A Canvas Wall Tent – Camping Without Hauling a Trailer

Several years ago, we decided a wall tent might be a good alternative to sleeping in the back of the truck or in our backpacking tents, especially in cold weather and when we planned to sleep near the truck anyway. Of course, we enjoy the comfort of sleeping in a nice, heated camping trailer, but sometimes it is a lot of trouble getting a trailer in and out of some of the rougher Forest Service and BLM roads, especially later in the hunting seasons after the snow starts to pile up.

canvas wall tent with stove

Our 12×14 wall tent gets us into the backcountry where no trailer can.

I’ve seen two separate Elk seasons in the last 10 years where many hunters spent days trying to get their trailers back off the mountain after snow storms. Many roads were so blocked with traffic coming off the mountain that other hunters couldn’t drive up the mountain. I was glad not to be involved in that mess. We went hunting while many people were directing traffic.

Every year, anyone taking a trailer into the higher elevation mountains between mid October to mid November is taking a chance that their trailer will spend the Winter on the mountain. This is not usually a problem if you stay close to the major roads, but who wants to camp near the major roads? During that time, it’s important to pay close attention to the weather forecasts.

It seems that our plans for where to camp and where to hunt are altered by snow storms almost every year, especially for the muzzleloader elk season that starts at the end of October or early November.

In fact, as I wrote this, we were planning for a hunt that started in early October and it’s was snowing outside. A few days earlier, we were hunting at 9,400 feet on dry ground, but there was at least a foot of snow up by then. I was be able to drive back up there after a few days, but I didn’t see any more trailers hauled up there again that year.

Our First Wall Tent

At the time we were considering a wall tent, we didn’t know anyone that had one, so we researched the costs and the options to consider, made our decision and bought a wall tent. Here is our wall tent buying guide based on our research.

wall tent window with screen

Tent has two screened windows that shut with an attached canvas flap held with velcro.

Our tent is a 12 x 14 feet and 5 ft high on the sides and 8 ft high in the center. The tent has one door, a sewn in screen door, two windows and a stove jack (fireproof fiberglass hole for smoke stack) and a set of frame angles for a 4-rafter internal frame. We decided to buy the stove separately. We got lucky and found one for sale (still in the box) by a local person.

The tent weighs about 60 lbs and including the 12 internal frame angles, 25 poles, stakes and rope, the entire weight is less than 100 lbs. Even including the stove (42 lbs) and stove pipe, the total load is less than 150 lbs, so it everything easily fits in the back of the truck and would even fit in the trunk of a mid-sized car. So anywhere the truck can go, the wall tent can go.

Tips for Assembling the Wall Tent Frame

When motivated, my wife and I can set the entire tent up in about 15-20 minutes without the stove and about 20-25 minutes including the stove and stove pipe. The most time consuming part is the assembly of the internal frame.

wall tent frame pole angles

Figure 2. The Angles and Poles of the Internal Frame were Marked for Quick Assembly

The frame angles are attached to poles that connect to other frame angles. The poles simply slide into the frame angles and are held in place by friction. After trying the “trial and error” method several times, I finally wised up and marked the angles and poles with colors and symbols to speed up the assembly process (see Figure 2).

I used blue for all the ridge pole pieces, white for all the pieces on one side and black for the other side. I also put the number “1” on all the angles and poles on the first rafter (door end), an “X” on all the parts for the 2nd rafter, “O” for the third rafter and the number “7” for the end rafter. Yes, I made a cheat sheet in case I don’t remember. Figure 2. shows the white paint and “X” indicates these pieces make up the 2nd rafter on one side.

Setting Up the Wall Tent is Fairly Simple

First step, is to assemble the internal frame except for the legs, then the tent is pulled over the frame. Next, one side is lifted at a time so the legs can be attached to the frame. The tent is then “squared up” and staked down at the corners first, then along each side. We have set the wall tent up faster than I have seen some people level their trailer.

After the tent is set up, the floor (tarp or  ground cloth) is rolled out and the cots and table are set up. If we want heat, we set the stove up under the stove jack, join the sections of nesting stove pipe, which are held by friction pressure and slide the stove pipe through the stove jack in the top of the tent and attach the stove pipe to the stove.

Wall Tent Assembly

That’s all there is to it, Home Sweet Home as long as we need it. No question, our wall tent is much more spacious and comfortable than our backpacking tents. We never used the larger family style tents, but the wall tent has the advantage there also because of the ability to use a wood stove for heat and hot water.

Is the wall tent better than a trailer? Well, that depends. More comfortable? No, not really, but it is comfortable enough to go out in bad weather and enjoy the trip. Is it easier to pull on bad roads or bad weather? Absolutely! And we still have money left in our pockets after buying the wall tent and stove.

Advantages of Wall Tent over Trailer

  • Cost – $1,000 (or less) vs $10,000 or more
  • No cost for tags, insurance or registration
  • Light weight – 150 lbs vs 2,000 lbs or more
  • Easier to haul on bad roads – If the truck can go, the wall tent can go.
  • Compact storage – Will fit in trunk of mid-sized car
  • Can be packed by horse or with a game cart
  • Easier to set up on steep sites
  • Wall tent and wood stove can always be used for emergency shelter

Advantages of Trailer over Wall Tent

  • Comfort – no question, a nice well equipped trailer is more comfortable
  • Water may drip down frame and puddle on floor
  • Wood stove vs propane heater – wood stove needs more attention (wood warms you twice)
  • Less security; people, bears, creepy crawlies; when concerned about bears, we set up a portable electric fence
  • Ground inside tent may not be level

If you can think of more advantages and disadvantages, let us know.

A Second Wall Tent

elk mountain wall tent

Our 13X13 Elk Mountain Wall Tent.

We now have a 2nd wall tent from Elk Mountain Tents.

By having two tents, we can accommodate extra family members or friends and not be overcrowded or give up our privacy (or theirs).

elk mountain wall tent front view

Look at all the room available for our two cots and the wood stove.

Here are a couple of recent photos taken during a late Fall hunting trip.

It is amazing that we didn’t have snow on the ground, but it was still cold enough at night that we enjoyed having the Cylinder stove.

The Elk Mountain tent and frame is so much lighter, we find it easier to pack and to set up when we don’t have an army to help, especially when it’s just the two of us.

Look for a full review in the future.

Q: Are you thinking of getting a wall tent? What are your concerns? Let us know below.

Read more of our posts on Wall Tents:

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Comments

  1. I agree. Wall tents are great, trailer tents are great too. You just have to choose the one that suits you most.

  2. This post is highly informative! I like this! Wall tents and trailer tents happen to be 2 of my favorite camping companions. My family has tried both and both worked as well. Thanks for sharing this awesome post!

  3. chris reum says:

    I am trying to find or create walls for one of the 10×20 white ‘Menards’ style canopies. Do you know where I can find instructions to build / sew / etc. 10×6 ft or so walls so I can add screens and such to them. The canopy tents are not designed for this, but we figured we use one already for a number of uses so to add some walls, etc and we can either tent camp or just use for a backyard BBQ.

    • Chris: I don’t know of any such plans, but I like the way you think.
      I have several thoughts about your project:
      Tent material is usually heavy weight (10 oz or heavier) double-fill cotton army duck canvas. I have sewn this kind of material before and can tell you it is tough to sew by hand or requires a heavy duty sewing machine. This material usually comes in 5 foot wide bolts, so to make a single 10 ft wide panel, you would have to sew or lace two pieces together. The cotton duck usually comes in a natural tan color, which will not match well to your white canopy (if that is important).
      Cotton tarps or drop cloths are available in many sizes such as 10×8 foot or 12×10 foot, but they are lighter weight material, not waterproofed and the “white” tarps are not very white. The sizes may also be a few inches short of the advertised size, especially for tarps with grommets.
      For your 10×6 foot wall, consider at least a foot of overlap on the ground to overlap with a ground cloth. More overlap (18″ – 2 feet) is better, but adds extra weight.
      Last thought is some of the canopy frames I have seen seem a little fragile to me compared to a wall tent frame. If you enclose the walls, that will create a huge surface area for the wind to push against, so make sure you have plenty of rope and real stakes (not flimsy aluminum or tiny plastic stakes) to anchor the tent.
      Good luck with your project.

  4. In another post, Charlie made a comment about using auto shelters instead of wall tents. I thought the same thing when my neighbor got one for his Jeep. They are cheaper than wall tents and are available as full shelters that could be used for sleeping.
    They are also available as canopies or even screened canopies for cooking and eating.

  5. We have been in the search for a wall tent. We have narrowed it down to the Davis Wall tent and the Elk Mtn wall tent. They both have their pros and cons. I just read about your wall tent experiences and wondered what your first tent was and how you liked your Elk Mtn tent. If you would be willing to share with me your pros and cons from the Elk Mtn tent that would be great!! One question I have right off is the velcro corners. Have you had any issues with them? Any other concerns with it? We are looking to seal the deal this week on one so any feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Ethan: I’m not sure who made my first tent. There is no name sewn or stamped on it and the original website where I bought it is no where to be found, but it is a traditional canvas duck tent (12 x 14 ft) with one door (with mosquito net) and two windows.

      The Elk Mountain tent is definitely made of a lighter weight canvas, but it is actually stronger than the traditional canvas duck material. I am planning or writing a review on the Elk Mountain Wall tent, so I asked the guys at Elk Mountain for some info about the tent material. I want to save that information for that post, but the data show the fabric is stronger.

      As for the velcro corners, they hold together well. At first, I was thinking it was unnecessary to have open corners that had to be closed, but after comparing the setup to my other tent, it may be simpler. Also remember the canvas duck material will shrink. You will have to guess how much or you will end up cutting your poles again. If your tent shrinks, it may rip in those corners. I planned for 3% shrinkage for my canvas tent, but it never shrank that much, so my poles are too short. Shrinkage is not much of an issue with the Elk Mountain Tent.

      Over time, velcro tends to catch dirt and trash so it doesn’t hold together as well, but I don’t think that will be a problem on the wall tent. Most times when we use velcro items, we open and close them thousands of times. How many times do you really think you are going to set up your wall tent? Dozens? Maybe, but not hundreds? The Elk Mountain tent has big, heavy duty velcro strips. I don’t think they will every wear out, plus there are also ties for each corner.

      With my first tent, I went overboard on the internal frame to make sure it would hold up against the snow. Truth is, there is almost no amount of framing that will not collapse if you were to leave a tent up for the winter. So I have extra frame connectors and poles (extra weight and setup time), which isn’t necessary. If you are out camping and it snows, shake it off. Read the comment (found at bottom of page) to Geoff here about snow loads. The elk mountain internal frame system is very light weight, but is strengthened with cables. I also find it useful to hang a light from the cable.

      I have a piece of the Elk Mountain Canvas that I have been testing outdoors. I nailed the fabric around a post so it gets cooked in the Sun on one side and holds moisture on the other. It still looks brand new. No mildew at all on the shady side.

      The only con I can think of with the Elk Mountain tent is the fact that the windows have to be opened and closed from outside. If you wanted to open or close a window in the middle of the night, you will have to go outside to do it. While that may be inconvenient, the reasoning behind it is sound. Since the flap covers the outside, driving rain does not come in and the wind does not force the widow to billow inward. So if I knew I would never be camping in a hard driving rain storm, I would prefer window that open from the inside.

      Either way, I’m sure you will enjoy your new wall tent. I don’t know anyone at Davis Tent, but I have talked to and corresponded with the guys at Elk Mountain Wall Tents many times. Give them a call if you have any questions (541-316-8368), they have always been able to answer my questions.

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