What Type of Primitive Shelter is Best for You?

A Living History Skills series by Colonel Jerry Tubbs

In this section I will discuss what type of primitive shelter may be best for your particular needs. I will write the facts along with the pros and cons of each, then you can decide which is best for you. Some areas to consider will be price, purpose or use intended, portability and set-up, weather protection and authenticity.

Price ranges and makers are similar to buying an automobile. You can purchase a Chevy or a Caddy all depending on maker and price. I am not endorsing any given tent manufacturer, just going on fact and personal satisfaction.


The Diamond or Wedge Shelter

Price Range:: $107.00 to $2350.00. This is based on size, manufacturer and types of canvas used. Remember that a dollar saved now is not necessarily a dollar saved down the road when it comes to a canvas shelter. Don't be afraid to ask someone questions about their shelter and do not be afraid to buy a used shelter. Take someone with you that knows quality workmanship and canvas condition.

Purpose:: These types of shelters are used where a very fast set and simple shelter is needed. Generally used for short weekend outings or camps less that three days in length. It is a quick setup shelter with room for no more than two persons with very little gear. Sizes may very from a small 10'X10' to a large 16'X16'. The cost is generally inexpensive compared to other shelters.

Set-up: The plow point or diamond configuration requires only two poles and a minimum of five tent stakes in the open. If camped in a wooded area, all that is required, some rope and stakes since to front can be tied to a low tree limb. If set-up in the open wedge configuration, you will need at least two up right end poles and six stakes. Any number of set-up configurations are possible.

Weather protection: With the front of this shelter open, weather protection is extremely pour. You are subject to getting wet in a driving rain with swirling winds. If you like being wet and cold, this is the shelter for you for winter camps. During summers months you will have plenty of ventilation and shade. If there is just a small breeze blowing, mosquitoes will less likely to bother you than if you were in an enclosed shelter.

Authenticity: The wedge configuration dates back to antiquity. It was the most popular shelter of all time due to its simple design and easy of setting up. Army's have used it for thousands of years and was in use up thru the Second World War.

Pros: These are fairly inexpensive to purchase, easy to transport and easy to set up. They offer good air circulation in the summer along with shade, and moderate protection from light rains. From this shelter you can form a plow point, an open-end wedge, a windbreak, dinning fly and a lean-to.

Cons: The open -end plow point or wedge is open to the elements. You cannot heat this type of shelter effectively with a campfire. You must be content with working in a bent over position, or crawling around on your hands and knees when looking for your gear.


The Baker Tent

Price Range: $225.00 to $316.00. This again is based on size, manufacture and types of canvas used. With this style tent, the cost of poles must also be considered. The Baker tent will require some 14 to 16 poles to set up. Poles can be of pine or cedar and cut from local forest if permission given by the landowner to help cut cost of ordering from a supplier.

Purpose: This style of tent will provide good shelter for a weekend or extended camp. Depending on the size, the Baker tent can sleep as few as two and up to as many as six people with gear. The privacy curtain can be raised during the day to provide shade and lowered at night for protection from the elements.

Set-up: Be prepared for a workout to set this tent up and make sure you have friends in camp. In my experience, it usually takes three people to set up the Baker tent. First a skeletal frame must be erected to support the canvas. Marking the poles where they are to be located and at the point where they will intersect each other will speed up the process. After the frame is in place, the canvas must be tie in numerous locations to make it taught. Other poles must be added to the frame to support the roof and the privacy curtain when it is raised to the awning position. One must also consider the transportation of these poles. Either a trailer will be required or a sturdy car top rack must be considered for transport.

Weather Protection: The Baker provides reasonable protection from the weather. With all of the curtains closed, heating for a good nights sleep it not hard to do. With the curtains extended, shade is provided for those hot Texas days.

Authenticity: Sad to say but the Baker is not authentic to the pre-1840 era. It is basically a wall tent cut down the middle with an awning attached. Do not be discouraged as the Baker is widely accepted at just about every type of historic gathering.

Pros: The Baker provides good weather protection against rain and wind if properly staked down. If heated with a stove or a modern heating device, cold evenings can be tolerated.

Cons: This would be my last choice in a shelter. The number of poles required for setup, transportation of poles, canvas tie points and stake points make this a less than favorable tent. The prices are near the same for a small wall tent.


The Pyramid Tent

Price Range: $200.00 to 475.00 for the original sizes. This increases dramatically for custom larger tents. Price range as always is based on manufacturer, size and type of canvas used. Savings comes from the fact this tent can be set up with one pole or if a tree limb is near, with no poles at all.

Purpose: Used where easy set up, good weather protection and able room is desired. One person can set up this tent in less than fifteen minutes.

Set-up: Set up is as easy as it can get. You stake down the four corners and push the peak up with the inside center pole. If the pole tends to get in the way, the tent can be erected using two poles crossed in the middle and tied to the peak on the outside. A tree limb at a long piece of rope tied to the peak makes set-up a breeze if poles are not available.

Weather Protection: Excellent! With the sides sloping down at an angle, heat is reflected toward the center if some form of heating is used inside. Because of the pyramid shape, winds to not affect this style of tent and rain and debris tend to run or slide right off.

Authenticity: The pyramid tent was originally called range tepees and date back to the early 1820's. Documented in his personal journal, Rufas Sage used one in 1841 while camped on the Laramie River on his way to Fort Platte.
Pros: Quick and easy set-up with ample room inside. Excellent weather protection. One or no poles required for set up.

Cons: For about $100.00 less a large wedge tent could be purchased allowing for more headroom. A tall person can only move about in the middle of the pyramid tent before his head contacts the canvas sides. Although more floor space than a large wedge, headroom is a factor to consider.



Price Range: The basic 8' X 10' wall tent will cost around $300.00 and a larger 12' X 12' will cost $470.00. If you wish to purchase a set up package consisting of poles, ropes and stakes you can expect to spend between $110 to $230.00 depending on the size of tent purchased.

Purpose: You will find the wall tent space efficient, excellent for weather protection and a good choice for short or long term camping.

Set-up: The wall tent requires several ropes, side poles and tent pegs for resisting being blown down in high winds high winds. The wall tent is fairly easy to set up using two uprights and a ridgepole. By setting the sides up first, then raising the ridge, two people can have their tent set up in under twenty minutes.

Weather Protection: Not as rugged in high winds as the tipi, the wall tent is as comfortable as one could expect in a primitive shelter. With a door in each end, the wall tent can be a great choice for summer camps, allowing a breeze to pass thru. Adding an awning can provide additional shade.

Authenticity: The use of wall tents dates to before the American Revolution. Absolutely authentic to every type of historical gathering.

Pros: The wall tent would be an excellent choice for a family or trader. With the sidewalls being vertical, you have more usable space for cots, tables and storage boxes. Excellent weather protection and set-up is not too hard.

Cons: Takes two people to set-up. If you support the sidewalls more poles will be required to travel with.

Creating a Character

Is That Gun Real?

What's in the Bag?

You need an Edge

What's Cooking?

Lighting up the Night

Keeping an Eye on the Sky

Getting Started

Then & Now

What type of Primitive Shelter is best for you?


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