As odd as it might sound, a large part of tent camping and outdoor life is about comfortably separating your body from the elements of nature while still being in them. Think about it. You bring along the right clothing to insulate you from the rain and cold. You pack a tent to shelter you at night. You even put down ground tarps and sleeping pads to further insulate you and protect you. Us humans are relatively delicate compared to everything that nature can throw at us so it only makes sense to build and bring certain barriers to protect us.
If you have camped enough though you have probably realized that all of these layers of separation sometimes aren’t enough. There are times when everywhere you look the ground is perfectly pebbled with sharp rocks or the entire terrain is nothing but swamp. Other times the rain is so bad it starts to really test the limits of your tent’s weatherproofing. For some campers this is just a reality to be endured, other campers, however, can make use of a portable tent platform.
Why build a portable tent platform
A portable tent platform is all about having convenience and comfort when and where you want it. It is especially useful if you expect to spend a lot of time in your tent. More permanent tent structures like yurts, tipis, and canvas tents are often on wooden tent platforms and camping platforms have become common in the world of glamping, or glamorous camping. Sleeping on a tent floor over rocky terrain and uneven ground or tiredly waking up to a flooded tent can have its novelty but after several days, weeks, or months it starts to take a toll on the body. Even the most skilled campers have their limits.
This is usually the case for people who are on long road trips and need flexibility in their accommodations. Folks going by car will soon find that a tent is much more comfortable while those in RV’s sometimes need a spare room of sorts depending on the number of travelers. In both cases, it is relatively easy to transport a portable tent platform and set it up each night for comfortable accommodation every evening. Whoever is sleeping in the tent will be very thankful.
A well built portable tent platform should be easy to move, easy to set up, and easy to use. That way you can quickly position it where you want, pop your tent on top and go from there. The elevation of the platform removes your tent from rough terrain, flooding, bugs, and animals while also creating a flat sturdy surface to give you a good night’s rest. In addition to long term travelers, this is also important for much older and younger campers.
For an experienced camper in their 30’s or 40’s, there might be a rugged enjoyment to the experience of sleeping a couple of inches from the ground. For someone in their 80s or even a toddler-aged camper, the experience is much different. At both ends of the spectrum of life, a portable tent platform can make a huge difference in the quality of the camping experience. If you expect to be camping with anyone who could really benefit from an extra level of protection from the elements then a portable tent platform is a great idea.
How to build a portable tent platform
There are a few different ways to build a portable tent platform and each of them depends on your definition of portable as well as what constitutes a proper platform. In some internet forums, It has been suggested that you can just take two folding tables set up side by side and there you have it. You are free to try that of course, but it isn’t recommended. Here we will cover two ways of making a more robust and useful platform.
Building a removable tent platform for a trailer
One of the best ways to make a portable tent platform is to construct it on top of a trailer. This opens you up to many possibilities for modifications and construction because you have an easily transportable and sturdy base to build on. For this example, we are going to describe the construction of a portable tent platform built atop a 4’ by 6’ trailer. The end result is big enough for a typical 7 x 7 tent and is built to allow for storage underneath the platform.
In addition to that, one of the best things about it is that the platform can easily be towed behind almost any vehicle. For a road trip or car camping, you just have to pull up, set up your tent, and you are good to go. You have an elevated, clean and comfortable place to sleep at night. So, to build this platform there are a few things you will need first.
First, you will need a trailer. It can be any size you like and you will just have to modify your own build accordingly. You will also need several lengths of 2x4s. For a 6’ long trailer you will need at least 51’ of timber. Then you will need to get three 4×8 pieces of 1 and ¼ inch plywood or some other sturdy and relatively thin wood. That basically does it for the wood you will need.
For hardware, there isn’t much you need. You will need a box of wood screws to help fasten everything together. You also need 12 hinges for the functionality of the structure. After all this, the only thing that remains is what you will use for the outer supports but we will get to that a little later.
Construction of the removable tent platform for a trailer
Once you have all of your supplies ready it is time to start building. The first thing to be built is the base of the platform. The base is built with three 2×4 supports running the length of the trailer. One on each side and one down the middle. The entire platform is going to be attached to these supports.
For a 6’ long trailer you are going to need nine sections of 2×4 that run the length of the trailer on the inside. You can cut them a little short if needed to fit. Next, you will need to cut fifteen support struts from the 2x4s. To measure the height for these you will be laying a long section of 2×4 down in the trailer lengthwise, attaching the struts to that, then laying another length of 2×4 over that and attaching the struts. The top section of 2×4 should be level with the top edge of the sides of the trailer. At this point feel free to use screws and/or brackets to attach the 2×4 sections to the trailer.
Once you have screwed all these 2×4 pieces together and set them in their positions you are ready to move on. You should now have three 2×4 sections constructed, one on each side of the trailer, and one running parallel down the middle, this is your base. Next, You are going to attach two of the 4×8 boards to make an inner platform. These boards attach to the central support beam using six of the hinges. This way you can still lift the boards to access the storage space underneath.
The final major step requires taking the last 4×8 board and cutting it down the middle lengthwise. You will then attach each section to the inner platform using the remaining hinges. This will make an outer platform to expand the room for your tent. The hinges should be placed so that these outboards can fold inward. This is necessary for transport.
These outer boards will be a little unstable so you will need to build legs for them. Using hinges and extra pieces of 2×4 you can attach legs that swing down. Some people have gotten creative with similar designs and they have used chair legs, table legs, and even old walkers for support. Regardless of what you use you will need something to help stabilize the outer platform. Once you have that in place then your portable tent platform for a trailer is done!
A simpler construction
If building the trailer platform is too involved for you or you’d rather not have something built on top of a trailer then this next build is for you. It doesn’t get too much simpler than this. Again, this design is meant for a traditionally sized two-person tent but you can expand on it to accommodate your own needs. You could also build multiples of these platforms and set them up next to each other.
For supplies, you are going to need two plywood sheets that, when side by side, are big enough for your tent. Two 4×8 sheets should be enough. You will then need about 40’ of 2x4s, three stainless steel heavy-duty hinges, and screws to fasten everything together. Other than that you just need basic woodworking tools like a drill and a circular saw.
To begin, attach 2x4s around the perimeter of each board to make a frame. Be careful not to attach the boards together. Next, flip the boards over and place the two plywood sheets side by side like pages in a book. Attach the hinges evenly spaced along the middle so that the sheets fold inward. The end product of this should be a platform that folds down the middle so you can transport it more easily. When it is unfolded the 2×4 base should offer enough support for your needs. If it feels unsteady for any reason you can go back and add crossbeams between the sides of each panel.
If you want you can also expand on this design in a few ways. First, you can add legs to the 2×4 base so that the whole platform is elevated further from the ground. Additional 2x4s or even sturdy PVC pipe will work just fine. Next, you can use a similar construction to the trailer platform and add a foldable outer platform with support legs. You can get creative with this but simply adding some hinged pieces of plywood with foldable legs will work.
Modifications for your tent platform
Once you have put in the time to build a DIY portable tent platform you can really start having some fun with it. There are lots of little things you can do to add utility and ease of use to the platform. Here we will cover some of the little things that are easy to implement yet make big changes in functionality. As you work with the platform other ideas will come to you and you should definitely try implementing them.
One of the first big changes that people often make with their portable platforms is that they add some type of outdoor carpeting or covering to the wood of the platform. You can buy a sort of short imitation grass at places like Home Depot which attaches easily, adds a degree of weatherproofing to the wood, and also makes the surface softer and more comfortable to be on. If you prefer wood you can add boards of a nicer quality over the plywood sheets and even apply a weatherproofing layer after that. As you can see the initial build is really just a platform that you can build on.
Another nice addition that people like to make is the inclusion of steps or even a small ladder. What you add depends on the height of your platform. There are many options for this including small pool ladders and collapsible metal stairs. Whatever you decide, adding this feature adds another little degree of comfort. After a day of hiking that leaves you especially tired and weary, you’ll be glad to have a couple of little steps leading up to your tent.
You can also make use of all the space that is underneath your platform and around it. The portable tent platform for a trailer has hinges built in to access the space underneath it but you can do more. With some basic carpentry skills, you can add inbuilt cupboards for additional storage for example. You can get creative with different ways of accessing the space underneath your platform.
The space around your platform is also useful though. You can add hooks to hang things or even attachment points for baskets and other addons. You could use additional hinges and wood to make fold out platforms for muddy shoes or even a space to hold a cooler next to your tent. As your DIY carpentry and building skills expand you will begin to see more and more opportunities for innovation.
One final idea that has worked well for some is the addition of lighting to the platform. There are many options for battery-powered outdoor lighting that you can add to the platform. For example, you could run some battery-powered LEDs around the edges. Beyond just looking nice this creates a useful source of light while you are camping and makes the platform and tent more visible at night. LEDs are especially good because they are energy efficient and very bright.
With some carpeting, stairs, additional holding areas, and lighting the portable tent platform really starts to make your tent into a home away from home. If you have enough deck space in front of your tent add a foldable chair and a small table (or a roll up camp table) and you have yourself a camping front porch. Otherwise, add a gas-powered or DIY camping stove and a cooler and you have an outdoor kitchen. Having a portable tent platform is a luxury that can be expanded upon again and again.
With some basic carpentry skills and ingenuity, you can make a durable and useful portable tent platform. The platform will make camping a much more leisurely experience. You will be removed from rough terrain, flooded campsites, bugs and animals all with just a few inches of wood and some building time. You will be able to fully enjoy the great outdoors. For less experienced campers, elderly campers, and very young campers, a tent platform like this can also be a really nice way to enjoy camping without having to rough it as much.
When it comes to construction, the sturdiest and most portable builds are done on top of a trailer. You can definitely make a good tent platform without one though. Either way, after the build you should start considering the creative ways you can improve on the platform. What can you do to make it more useful and comfortable for yourself? We covered a few such as carpeting, stairs, extra storage, and lighting. Whatever platform you build, make it yours.
Bonus tip: Watch how one family sets up a large tent platform and camping area suitable for the whole group!