The Near-Perfect Tent: Design and Build a Recycled Tent

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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'.
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xando5 years ago
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.
panzuman xando5 years ago
where are you camping and how do you have internet access?
shmuki panzuman7 months ago

Probably by a river in some city near a coffee shop...

JosiahK xando8 months ago

dog meat?

bentm (author)  xando5 years ago
This is one of my favorite responses, and I'm glad to have played some small part in the realization of this Dream. 
OutdoorKid1 month ago
Why are you sitting on a table?
Wild-Bill8 months ago

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.

meismeems4 years ago
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!

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!

+1 I agree!

beme20131 year ago
beme20131 year ago
Where did you find that huge tent so cheep?
Tofuturtle1 year ago
thats so cool!
schpidah2 years ago
Great Instructable! The write up was immensely entertaining as well.
Evilrick5 years ago
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.  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.  I would also like to know whats the weight on your almost perfect tent. Might be a project for after the lean-to.
bentm (author)  Evilrick5 years ago
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. 

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. *

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 "saplings" that are always supposed to be around in an inexhaustable supply), and the self-sacrificially-macho Ultralight thing where you "Toughen Up" 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.  A nice lean-to for example. 

I think I put the weight down here somewhere, but offhand, I think it was 4.4lbs. 

And yeah--a brand name doesn't gaurantee anything one way or the other.

*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.
verity33 bentm2 years ago
"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."

I love that! My sentiments exactly! :oD

Nice instructable! Thanks.
lukeyj15 bentm5 years ago
personally i prefer using cyclone lanterns. Kerosene is pretty cheap and you don't get wax everywhere
bpfh2 years ago
Hey, you found real nylon thread! kudos! I'm looking for this stuff.

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!
Demascus4 years ago
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 "calk gun" 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.
From the description sounds like he's making his own silicone paint with the mineral spirits as the solvent vehicle.
Spray it on, the spirits evaporate leaving behind silicone impregnated cloth.
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
chokapi2 years ago
I actually like this. Be surprised.

I'm more of a solo tent kind of guy, and see some promise in the tent displayed in pic #4 and 5.
kcox83 years ago
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!
arpoky3 years ago
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 & strong. worked well on the Appalation (spelling ) trail in Feb.
Cool tent.
" " Instructable.
" " 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!!
wood_chuck74 years ago
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!
bobbyfour4 years ago
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.

Great job on making something so usable. Might do this myself.
World class!

I've tried most all tents from lean-to to canoe fly to Baker, tube and beyond.

This is the most reasoned and proven approach I've seen.

Camo fabric is available online:


Now I need a temptress; oops seamstress (first.)
beanblog4 years ago
This looks like a pretty great tent! Where were you able to find ripstop nylon in widths greater than 60" ? I've been unable to source anything larger than that.
bentm (author)  beanblog4 years ago
hmm, I don't know if I did. Maybe see the sections on patching together the panels out of multiple scraps of materials?
Hubiewan4 years ago
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.
deeeveeeg5 years ago
After reading comments, seems It's all been said.  Ah, sew what.  I'll say it again.  Great idea, design, ible and sense of humor - scratch that - sense of enjoyment.  Most excellent.  Thanks for sharing.

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.  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.  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.  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.  No sense in leaving the tent to pee.  Course I'll have to keep it's purpose a secret until my wife sees how useful it is.  The flap that is. She's convinced of the usefulness of... well... uh, never-mind.

I do have one question.  Did you marry that gal that proposed in her comment?
bentm (author)  deeeveeeg4 years ago
Nice!--I always wondered about a urinal hole, but was afraid to try it.

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 "deeply human" message of Hope, I figured she was referring to my far more photogenic brother, the model in the photos...
I was delighted with your sequence and persistence!
You have surpassed any recommendations about tailoring and manufacturing of tent with a canopy!
bpfrocket5 years ago
Good job! I used to use "Baker" 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 . It would be nice to have a porch for the Harley when its a wet camp.

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. 
Ian015 years ago
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.

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).

3. Most of this page is bold. It seems you forgot to close a bold tag in step 1.


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