by Henry Shires
Tarptent sleeps 1+ (me, gear, +) and weighs 18 ounces
complete with poles, stakes, tie lines etc. The Tarptent-for-2
sleeps 2 (or huge for one), weighs 24 ounces complete
including generous beak, and has some additional room for
gear. Both tents are floor-less, completely screened with
zipper opening door and made from 1.1 oz silicone-coated
nylon. Here's everything you need to know to make your own.
goal of every ultralight backpacker is to carry a comfortable
shelter that offers maximum protection from wet weather
and bugs, while minimizing weight, difficulty of setup,
and cost. The Tarptent is my solution to the problem.
are three traditional shelter types. Here is a summary of
their relative performance. My rankings are subjective.
3= good, 2=fair, 1= poor
setup for tarps is often a factor of available trees.
shelter type excels in certain categories. The tarp is at
or near the top in all categories except bugs. My goal was
to create a modified tarp that eliminated the bugs while
maintaining excellence in all other categories. The Tarptent
weighs 18 ounces, sleeps one person plus gear, and costs
about $60 to make. The Tarptent-for-2 costs costs a few
Snowy, winter conditions create additional shelter needs.
The Tarptent will be fine in light snowstorms but is NOT
intended for winter use.
in the Fabric
researching tents for my thru-hike,
I found and subsequently purchased a tent from Stephenson
(603-293-7016), a producer of very light, high quality,
but expensive tents. This bug-tight, 4-season tent weighs
just over 3 pounds (less if you don't get the extra window
screening), sleeps 2 very comfortably, and offers easy setup.
It would rate a "4" in nearly all categories except
cost. At 1.5 lbs/person, it's hard to beat, except if you're
really got me thinking about making my own tent was the Stephenson tent
material. Stephenson tents are able to achieve their remarkable lightness
because they use 1.4 oz./sq. yd. silicone coated ripstop nylon. Urethane
coated nylons weigh well over 2 oz./sq. yd, some approaching 3 oz/sq.
yd. While this may not sound like much of a savings, it really starts
to add up when your tent contains 10+ sq. yds of material. The Stephenson
catalog offers the 1.4 oz. fabric for sale. It also references the material
that was used in previous model years but discontinued because of an apparent
problem with the supplier's ability to meet demand. This material is 1.1-ounce
silicone-coated nylon (silnylon). Silnylon is available now from several
mail order suppliers, and it is the material I used to make my Tarptent.
It is very strong, extremely lightweight and must, of course, be protected
from abrasion to withstand extended use. For those who expect extremely
high winds or subject their fabric to abrasive situations, I would recommend
getting the Stephenson 1.4 oz fabric. It will add about 1 oz. to the overall
weight of the Tarptent design.
of a Design
I started working on this design, I began with an Integral
Designs 8'x5' 1.1-ounce silicone coated tarp. It weighed
about 6 oz, cost $50, and came with all the guyline pullouts
already installed. I created a simple a-frame design, using
26" straight poles (I-poles) in the front and back.
I sealed the triangular open ends with coated nylon doors,
bounded at the apex by small mosquito netting vents for
ventilation. I sewed one door edge to the tarp and used
Velcro to attach the other edge for easy opening and closing
. A groundcloth formed the floor of the enclosure. I attached
guylines to the front and back and staked all 4 corners
to the ground. There was just enough room to wriggle in
and out of the tent and it kept the bugs out. Serviceable,
cheap, lightweight, no view and no fun. It also suffered
from condensation and showered on me when I brushed the
material while exiting the tent. Next I decided to raise
one long side of the tent and add mosquito netting along
the entire length. This increased ventilation and provided
a bit of a view. It also dramatically increased floor space
while extending the drip line away from the interior.
modified the door and added guylines along the edge of the
raised side at the corners and in the middle. While testing
this tent I discovered that the netting actually blocks
most of the driven rain. Small spray that gets through the
netting will not reach more than a foot or so into the interior
so as long as you keep the groundcloth/sleeping bag away
from the netting you will stay dry. Subsequently I changed
the front and back doors to all netting to increase ventilation
and views with minimal increase to rain exposure. The original
8' x 5' tarp was then transformed into something like this:
field tested this tent on a '98 JMT hike and it performed
quite well. I still got a few drips of condensation when
exiting the tent and I couldn't sit up to move around, eat,
or put on a shirt. I yearned for more freedom of movement.
time I needed my calculator and a little help from simple
trigonometry. I wanted to maintain the floor space but increase
the headroom without adding much to the overall weight.
By raising the front and lowering the rear I added less
than 7 sq. ft. (less than 1 ounce) but increased headroom
by 1 foot. I'm 5'11" and can just sit up in the Tarptent.
So without further ado, here's how to make your very own
(ed note: a kit
containing the materials needed to make the tarptent is available)
silicone-coated nylon (silnylon)
- Tarptent: 5.5 yds; Tarptent-for-2:
mosquito netting. Tarptent: 4 yds; Tarptent-for-2:
4 1/2 yds
nylon tape/webbing - 2 yds.
or 1" Velcro tape (both halves)
- 7" (4" if not including beak)
kit - size 1. If you plan to use trekking poles, make
sure the grommet diameter fits your pole tips (and you
may need 1" or wider webbing for a wider grommet).
aluminum poles (.340"). Tarptent:
36" front and 18" rear; Tarptent-for-2:
40" front and 20" rear. (Note: larger
poles can also be used with the original Tarptent at some
loss to interior space) Easton poles are extremely strong,
slightly flexible, and very light. A set of poles weighs
2.5 ounces for the Tarptent or 3 ounces for the Tarptent-for-2.
Poles should have grommet tip on one end and be capped
on the other end. The front pole should be shock-corded
to prevent losing a section and for easier and faster
Trekking poles may also be substituted.
stakes. In the absence of trees, rocks, or other tie off points you
will probably want all 8 stakes to pull out the midpoints on both long
I recommend titanium
stakes as they are incredibly strong and weigh only 12 grams/stake
(3.4 ounces/8 stakes).
or #5 coil zipper w/double tab for opening from inside
and out. Tarptent:
cord for guylines. I recommend The Kelty "Triptease"
ultralight spectra cord - 15'. Not only is it exceptionally
strong and light but it's highly reflective and very easy
Burn the cut ends to prevent unravelling.
Silicone II Clear Sealer. Mix with some mineral spirits and paint on
the seams, especially the outside (top side) of the main roof seam.
(ed note: McNett's SilNet
doesn't require thinning with mineral spirits and includes applicator
nylon for reinforcing pullouts. Use scrap from 1.1
oz. nylon or whatever else you have but uncoated ripstop is probably
better to prevent water from getting trapped between the layers. Be
sure to heat seal uncoated fabric with a match or soldering iron.
or industrial sewing machine. Be sure to use 100% polyester
or spun nylon thread--I use polyester thread made by Guterman--and
use a small needle size. Do NOT use heavy duty thread.
for marking seams.
tape, yardstick, and scissors.
Optional but very useful is a rotary fabric cutter and
Poles can be assembled from sections available at REI and
other sources. My local REI did not have the grommet tips
when I inquired so I had my poles custom made by TA
Enterprises (1-800-266-9527) for about $10.
Notes: Adjustable Trekking poles can also be used. If
you turn the poles over you should be able to insert the
pole tips into the existing grommets. Adjust the poles to
match the specs for the front and rear heights (though most
trekking poles will not collapse down to 20" and you'll
have to get creative to use one for the rear).
those using Glen Van Peski's
G4 pack, the 18" or 20" Easton poles will
double as excellent pack stays. Simply shove them down between
the folds in the Z-Rest frame sheet. Using the Tarptent
poles, I find the G4 comfort and load carrying capacity
to be greatly improved
following designs are intended for 1 person and gear (Tarptent)
or 2 people and some gear (Tarptent-for-2).
The Tarptent can sleep two in a pinch but the Tarptent-for-2
is intended for extended 2-person use or as a more luxurious
shelter for one.
2 identical pieces of silnylon. Click
here for printable pattern.
4 pieces of no-see-um netting. Click
here for printable pattern.
Side (raised side)
Side (low side)
8 identical pieces of nylon tape or webbing for pullouts.
1 piece of Velcro tape (both sides) for netting tie or 2
pieces if you're adding a beak.
the two identical pieces of silicone-coated nylon together
and stitch along the long horizontal side. Use a 0.5"
inch seam allowance. The Tarptent should now look like this:
fold over each edge 3/4" and stitch to form a border.
The Tarptent should now look like this:
are used to attach the Tarptent to the ground, via a stake
areas around the pullouts will be subject to stress and
it is imperative that these areas be reinforced to spread
the load. Cut scrap nylon and reinforce as shown :
will need to cut scrap nylon to fit each corner and the
midway point of each parallel side (the ridgeline pullouts).
You can also add reinforcing patches along the midway point
of each long side though those points do not experience
much stress. Make each piece several inches wide/long and
stitch along the direction of stress.
and Rear Pullouts
front and pullouts are grommeted to support the Tarptent
poles. Adjustable Trekking poles can also be used but be
sure the grommet and associated webbing is large enough
or just affix the trekking pole to the webbing loop and
leave out the grommet.
two identical grommet loops as follows:
a piece of nylon tape in half. Insert a #1 grommet near
the end of the loop, through both pieces of tape, and spread
the free ends as shown:
with a second piece of tape. Now, attach the grommet loops
to the middle of the front and rear parallel sides. Be sure
to spread out the tape so that there is more surface area
attach the remaining webbing strips to the 4 corners and
the two remaining midpoints. Fold each piece in half, turn
it so it faces you edge on and then open it like a book
to form a loop that looks like this:
the loops to the remaining areas in the same manner as the
grommet loops. Your Tarptent should now look like this:
be the ones inside the netting for they shall remain sane...
you attach the netting you should determine which long side
of your Tarptent you want to raise up. If you sleep on your
left side as I do you will want to raise up the left side
(as viewed from the front) of the Tarptent so you can see
out the side of the tent while lying down. Reverse the instructions
for a "right-sided" design.
Velcro closure is nice so that you can prop open the door
when the bugs are low. Peel apart the two halves of the
Velcro and stick them together again so that they form one
long piece with about 1/2" overlap.
the overlap area to the edge of the tarp, about 1/3 of the
way up the fabric, so that it forms a right angle to the
sure to attach the Velcro to the left side of the Tarptent
before you sew the netting. When the netting is held open
by the Velcro it will look like this:
sew each of the long pieces of netting to the edges of the
Tarptent roof as shown below. Be sure to center each piece
of netting so that there is enough material on both ends
to overlap with the adjoining netting. For now, do not sew
past the center of each corner.
The netting/nylon interface is slippery. You will want to
use a short stitch length to prevent seam puckering. Practice
with scrap before you proceed or you will have to rip out
your first attempts. I also recommend cutting each long
side netting in half and sewing each half separately. Once
the tent is set up, pin and re-sew the break in the vertical
wall. This will help eliminate the stretch in the netting.
are now ready to set
up the Tarptent and adjust the
netting for good fit and finish. Be sure the Tarptent is
taut before proceeding. Walk to the back of the Tarptent
and pull the back window netting flap across until it's
the netting to the edge of the roof line. Now go the front
of the Tarptent and repeat the sequence with the front door
flap but leave a little slack to compensate for the zipper.
Draw a line along the netting corresponding to the pins.
This is the zipper line and you will need to trim the netting
back to this line. Take down the Tarptent and sew the zipper
to the right side of the Tarptent You will need to sew one
side to the right edge of the roof and the other side to
the edge of the netting.
sure to block the top of the zipper to prevent complete
separation by sewing an extra piece of nylon tape across
the zipper. Stitch over the area a few times. Do the same
thing to the bottom of the zipper by separately taping each
bottom edge and stitch to prevent unraveling.
sewing the rear window along the pin line.
up the tent again and pin the
corners of the netting so that they hang straight and slightly
inward. Each corner should form a pocket (for placing rocks/shoes/etc.
to hold the netting) and the netting should fold to the
inside. There should be about 7 inches of netting to the
inside of the tent. Trim the netting as desired. In the
field, place objects along the netting border, as needed,
to complete the bug seal.
you have finished pinning the material, take the Tarptent
down and sew the netting along the pin lines.
(Why? Because we got 'em.)
no moon roofs or 4-speaker stereos. But if it's beaks or floors
you want, you came to the right place.
with optional beak; beak rolls up and can be tied off
beak is an awning that partially covers the front of the
tent. I have made it a standard part of the Tarptent-for-2
and consider it optional for the original Tarptent. It adds
about 1 ounce to the overall weight of the finished product.
In either case, it will not be needed except when the tent
front is aimed into the blowing rain. A beak will, however,
allow the front netting to be left open during most storms--a
benefit for increasing airflow in wet weather--and allow
you to scootch up toward the front. Like the door netting,
the beak is designed to be rolled up and stored with velcro
when not needed.
here for printable pattern
Tarptent is designed to have an open floor with netting
border. Typically a groundcloth forms the interior. I always
carry a groundcloth made of Tyvek Housewrap--a very tough
and highly water resistant fabric used in building construction--and
center it inside the Tarptent. My groundcloth measures 3
x 6 1/2 feet and weighs about 5 ounces.
Top-down view of Tarptent interior
option is to fill the space with a full netting, Tyvek,
Silnylon, or combination floor.
removable floor is the best of all worlds because it gives
you flexibility to sleep out or in without having to carry
an extra groundcloth. Here's how to make one.
the dimensions of your groundcloth. Now cut or piece together
a netting floor insert to match the interior dimensions
of the "hole" in the Tarptent or Tarptent-for-2
(see above) and create a another hole in the middle of the
netting insert that is an inch or two smaller than your
groundcloth. Sew velcro to the corners and middle of the
long sides as shown.
Note: The interior profile will appear slightly
different, depending on the tension of the side pullouts.
Actual profile will be more square across the front
end (left end in this picture) and then taper toward
the rear. Create the floor insert using the "stretched"
dimensions so the netting insert will not be stretched
corresponding velcro patches to your groundcloth as shown.
the netting insert to the netting flaps on the tarptent
(except the front door) and press the groundcloth velcro
patches onto the netting insert. Your completed floor should
now look like this,
combination netting/removable floor should add 1-1.5 ounces
to the overall Tarptent weight (not including the weight
of the groundcloth). A full netting floor would add about
up the Tarptent again and seam
seal the main ridge seam and,
if you wish, the seams around the pullouts. You may also
wish to sew small loops at the front of ridgeline and about
1 foot toward the rear for use as a small clothesline or
flashlight holder. An additional benefit of these two loops
is that they double as a ridgeline tightener.
Do I Really Want to Make One...
I first published this document, many people have asked me if I have any
Tarptents to sell. The answer used to be no but is now yes, time permitting.
Contact me if you
would like a Tarptent or Tarptent-for-2.
Months on the PCT
Rocks Wilderness, Washington
put the Tarptent through an extensive field test during
my hike. For nearly 5 months on the trail, the Tarptent
was truly my home. Overall, it performed like a champ and
I stayed exceptionally dry and warm during my walk. I do,
however, have a few comments and suggestions for future
time, thin poles will sink into wet or loose soil. To
solve the problem, place small, flat rocks under each
pole during set-up.
original design called for 6" netting flaps around
the perimeter. Despite security measures, there were still
times when a few mosquitos managed to evade the defenses.
If you plan to camp in very buggy conditions I suggest
another inch or two to the netting width. The
key to whatever width you choose is to press the netting
to the ground with rocks, sticks, shoes, overlapping ground
cloth, etc. Properly pinned, the netting will stop all
flying insects from entering. Ants are a bit more clever
and a few will find their way in no matter what you do.
If you must stop ants, a full
netting floor will add about 4 ounces to the tent
weight and is a reasonable ultralight solution.
Update 9/5/01: I have ammended the plans in this
document to include 7" flaps and suggestions for
a full floor.
sewed small velcro patches to the inside of the front
door, two along each seam. Since I carried a poncho, I
also sewed matching patches along the edges of the poncho.
During windy storms, when I had neglected to aim the low
end of the tent into the blowing rain, I attached the
poncho to the velcro patches and was able to stop the
mist and droplets from entering. Any piece of fabric,
coated or otherwise, will accomplish the same thing.
Another option would be to add a beak to the front entry
Update 9/5/01: I have included plans for a beak.
Tarptent will be forever linked with the most incredible
journey of my life.
it! I hope you enjoy your Tarptent or Tarptent-for-2 and
please feel free to contact me with comments or suggestions.
is a trademark of Henry Shires. I assume no responsibility
with regard to the Tarptent's performance or use.
1999-2001 by Henry Shires. All rights reserved.