Ultralight Tipi Tarp

This was an interesting experiment . . . a 15 foot diameter round tarp makes a 9 foot diameter tipi with 6 stakes and a 6 foot hiking staff.

The tarp weighs (1 lb. 7 oz.) plus (6) 10’ long pieces of No. 36 nylon bank line for guylines (3.25 oz.) and (6) aluminum stakes (3.75 oz). Total without hiking staff 1 lb. 14 oz. Floor area ≈ 53 sq. ft.

UTT Ultralight Tipi Tarp Sketch

This sketch shows a 10’ x 10’ tarp, a Sioux style 9’ child’s tipi cover, a 15’ diameter round tarp and the ‘ultralight’ shape which is shown in dark lines. The use of material is very efficient and can still be used as a flat tarp for A-frame or lean-to pitches.


(2) strips of 62-65” wide 30 denier silnylon by 15’ long and flat-felled seamed together.

Hem the flat side of the tarp first with a 1/2″ hem single stitched then layout the 2′-2″ offset for the center. Watch the direction of the flat-felled seam and hem to shed rain.

Mark well the center point of the radius with a marker and make it very visible. You will need that spot later to install the reinforcing material and ties for the cap.

From the center draw the 7′-6″ radius. Do not add for the hem. The 7′-6″ radius is the cut line and where the chords are measured.

Next following the sketch above, layout the chord dimensions of 65″ along the radius line to make sure it fits. Make those points equal whatever dimension you get. Mark these points well before cutting the radius by using safety pins that will not fall out while hemming the tarp.

Hem all edges and add (12) 5/8” grosgrain tie-outs, 2 yellow and 6 black and 4 grey. Place the two yellow tie-outs on the center line of the tarp for a quick reference when pitching the tarp. Make the six main tie-outs black and the intermediate tie-outs grey. Make the main tie-outs any contrasting color that will stand out in low light.

Cut the grosgrain ribbons 5 1/2” long, fold in half and bar tack them to the hem. To locate the intermediate tie-outs just fold the tarp from tie-out to tie-out on the chord and mark the midpoint.

The center of the tarp from where the radius was drawn needs a reinforced area for the center pole. The location of the center pole in the pitch is key for taut sides.

UTT 12

Make (1) 12” diameter and (1) 15” diameter piece of silnylon for each side. Stitch to tarp with bar tacks 3/4” long in an 8 spoked radial pattern 3/4″ away from the edge. Sew the 12” pieces in first, top and bottom, at the same time.

Add the 15” circle pattern top and bottom, and rotate to miss the 12” circle pattern. Stitch through all 5 layers at the same time. Do not stitch along outside edge, that will just perforate the main tarp, leak and tear – use the bar tacks. Plenty strong.

UTT 15

Cut (1) 40” long 5/8” grosgrain tie for the top side and (1) 40″ long 5/8” grosgrain tie for the bottom side. Bar tack 1 1/2” long  loops on each end of the ties which will prevent pulling the ribbon through the knot when tying off.

Sew both ties centered on the tarp, top and bottom, with two bar tacks at the same time. Leave a 3/4″ space between the tacks for a rope or carabiner. Make the top tie yellow for easy identification, and the bottom tie gray or black.

Having the looped ends on the inside of the tent gives tie off places to raise the sides for more air flow, hang a candle lantern, flashlight, bug net . . . .

UTT Top Cap and Tie

Finished top cap shown with center pole tied in. First wrap on the pole is a half-hitch, then wrap and finish with a bow. A black rubber crutch tip on the top of the staff keeps the tie from running off and also helps to protect the tarp. Rounding off the edge and grooving the top of the hiking staff will work too.

UTT 5 Sided Stakeout

To pitch the tipi create a pentagon first then insert the pole. Use the black tie-outs for the tipi shape.

A simpler way is to anchor the rear 2 tie-outs, tie in the pole, raise the tarp, then pull down to the front 2 entrance tie-outs and stake. Finish by staking out the remaining 2 sides. Easy and no math!

Easton® makes aluminum tent poles that can be made up to provide a collapsible center pole to carry on planes, trains and automobiles. Get (3) .742” diameter poles x 26” long – (2) with inserts, (1) without an insert, 6 feet of shock chord and (2) shock cord end caps. Cut all the poles to make it a 6 foot overall length assembled. Add 3/4” rubber crutch tips to both ends to complete. Weight 12.5 ozs.

The combination of using a modified form of a circular tipi cover along with the 5-sided layout worked out really well. This is one handy tarp.

UTT Snowy Pitch
UTT Half Side Open
UTT Beach Pitch

Here is a list of some observations which may be useful.

Condensation – This is a single wall, non-breathable tent that can be closed up – it will condensate. It can also snow on the inside from frost in the cold. Attention to venting will alleviate some of this and some of it is unavoidable.

Suffocation Hazard – Using a non-breathable tent can be risky – especially in the snow and cold. A buildup of CO2 (carbon dioxide) or CO (carbon monoxide) in a sealed space can be fatal. Be aware of venting keep fresh air flowing at all times.

Pouring rain – With the flap tied over to one side this is an exceptionally rain proof structure. The steep sides really help shed water and the round edge between the staked tie-outs lay down nicely for a good seal. With no floor it’s important to setup as high and dry as you can get.

High winds – This tipi sure did shine in that department. It took 25 mph winds with 50 mph gusts. That was a welcome result. Obviously all anchors need to be dependable for that duty. For more security stake the center pole straight down from the inside ties at the top of the tarp to a ground stake.

Heat – With an outside temperature of 30°F on a bright and sunny day, the inside of the closed tipi was 80°F. Wow. Open the door. Pull the rear two stakes out and use guylines to float the tarp off the ground for more air flow.

Setup on rock or other hard ground – That is the beauty of being a flat tarp. You can always revert to an A-frame, lean-to or any other attempt to ward off wind, rain, snow or cold.

Larger Formats

For those that might want a larger tipi follow the dimensions charted below. Weights are based on 1.3 oz/yd 30 denier silnylon. All fabrication and pitching instructions are the same as the 9’ tipi tarp.


UTT 12 Ft Tipi Tarp Sketch

Here is a sketch of the material layout for the 12’ tipi tarp. 20 yards total. Cut (3) strips 20 feet long and seam them together. Complete the tipi with the previous instructions along with the dimensions from the table.

The more I use this 12′ tipi tarp the more I like it. The 12′ tipi is a great all around size. Very roomy.

The 14′ tipi will require 30 yards total. Cut (3) strips at 27 feet long and one at 9 feet long. Cut the 9 footer in half lengthwise and it will fill in the bottom of the tarp.

No-See-Um Tipi Tarp

This is a picture of a 12′ No-See-Um Tipi Tarp. Not an easy project. It’s hard to tension bug net – but we did.


Sew up a 12′ tipi tarp in no-see-um netting. To seam the netting use a straight stitch on a 1/4″ seam allowance first then bind the edge with a zig zag stitch.

Make up the 1″ grosgrain ribbons (softer than standard webbing). You’ll need 30 yards of this for a 12′ tipi tarp. Sew tie-out loops by folding back the ribbon and bar tack to make a 2 1/2″ tie-out loop. Add some 5/8″ yellow grosgrain ribbon to the rear 2 tie-outs and the center tie-out of the straight side for easy identification when pitching the tipi.

Fix the 6 ribbons at the center point of the tarp, save the short center ribbon for later. Set with the bar tacks of the tie-out loops on the 10′-0″ radius and passing through the center point by 2′-6″. Space the tie-outs into 5 equal chords. Temporarily pin the ribbons with 2″ safety pins. Do not sew at this time.

Tensioning the Bug Net

Pitch the tarp on the center pole upside down so that the netting lays on top of the webbing and tie off. Stake the tie-outs to the ground double checking that the chord dimensions are equal.

Remove the temporary safety pins section by section and tension the netting to ‘fit’ the tarp to the ribbons. Start with the rear two tie-outs opposite the door and adjusting the tension all the way around to the doorway. With a box of 2″ safety pins, pin the tarp to the ribbons from the inside of the tipi so the pins are on top when sewing.

Single stitch both sides of all the ribbons to the tarp, hem the straight edge and finish by attaching the short center ribbon and top tie. Be generous when cutting the netting on the lower edge. More is better. Anything over the 10′-0″ radius is great for folding under and sealing the bottom edge.

We’ve used this screened tipi several times now and it has saved us in some really buggy areas. It is a great addition to our kit as it can be shoved into a 9″ x 22″ stuff sack not taking up much space in our Ultralight Travel Van. A 12′ silnylon tipi tarp can be thrown over it if needed.

UTT Needles and Thread

Good Luck


* * *

UTT First Light

More Reading

The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher

First published in 1968, The Complete Walker introduced the public to “The joys and techniques of hiking and backpacking.” Colin Fletcher, born in Wales, moved to the United States in 1956. There is much written about Mr. Fletcher that can be researched elsewhere.

With regard to his book The Complete Walker, it is a seminal work allowing adventurers to have in one place, advice, instruction and propositions on hiking in the backcountry with your “house on your back”. The outdoor industry was just starting to flourish in those days with modern materials and ideas. Technology used on Everest was working it’s way backward into the general population. Greg Lowe, Dick Kelty, the Eureka Tent Company and others were working on their ideas and many cottage industries arose in the 1960’s and 1970’s manufacturing tents, sleeping bags, clothing and equipment specifically for hikers wishing for lighter, stronger and more versatile equipment.

Colin Fletcher’s book introduced this equipment in a way that constituted ‘independent field testing’. Ever respectful to others, his reviews added much needed opinion though never authoritarian. Such was the beauty of the man. His sense of humor at times are well worth the price of admission.

The Complete Walker III (1984) is a good place to start in the four incarnations.

The Indian Tipi by Reginald and Gladys Laubin

First published in 1957, The Indian Tipi is a one of a kind endeavor. The authors Reginald and Gladys Laubin have captured a photograph in time. Dedicated to preserving the Native North American culture, they had the perception and recognition to interview the last people to have ever really lived in the traditional ways and recording it in this book. This could not be duplicated today.

In this work fully titled “The Indian Tipi – It’s History, Construction and Use”, the world of the Plains People is revealed. This is not just history but instruction. Their life was not a ‘hobby’ or ‘entertainment’. The knowledge of survival and comfort in the field as nomads, hunters and gatherers, was for real. No room for error.

What is captivating is the ease of presentation by the authors and the transfer of knowledge and ideas from the tribes contributing to this effort. There is more discussed in here than the tipi, it’s history, construction and use.

Required reading.

Outdoor Survival Skills by Larry Dean Olsen

First published in 1967, this text is a complete collection of outdoor skills needed to operate in the wild. What is unique about Outdoor Survival Skills is that all of the information in the book only relies on materials found in nature. This is the primitive view. Most survival presentations bring into play modern materials and devices. Not here, this is caveman technology.

There are two exceptions though. One is demonstrating a condensation still for water using a plastic sheet – let’s hope we never need one. The other is using flint and steel to spark a fire. The rest of the material is strictly found in the field. It’s interesting.

Shelter building, fire starting, water collection, edible and medicinal plants, grinding grain, hunting, fishing, trapping, jerky, pemmican, flint knapping, bow and arrow making, spear making, hide tanning, weaving – the wealth of material here is priceless.

New to the subject or looking for more information? This is a cornerstone work.

The Mountaineering Handbook by Craig Connally

First published in 2004, even those who are not mountaineers would greatly benefit from this book. The author’s approach to moving in the mountains is based on the point of being well versed in knowledge, practice and technique. For the average backpacker there are numerous topics to be familiar with and they are presented very well here.

Physical fitness, positive mental attitude, navigation with maps, route planning, compass work, travel time, mountain hazards, mountain weather, climbing rate systems, travel on rock, travel on snow, travel on ice, mountaineering techniques, boots, backpacks, shelters, sleep systems, clothing, stoves and fuel, the ten essentials, cooking, water purification, nutrition [great presentation here], aerobic fitness and training, wilderness first aid, leave no trace, a section on advanced techniques for mountaineers and a discussion of the human element in the scheme of things to name a few.

Along with the general presentation the author finds plenty of places to inject some humor that sometimes points to are you paying attention? Love it.

5 stars.