My one stop solution(actually there may be two stops, but more about that later, look out for something like “turning your sleeping bag into a quilt“) to not pissing my pants whilst trying to wriggle out from under my not so sufficient, made in a hurry a-frame tarp.
Design and sizing
Fitting your design onto your fabric
Marking and cutting your fabric
Seams & sewing
Tight corners aka. places where you wish you’d thought ahead
Finished tent, weight and more
As you may be able to see from the somewhat blurred picture below, it’s not a bad rush job at that but it has a number of limitations. At the time I was trying to see just how minimal I could go – notice how I’m using my rain jacket as a groundcloth – the answer: not that minimal. For one this tarp was not nearly wide enough to give adequate coverage in a Scandinavian environment(read rainy AF). Secondly, to form a ridgeline, I just folded over the fabric, because I couldn’t afford the loss of width a catenary cut would’ve meant. It really could’ve done with one though.
So what do I want from my new tarp? Well… first and foremost I want more cover from rain. Secondly I want a side entrance. I want to be able to sit up, swing my legs out into the vestibule, put on my shoes and get out of the tarp feet first. What I don’t want, is to crawl out of the tarp on my hands and knees, fighting to get my shoes on, getting muddy in the process and possibly soaking my back in condensation as it scrapes against the inside of the tarp. What I do want is to be able to get out of my tent in time to not pee my pants – even if it was just a little bit of pee. Because frankly I get disgusting enough when I’m hiking, there’s really no reason to add pee into that fragrant mix of sweat and grime. Also I’m a grown up and grown ups are not supposed to pee their pants.
What’s my way of achieving these goals you may ask – enter the new and improved tarp 2.0
It’s 2,5m(8.2feet) long which should be long enough to cover my height of 1,74m(5.7feet). It’s 1,2m(3,93feet) wide not including the vestibule, which adds another 0,5m(1,64feet) of cover. And the height is 1,2m(3,93feet) which is enough that I can sit up comfortably.
One of the strong points of making your own gear is that you can choose exactly the size and the design features that you want. For me that means I can save a bit of weight by going for quite a minimal design and by tailoring the width, length and height to my needs. For a taller person it might mean not having to always make themselves smaller in order to fit in a standard tent.
My point is that your tent need not be one size fits all and mine certainly isn’t so keep that in mind. If you’re taller than 1,74m(5.7feet) or you want more cover, I can do with less than most I think, you might want to size up.
Think about the area in which you hike, is it very dry, very windy or very rainy. You can tailor you tent to fit those conditions. If it’s windy, add more guy out points, maybe bring one or two bigger pegs for extra grip. Maybe buy a thicker pole if you’re using a tent pole and not a walking pole. If you live in a very rainy area maybe bring the vestibule all the way to the ground, make the footprint a bit bigger for more cover and bring a bathtub floor to prevent splash back off the ground and under your tarp.
The most important thing is of course that you buy enough fabric. I cannot stress this enough, you wan’t to make sure you’ve got enough. Coming up ten centimeters short is not worth saving a penny or two. That being said there’s no need to buy more than you need. What I like to do is lay out my tent design flat, factor in seam allowances and fit it onto the fabric that I want to use. Usually the fabric that you buy comes off a roll so you’ll have a set width and “endless” length to play with.
For the design above there are only three different sides or panels but you need two of each. If the fabric that you buy has a very pronounced front and back, meaning it has the coating on one side and not the other. You’ll want to think about laying out the panels so that the right side, the outside, is alway facing out. For some fabrics this is important for others it’s more of a cosmetic concern.
I use a program called “SketchUp” for my models and measurements. It’s free and quite easy to get the hang of, especially if you are making relatively simple models like say a tent.
Using this program makes it very easy to alter a design, make a tent taller or wider or double check angles. And it helps in figuring out how much fabric you need. But basically you could do exactly the same with a piece of paper, a ruler, a protractor and a pen. And I have done in the past.
I used a protractor for the angels and measured out the lengths in between the corners with a carpenter’s ruler.
I’ve recently made a new two person tent. And I found that making a cardboard template of the corners really helps speed the process along. Instead of meauring each corner out on a piece of fabric that slithers and moves, which is a pain I tell you. You make a cardboard template of each corner and just draw around the template to mark the corners. It’s more accurate, it’s faster, and much less frustrating.
Then I cut out each of the six pieces and mark out the cat cuts on every side, using a template made out of cardboard.
There are models/excel sheets online that tell how to calculate cat cuts. But to tell you the truth I couldn’t work out how to use them with metric measurements. So I simply choose how deep I want my cat cut to be, then I mark out the depth in the exact center along my cardboard template. Hang a piece of string from one end to the other of the cardboard template, adjust the bottom of its arc by shortening or lengthening the string until it hits the marked out depth. And the I mark the arc and cut out the inside, giving me a cardboard template to work with.
Just make sure to place the center of the cardboard template at the center along the length of your piece of fabric
Fixes for the 2.1 shallower cat cuts it’s beautiful when I pitch it really tight and wonderful, but it does take away a bit too much height at the foot and head end of the tent. I believe I had 5cm deep cat cuts this time round.
I recently bought a new special foot for my sewing machine, that makes this step a lot easier, but it’s still just a flat felled seam.
- You lay the two pieces of fabric on top of each other inside against inside. You want the outside facing out on both pieces, this is crucial!
- You make a straight stitch along where you’ve marked the seam, along your cat cut marks.
- Now you cut down the inside(the left) flap so that it is half as long as the outside(the right) flap, see the picture above. You fold the outside flap over the inside flap and lay the the fold down flat and you straight stitch the seam again.
Working yourself into a tight spot and wishing you’d thought things through a bit more… or as I like to call it “ideas for future design improvements”
Next time instead of all of the panels joining in one very tight fitting spot, I would fashion the peak out of one piece of fabric and sow the panels onto that piece. That way i hope to feel less like killing myself.
You wan’t to reinforce any point on your tent that will experience ripping or pulling forces. Guy out points, corners, the peak where the pole is like to wear through your tent.
After reinforcing the corners, you’re basically done. I finished off the tarp by making a simple rolled hem around the outside edge of the tent.
For some fabrics this is more of an aesthetic thing, but for others that have a tendency to unravel thread by thread it is necessary to finish off any edge with a rolled hem. For ripstop fabrics… Eh you could probably do without. But it looks nice and you can use it to hide away the ends of a loop of fabric used to guy out a corner.
Pitch your tent inside out and seal the seams with seam sealer. Leave it to dry, preferably in a dry place. If for a example it starts to rain shortly after you’ve sealed the seams, move it into your parents green house instead.
Of course you add loops where you need the tent to attach to a line or a peg. At corners, at the peak or in places where you want extra support in windy conditions. But you might want to add loops on the inside as well. I’ve added a loop and a long flat piece of fabric one on the inside and one on the outside, at the seam between the vestibule doors and the head and foot panels/sides. This will allow you to roll up the doors and fasten them with the loop and the “string” piece, so they stay open.
Or maybe you want a loop sewn into the ridgeline for hanging a light. Or you may want to add loops on the inside of each seam 10-20cm from the outside edge, and one at the peak, if you want the option of adding a bug net, a bathtub floor or and inner tent on some select hiking trips.
Test out your tent in the wild
More on that later… 🙂
Finished weight ended up at 244g(8.6oz) for the tent alone. 287g(10.12oz) for the tent with pegs. 335g(11.81oz) for the tent with pegs and ground cloth. 390g(13.75oz) for the tent with pegs, ground cloth and tent pole.
The configuration that I will likely use the most for hiking is the tent with pegs and ground cloth, but without the pole because I’ll use one of my hiking poles instead. For bikepacking I’ll bring the pole as well. If I get around to trying my hand at fastpacking I might leave the pegs at home and use sharpened sticks for pegs.
Also I will quite likely trim down my ground cloth to fit the tent, it’s a bit big right now. Incidentally if anyone is looking for a light weight ground cloth, I can recommend using a survival blanket. It’s light, it’s surprisingly sturdy I’ve had mine for years and if you get chilled during the night you can use it as it was originally intended.