Henry Shires Tarp Tent

homemade tarp tent

My first homemade tent, based on the popular Henry Shires Tarp Tent plans.

My first ever tent making project was the Henry Shires Tarp Tent, and there is a very elaborate and detailed set of plans still available online for it’s construction.  I bought a kit years back with all the materials needed, however I am unable to find it online anymore, so perhaps it is no longer being made. The directions are enough to work with though, and you can buy the materials from any outdoor fabric place online, or Amazon.

homemade tarp tent

Rear view of my homemade tarp tent.

I made a few alterations to the original design, in hopes to make it a bit more bug resistant.  Shires calls for no floor inside the tent, but to place pack items around the perimeter to keep the tent sealed up.  I prefer to have a sewn in tub style floor and a completely surprise free tent, so I used a piece of a hardware store tarp.  This did add a lot more weight than if I were to have used other fabric, but the extra protection from rocks and the ground I believe to be worth it.  In the images I placed the tent on another blue tarp just to keep it clean since I was still working on it.  The tent itself has a solid floor made of the same material, so the large blue tarp on the ground in the pictures was only there to keep the actual tent from getting dirty.

homemade tarp tent

Front view of my tarp tent.

In the picture on the left you can see the separate floor that is sewn into the tent, and also how the side screening works.  The left side is designed to be lifted during nicer weather to allow air circulation inside the tent.  It can also be pitched lower in the case of rain or colder nights.  The front beak is not in place to make it easier to see inside the tent, but both the front and rear faces can be completely closed off should a rain storm hit.  All in all this is a relatively small shelter, but large enough for one person and their gear to be comfortable.  It is very light weight even with the tarp floor in place, and since you can pitch it with a couple sticks that you find on the ground, you really don’t need any tent poles either.  This particular tent also rolls down to a very small size, and pretty much disappears inside your backpack.  It’s a fun project with an inexpensive price tag.

Google Sketch Up

sketch up tent

Ultralight hiking tent design created on Google Sketch Up.

Google SketchUp is a free tool that allows you to create three dimensional models on your computer.  The paid version gets you much more capabilities and is a fully functional CAD software package, however the free version is fantastic for basic drawing and modeling.  The benefit of being able to design something on the computer before building it for real is that you can work out the kinks without wasting valuable materials.  The only thing I knew was that I wanted a triangle shaped shelter so it would repel water, hold up in mild winds, and have enough room inside so it didn’t feel like a coffin.  I did all the drawing on the computer first and made adjustments to the dimensions until I got something that fell under my target weight, and still had the room I needed.

sketch up tent

Another tent design with text arrows indicating different construction points.

The nice thing about SketchUp is you can use the measuring tools to figure out how much material you will need, and once you know the material size you can quickly calculate the weight of the total structure.  You can also use text boxes to write out important information so that someone else can use your drawing and be able to build it in real life.  I highlighted several key points about my tent in the second image, and they explain many of the components.  I even placed mock sleeping bags and backpacks inside the tent to show approximately how it would look once two people had their belongings inside.

homemade ultralight tent

My homemade ultralight tent, without rain beak, staked out in the back yard.

This last picture is the result of all the modeling and computer work.  It’s made out of Silnylon (1.3z) for the main body, and heavier Silnylon for the tub floor.  The front and rear faces are no-see-um netting, with a large D shaped zipper on the front panel for access.  I designed it so that 2 hiking poles are used to support the tent, with one small cross brace shock pole.  The tent, guy lines, stakes, and stuff sack all weigh 3.5lbs, which is much less than most ultralight tents its size being manufactured today.  The bottom tub is the same size as a full bed so there is plenty of room, and the height is good enough to sit up inside so you don’t feel like you are in a tunnel.  I’ll be going into construction methods for this tent in another post, but it’s pretty straight forward if you own a sewing machine and want to give it a try.