Designing a Tent

For a while, we’ve had the idea of camping while in Hanoi. However, spending the $100 on a heavy tent that we would have to sell before we left the city didn’t sound that great. At several campsites you can rent a tent for 100,000vnd which is about $4, but we knew we could make our own resuable tent for a decent price too. That way, we could design it to be the way we wanted, use it as often as we wanted, and still not feel bad about leaving it behind when it’s time to go.

Here are the steps Josh and I went through to design and build our own tent. We didn’t read anything before we started, we just wanted to see what we could come up with.

We wanted a two person tent that was suspended by cord attached to either one or two high points. We had no idea what the actual measurements would be, just what kind of style we wanted. This plan was intended for flexibility, so we could put the tent up even in an area with no trees, even though we wouldn’t have any tent poles with elastic.

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Black: The cord/pole. With this plan, all we need is a meter-high pole and one tree or tall thing such as a bicycle. By using tent stakes we could also use only the pole, resulting in a more triangular shape when needed.

Blue: The blue rectangle is a bottom sheet, made to protect the bottom of the tent from the ground. It’s separate from the rest of the tent, so it can be replaced if it gets damaged.

Red: “The bathtub” is one sheet of plastic that folds upward on the sides. The plastic is waterproof, and bringing it up on the sides ensures that no water can come in from the ground as long as the water level doesn’t rise above the edge.

Yellow: Sleep pad. This goes inside the bathtub as extra padding and to keep heat from being completely absorbed by the ground.

Pink: The mesh triangle. This attaches to the bathtub, and is hung from the cord.

Green: Plastic Tarp. Draped over the top of the cord unlike the mesh which is hung from the cord. Being long enough to ensure it can touch the ground at an angle that means it doesn’t touch the mesh. We wanted to keep the mesh and the cover tarp separate, so that moisture wouldn’t get on the mesh.

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The mesh we found was  meant to go over a bed. It was way larger than expected when we pulled it out of the package. We tested it in the room by hanging it with string and clothespins. I’m also sitting on the sleeping pad. We found both items at a local grocery store in the outdoor section.

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After far longer than necessary due to running around the area with no idea where to find things, we found all of our supplies.

  1. Cord
  2. Plastic tarp
  3. Mesh
  4. Clothes pins
  5. Sleeping pad
  6. Glue

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The tarp we found at a nearby hardware shop was about 4×6 meters, it came as one bundle.

Josh and I laid on the sleeping pad to see how big it would need to be to accommodate both of us side by side. We cut about a third of the original width off.

Next, we cut the bathtub section of the tarp. We wanted the baththub to come up about four inches on each side of the sleeping pad, so we put the sleeping pad on top of the tarp and measured around it.

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Time to measure the mesh. Our tent pole, actually the handle from a broom, was a meter high. We put our cord up at the same height, and hung the mesh from it, draping it over the bottom of the tent. The mesh had four seams along the top as it was meant to go over a bed, so we took one seam as the top, measured from the seam to about 8 inches larger than half the width of the sleeping pad on each side, and chopped the extra fabric off. What we ended up with was a nicely seamed piece, with two halves draping down over each side, and loops already included as they were meant to be hung from the ceiling.

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We folded the corners of the bathtub up, and glued them together. Sitting by itself, the corners actually stood up a bit! Then, with the mesh sort of in place, we used clothes pins to secure it to the bathtub, pulled it taught, and chopped of the excess fabric again. 

With the tarp draped over the top, it kind of looked like a real tent. To figure out how big the tarp should be, we started about eight inches out from the edge of the bathtub on each side, then measured at an angle up until we hit the cord. 

All of the above process, aside from gathering the materials, took about three hours of cutting, measuring, and sweating in the late summer heat. 

The next step however, didn’t happen right away. When we went to attach the mesh to the tarp, we tried to use super glue, just like we’d used to glue to tarp to itself. Two hours, three different kinds of super glue, and a lot of frustration later, we gave up on using super glue to attach the mesh. Even when it would dry properly and seem to stick, it was incredibly fragile and could be peeled off easily. Sewing the mesh to the tarp sounded bad because we didn’t want to put tons of tiny holes in the tarp.

For a while, we gave up on our tent.

About a week later, in a store, I spotted a hot glue gun and the metaphorical light bulb went off. That night, I got to try using a hot glue gun for the first time. 

I carefully put some hot glue on the mesh, and Josh followed, using a q-tip to spread it out a little. 

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About an hour and many burned, glue-covered fingertips later, the mesh was attached to the tarp. Anxious to test it out at 4am, I assembled it in the room to see what it would look like, by putting the cord between two chairs. 

After a week of no progress, it was incredibly exciting. IMG_2715IMG_2718

Josh made some small holes at the corners of the large tarp and on the sides of the bathtub, put a loop of knotted cord through, then sealed it with hot glue. This would prove to not have been the best way to do this and several of them would come off, resulting in needing to just bundling the corner together and tying it with a cord.

There was a lot of discussion before this point about tent stakes. Should we bend some spoons? Should we use some mystery object not intended for the purpose? How far should this do it yourself go? We ended up biking to an outdoor supply store a few kms away and getting some tent stakes. 

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After a little trouble getting it set up, we were ready to go! We put it up between trees at Ho Ham Lon, a camping spot about 40km away from Hanoi. One of the three loops on the mesh came untied from the cord but I left it down instead of fixing it, as I enjoyed the irregular shape and that’s where our feet go anyway. 

During the day, we rolled the tarp up and secured it to the cord with the clothes pins to let the breeze come in while still being protected from bugs. At night, we tied the tarp down with the cord and stakes. It was rather cold, but that was mostly due to us not bringing enough blankets.

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The total cost ended up being around $15, most of it was for the hot glue gun and tent stakes. The tents we saw at the camping supply store were all massive, heavy, and about $100. In the end, this fit neatly into a small backpack and was the perfect lightweight tent to carry, considering we were biking to our camping site.

When making a more serious tent, I’d go with a heavier material and mesh with smaller holes, but as a ‘lets see if we can do this,’ what we used worked pretty well.