Simple Line Tensioners for Camping and Backpacking




About: I am a technologist who loves spending time in the outdoors. I am also hopelessly addicted to gadgets and love to build things with my own hands.

This instructable will show you how to make very simple tent line tensioners from an old plastic paint bucket.

Though I believe it is always useful to know how to tie different knots for backpacking and camping, there is sometimes no substitute for the speed and convenience of these little gadgets. They weigh almost nothing, so you could easily throw a few in with your camping or hiking gear along with some tent cord, paracord, or small diameter rope. I have actually just added these to the guy lines of my backpacking tarps, hammock tents, and standard tents for easy use.

This is my first instructable, so I hope you find it useful.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

To make these tensioners, you can really improvise with whatever you have lying around. I have made them out of broken nalgene water bottles, thick aluminum bottles, aluminum bar stock, etc. For this instructable, I will be showing you how to use a commonly available 5 gallon plastic bucket. In my opinion this material is just about perfect for this. It is easy to work with, lightweight, durable, and weather resistant. Plus you can make use of something rather than dumping it into the landfill.

The supply list:
-Five Gallon Plastic bucket
-Saw (I feel that a table saw is really the safest and most uniform, but use whatever works for you.)
-Drill (a drill press is preferred for straight and uniform holes.)
-Small Drill Bit (13/64 is what I used, it just needs to be larger than the cord so it will slide.)
-Snips or Heavy Duty Scissors (not required, but it makes quick work of cutting these to length.)
-Cord (such as paracord or tent guy line cord.)

Step 2: Cutting the Bucket Into Pieces

You should be extremely careful when performing this task. It is probably the most dangerous part of this tutorial, so don't get hurt!

The basic idea here is to cut the bucket all the way around into a uniform ring that is about 1/2 an inch wide. First cut off the top reinforcement that usually holds the handle. Then set your fence for a 1/2 inch width and raise the blade just enough to go through the wall of the bucket.

Turn on the saw and slowly rotate the bucket until you have gone all the way around, leaving a large ring. Don't worry too much if the ring isn't perfect, you can still probably make some tensioners out of some of it. I'd suggest cutting a whole bunch of these rings if you want to make a bunch of tensioners. It's always easier to make things in bulk.

Step 3: Cutting and Forming the Tensioner

Once you have several uniform rings, you can start cutting the tensioners to length. Mine are 1 1/4 inches long. The easiest way to do this is with a pair of tin snips. I just cut out one and use that same one as a template for the others working my way all the way around the ring. If you do it right, you will have a huge stack of these things in no time.

Step 4: Drilling the Holes

You can now drill two holes in each piece with your drill (or drill press). Try to get them as even as possible. When you are done you should have something similar to what is pictured below.

Once you have drilled them all, it is also a good idea to spend a little time sanding off the rough parts, saw marks, etc. I also like to round over the corners a little to make them generally less sharp. I think it is worth it because this action will make it less likely that you will snag the tensioner on your cord or line.

Step 5: Rigging the Line

You are now ready to rig the line tensioner. The images below should show you exactly what you need to do.

First lace the line through both holes, with the 'loop' following the slight curve of what was once the outside of the bucket. Now loop around and lace the line back through the same hole on the other side as shown. Tie a knot in the end of the cord and pull it tight.

Step 6: Finished!

You should now have a finished line tensioner like the one pictured below. To use them, tie the long end to any tarp, tent, etc. Use a tent stake to secure the end with the loop which is attached to the tensioner you made. Then to adjust, simply slide the tensioner up (or down) the line until the line is taught. The picture below should give you the basic idea.

Make tons and hand them out to your friends! They are easy to make, simple to use, and a great way to recycle some old plastic buckets that you might find laying around.



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    45 Discussions


    2 years ago

    These are handy devices. While I know how to tie knots I'll leave the knot tying to the purists as I'm no purist, just practical. AFAIK these plastic buckets lack UV protection, don't be surprise they do break in a few years, if they see regular use. Your use of the table saw isn't anymore dangerous than many wood cutting operations are


    Reply 2 years ago

    Not that I'm do not learn how tie and use knots, but the aren't hardly the "right" thing. To believe that they are is conservatism to a fault.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I use a taughtline hitch for many things myself (including tent lines). As I said in the beginning, this is no substitute for knot skills. Every camper/hiker ought to at least be able to tie a bowline and a taught line hitch. I just find it easier to 'pre' do this on things I need to go up fast! Tents and hammocks fall in this category especially if you need to set them up in inclement weather or if it has started to get dark.


    3 years ago

    I make/made mine out of the lids from plastic milk jugs. They aren't as compact as the ones you made, but they don't require any cutting (just drilling).


    3 years ago

    Thanks you inspired me to make some from the thicker 55 gallon plastic barrels

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    4 years ago

    Any design diy that works like Lineloc 3.


    6 years ago on Step 6

    These are kind of neat. But really I just use a taut line hitch. Works every time.

    1 reply
    lalderman burton

    5 years ago

    I'm thinking you could shatter the bucket and cut the rectangles from there for a more safe approach. If you use a sander and some strong cutters.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    If you wanted to make them super secure & slip proof for securing loads on vehicles or pack animals, cut two notches on one of the sides to form a cleat. pull the rope taught, then slip use thumb to push the line between the two holes up and over the cleat. Nice idea and great use of discarded plastic.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Even more slip-proof would be to pull the line above the cleat, twist line 180 degrees making a loop and drop that down over the cleat.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Now that's what I'm talking about !!!
    thank you!

    easy, cool, useful, well explained and great photos ! :)

    My model Sailboat has something like this on it to adjust the rigging. Except they have three holes. They're called bowsies. The line goes thru the first and middle holes. Thru the clevis or grommet or w/e and back thru the last hole of the bowsie and is knotted there. They are very easy to adjust and I have never had one move on me.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I've never seen one of these before and am only pretty good at a square knot...sometimes..... so I'm really excited about your solution. Thanks for the ible!