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How to Set Up a Wall Tent Without a Frame
Published: August 11, 2021
Heading out on a camping trip in the great outdoors? Don’t forget to pack the tent! Wall tents provide a place to sleep, cook, and keep away from the elements. They can be set up with an internal frame, although some alternatives don’t require one.
Setting up a wall tent without a frame requires a good bit of rope, cut tree saplings or branches, or a combination. If you plan to camp above the tree line, it’d be better to use the frame system that comes with your tent. But in case you forget the frame or can’t easily carry it in the car or on horseback and need to set up your wall tent, don’t worry! With this how-to guide, we got you covered.
Choose an Open, Leveled Area with Nearby Trees
So, you’ve horse-packed into the forest or driven in as far as you can go, and it’s time to find a campsite. Without an internal tent frame on hand, it’s essential that you look for a leveled spot in an open clearing.
Whether you use ropes or cut saplings, you’ll need to locate your tent near some trees of varying sizes that you’re going to use to support the tent one way or the other.
Setting up your tent on the leveled ground makes for a much more pleasant experience in several ways:
- It keeps rainwater from flowing downhill toward and underneath the tent.
- It keeps campers in their sleeping bags from having to fight the incline while sleeping.
- It reduces the inconvenience of rolling into another camper while sleeping.
- It ensures the safe operation of a camp stove inside the tent.
Establish Your Tent’s Orientation and Put Down the Floor
Many wall tents are designed so that you can set up a stove inside and vent it with a stovepipe through a hole in the side or roof of the tent. If using this kind of tent, it’s imperative that you set it up so that any prevailing winds are blowing smoke and sparks away from the tent.
Be sure the area underneath the tent is free from rocks, sticks, and other debris. This will protect your tent floor and your back if you plan to sleep on the ground.
Before the tent goes down, lay out a tarp, a piece of carpet, or sod cloth. This layer will help keep the tent bottom clean and provide extra protection against moisture seeping through.
Once you’ve determined which way your tent should face, lay it out on the floor. Unzip all the windows and doors, so there’s less strain on them as you prepare to actually raise the tent.
Set Up a Rain Fly
Before you create the support structure and raise the tent, you must add a rain fly for extra protection from any downpours or snow that may come as once the tent is at full height, it can be challenging to add a rain cover.
A rain fly is just another term for “tarp.” You can use a standard plastic tarp and some rope through its grommets to tie off the rain cover to the trees around the campsite.
Create the Tent’s Support Structure
Remember how we said to look for a campsite with nearby trees? Now is when they come in handy! Since you aren’t using a prefabricated internal frame to hold up your tent, you’ve got to improvise.
Most wall tents are designed in the same way. Their key structural components are what gives the tent its shape:
- A ridge pole is a long pole that creates the centerline of the roof.
- Eave poles run through sleeves at the top of each side wall where the walls meet the roof slope. There are two of these—one for each side of the tent.
- Rafters keep the tent roof from sagging.
- Wall poles support the side walls.
Lifting the tent and supporting it at its full height without a frame requires something to act as a substitute for these poles. This can be accomplished in at least five different ways, and the method you choose will depend on your personal preferences and the kind of natural materials available nearby.
Use Cut Saplings to Replicate a Full Frame
Look around for saplings or long branches that you can cut to fit through the pole sleeves. Depending on the size of your tent, you may need to find saplings up to 10 or 12 feet long, but with a diameter of 1 inch or less.
Here is how many saplings are needed. To replicate the full internal frame, at the very least, you will need to find and cut the following to the correct length for your tent.
|Tent Component||Number of Saplings|
|Rafter||4 – 6|
|Wall pole||4 – 6|
Finding the right size and quantity of trees to cut can take several hours. If you choose this method, make sure you have enough daylight to gather what you need.
Run these cut saplings through the sleeves at each of the pole locations. If they don’t fit through the sleeves, place them in the same general area and drape the tent around them.
Use Saplings and a Rope
If you want to use saplings with rope:
- Scrounge the area to find three saplings suitable to act as the ridge pole and A-frame support.
- Run one sapling through the ridge sleeve and secure it to a nearby tree with rope. If it doesn’t fit the sleeve, just place it on the roof’s centerline and drape the tent over it.
- Build an A-frame out of the other two saplings and set it at the door end of the tent. The ridge pole will rest in the V-shape created where the two are lashed together at the top.
- Find or cut sticks into a five-foot length to use them as wall poles.
Alternatively, you can use six saplings to build two A-frames and put one at each end of the tent. The ridge pole will rest on these frames on both ends.
Use Rope Only
If you lack usable long saplings or branches, you can always use rope instead. With this method, rope takes the place of all the poles. The walls and roof will sag a bit, but this will still provide you with a functioning tent. To do so:
- String a rope through the eave sleeves on both walls and tie it off to a tree.
- String a rope through the ridge sleeve and tie off to trees on either end.
Use Rope and A-Frames on Each End
Follow these steps if you want to use rope and A-frames on each end of your wall tent:
- Run ropes through the eaves.
- Build an A-frame for the ends.
- Run the ropes up and over the top of the A-frames on each end, then down to the ground.
- Stake the ends of these ropes to the ground. Pull snug and tight with plenty of tension to hold up the tent.
Use Saplings for Two X-Frames for Each End
Finally, if you want to use saplings to build two X-frames:
- Cut eight saplings to build four X-frames.
- Each X will have one pole longer than the other by about a third.
- For each X, lash the two poles together closer to the ground—about two feet high.
- Place an X at each corner with the longer pole pointing toward the ridgeline.
- The longer poles should cross at the ridgeline and be lashed together.
- Run a rope or sapling through the ridge to rest or attach long poles to the crisscrossed and hold up the tent’s roof.
- Run the rope or saplings along the top of the walls at the bottom of the roof to connect to these X’s and hold the walls tight and vertical.
Stake the Tent
Once the tent is raised to full height, it’s time to stake it down to guard against gusty winds. Most tents come with grommets along the outside eaves, and these are where guy lines are attached.
- Put tent stakes in the ground at a 45-degree angle, leaning away from the tent. We recommend you to have one at each corner and at the midpoints of each side.
- Attach guy ropes through the grommets along the sides at about the same angle as the roof. Stake these into the ground.
- If you’re in a windy area, consider tying off the guy lines to nearby trees or logs—something with some weight that will keep the tent from blowing away.
How Long Does It Take to Set Up a Wall Tent?
In setting up a wall tent, size does matter. The bigger the tent, the longer it takes. Plus, with or without a frame, it’s obviously going to take much less time to set up if at least two people are working on it. Indeed, raising a wall tent solo is tricky, although it can be done. Just make sure to allow plenty of extra time if you’re doing it on your own.
- Raising a tent with a prefab frame usually takes about 15-20 minutes. If you also set up the stove and stovepipe, it may take you 20 to 25 minutes.
- Setting up a wall tent with external support can take a couple of hours, particularly if you have to find and cut your support poles first. Depending on the area, you may have to search a wide radius to find the size and length of saplings you need.
- If you only need a few cut saplings and some rope, the time should be reduced—around an hour or so.
Tools Needed to Set Up a Wall Tent Without a Frame
The first thing that comes to mind is practice, practice, practice… Don’t wait until you’re at the campsite to figure out how to set up the tent without its frame. Ensure you know how your tent is designed and what size pole substitutes you need to locate in the woods.
In addition to the tent itself, consider bringing along the following items:
- Two plastic tarps: Use one for the ground barrier and one for the rain cover.
- Rope for the tent’s support: Take lots of rope! You will need enough to go through both side eaves and the ridgeline. Depending on the structure you choose, you will need enough rope to extend out in several directions to tie around nearby trees.
- Rope for guy lines: Use this rope to tie the tent to nearby trees or logs to secure it in place.
- Hatchet or saw: You will need some way to cut down saplings to be used as the ridge pole, eave poles, and sidewall supports.
- Tent stakes: Use metal or plastic tent pegs to stake the tent to the ground.
- Tent mallet: Use a mallet to drive the tent pegs, guy wires, and A- or X-frames into the ground.
Setting up a wall tent without the use of a frame is an art. If you don’t know what you are doing, then your tent will very likely be crooked or misshaped. In this case, your camping trip may very well end before it begins.
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to set up a wall tent without a frame. We’ve shown you the most likely ones above, but with a bit of ingenuity and resourcefulness, you might come up with your own ideas as well.
At the end of the day, as long as your tent stays upright and withstands the elements, your camping experience should be considered a success. Without a prefabricated frame, it may not look quite like it should and may sag in some places, but if it keeps you dry and warm, that’s all that matters.