Building Your Own Tent, Is it The Best Option? (2022)

A man with a blue hat walking in the forest.
Table of Contents

    All over the United States of America, camping is now in vogue. Once just the preoccupation of boy scouts and family holidays, camping is now rising as a hobby exponentially in young Americans. According to the North American Camping Report 2019, since 2014 there has been a 72 percent increase of campers every year. Now, both millennials and GenXers are more likely to identify themselves as life long campers.

    One of the reasons for this is the growing market for luxury camping, glamping or van life, probably romanticized by outdoor adventurers on Instagram. But for young people, looking for a glamourized but slightly anesthetized experience of the great outdoors, it begs the question: building your own tent, is it the best option? 

    Although the rise in interest in camping seems to be related to the more commercialized, glam-camping, we think there’s a parallel factor which has led to the rise of the popularity of camping. With the world becoming awake to the risks of plastics and climate change, more and more of us are looking to get back to nature and do it in a sustainable way.


    A person cutting a tree branch with a knife.

    A tarp tent can easily be set up with the assistance of a tent pole, or a nearby stick.


    In fact, the study found that half of all campers identified their “love of outdoors” for sparking their interest in camping. So if you love the outdoors, and want to surround yourself in nature in a way that benefits it in the long run, then primitive camping, and especially building your own tent, might be the ideal option for you. 

    When we buy camping tents, and many other outdoor pieces of kit, often they come in lumpy, plastic packaging. This not only can be bad for the environment but also tents and extra camping gear can weigh you down exponentially on your hike or camping experience. If you’re looking for an ultra-light, and environmentally sustainable option, then building your own tent is a perfect option for your camping trip. They’re also a fantastic option if you don’t want to sleep at a campsite. 

    Another reason why building your own tent might be the best option for you is that you’re a romantic! If your love for the outdoors goes beyond an occasional weekend trip into the local hills, and you’re a full-on adventure seeker who wants to fully immerse yourself in nature, there’s not much closer to it you can get than by building your own tent.

    As we will go on to outline, there are a few different options for building your own tent. But many of them include utilizing parts of your natural habitat. For example, you might find a stick to prop up your tarp, or two well-spaced, string trees to tie your camping hammock to. 

    Although building your own tent is not for the faint-hearted, it can add exponentially to your outdoor adventure. Imagine carving out your own intimate canopy, to observe the world out of when it’s colder. Or in the summer months, why even have a shelter at all? If you know it’s going to be excellent weather on your camping trip, a tent is almost a waste. There’s nothing more invigorating than the feeling of falling asleep under a canopy of twinkling stars or waking up to a stunning sunset, with a light breeze on your face. 

    As we’ve outlined, there are already a couple of general reasons why people might want to think about making their own tent. One is to be more environmentally sustainable, not only in the production process but also by using natural materials to ensure that the site is left exactly how you found it, with no man-made additions. Secondly, many people are attracted to building their own tents by a romantic notion to “get back to nature”, and fully be immersed in their natural environment.

    Many serious outdoor enthusiasts also choose to build their own tent, as this is an ultralight option for long hiking trips. To help you ask the following question, we will break down a few different ways it’s popular to build your own tent: building your own tent, is it the best option for you? 


    Tarp DIY tent

    One of the most popular tents that people build for themselves is a simple tent made from tarp. For summer camping, these can be an excellent option. They might not protect you from a winter storm, but form a light summer shower, they work just fine. You can set up a tarp with stakes in the back two corners, and then prop up the front middle of the tarp with a camping pole, tent poles, or a nearby branch.

    If it’s a bit colder than you expected, we recommend setting up the tarp tent in a direction that faces away from the direction of the wind. This is because although tarps are an effective way of keeping you dry, they don’t offer much wind protection. Alternatively, you could try and find a location where you’re naturally protected from the wind, like behind a big boulder, or in a thick forest. This is one of the main principles of building any shelter: you need to stay dry and out of the wind. 

    The main benefit of building your own tarp tent is that it’s super light. A tarp or two in your backpack will add barely any extra weight at all but will protect you and your kit from light rain. Tarps also come in useful for lots of other purposes on camping trips, for more information, check out this useful article. What you make up for in convenience though, you lose out on comfort.

    Unless you want to carry around a sleeping mat, your sleep on the floor under your DIY tarp tent might not be the most luxurious sleep of your life. If it’s windy, you better have brought a thick sleeping bag! However, if you’re camping in the summer months, or you’re willing to risk a bit of discomfort in your sleep to get some extra miles in your hike, this could be the ideal option for you. 

    However, there are a couple of disadvantages to building your own tape tent. Firstly, as we have mentioned, it doesn’t offer much protection from the wind if any. The second main principle of finding a shelter is that it protects you from wild animals and bugs. Because of the open entrance of the tarp tent, this is not something which it can help you with.

    If you plan on building your own tarp tent, make sure there aren’t any midges at that time of year, and that there are no bears or other dangerous animals in the area. But, if you’re looking to get closer to nature, then waking up to deer grazing in front of your tent, for example, might be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s your call!


    A bunch of colorful leaves.

    A good shelter can be made out of simple materials which you can find on the forest floor.


    DIY leaf hut

    Our second option is ideal for those looking for the ultimate back-to-nature experience. Building your own leaf hut will turn you from a casual camper to a full-on survivalist. This will not only surround you and cushion you with the stunning natural materials occupying the forest or wood, but you will also be learning some invaluable survival skills. 

    The idea behind building a leaf hut is to make a simple wooden frame, probably in the shape of a triangle unless you’re using a natural dip or hole, with interloping branches to make a frame. Obviously it’s only really possible to build a leaf hut in a forest or wood. Once you’ve built your simple frame, you cover it in a thick layer of leaves. This will keep you dry and warm, insulated from winds.

    Another great idea is to add a bough or leaf bed to the ground, to stop you from losing body heat that way, that you would usually lose through the tent floor. This is also a great option if you don’t want to carry around the extra weight of a sleeping mat if you’re backpacking, especially if you’re going on a hiking holiday. 

    The leaf huts are one of the most classic and recognizable shelters, and it’s also very easy to erect. However, take your time with it! Leaf huts can be very effective at protecting you from rain and wind, but they need to be built just right. We would recommend building a leaf hut with someone who has prior experience for the first couple of times, just to make sure you have the technique right. If there’d too much space between the elements of the frame or the leaves are not packed right, you might not get a waterproof shelter. 

    Leaf huts, thus, can be waterproof. However, you’ll never get as much protection from the elements as a sturdy tent. Because great tents are sealed, waterproofed and windproof, they’re quite hard to rival when it comes to protection from the elements.

    However, you don’t always need that level of protection. And as anyone who has attended a festival in the summer will tell you, the experience of waking up in the tent in the summer, when the sun has been on it for hours, is not pleasant. Therefore, when it’s hotter, and there’s less chance of rain, a natural shelter like the leaf hut is a luxurious, indulgent option. 


    DIY trench shelter

    As we’ve mentioned, the best time to build your own tent or shelter is in the summer. However, that only applies if you’re looking for a pleasant, relaxing time! If you’ve got a lot more adventure coursing through your veins, and you want to build a tent or natural shelter even in really terrible weather, then either are still options available for you. For example, you could make yourself a DIY trench shelter in a snowfield! It goes without saying that this is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re in it for the adventure, read on. 

    If you’re looking to build a shelter in the middle of a snowfield, a trench shelter is probably your best option. But how do you make one? To build a trench shelter, you need to make two walls built of snow or dig out the snow to make a trench or hole in the middle. The top of the hole can be closed with natural materials, like branches or leaves, or with a rainfly.

    We would recommend using both for extra protection from the rain plus insulation and protection from the wind. If you’re looking for the extra protection of walls from the cold, that you would be missing by not having a wall tent, then this option could be worth your effort. 

    Obviously, if this is the route you’re going down, you’ll be bringing a really heavy-duty sleeping bag, and preferably a thick sleeping mat to avoid losing body heat into the ground. Remember to take a hardy groundsheet with you. Another trick to keep in that vital body heat is to make the hole of the trench shelter actually quite small. There’s shouldn’t be too much extra room inside the shelter, as the concept is designed to trap in as much of your body heat as possible. 


    People in sleeping bags on a rock in the mountains.

    Bivy bags go right around your mat and sleeping bag, making a super lightweight alternative to a tent.


    Bivy bags

    If you’re going camping in the winter months, you might want something which offers some more substantial protection than natural, or open coverings. If you’re looking to be sleeping under the stars, but still have the ultimate protection from rain, then a bivy bag is the way to go! Bivy bags fold up super small, and are really light, and are the winners at waterproofing. You’ll barely even notice it on your back as you’re hiking, meaning you can go for longer stretches and feel less tired at the end of the day. 

    However, as with all DIY tent substitutes, you’re usually swapping your sleeping comfort somewhat for longer, easter hikes. With a bevy bag, you are literally in a waterproof bag, which can fit around your sleeping bag and your roll mat. So: actually a bivy can offer you just as much comfort as a tent, if the weather isn’t challenging.

    With a really windy and rainy night, sleeping in a bivy is going to be challenging on your face. However, if it’s hot out, and it’s unlikely you’ll get too much rain, then a bivy bag can give you all the protection you need combined with the freedom of really sleeping outdoors. And Bivy bags are the far better option for winter, as they keep in a lot of your own body heat. 


    Why even take a tent? 

    One option is to not even use a tent! If you’re going camping in the summer months, then many of the options we have suggested will be much more palatable for you. They will protect you from a little bit of rain, but still, leave you sleeping under the stars.

    However, if you’re certain that the weather is going to be nice, why even take a tent at all? Most really hardcore hikers and outdoor enthusiasts don’t mind sacrificing on comfort. The most important thing is the feeling of being utterly connected to nature. 

    Before taking this option, it’s imperative that you do a lot of research. Firstly you need to check that your hiking and camping location allows primitive or ​backcountry camping. Secondly – always check the weather forecast! If there’s even a slight chance of rain, we would recommend taking at least a tarp with you, to keep you dry in emergencies.

    Remember as well, with any of these options, it’s very easy to lose a lot of your body heat through the ground. It’s best to take a sleeping mat with you. If you’re going for ultra-lightweight backpacking, then an inflatable sleeping mat is ideal. 


    A person wearing a blue backpack outdoors.

    For backpackers who prioritize lightweight portability over comfort, there are many DIY alternatives.


    Final Verdict:

    So is building your own tent the best option? There are a few ways to build your own tent if you have the know-how. Some people choose to make simple one-person tents themselves. However, we wouldn’t recommend making your own fabric tent from scratch. Finding the right tent for you online can be super cheap and easy. In fact, if you want a more DIY approach towards camping, then we would recommend opting for a camping hammock

    It’s so easy to find a cheap tent online that will fit whatever needs you have. Good tents have strong, waterproof fabric, and sealed seams to avoid any water getting in as you’re sleeping. It will be almost impossible for you to make a tent as good as a shop-bought one, so why bother. Instead, your best tent could be… not even a tent. The best covering for you might be something just a little more adventurous, that connects you to nature, and even adds to your survival skills too. 


    Bonus tip: If you’re interested in building a DIY tent for a group, take a look at this useful video! 



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    Riley Draper

    Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.