Somehow the thought of winter camping never occurred to me. For one, I hate the cold, and for two, I don’t really care for snow. Every year when winter arrives, I hibernate along with many other warm weathered canadians who enjoy the other 3 seasons, but know that winter is a time to catch up on movies, tv series, cleaning the house, indoor DIY projects, etc. But this year, somehow that changed. I had been on 14 trips over the season, camping in 9 Ontario Parks, 7 of them brand new, a few cottages, a yurt, etc. I made it out into October, but then I sadly thought, time to head indoors.
Social media is a wonderful thing for me. It shows me the things that other outdoorsy people like me do in the winter. Winter camping for one, was something I was perplexed by? I’d never even considered it until now, but since the idea was sparked in my mind, it wouldn’t rest. Could I possibly be able to camp all year long??? Did I never have to say goodbye or see you in a few months to my favourite activity? Was it truly possible???? The answer was YES and I was determined to find a way to do it, economically, and stay warm in the process!!!!
After lots of research, I learned about hot tents and the various ways people camp in the winter time. Some hot tents were made of a canvas type material and you could put a wood stove inside and camp in it and be toasty warm. SOUNDS AMAZING!! Let’s do it!!! URGGGG wait!… How much? If I was really lucky I might possibly get away with spending $600-$1000??? YIKES! That was not an option and not justifiable! Was my dream shot down before I even got a chance to start it?
One day while on Facebook, I saw a video on one of the Camping pages. Someone was in a tipi. Yes… a TIPI or also known as Teepee and it looked toasty warm. Basically, the tipi was put right over the fire with it inside and you sat in it and it kept you warm. HMMMMM! This sounds like something I could wrap my head around. YES!!
I contacted Robert, the person who posted the video and he explained to me in many comments, posts, videos etc, how they constructed the tipi he posted on Facebook. “We used 30′ trees and placed them all together”… this was not something that I believed I was able to do, but, that didn’t stop my imagination from going crazy and thinking of all the possibilities I could come up with on what I could use to make my very own tipi, so I could camp and stay warm. Robert said, part of making a tipi was that you used whatever you could find on hand to make the shelter work for you, so that is what I did. I started the journey on a 2.5 hour visit to the home depot. First, I would need poles….
I found these steel 10′ poles for $8.97 each. They weren’t too heavy but they were strong. I took one out to check it’s flexibility and it passed. I looked at a lot of other options, but to me, this was the best one I could find. I thought of ways to bind the poles. I wanted them to be easily put together and have as much space inside the tipi as possible for the height I had. I thought of drilling holes at the top and wiring the poles together or putting clamps on them and stringing them together that way. I knew how to put the tipi together the old fashioned way, but I wanted something different. Something super easy, so I went home and continued to ponder and do some research.
I talked to my dad about drilling holes in the poles and explained what I wanted to do. I drew some rough sketches to show him how I wanted to try and link the poles together and have a smoke hole in the top.
After some discussion we decided this wasn’t going to work properly. My dad said he could make up a wooden ring that we could use and the next day sent me this.
The idea was to put several pieces of plywood together for strength and drill holes for each pole. Under the wooden ring the poles would have 3″ bolts to go through them to keep the wood from sliding down. Above the wooden ring the poles would have 3″ cutter pins going through them to keep the wooden ring from sliding off.
In the meantime, I checked out the pole situation, setting them up in normal style tipi set up style, tying 3 of the poles together and then laying the rest in between and wrapping the string around them all to secure them. This was very strong and easy, however, I had no idea where or how to put the canvas up on it, or make a smoke hole in the side, etc etc. Setting the poles up did give me an idea of how far apart I could place them and how much space I would have inside of it though.
I had decided on using canvas and sourced quite a few places. The best option I found was getting painters drop cloths from Lowe’s. I needed a minimum height of 11 feet (to be safe) and the template on wikihow said you need double the width of the height, so at least 22 feet wide. The drop cloths from Lowes were 12’x 15′ giving me a total size sewn together of 12’x30′.
When I opened up the drop cloths I discovered that one of the 12′ x 15’s was actually 11.8′ x 15′. Not a huge deal but kind of upsetting that they advertised something as a certain size and it was not. I wasn’t about to return it though, so I got out the sewing machine and got to work, sewing 4 seams to ensure the 2 pieces were securely held together. It is not easy, however, to work in a small house with a piece of canvas 12′ x 30′. lol
After sewing the two pieces together I brought it outside to stretch it out in my driveway. It was the only place big enough and clean enough to do so! Thankfully it was a nice day out. According to the pattern and the endless paper cut outs I made, I needed to cut the canvas and round the corners. In order to mark this out, a suggestion from a co-worker, I taped a sharpie to the end of one of the polese and swung it out to each side to make a huge arc. It worked really well!.
On Christmas Day at my dads, we had a big discussion of what we were going to need! We made a list and on boxing day, at 7am when everyone was out shopping for deals, I was at the Home Depot getting supplies to build the wooden ring for my tipi! The next day I put 9 -10′ steel poles in my truck along with 9 cutter pins, 9 bolts with 2 nuts each, washers, wire, the canvas, etc, etc, etc.
My dad was ready and waiting with a tester template. It would have two holes in it and we would put 2 poles in them to see how much of an angle we could get the poles at per each size of hole. In the end we figured a 2″ hole would suffice. On to the round template to drill all the holes in 3 separate wooden rings, bolt them together, sand the edges and put the bolts in for the canvas to hang on to. This part took a bit of time.
When it was all done the poles needed to get holes drilled into them. Each pole got a hole to fit the 3″ bolt in, then bolts were put in with a nut on each side to keep them in place. After that holes were drilled above those to put the cutter pins in and then at the very top of the poles, we put a small hole for a wire to go through to keep the poles from going all harry carry everywhere! We tried it without but they went all over the place and the wire, although it didn’t look like it helped, somehow did!!
After many hours of fidgeting around, thinking it would never work, thinking it would totally work, etc, etc, we finally got the tipi poles up with the ring on it, fairly stable and with the poles all somewhat even, except the door poles which were closer together. The diameter that I thought worked best was about 10′ 5″. I would’ve liked to make it even bigger, but then I would risk loosing the angle to keep the snow/water off the sides.
I took the ring home ready to continue on with the project solo from here on out. I laid out the canvas (12’x30′) as best as I could in the small space I had available, laying the ring on the piece were the canvas would attach to the wooden ring. I sat on the floor for hours staring at it, not able to come to any type of definite plan of where to place the grommets. Today, we had discovered that sometimes when things work on paper, they don’t always work in reality and I was feeling the exact same thing now. I could put the holes where they ‘should’ go, but that didn’t mean it would work out when I put the canvas on the poles.
There was only one solution!!! Go outside, put the poles up and hang the canvas somehow temporarily so I knew exactly where to put the grommets. I put a few grommets in just so the canvas would hang without me holding it so I could do more, as I only had one set of hands. Then, at 10pm, I went into my backyard with my headlamp and huge outdoor light and set up the poles and then put the canvas up. I pulled the canvas around and with a marker, up on a ladder, I noted where each bolt was and where the grommet should go on the canvas. Then I went back inside to put all the grommets in and do what I could further. Several hours later I finally called it a night, anxious to get as much done as possible, but still needing sleep for work in the morning.
The next day after work, I got right back on the job. It was fairly decent out but we were expecting freezing rain later on, so I had to hurry and get done what I needed to outside before that happened. I put the canvas up with the new grommets I now had in place and then began pinning the canvas where it needed to be sewn, putting ties on it where they needed to go, figuring out where the door would go and how it would be put in, cutting that part, pinning velcro that would be sewn on inside after it was taken off the poles, putting marker circles at the bottom of each pole to stake the canvas to the ground so it would stay put and keep the warmth in, etc, etc, etc.
This process took several hours and then finally I went inside to work, spending a total of about 11 hours on it. I broke about 4 needles on my sewing machine, using heavy duty needles for leather, but that seemed to be irrelevant. My sewing machine gave me some issues but I just keep yelling at it and moved on. Eventually, I got all the seams sewn, all the velcro attached, all the grommets in, all the ties… tied and even patched a hole with a giant “C” to avoid the canvas from running. When i put the grommets in, each one got a coating of nail polish around the holes first to keep the material from fraying. (a trick I’d learned a long time ago, if you didn’t own a bottle of the actual fraying solution they sold at sewing stores). The main 2 top grommets that held the side canvas on the wooden ring, got 2 extra grommets put in, just in case the weight of the canvas or wind or something, pulled out the other grommets I put in. Always good to have a backup.
What I decided to do for the door was based on a friends tent I’ve seen that has a magnetic door. I attached the piece below the door to the first side which would be velcroed to the pole. The bottom piece was then velcroed to that piece and I also added 2 strings to tie it in case the velcro didn’t hold for some reason. I also added a grommet below in both pieces to hold them together with a stake in the ground.
For the door, I cut the canvas and then added a piece to the bottom like a skirt to hang over the bottom piece to seal it shut. I put a piece of steel in the left side of the door (like a steel ruler) and then put magnets in the 1st side that were velcroed to the pole. This gave the door weight and substance and it clicked shut easily with the steel to the magnets. I was really quite proud of my door and couldn’t wait to test it all out! The tipi was literally finished the day before leaving for Algonquin. I packed it in the car along with a box of enviro logs. The wood at the parks tends to be wet and smokes alot and someone had suggested to get these special logs that burn 3 hours at a time and don’t smoke as much. I figured I might need them so we picked some up the day before as well. I didn’t get this exact box, ours were $13.00 for 6 logs, but the same type.
On thursday morning I headed to Mew Lake for New Years Eve! Site#4 was plowed and ready and waiting for us to set up. Now the test would begin! 🙂
We got the poles out of the car and put on the wooden ring, attaching the cutter pins. One was missing however, so I used a tent stake and bent it with a pair of pliers. We ended up finding it later on after the tipi was erected. I would have to go to Home Depot and get a few extras in case any of them were lost in the future. Then the wire was sewn through the tops of each pole and to assist in tightening them, my friend Steph, held up the top 5 poles so I could tighten the wire a bit more than I would be able to do alone. Then I asked her to take photos while I put it up on my own, as I’d done it a few times before. It wasn’t really that hard. Special thanks to Stephanie for the great pictures and for taking on this adventure with me! I knew you would love it! 🙂
After it was standing on it’s own, Steph came over and helped me spread out the poles. This is possibly the most difficult part of the setup. You have to move each pole outwards a few inches at a time, then the next, the next, the next, etc, etc, etc until they are where you want them.
Once they looked about where they should be, I pulled a ‘dad move’ (sure he will be proud of this) and got out my measuring tape I’d brought and Steph and I took the measurements of each poles distance and the diameter all around. It was mostly 10’5″ and they were spread out quite well. I was satisfied with this. I got out my shovel and my 15″ steel rim I’d purchased from Thorold Auto Recyclers for $10 ,and, with the Rangers permission, I dug out a hole the size of the rim to use for the fire pit.
The tipi was far too small to use the Mew Lake fire pit provided as it would leave the useable space inside the tipi next to nothing. Also, the provided pit was buried in snow under a picnic table. *** Just a note that you should never dig on Ontario Parks property without permission. When I was at Mew Lake the week before I was advised by the Warden and a ranger that they would allow me to do this on this occasion which is why I proceeded in purchasing the ring and going ahead with this option. Regardless on having their permission from the week prior, upon arrival, I asked once again to confirm and make sure they didn’t want it in a particular place. I also had to leave the site exactly how I found it, replacing the hole with the dirt I’d dug out and leaving the site as it was before. No trace camping is always the way camping should be done, whether it’s in the backcountry or car camping, etc.
When I originally planned out the tipi, the canvas was to be looped onto the bolts while it was on the ground and the whole structure was to be erected with the canvas attached. After having so many issues with the poles twisting (which the wire at the top seemed to solve) and the weight of the canvas with the poles, I decided to bring my small ladder I use to get my kayak on my car and takes up little space. Having it would make adjustments and setup alot easier. In less than 5 minutes, the canvas was attached, spread out in place and the tipi was ready for use!
The velcro side seams were sealed together and the strings were tied up to the sides with the loops I’d sewn on at home. The piece below the door was attached with the velcro and tied and the grommet put in. Then I went around and put stakes in all the grommet holes at the base of the poles pulling the canvas tight as I’d learned should be done.
The door was closed and it worked amazingly well and I was super proud of what I’d created! 🙂
After setup we decided to go for a walk to the falls and explore our surroundings a bit. It was Stephs first time in Algonquin and I wanted to show off the places I knew here. We headed back afterwards to work on the real test, the fire and if the smoke would evacuate the tipi properly.
We got the fire going and then immediately got smoked out. The wood from the campground was just a bit too wet to use and it smoked horribly. The first revision we had to make was to remove the chairs from the tipi. The smoke rose exactly to our faces when we sat up so high. I had brought some extra tarps and we put them on the ground. I didn’t take a photo but these are the chairs I’d brought just in case that we ended up using. They were fairly comfortable for having to sit on the ground as they had a backrest to lean on.
After a while we also had to open up one entire panel to let the smoke out. This didn’t make the tipi very warm but did let us sit in it by the fire and be able to breathe.
Here are 2 images of how much we had to keep the side open. It was feasible Saturday night, and we were sitting fairly comfortably when the travelling campers arrived at my door to check out my tipi and invite us on a tour of all the other tents that belonged to the group. It was after all, new years eve and time to party! So I explained my tipi process to everyone and got alot of great suggestions on how to overcome the smoke issues throughout the evening from some of the experts in the group. We put the fire out and headed on our adventure and off to ring in 2016!
In the mornings the tipi was used with an electrical heater, door shut to cook and eat our breakfasts. It wasn’t nearly as warm as our tent but comfortable enough to cook food without the use of gloves which is nice to do when able.
I will be making some revisions on the tipi before my next use of it in February camping at McGregor Point. Hopefully, the revisions will resolve the issues and it will work even better the next time around! While looking for solutions to my smoke issue I discovered that my tipi, might not be a tipi at all but something called a Lavvu or even a Goahti? A Lavvu is a temporary dwelling used by the people of Scandinavia. It has a hole at the top and is less vertical than a tipi. ALWAYS LEARNING! 🙂 Here is a shot of a Lavvu from Wikepedia:
I really hope you enjoyed my post and it inspired you to get creative yourself and even try out winter camping if you haven’t already. It is a great adventure and a very peaceful time of year to be out camping in nature. Now that I am able to camp in every season, I will definately be the happiest camper of all…. although, those hot tents will still be in my dreams until that option is feasible for me!
A REALLY HUGE AND SPECIAL THANK YOU TO MY DAD! Without his help with the wooden ring this setup wouldn’t have been possible. I know somehow I would’ve invented something on my own, but it is always really nice to work on a cool project with my dad. He is incredibly smart and creative and has the best tools and I always learn so much from spending time in his workshop with him! Also, thank you to Robert again, for the inspiration and all your encouragement and help with this process. I can’t tell you how nice it is to come across a total stranger who will offer you endless advice and support.
If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, etc, please leave me a message! I’m always happy to hear from people and read about their experiences as well! Stay tuned or subscribe to my blog to make sure you catch my next post on the rest of the trip that I used this tipi during, New Years Eve at Mew Lake , click here.
UPDATE: SHORTLY AFTER THIS POST WAS CREATED, I PURCHASED A WOOD STOVE FOR THE TIPI AND TESTED IT OUT ON A CAMPING TRIP IN MINDEN! CHECK OUT THE POST HERE ON HOW THE WOOD STOVE WORKED OUT!
I HAVE ALSO JUST RECENTLY (NOV, 2016) RENOVATED THE POLES SO THE TIPI CAN GO INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY THIS WINTER!