By: Justin Hunold
Scrolling through Instagram, thumbing down through all of the images of the outdoors that help inspire my adventures, I see it. The wall tent at night, backlit from the lantern inside, stripped trees for the lodge poles with a set of moose antlers above the door, I swooned with idyllic romanticism. If this sounds like as great a picture to you as it did to me, let’s talk about the upsides and tips for camping in a wall tent.
All things being equal, camping is an amazing way to take in the outdoors. Whether you spend the night in a camper with AC or in a bivy under the stars, waking up to the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world does wonders for the human spirit. For the past few years I have spent a few weeks during the late fall in a canvas wall tent. Though the one I have been using doesn’t harken back to the image painted earlier, it does fall in a great spot between the camper and the bivy.
My cousin Marc did a bunch of research, separately of my tent lusting, and decided to pull the trigger on a Davis Wall Tent. He also purchased a wood stove for it and so began our soiree of primitive camping for hunting season. This is a quick overview of why you may want to look into a wall tent setup, and some points to think about once you decide a canvas vacation home is for you.
Let’s first look into why a person would want a canvas wall tent. Room is the first deciding factor for most folks. Unlike a nylon dome style tent, a wall tent is built for maximum height and, with straight walls, actual capacity for people and gear. Next, canvas wall tents are still portable but it can be the size of a typical cabin that one might stay in at a campground, very convenient. You can set up a full cabin anywhere you may need it. That may be the woods for a week during hunting season, or it can be for a garage sale or graduation party at your home.
If I were to guess, the number one reason most folks go to a wall tent is overall comfort and protection from the elements. Canvas wall tents are built with stove jacks to host a wood stove. Canvas tents are naturally waterproof and insulated. Unlike propane heaters, wood is dry heat, and outdoors folks can use it to actually dry out clothing and gear. This alone is next to impossible with any other sort of non-radiant heat. Canvas is a great insulator. Everyone will stay warm with the stove in the winter, no wind cutting through the tent, no water building up.
I know, the saying is “cotton kills”. In this case, that blend of cotton or polyester is great protection from the elements, hot or cold. Wall tents are naturally waterproof and make amazing wind barriers. In the summer you can open the windows for a crosswind and stay very cool. It’s definitely not the aforementioned camper with air conditioning, but it’s markedly better than a nylon dome tent for sure.
We’ve covered the why’s of a wall tent, so let’s take a dive into some of the how’s, tips and points of interest. The how’s are pretty simple: most companies will offer kits that have poles included or just corner brackets and you go to a hardware store and have conduit cut to length (provided in the instructions). To build the tent you frame out the roof first then install the wall poles. Tie down points are sewn into the tent in key positions. Use all of the tie downs- they exist for a reason. There are a few options for floors, with the two most popular being pallet bases with plywood for a semi-permanent feel or waterproof canvas tarps. After much experimentation, we chose canvas tarps, leaving an open spot in the corner for the stove. If you decide on the wood floor, you will need a fireproof mat for that area.
If you plan for a few people to stay in one tent, there needs to be rules. One of our big rules was no air mattresses. This came about in year two, just like the canvas tarp floor, after we realized how much room they take up. Cots elevate the sleeping area, meaning that the user can stow gear under them. They can also double as a seat if needed. Also, designate areas to hang drying gear. You don’t want your sleep system to get soaked because someone else hung a wet jacket over it.
As far as the stove goes, you’ll need welders gloves or the like to tend to it often. A kettle of water should be a constant companion of the wood stove for both a source of hot water and a bit of moisture in the air. Some wood should be stacked inside, this way there isn’t a reason to open the doors unless it’s to relieve yourself. There should also be an assigned person to cut the stove off when the party leaves and someone else should double-check! Stoves are not to be taken lightly in a tent, as the wind can move the cover or in the extreme, disconnect the stove pipe (chimney).
A small folding table is an amazing piece of kit for a wall tent. It generally turns into a catch-all but it’s nice to have. We would generally stack our non-perishables in rubber totes under it. Again, singing the praises of the wood stove: you can cook just about any stovetop meal on the wood stove so don’t skimp on the cuisine just because you’re roughing it. We keep a thermometer above the table, mostly because it’s fun to see it reach the mid-seventies when it’s in the single digits outside and we are having a few drinks.
Another friend of mine uses an ice fishing sled and a solar shower to shower inside his wall tent after a day of hunting. We never went that route, although, by the end of the week we probably should have. With the ability to have hot water and dry out your garments, this means a person can actually wash clothes if needed. Speaking of friends, if you want to stay on speaking terms with anyone you’re sharing a wall tent with for extended time you’ll want a pair of inside-only shoes. Any kind of shoes will work, a lot of people will wear slippers or a Crocs style shoe. Tarps will be clean but you’ll still need shoes.
A few more necessary items include a lantern or two, a decent hatchet, a cast iron pan, fire poker, and tongs. I would also suggest a few pots for water or a tea kettle, a French Press or percolator, and a wind-up alarm clock.
Marc chose to have an awning built into his kit and a window stitched in opposite the door. Both of these were clutch points of customizations. We can keep wood, gear, and our coolers under the awning and when need be get some air moving through with an open window. He decided to forgo the stakes that the company offered. The first time we tried to use it in high winds we realized quickly that normal tent stakes weren’t going to cut it. From there we decided to use pressure treated 2”x2” cut to a point and notched an inch up from that point. Tie the rope to the stake around that notch and then drive the pointed end of the ten inch stake down into the ground. This action sucks the rope into the ground as well and makes that thing as steady as a Pennsylvania coal miner.
If you’ve tent camped before, everything you’d bring with you for that applies in the wall tent world. It’s all about what makes you happy. Try it out a few times and you’ll be surprised what makes the cut and what doesn’t once the comfort side is taken care of.
A wall tent isn’t for every situation, you’re not packing this thing into the backcountry in your backpack. When you’re able to access the campsite from the road, by vehicle, horseback, or bike with a trailer, a wall tent is tough to beat. If you’ve been thinking about that camper and you just aren’t sure, take a look at a wall tent. Camping with friends or family and wanting some space, or maybe to feel comfortable solo camping for a long period you need to make a canvas wall tent a consideration. If nothing else you might get to post a cool picture of it on social media.