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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    20 Discussions


    2 years ago

    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?


    3 years ago

    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?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

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


    2 years ago

    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.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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.}


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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. :)

    1 reply

    8 years ago on Introduction

    I stapled mine after hours of sewing and getting frustrated. Just used a simple office stapler to staple the ripstop fabric to the tent seams. Seems to be just as good as the portions I sewed!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Is there any reason why you couldn't do at least part of the sewing on a sewing machine?

    I need to do something like this before bringing my tent back to Burning Man and I want to save myself from all that hand stitching.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Mod,
    I had two reasons for hand stitching. (1) The opening under the arm of my standard-sized sewing machine was too small, and the tent fabric was too slippery.  I could not push it through as I stitched.  (2) I was a little concerned that the close spacing of all the needle holes would weaken the tent fabric.  I didn't want it to tear in a wind storm.

    You might succeed if you have a larger machine, smaller tent, or better skills than mine.  Also, maybe you can adjust your machine for a larger stitch pitch.
    Good luck


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks. I'm also a little worried about the fabric being so slippery but I think I'm going to give it a try on the machine. I'll definitely take your advice and set it for really large stitches.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I got the same results by glueing the ventilation holes shut. After I set up the inner tent, but before I put the cover, I glued panels of dust-blocking fabric, polyester or something, over the ventilation openings. Because the tent fabric is treated to make it waterproof, several glues, including fabric glue, did not stick. Bond 527 (renamed Beacon 527) worked well. It's a thin glue, so it looks messy. In New York City, you can get it in the garment district at: Steinlauf and Stoller sewing & notions 239 West 39 @7/8th Ave; or Toho Shoji beads 990 Sixth Ave @ 36th Street; or M&J Trimmings 1008 6th Ave 37/38th Street.

    4 replies

    Hi Jonathan: I used Bond 527 to seal the ventilation openings in the tent that I use at Burning Man. It gets very hot in the burning sunlight of Nevada's Black Rock desert. These are extreme conditions. The ventilation openings remain sealed, though. I'll use the tent again a few weeks from now.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Im curious how you coped with the heat in your tent... I am crusing the net right now trying to see other options, as I am currently a shambhalite, and will be a burner this year hopefully... I have played with swamp coolers, and a few methods for cooling my tent and good ventilation and shade have been the mose effective to date. Any ideas or experience would be appreciated, as I tend to sleep in the day at these festivals.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    So you haven't been at Burning Man yet? You want to keep your tent tightly sealed at all times to keep the Playa dust out. That means it gets insanely hot during the day. No worries, it gets very cold at night. The best way to nap during the day is out in the open under shade. I did have a swamp cooler one year. Had a struggle to keep it in the tent opening. It did make a nap inside the tent during the day more bearable. Again, you really want to do that outside. Also, the swamp cooler uses a lot of water, a precious resource. Just seal up your tent to keep the freakin' dust out.