Like so many before me, I dreamed of owning the Perfect Tent. Years of disappointing store bought tents, the lameness of available designs and workwomanship, and the burning shame every latter-day utilitarian feels at owning things that are bright and new told me I would have to design and make my own.

What follows is what I came up with. It's not Perfect, but it's pretty good, and you'll enjoy having one if you decide to make it.

Best of all though, if you plow through these instructions, I try to pass on the confidence and basic know-how to design and make your own.

CHEAP (almost free), durable, lightweight, roomy, very dry, good star visibility, versatile, sets up easily, DIY pride and skills-building. It's one-of-a-kind I guess, uses very few new materials, and like all great human endeavors, materially registers my existence on earth.
DURABLE: It's overbuilt and performing like a champ so far in downpours, snow, high coastal and mountaintop winds, crappy terrain, etc.
LIGHTWEIGHT: the post office weighed it for me in the bag and it came out to something like 4 lbs--not bad for a 2-4 person tent!
I'd like a tent that blends in with the natural surroundings better, but I had no choice in this because the source tents were yellow and blue.

A con for some people might also be that my design uses guy lines and pegs, which you and your significant other will get into arguments over trying to set up, and then your drunk or stoned friends will trip over in the dark. For me though, these elements enrich the overall camping experience and were 'must haves'.

Step 1: Planning, Materials

I. Tent Design
First, decide what you want in a tent, and what you'll use it for. Make a list of the features you'd like to have, and all the things that were frustrating or inadequate about tents you've owned and used in the past. Rank these in order of importance.

I wanted: a lightweight, 2-3 person backpacking tent, roomy enough for canoe-camping, with decent visibility through all sides, a mosquito-free view of the stars at night, a fly that came out at least 1-2 feet from the tent walls, and something that would be comfortable to hang around in on rest days, in the rain, without getting wet.

I hated: getting wet in every single tent I've ever used regardless of what it cost, not in the least because of crummy flys that allow the water to run onto or under the tent; poor visibility, crouching around in a too-low tent, clambering over people to pee at night, not having enough ventilation, and having the tie-down points and corners rip out in rougher conditions.

Look at tents on the market and see if any approximate what you'd like. "Borrow" from extant designs, and draw up some of your own. Buy a tent you like, copy down all its dimensions then return it, or just make some pictures using whatever doodling skills you possess. Don't get out the graph paper and start going to town--these don't have to be exact at all.

'III. Seek the Treasure: MATERIALS!
Garage sales and craigslist.org are old tent gold mines.
Families who camped together in their salad years scatter, divorce, get fat, blow out their knees, and buy RVs, leaving enormous tents to rot in someone's garage...and that's where you come in, like a crayfish to a discarded toaster.
I recommend holding out for a giant cabin tent, which will have more solid panels than a dome tent and be easier to make new parts from. When the monied clean house these come cheap, so wait for a deal. (I recently bought an enormous multifamily cabin tent with separate rooms porch jacuzzi tiki bar etc. for a mere 45 bucks. It has more than enough material for the tiny solo tent I want to make, plus next year's christmas gifts for at least a couple of lucky people.....and you can use the scraps to make compression sacks for sleeping bags and clothes, your tent bags, kites, whatever you think of.)

What you come up with will determine what you'll be able to make, so the design phase should really be folded into the materials-gathering phase. If you have an old dome tent or just its poles, you'll be able to make something different than what I made.
As with any DIY project, the genius of your design will emerge from the tensions between available materials, your design ambitions, and your skills set--all of which will be improved in the process: Innovation through Impoverishment + Improvisation.

My Pretty Great Tent is made from a crappy old cabin tent (blue and yellow) someone left the basement of my apartment house that got wet, mildewed, and had its colors bleed--hence the muddy-to-tie-dyed appearance of the top piece in the photos. I also used pieces from a worthy old 2-person (brown) tent a friend gave me after its corner tore out.

III.' Materials Preparation'
Washing: Whether you should wash the source tent(s) first obviously depends on their condition, and/or how much time and $ you want to spend. There are tent-washing detergents out there that might be worth the money. There are probably vegan baking soda and what-all concoctions safe for toddlers and fish that folks have made too; you'd have to check (and let me know b/c a homemade recipe would be great.)
I used a lot of regular detergent and a laundromat washer on the cabin tent for this project. It came out nice, but the waterproofing washed out. Re-waterproofing the cloth when I was done with the tent sucked!, so you should probably only do this if your source tent was as moldy and cat-box-smelling as mine was. (I used a 10:1 solution of mineral spirits and 100%silicone whipped up with the home egg beater to re-waterproof it, but we'll get to that later.)

Dyeing: I wanted to re-dye the material a more natural color: it didn't work on my test pieces, so I guess nylon resists bleaching and dyeing. I suggest seeking materials that are the color you'd like, or being happy with what the Lord provides.

Breaking it Down: Once you're satisfied with the source-tent's smell, begin to rip seams and see what you've got to work with. At this point, just rip enough seams to make the whole thing lie flat, leaving your pieces as large as possible. Don't be afraid to bypass the seam-ripper altogether and just cut through the seams--it saves time and you'll be able to patch together sheets for your Frankentent regardless. Use sharp scissors or better yet a fancy hot-knife which cauterizes your cuts. In the future I plan to modify my soldering iron tip to make it into a cutter for this.
***Be careful with, and SAVE those Zippers***--they're expensive to buy new. Also save all of the loops and webbing and whatnot.
i followed your tips and im proud to say that i have been living in this tent for 3 months now. if my parents could see me now. last night i ate wild onions and dog meat for dinner.
where are you camping and how do you have internet access?
<p>Probably by a river in some city near a coffee shop...</p>
<p>dog meat?</p>
This is one of my favorite responses, and I'm glad to have played some small part in the realization of this Dream.&nbsp; <br />
<p>You are so entertaining! Great fun, useful and instructive instructable...fantastic!</p>
<p>Awesome.... </p><p>Repurposing is always awesome. Love the detail you put into this.</p>
<p>I am a stupid person with my hands but I think some of my ideas are not too bad... ANYWAY: do you think that you could make a tent that you could flip over on so that you could use it as a kind of cot? I thought about having the cot frame be the tent frame and the cot surface be the tent itself. You could set up the cot to lie around in the sunshine in the daytime (or sleep under the stars at night) and just flip it over and have the cot surface kind of fold out to cover the frame and make a tent.</p>
<p>I don't argue with my S.O. over such things as tent guy lines, I let him have his day in the sun on the little stuff. </p>
<p>Until now I have resisted an account here... already too too much mail in my box. But I wanted to comment about your tent adventure and thus took the plunge. Great narrative and exciting re-use of found tent and materials. The recipe for waterproofing sealer DIY spray was secondary in the push to be able to comment. That might be immediately useful to me. Thank you for sharing. I don't think I will be making my own but I enjoyed your adventure and tackling and encouraging sewing as a no-gender excluded oh so very useful skill set. Thanks a million for my a.m. coffee mug entertainment.</p>
Epic and a fun read too. Thanks.
<p>this is a great 'ible and my mind is reeling. The is pretty cheap on e-Bay and so is the mosquito netting, has anyone considering rather than dealing with zippers maybe using Velcro?</p>
Crayfish to a discarded toaster?! Can you elaborate on that?!
<p>Should have guessed this caffeinated text hailed from Seattle. ;)</p>
Why are you sitting on a table?
<p>If you have estate auctions in your area, then try there to get a good deal on a good quality sewing machine. I picked up a Pfaff portable complete all the feet and spindles for $75. I see good quality sewing machines come up at the auction a quite a few times a year and even some big commercial machines. I am going to have to try your seam sealer formula. </p>
Wow, for a beginner you actually did quite an amazing sewing job!!! I've been sewing for years, and I'm sure my attempts at constructing a tent would not be noticeably neater! <br><br>I commend you on your spelling as well....rarely do I read an 'ible that has so few spelling errors. It made my reading very pleasurable. Your attention to detail in making your tent AND delivering your instructable is greatly appreciated!
<p>+1 I agree!</p>
Where did you find that huge tent so cheep?
thats so cool! <br>
Great Instructable! The write up was immensely entertaining as well.
I have been trying to find someone to make me a lean-to with a screened in front for a long time, I have been using big plastic tarps but they just don't do what I want them to. Now I guess I'll make it myself. Surprised I didn't think of this before.&nbsp; As far as the sewing machines go, I have to say that my mother has a Singer and has had lots of problems with it. I bought a Brother machine (that's right, my own machine, single men need things sewn too), and have never had any problems with it. Have made a couple small bags for water bottle and camp cooking stuff (besides patches on my jeans), have sewn web straps on jean material without any problems, guess they are not all that bad.&nbsp; I would also like to know whats the weight on your almost perfect tent. Might be a project for after the lean-to.<br />
I agree that we should stop gendering tools and activities--masculinity as it's been imagined and practiced falls squarely into the spectrum of hilarious-to-pathetic at this point.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> I also find myself disillusioned with the Romance of the Tarp.&nbsp; Bugs and animals crawl on your face at night, and I&nbsp;don't feel protected against monsters and Satan the way I do in a nice, enclosed, candle-lit tent. * <br /> <br /> Surely there's a comfortable mean between super-equipped 1960s Man Scout-style camping (canvas everything, Axe-n-saw for erecting a semi-permanant cabin, chairs, table, spruce-bough bed, etc. from the abundant &quot;saplings&quot; that are always supposed to be around in an inexhaustable supply), and the self-sacrificially-macho Ultralight thing where you &quot;Toughen Up&quot; and swing superiorly down the trail like Tarzan wearing nothing but a loincloth made out of beef jerky that supposedly doubles as raingear, tent, first aid kit, and food source.&nbsp; A nice lean-to for example.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> I think I put the weight down here somewhere, but offhand, I think it was 4.4lbs.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> And yeah--a brand name doesn't gaurantee anything one way or the other.<br /> <br /> *Note to the over-helpful reader who is now itching to assert his greater knowledge and experience and importance in the world of manly pursuits by chiding me for using a candle in a tent: save it please. <br />
&quot;I also find myself disillusioned with the Romance of the Tarp. Bugs and animals crawl on your face at night, and I don't feel protected against monsters and Satan the way I do in a nice, enclosed, candle-lit tent.&quot; <br> <br>I love that! My sentiments exactly! :oD <br> <br>Nice instructable! Thanks.
personally i prefer using cyclone lanterns. Kerosene is pretty cheap and you don't get wax everywhere
Hey, you found real nylon thread! kudos! I'm looking for this stuff. <br /> <br />My dad picked up the end of the huge sppols from the industrial sewing machines that made seat belts and safety harnesses. Brilliant stuff, and whatever you are sewing will break long before the thread will!
nicely done, the siicon stuff where do you get it out in the real world. ?
I think he's talking about 100% silicone caulking from the home improvement store. It comes in tubes and is applied with a &quot;calk gun&quot; a kind of clamp like thing that pushes a plunger up the tube and squeezes out the contents through a hole in the tip of the tube. <br>From the description sounds like he's making his own silicone paint with the mineral spirits as the solvent vehicle. <br>Spray it on, the spirits evaporate leaving behind silicone impregnated cloth. <br>Clever
Yes that is what i thought. Bought multitubes of silicon caulking and mixed with the mineral spirits, use cheap garden sprayer and sprayed it on my canvas. I used it, and it only sprinkled but no drops inside noted. Still the real test awaits in a thunderstorm...lol
I actually like this. Be surprised. <br> <br>I'm more of a solo tent kind of guy, and see some promise in the tent displayed in pic #4 and 5.
wow! your tent design is very close to what i imagined would be the perfect tent for me. you made it really easy to understand the construction process. thanks for all the excellent tips and instructions. hope my tent turns out as sweet as yours!
Whenever I see the thumbnail for this Instructable, I think you are laying on some invisible wall or falling backward. The stool you are leaning back on just blends in with the ground.
i thinks it's called a baker tent. i made one years ago using coated ripstop nylon sail material. very light weight &amp; strong. worked well on the Appalation (spelling ) trail in Feb.
Cool tent.<br> &quot; &quot; Instructable.<br> &quot; &quot; Author.
This is by far the best DIY project I have ever found. Thanks a million for all your hard work sharing it with the planet! You Rock!!
Brillant! I think I'll make this my winter project! Love the discription of cons of guy lines...will completely hold true with my friends :) Cheers!
This is absolutely amazing. I especially like the design, it looks like the legendary 'campfire' tent that Bill Mason loved so much. I have never seem one in nylon, maybe I will try one too :)
I was thinking the same thing. Looks like Bill Mason's classic tent.<br><br>Great job on making something so usable. Might do this myself.
World class!<br><br>I've tried most all tents from lean-to to canoe fly to Baker, tube and beyond. <br><br>This is the most reasoned and proven approach I've seen.<br><br>Camo fabric is available online:<br><br>E.G. http://www.lurasfabricshop.com/fabric-choices/camouflage.html<br><br>Now I need a temptress; oops seamstress (first.)
This looks like a pretty great tent! Where were you able to find ripstop nylon in widths greater than 60&quot; ? I've been unable to source anything larger than that.<br>
hmm, I don't know if I did. Maybe see the sections on patching together the panels out of multiple scraps of materials?
Harbor Freight Tools sells green farm tarps so you can blend in better. They may sell brown ones and, do sell silver ones for winter use. Really like your design.
After reading comments, seems It's all been said.&nbsp; Ah, sew what.&nbsp; I'll say it again.&nbsp; Great idea, design, ible and sense of humor - scratch that - sense of enjoyment.&nbsp; Most excellent.&nbsp; Thanks for sharing.<br /> <br /> Just emailed a PDF of your work to older (my out door hero) and younger brother (current multimedia guru for Gert's Co. somewhere in OR). I'd be surprised if one of them doesn't pull a couple of old tents out of the geerage up thar in the NW and make their own version of this beauty.&nbsp; Then again, this might just be the nudge I needed to finally find out if the singer passed on from my grandmother-in-law, who passed on, actually works or needs to be passed on.&nbsp; I've got an old tent and a father-in-law with more tarps, canvas, military extras and the likes to make me something I can be proud to call my home away from home.&nbsp; My only mod would be an access flap on one side about the size of a soup bowl and probably some extra waterproofing below it down to ground level.&nbsp; No sense in leaving the tent to pee.&nbsp; Course I'll have to keep it's purpose a secret until my wife sees how useful it is.&nbsp; The flap that is. She's convinced of the usefulness of... well... uh, never-mind.<br /> <br /> I do have one question.&nbsp; Did you marry that gal that proposed in her comment?<br />
Nice!--I always wondered about a urinal hole, but was afraid to try it.<br /> <br /> And, though I wish I could pass on a story about connecting with a now-wife through this, and then write it up for The Reader's Digest with an uplifting and &quot;deeply human&quot; message of Hope, I figured she was referring to my far more photogenic brother, the model in the photos...<br />
I was delighted with your sequence and persistence!<br /> You have surpassed any recommendations about tailoring and manufacturing of tent with a canopy!
Good job! I used to use &quot;Baker&quot; style tents and home made lean-to's in the scouts when I was a kid and was lamenting that no one made a backpackers Baker tent. Well now I can make one for myself! I'm going on a motorcycle road trip this summer with my cousin and some friends. I may have to see if I can bash one of these together in time&nbsp;. It would be nice to have a porch for the Harley when its a wet camp. <br /> <br /> You are an inspiration to us all my friend.
A very cool instructable. Love the star gazing feature and really well written. You should write articles for travel/camping magazines (if you don't already)!!! I admire the recycling and design your dream tent aspects too.&nbsp;
1. This has to be the best tent design I've seen, and it's certainly one of the best (most comprehensive, informative, well-written, etc.) instructables I've ever read. <br /> <br /> 2. One suggestion: you mentioned in another comment that you used a candle in the tent. Maybe a small vent at the top would help (like a chimney).<br /> <br /> 3. Most of this page is bold. It seems you forgot to close a bold tag in step 1.<br /> <br /> :)<br /> <br />
I'm loving your facial expressions in those pictures.<br />

About This Instructable


1,020 favorites


Bio: just some fella
More by bentm: The Near-Perfect Tent: Design and Build a Recycled Tent
Add instructable to: