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
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)
- 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.
- 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.