How to Make a Camping Tent from Scratch (2022)

A man sitting down under a camping tarp
Table of Contents

    There are so many options for accommodation when camping. From RVs and huge luxury glamping tents to ultra high tech one-man tents to making your own camping tents from scratch. Making your own tent can be an extremely rewarding activity, to sleep in something you’ve built yourself.

    Sometimes you’ll be caught in a thunderstorm and need some emergency shelter, or decide on an impromptu night camping with limited materials. Whatever the reason, being able to build your own tent from scratch is a very valuable skill to have. It’s also a great trick to whip out and impress your camping mates; with a little practice you’ll be able to put up a rudimentary shelter in minutes, so next time it starts pouring in a middle of a hike, you’ll have somewhere to wait out the storm.

    There are lots of different methods you can use to build your tent, depending on the materials you have available and the environment you’re in. Building your own tent can be a fun and money-saving activity, and it makes for great team bonding as well. No matter what terrain you find yourself in, one of the following camping tents should be viable and suit your needs for the night. 

    Some campers choose to build their own tents from scratch in order to tailor it to perfectly suit their needs. This is not an emergency camping shelter, but rather a big project requiring lots of time and materials. This article will focus on simply bustling tents with limited materials, with the main equipment you need being one or two good tarpaulins, and some rope.


    How to make your own impromptu camping tent from scratch

    If you find yourself on a camping trip with a few limited materials, you may want to build a tent from scratch in order to provide yourself with shelter for the night. Here we will outline several methods to build a quick shelter, with the only materials you need to bring being tarps and rope. Please note, these methods rely on you being able to find sticks and poles on location, so bear this in mind before you set off. These tents are ideal for backpacking and trekking as they are very minimal, meaning they don’t take up much space on your pack and are quite lightweight.


    A girl inside a tent, looking out.

    The ability to make your own tent from scratch can be self-rewarding but knowing what to bring is key.


    Picking a location to build your own tent

    When choosing the location for your tent, there are a few things to consider. Try to pick even and flat ground. Before starting to build, pick up any rocks and sticks, anything that threatens to stick in your back when you’re trying to sleep. It’s always better to pitch your tent near trees, for shade and protection from the elements. However, avoid going near dead trees, as during a storm branches could break off and fall on your tent.

    It’s also a good idea to set up where the ground is slightly damp if you have a tarpaulin to use as a groundsheet of course. This will lessen the likelihood of dust blowing into your tent. You should never pitch your tent in any ditch either, as although this will help provide shelter from the wind, with even a little rain, water could pool and flood your tent, leaving you with soggy belongings and bad memories. 

    You should also try not to locate your tent at the bottom of any hills or mountains, as rainstorms could cause water to pour down and flood your campsite. The best place to camp no matter what is always in a wooded area, as even a few trees can do wonders in helping to keep the elements at bay. If you feel like a challenge, give camping nearby to a river or lake try, that way you can try your hand at fishing for your breakfast. 


    Method 1:

    This first method on how to make a camping tent from scratch is ideal if you find yourself in a forest with limited materials. It’s the kind of tent you see in movies, a classic triangular cross-section a-frame tent. This design doesn’t provide much protection from critters that might come crawling, but it’s fun to build and will give you some much-needed protection in a pinch. This is our preferred method for building a camping tent from scratch, as it gives the most spacious shelter, however, you do need to be in a reasonably well-wooded area for this method to be an option.


    You will need:

    • At least one waterproof tarp (or tarpaulin)
    • Posts or sticks to use as stakes
    • Rope, clothesline, heavy-duty string or cord


    For this tent, you will need to find a spot between two trees, around 10 feet apart. You will need a piece of rope long enough to tie between the two. Tie the rope to the two trees at a medium height. The distance from the ground depends on the size of your tarpaulin, you’ll need to lay it over the top later and pull it out to make a triangle shape. If in doubt, a height that is around a third of the length of your tarp should be ideal. 

    When tying your rope or cord, make sure your knots are secure and the length of the rope should be parallel to the ground. The rope should be as tough and the knots as tight as possible, to ensure your shelter won’t fall down in the night. The knots you tie should be similar to hammock knots, check out some of the best hammock knots here. 

    Once you’re sure it’s securely tied, throw the tarp over the rope, with it falling equally on each side. If you have more than one tarpaulin, use your largest for this part of your tent. If the tarp doesn’t reach the ground, this means you have tied the rope too high, and you’ll need to make some adjustments. Pull out the corners of the tarp and cut a hole in each using a backpacking knife

    Then secure them to the ground using sticks as stakes. You can also use rocks to lay on top of the edges, or rope to tie them off if you have any left. If you have a second tarpaulin, you can lay it on the ground as a tent floor. For your floor tarp, we recommend using one that’s thick and durable, as it takes a lot of stress being between you and the ground. The last thing any camper wants is a hole in their floor.


    Method 2:

    If you can’t find two trees the correct distance apart, you can use one tree to make a tent of a different shape. This method is the simplest and requires the least materials, however, the tent is only really good for sleeping or emergency shelter as there’s not much room. If you have a long enough tarp, you can actually cover the floor with the same material, but be careful putting too much strain on it, especially if it’s not as heavy-duty as you’d like. 


    You will need:

    • One waterproof tarp (at least)
    • Rope or cord
    • Sticks to use as stakes


    To create this tent, firstly tie one end of your rope around the tree, at a medium height once again. Then, pull the rope taught and stake the other end into the ground, away from the tree. Now, throw your waterproof tarp over the rope, and you have your rudimentary shelter. It’s helpful at this point to use some bungee cord, some string, even a peg to secure the tarp at its high point. 

    This will help prevent it from sliding down the sloped rope, so you get as much coverage as possible. If your tarp is large enough, you can wrap it around so it covers the floor and both sides of the tent. Likewise, if you have a second tarp, you can use this as a floor sheet. 

    Secure the lower end of the tent first, a few heavy rocks will work perfectly to pin it to the ground. Then either stake the bottom of the sides or use rocks again, to hold them outwards. Once everything is secure, you have a waterproof shelter to sleep in, it should just about fit inside your sleeping bag and pack. 


    Method 3:

    This method produces a multipurpose and straightforward tent. It’s not 5-star accommodation, but it’ll provide you with shelter pretty much anywhere. Instead of a central post, make use of one of your hiking poles if you have them. These are ideal, especially if they’re extendable, and nothing feels better than making multiple uses out of one item when you’re camping. After all, you do have to carry everything. 


    You will need:

    • At least one waterproof tarp (or tarpaulin)
    • Posts or sticks to use as stakes
    • Rope, clothesline, heavy-duty string or cord


    First of all, lay out your tarp flat on the ground. Measure the diameter of your poles or sticks, and cut holes in each corner. Make the holes a little smaller than the diameter you’ve measured, in order to make the posts secure when you put them through. Once you’ve made these holes, cut your rope into four equal lengths and thread them through, but don’t tie them yet.

    When you’ve found the ideal location to spend the night, place your largest post or stick where you want the center of your tent to be, this will go to the middle of your tarp. Dig the post a little into the ground and make sure it is secure. If you don’t have a hammer, carefully use a rock to hit the post into the ground. This will be the height at the center of your tent, so keep that in mind. 

    Once you’re sure that your central post is well secured and stable, place the tarp over it. Then, you can proceed to pull out each corner of the tap, at a diagonal to the post and ground. Be careful as you don’t want to pull too hard and change the position of your central pole. Put small sticks to act as stakes through each corner and push them into the ground. Your tent should now look like a pyramid.

    Now that you’re happy with the shape of your tent, go round and tie up the corners to your sticks or stakes. You can also add some rocks to weight down the edges of the tent, to make sure it’s secure. If you have another tarp, lay this down to create the tent floor, this can also be secured with stakes or rocks. 

    Now you know three different methods to create your very own camping tent using limited materials. Next, it’s time to move in and get on with building your campfire. Building a rudimentary tent is fun and a valuable survival skill, so next time you find yourself camping without a tent, you’ll be ready to impress your friends with this great camping knowledge. 


    A berber tent in the desert

    The materials you use for constructing your tent can vary from season to season and different locations.


    How to make a camping tent from scratch for backpacking

    For backpackers, weight is everything. Specialized backpacking tents are made to be ultra-lightweight, as well as small enough to not take up all the space in your pack. However, these tents come with a hefty price tag, so why not try building your own. With a little DIY effort and elbow grease, you can make your own tent for backpacking and trekking for a fraction of the cost. 

    First, you must consider the fabric you’re using. A good backpacking tent is durable, breathable, and protective. Most tents are made from ripstop nylon, and we recommend selecting this for your DIY backpacking tent. You could try to save money by using regular nylon, but if you’re in a hurry and packing away, you could damage the material, so it’s worth investing in more durable fabric. 

    If you’re headed out onto the trail, you might want to consider getting a mosquito mesh layer for the inside of your tents. As well as being incredibly annoying, in some places mosquitos can carry dangerous diseases, so check before you set off if this is something you need to consider. 

    If for any reason you end up sewing your tent fabric, remember you need to seam seal as an extra consideration. You can either use seam seal tape or paint on a sealant- read our article on how to waterproof a tent for more information. For the floor of your tent, a durable and strong tarpaulin is the best choice, and waterproof of course to prevent puddles. 

    This guide is for making a simple, single wall A-frame tent. It’s fully enclosed, ideal for warm weather camping, and requires only a few materials. Be careful to waterproof your fabrics, and seam seal for the best weather protection. This is a single person tent, ideal for the ultralight backpacker. 


    You will need:

    • A lightweight waterproof tarp, ideally silnylon (silicon nylon), dimensions at least 3×3 meters, or 120 x 120 inches
    • A ground tarp, it’s recommended to use a thick drop cloth or a durable tarp
    • A spool of thin nylon rope or a similar cord
    • 5 pegs or stakes
    • One hiking pole that’s extendable (this is a great feature as it’s multi-purpose)
    • Bungee cord


    Building the tent


    • First of all, scout for the ideal location as mentioned above. You should place your tent perpendicular to the wind, and on a level surface. Remove any rocks, sticks, and any other debris from the area. 


    • Lay out the silnylon tarpaulin, smoothing it out as neatly as possible.


    • Use your stakes to peg the corners and center at the back of the tent. The back should be where the worst of the weather might be directed, it’s the strongest part of the tent. Stake the back so it’s very taught. 


    • Next, take the two front corners and bring them together, and then where they fold in the center, lift. Peg the two corners down together in the middle, creating a slit opening in a pyramid shape. 


    • Extend your hiking pole fully, and place it under this centerfold, creating a triangle shape. Be sure to push it firmly into the ground.


    • To prevent the pole from sliding out, wrap around the bungee chord covering the tent, so it’s securely attached.


    • To help shield yourself from the rain, and mosquitos too, tie some rope around the front flap and attach it to your peg inside. This will stop the rain coming in through the slit.


    • Finally, lay down your heavier-duty tarp inside, for a little protection from any dampness from the grass. Try to use the remaining rope or cord as guy lines to the ground or trees. Hopefully, this will provide some extra support to your structure and help prevent the tent from falling in. 


    This DIY tent has a lot of benefits. The materials are cheap, so for budget backpackers, it can provide a safe and dry place to sleep at night, which is all you really need. It won’t provide perfect protection from cold weather or bugs, but it can be quickly assembled just about anywhere. 


    A makeshift camp site.

    After a long day out on the trail, figuring how to set up your makeshift tent as quick as possible is key.


    Final Verdict:

    Now you’re well versed in making a camping tent from scratch, check out a few of the best locations in Washington State to pitch them. None of these tents are really ideal for family camping unless you’ve got one really large or many regular sized tarps. However, setting up a rudimentary tent is a fun activity to do with your kids while teaching them a valuable skill at the same time. On your next family camping trip, locate an appropriate tree and set up a tent together using only string and tarp, you’re guaranteed to have a blast. 

    If you’re backpacking, knowing how to make a tent like this can save you a pretty penny. If you can deal with a bug or two, these tents will do you no wrong. We recommend investing in a good quality tarp if you plan to use these methods for your trip, a lightweight one made of silnylon is ideal. 

    Making your own tent for camping from scratch isn’t as hard as it seems. We recommend everyone gives it a go, even if it’s just in your backyard. You’re guaranteed to already have all the materials you need already, as the vital elements are only a waterproof tarpaulin and some rope. Everyone should have a go at this essential survival skill, as it’s both easy and rewarding.


    Bonus tip: Check out this handy video on making a tent with only once tarp<span style=”font-weight: 400″>!



    See more:

    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.