, had zippers on both sides, and was open at the top. I sewed the top edge closed. The zippers on the sides can still be opened to allow a little ventilation.



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    I'm not sure if you still read this, but do you recall what type of ripstop you used? I'm seeing both coated and non-coated. I imagine coated would be more dust-resistant but more difficult to sew?

    Thanks for the informational post. I was planning to use Goretex material to allow my tent to breathe at BM, but will it stop playa dust?

    Yes. If it stops water, it will stop playa dust. :)

    Bunch of fellow burners lurking here I see. ;-)

    I'm looking into the same issue and thinking to go "quick and dirty." Planning to try a sandwich of plastic garbage bags attached with duct tape.

    My process will be to cut a plastic garage bag to fit the mesh window but slightly smaller, leaving like a 1/2" margin free, then attach that with duct tape applied to slightly extend 1/2" beyond the mesh area. Then, I will flip it over and do the same on the other side with another piece of plastic bag, with the net effect being that the bulk of the duct tape will adhere through the mesh to the duct tape on the other side and hopefully hold on securely.

    I did the same thing with a cheap cabin tent. I used ripstop nylon, tackstitched every foot or so with gorilla tape along all the edges. That lasted a couple years. (ten days at burning man) before the tape started to come loose. Ripstop does allow a small amount of fine playa dust to pass through. I ended up covering the entire ceiling and hanging down as far as possible with housewrap(Tyvek or cheaper "EasyGard" or "Pactiv") and 3M spray glue. That has held for another 2 or 3 years now. I've never seen a tent survive the playa this long before! we planned to junk it last year, but it's not dead yet!

    I don't bother cleaning this tent anymore, but the best way to clean playa gear is to soak it in vinegar and Calgon water softener. Calgon loosens up that alkali dust.

    I used to do this for winter camping. I went to the extra effort to sew in Velcro around the screening to maintain the use of the tent in other environments. I've also lerned to seal all of the corners with a commercial sealer just to add some protection.

    Neagle: I have a “3-season” tent that I would like to modify the way you did. Make the added 'covers' temorary so I could use the tent in cooler months, but remove them in warmer months for ventilation.

    Did you attach the velcro to your tent the same way this Instructable suggests?

    {Thanks in advance.}

    Sewing the Velcro on my first tent was a rather cumbersome process. I used a fabric glue to re-enforce the Velcro. The generic fabric glue did not stand the test of time. On my second tent I grabbed a roll of bulk industrial sticky Velcro and a thin line of Beacon 527 fabric glue down the center of the sticky part of the Velcro. Beacon 527 was suggested in the comments below and did not sew the Velcro on the tent or the vinyl tarp material I used on the project. I gave the tent away when I moved but it served me well in everything from snow, high heat and monsoon season.

    Great idea! One addition: if you used a curved needle, would that eliminate the need for someone to be inside the tent? The needle would always emerge on the outside. You would still need the second person there, of course, for moral support, to offer their opinion, to dj the music, and keep you company. :)

    Don't forget grabbing the beer!