The ability to build your own tent is an invaluable skill every camper should learn. Personally, I learned the hard way after getting caught up in a thunderstorm several years ago.
But shelter protection wasn’t the only reward.
See, tents are expensive. I mean really expensive.
Want to know what is super cheap, though?
Building your own tent!
First things first, you need a couple of essentials to build a tent, including a tarp, stakes, anchor cordage, paracord, and trekking poles/sticks.
With the tarp unfolded, tie a piece of the paracord and anchor cordage to every corner.
Then flip your trekking poles upside down and tie the paracords to the poles. Before draping a durable tarp over them, be sure to stake them on the ground. This will create tension at the top for a good A-frame shelter.
With all the corners tied down, attach them to the stakes and pull them out. And you’ve a solid A-frame tent.
Of course, there are many other ways to create a tent from scratch.
And in the guide below, I’ll share everything you need to know and how to effortlessly build a tent with limited resources.
Why you Should Consider Building a Tent from Scratch
There’re a couple of benefits of building a tent from scratch.
The first one is that it provides an emergency shelter solution.
See, if you’ve tried camping before, you already know the weather can always turn for the worst at any moment. Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in a thunderstorm, and you may need an emergency shelter.
A makeshift tent has also come in handy for me during the impromptu night camping and with limited tools in my possession.
It’s a skill that has literally saved me after I forgot to pack my tent when heading out.
Setting up a tent is also a great pair-bonding activity, especially with friends and camping mates.
Another important benefit of learning how to make a camping tent from scratch is a money-saving activity.
As I previously mentioned, camping tents can be really expensive. So, if you’re on a budget adventure and don’t want to spend a ton on tent purchases, DIYing one is a great idea.
But my primary reason for building a tent from scratch is all about customization.
Yes, I still have uses for the commercial tents, but unfortunately, most of them don’t meet my needs for a camping shelter.
On the other hand, building one from scratch allows me to tailor it to perfectly suit my needs. I can customize my DIY tents as much as I’d like.
Materials you Need to Make a Camping Tent from Scratch
The section below will talk about the materials needed to make a camping tent from scratch.
Of course, the materials vary depending on the method used to build a tent.
But here are some of the basic materials you need to create a rudimentary tent from scratch:
- Straight wooden sticks/hiking pole
- Waterproof tarp
- Long paracord/ropes
These are the basic materials you need to make your own tent, but some methods may require more materials.
Some of the uses for the homemade tent build materials are:
1) The wooden sticks will form the structures or rather frames to hold both tent and tarp in general.
2) Ropes come in handy for tying the tarp to the end of the poles.
3) A tarp doubles up as a canvas and will offer a protective shield against the elements. If you’ve an extra tarp, lay the floor tarp on the ground for cold-weather insulation for your sleeping bag.
How to Make a Camping Tent from Scratch
Whether you’re in an emergency or simply want a place to shield yourself from weather inclement, building a tent from scratch is necessary.
Here, we’ll outline a couple of ways to whip out a quick shelter with the most basic materials.
Understand this rudimentary tent is more than a simple emergency tent; but something you can depend on during weather inclement.
Our tips on how to make a camping tent from scratch are also quite simple and easy to follow. Great for newbies, too.
Preparing the Ground for Tent Set-Up
Consider the Location
The first important step to setting up a homemade tent is finding the ideal camping location.
Now, it’s easy to think you can set up your tent anywhere in the wilderness, but that’s far from the truth.
There’re a couple of things to consider when choosing an ideal location.
I prefer pitching my tent near or under trees for natural shade and protection from the elements. And depending on the pitching design, trees may also act as tent poles.
I try to keep away from the dead trees because their branches are likely to break and fall on my tent, especially during a thunderstorm.
I also keep away from ditches and valleys. I know it’s quite tempting because of the availability of water and natural streams, but with even a little rain, the valleys are likely to pool and flood your tent.
At the same time, I wouldn’t advise pitching your tent in high-altitude areas either. There’s a higher chance of water pouring and beating your tent heavily when it rains, leaving you soggy. High altitude areas will also leave your tent exposed to the elements more, including exposure to the winds.
My ideal camping location is the wooded area. Even a few trees in the location, you’ll be amazed at how well they keep you shielded against the elements.
Also, consider a camping location near a water source, such as a river or lake. This way, it’s easier to access water and even fish food.
Preparing a Flat Surface
Another crucial thing to consider when selecting a camping location is the sleeping ground.
Sleeping on uneven ground may lead to an uncomfortable experience and ruin your sleeping posture, even with sleeping bags.
The best way around this is to find a relatively flat surface.
It’s an important consideration that will also save your tent from the risk of tearing.
Also, be sure to pick up and remove any debris that may threaten to stick to your back and tent when sleeping. It includes branches, rocks, stones, and any other debris.
Finally, consider a relatively damp ground. It’ll help to drive the tarp stick more effortlessly. It also eliminates the chances of dust blowing into your tent. But it should be too damp either.
Different Methods for Building a Tent from Scratch
As I mentioned in the introduction, there are many different ways to make a camping tent from scratch.
And in this section, I’ll share the exact details and steps I follow for the different tent building techniques.
Method 1- Triangular Cross-Section A-frame
Our first method creates the classic cross-section A-frame tent. It’s the most popular tent design in many movies and films.
The A-frame’s popularity as a tent design comes from several reasons.
First, it doesn’t require a lot of materials to build, so it’s a great option to whip up in the middle of nowhere.
On top of that, A-frame tents are quite spacious, more than a dome tent or any other camping tent. Perfect when you’re family camping.
Another benefit of the A-frame tent is that it’s quite fun to build and easy to set up, even with the least experience.
Unfortunately, it also has a fair share of drawbacks.
The biggest one is that A-frames provide shelter protection in a pinch.
An A-frame will shield you from the weather inclement but won’t save you from the critters.
But given all the other benefits, I don’t think it would be a reason enough not to consider this design.
- Lightweight waterproof tarp
- Tent poles/Sticks
- Rope/cord/heavy duty string
Step-by-Step Guide to Make an A-frame Camping Tent from Scratch
Find a wooded spot, ideally between two trees, separated by approximately 10 feet.
Tie a cord between the two trees and make it as taught as possible.
Your choice of rope should also be sturdy enough to support your tent’s weight.
It’s also crucial to consider how you secure and tighten the knot on the trees. The knot should be as tight as possible to keep the tent from falling during weather inclement.
Another crucial detail not to forget is the height of the rope. The height will depend on the amount of space you need for the tent and the size of your tarp.
The higher you go, the more spacious your tent becomes, but it won’t make any sense if the size of your tarp is small.
I’d recommend you choose a medium height for your rope. Low enough for you to work on but high enough for sufficient space.
Once your rope is secured, the next step is throwing your tarp over the rope. Simple.
Be sure both sides fall equally on each side.
In case your tarp isn’t in contact with the ground, you tied the rope too high. So, there’s a need for some adjustment to lower the rope height.
Also, if you’ve more than one tarpaulin, use the biggest one as the base layer and pull the other tarp over the first one.
Pull the corners of the waterproof tarpaulin, and create tarp holes on all four corners.
Use a backpacking knife or anything that can create tarp corner holes without destroying the tent.
Secure the tent on the corners using a few heavy rocks and stakes.
Pull the corners of your tent, and drive stakes through the holes to secure them in place.
Use the heavy boulders to bolster their position.
Lay a second tarpaulin on the ground to act as a tent ground tarp.
It should save you from dampness and contact with the ground.
The ideal ground tent sheet should be thick and durable.
Our second method is the perfect shelter solution, especially if you’re dry camping is not so much of a wooded location.
It’s perfect if you can’t find the second three to tie your rope to.
The biggest benefit of this tent design lies in simplicity. First, it only requires a single tree, and secondly, it requires the least number of materials to set it up.
It is also unique because if you’ve too much of the tent material, you can actually use it to cover the roof and the ground.
But with so much on offer, there must be a catch, right?
While this method prides itself on simplicity, it’s only really good for sleeping or emergencies because there’s not so much room.
- Waterproof tarp
Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Camping Tent from Scratch
Tie a rope of one tree.
Be mindful of the height, again. I’d recommend setting the rope at medium height.
Also, consider how to secure your knot (hammock knots) on the tree. It should be as tight as possible.
Pull the rope away from the tree until it’s taught, the unattached end to the ground.
Throw your tarp over the rope to create a rudimentary shelter.
Proceed to secure the tent on its highest point using a bungee cord, tent pegs, or string. It should help the tent from sliding down the sloping rope.
Depending on the size of the tarp, wrap it around to cover your tent’s floor.
But if you’ve a second tarpaulin, you can use it as a ground sheet.
Hold your tent’s lowest ends (two corners) outwards and secure them.
Use a knife to create a hole, and then drive stakes or sticks through the holes. Bolster the support by laying some heavy rocks on the staked corner. Consider attaching guy lines for more strength.
Once you’ve set up and secured everything, you should now have a waterproof shelter for the night.
Our third tent design is by far the most versatile option.
It produces a multipurpose and straightforward tent, perfect when you can’t find an ideal location or trees to support your tent.
The tent design is also perfect when you’re in an emergency or faced with sudden weather changes in the middle of your camping trip.
Setting up a tent using this method is also effortless and super easy because it requires the least number of materials.
If anything, it’s a great option for backpackers since it only needs a large tarp, cord, a couple of stakes, and one long post.
You can even use your hiking poles, and it’s even much better if they’re extendable.
- Waterproof tarp
Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Camping Tent from Scratch
Spread your tarpaulin material on level, flat ground.
Make holes on each corner, and while at it, consider the diameter of the poles or sticks you’ll use.
I’d recommend you make the holes a bit smaller than the diameter of the sticks to make them secure when putting them through.
Thread your cut ropes through the holes without tying them yet.
Assuming you’ve identified the ideal spot for spending your night, start by staking the largest pole. Ideally, the pole should provide the support structure and be placed in your tent’s middle
Secure the pole firmly in the ground. It’s easy to achieve this by digging a bit into the ground before staking it.
Use a hammer or a piece of rock to drive the stake deep into the sand
Lay your tarp over the centrally-located and secured post.
Next, pull all the individual corners so that each corner lies diagonally to the post and ground.
While at it, take care not to pull the tarpaulin so hard that it tears or changes the position of your central pole.
Stake the corners using small sticks, and drive them into the ground. Your tent should assume a pyramid shape.
Secure your tent by tying up all the corners to your stakes.
Consider adding some rocks to weigh down the tent’s edges for more security.
How to Make a DIY Camping Tent from Scratch for Backpacking
One of the major highlights of any backpacking tent is weight. After all, you’ll be lugging a tent across your back on your camping adventure, so you need something ultra-lightweight and portable.
Usually, the specialized backpacking tents are lightweight, so they don’t cause fatigue, strain, or anything.
They’re also built small, enough to fit on your backpack and leave extra space for camping gear.
Unfortunately, these backpacking tents are super expensive, so building a DIY backpacking tent makes sense.
And no, it’s not challenging to DIY one. With some bit of elbow grease, I can create a reliable backpacking tent at a fraction of the price of a commercial backpack tent.
Of course, as with the traditional backpack tent, there’re a couple of elements to keep in mind when building your own shelter for backpacking.
An important element is the choice of fabric. The best backpack tent is made from reliable materials.
One of the popular tent fabrics is ripstop nylon, and I would highly recommend it for your DIY tent.
It’s breathable, lightweight, and durable.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit on the higher side of the price.
But if ripstop is above your budget, I would recommend regular nylon as an alternative. Unfortunately, regular nylon isn’t heavy-duty and prone to tear and wear.
Along with the choice of material, there’re a couple of several creature comforts you may want to tag along with.
For example, a mosquito mesh later is necessary for keeping the flying bugs away.
Also, consider packing a seam seal tape for fixing your tape.
As with the traditional tent, also consider the tent floor. Invest in heavy-duty and durable fabric to keep you from getting cold or damp.
That said, let’s jump into the details of how to make a DIY camping tent from scratch.
It’s a traditional A-frame tent and fully enclosed, so a nice shelter for warm-weather camping.
But the best pros, at least in my opinion, with this tent, are that it’s super-light, convenient to set up, and ideal for backpackers.
- Lightweight waterproof tarp- forms the tent walls.
- Groundsheet tarp-drop cloth can serve as an alternative
- Nylon cord/Bungee cord
- One hiking pole/center pole
Step-by-Step of How to Build a DIY Backpacking Tent from Scratch
As with any camping tent, the first step to setting up a backpacking tent is choosing the ideal camping location.
My ideal location is a spot free from wind and on a level surface. Alternatively, position your own camping tent perpendicularly to the wind.
It should also be free from any rocks, sticks, and debris.
Lay out and spread your ripstop nylon fabric on a flat surface.
Stake the back corners of your tent.
As always, face the back of your tent to where the weather inclement comes from. It should be taught.
Bring the remaining front corners together, and lift where they fold in the middle.
Next, peg the two front corners together at the center. If done correctly, your DIY tent should assume a pyramid slip opening.
Place your fully extended pole under the tent’s centerfold to create a triangle shape.
Be sure to secure the hiking pole/center post by pushing it deep into the ground.
Keep the middle pole from sliding from the center by wrapping it around with a bungee cord.
Lay heavy-duty ground sheep for ground protection against dampness.
And that’s how to make a backpacking tent!
The good thing with this triangle shape design is that most materials are cheap and readily available. It, therefore, is a nice shelter solution for budget backpackers.
While it’s not comfortable or 100% protective, you can effortlessly assemble it anywhere at a moment’s notice.
Handy Tips on How to Make a Camping Tent from Scratch
Here’re some of the tips to keep in mind when making your own camping tent from scratch:
- Always keep your gear protected, ideally in an enclosed bag, even when inside the tent
- Insulate your tent to maintain optimal conditions
- The biggest tarp should be used as a base layer and the second tarp as an auxiliary layer
- Create enough space for both a campfire and your living space
- The size of your tarp determines the tent footprint
- A camping tent should always be taut to prevent cave-ins or water collection
- Never pack a wet tent/ tent fabric
- Pack a mosquito mesh layer to ward off the flying bugs and seam seal for repairing broken tents
That marks the end of our comprehensive guide on how to make a camping tent from scratch.
I’ve shared the three popular ways to DIY one and added a bonus of how to build a backpacking tent.
If you’re new to building tents, understand it may be a challenge at first, and you might even fail. But don’t be disheartened; simply keep on trying.
There are many rewarding benefits to knowing how to make a camping tent from scratch, especially when you’re in the middle of your next camping trip.