Home Equipment Ropemaking

Very Basic Tent

Sketch a simple, one pole tent.

Figure 1: Tent.


I don't remember where I first saw this design, sometime while I was doing things with the Boy Scouts. But there isn't anything about it that couldn't have existed in the late 1700s. All the material, and all the techniques used in building it are period correct.


Many of the tents you see at Colonial era gatherings are nice, big, comfy tents, with room for two beds, a box or two, maybe even a stove. This is not one of those. The soldiers of the Continental Army often had to improvise shelter[773], so civilians probably made do without formal tents, also.

I portray a rural ropemaker, who doesn't have a lot of money, and nothing to haul a lot of equipment in. The tent needed to provide reasonable shelter for one person, maybe two, and a little bit of equipment. I wanted enough room to sit up, but don't need to stand up. It had to be something that could be packed on a mule with the rest of my gear. (I haven't built out the whole inventory of the stuff I haul around yet. I might end up needing a second hypothetical mule.)

Several people have marveled at the small size of the tent. Yet it has more floorspace than many modern two person backpacking tents.

Plan for a simple tent.

Figure 2: Layout of the Tent. Xs Mark Tie Points.


I wanted to be able to easily open and close the door from either the inside or the outside, in the dark, with cold fingers. Earlier versions of this tent used the "pebble" method, Figure 6 below, to attach strings to tie the door closed. This either meant you could only tie the door closed from one side, or there were gaps for rain and wind.

The web sources at the bottom of this page are for similar set ups using a simple rectangular tarp. The earliest source is 1916, but this tent could easily have been made in the 1700s from an old piece of sail.


All dimensions are nominal.

Construction Details

Set Up

To set up the tent:

The first time I set up my tent, there was a six inch gap under the door. So I cut six inches off the bottom of the pole. Problem solved.


When taken down and rolled up, the tent makes a bundle six feet long, nine inches in diameter, weighing 20 pounds.

Dog Bones

You'll see rope tensioners, commonly called "Dog Bones", at every encampment and market fair you go to.

Dog Bone - Tent Rope Tensioner.

Figure 7: Dog Bone - Tent Rope Tensioner.


As a ropemaker, I believe in showing off the things you can do with rope, so I don't use dog bones, I use Taut Line Hitches (ABOK[040] #1800) instead. Hitches take only a few minutes to learn, you don't have to untie them when you break camp, they don't get lost or broken, and they are easier to pack.

There are plenty of descriptions and plans for tent rope tensioners. Some require a lathe, some are cast metal. The one in the Figure 7, above, was made from a branch that didn't make it into the camp fire. Cut about five inches off a branch or piece of wood somewhere over an inch wide, drill two holes, and you're done.

Evidence for dog bones in the Colonial Era is not hard to find. They were used on George Washington's tent.[989] But just because the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army used dog bones on his tent doesn't mean you need to.

To be honest, a dog bone is easier to adjust on a wet tent rope, on a cold, drizzly morning. Next time it looks wet, I'll use a Trucker's Hitch (ABOK[040] #2124) tied with an Alpine Butterfly, or Lineman's Loop (ABOK[040] #1053).


I haven't used this tent in real wet weather. Yet. So far, it's come through heavy dew and moderate to strong winds just fine. Updates as they become available.

Update: October 2021. This weekend slept quite comfortably in 20 mph wind and half an inch of rain.

It is important not to touch the inside surface of any canvas tent when it's raining. That'll cause an immediate leak. Just in case you forgot.

Update 2: May 2024. It bucketed down rain, and the wind blew. My tent was protected, somewhat, from the wind, but got every bit of the rain. My toes got damp because they rubbed against the foot of the tent.



Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (1916)
Waterproof Tarpaulin Tent - Page 10.
Accessed 18 July 2021 from

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (26 September 2013)
Woodsmanship 101 - "take a tarp"
Accessed 18 July 2021 from

Fordyce, C. P. (1922)
Touring Afoot
The Tarpaulin Tent - Page 82.
Accessed 18 July 2021 from

Snuff, Mary Hazel (1918)
A Study of Army Camp Life During American Revolution
Accessed 05 April 2023 from

Colophon Contacts