How can I build my own tent?

I on a quest to build my own tent, but where to begin and where to buy all the doodads? Nicole Fort Wayne, Indiana

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Nicole, Nicole, Nicole…

Pray tell, good lady, what sends you upon this quest? Is it a loss of reason, which has driven you mad and beyond rational thinking? Is it a severe case of cheapness, which convinces you that making your own tent is better than buying even a close-out tent that’s half the list price? Or is it the sheer quixotic appeal of such a journey, in which you hope to learn something about yourself, and life at large?

In short, you’re nuts. Tents are incredibly complicated things to make, and even a slight error in the patterning will yield a tent that flaps maddeningly in the slightest breeze. And I can’t even say that the old model of an inventor, a sewing machine, and a mad glint in the eye—the genesis of half the outdoor industry, and every tent company—still holds up. In five years nothing will be stitched together; it all will be seam-welded. So if you’re sewing a tent in the hopes of coming up with one that will change the world, you’re sailing the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria while the rest of the industry is flying the Boeing 787.

But, what the heck. Sure, there are places where you can buy materials. Basically you need three kinds of fabric for the tent body—some sort of ripstop for the panels, mesh for the doors and windows of the tent body, and then a waterproof taffeta for the fly and floor. All three can be purchased from Seattle Fabrics ( For $4 they’ll even send you a fabric sampler with many of their outdoors fabrics. Zippers and other goodies can also be purchased from Seattle Fabrics.

Poles are a little trickier. I’d suggest you follow what many are doing today and design a tent that can be supported with trekking poles. Then you have a tent that weighs less, and uses another piece of trail equipment. Alternatively, look into pole sets that can be purchased at retail, such as the carbon-fiber sets from Fibraplex ( You’ll have to find something stock—it would be prohibitively expensive to have custom poles made, either from aluminum or carbon fiber.

Anyway, good luck! Send us a picture when the odyssey’s complete.

For tent reviews and advice, check out Outside Online’s all-new Tent Buying Guide.

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