Winter Camping: A Cold Case DIY

Mark Carter is not your typical Sailrite® customer. He doesn’t sew for his boat or RV, and he doesn’t do any home sewing or upholstery work. Instead, his hobby is a bit more … cold. He enjoys winter tent camping with his family in the upper Midwest United States. Winter camping might sound bitterly unpleasant, but Mark has found a way — with a little ingenuity and a can-do DIY spirit — to turn this frigid hobby into a pleasant activity for him and his family.

Mark and his family began winter camping around 10 years ago. They connected with other winter campers from online camping forums, including HammockForums, Bushcraft USA and WinterTrekking.com — plus camping groups on Facebook — and found a community of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts. They soon began winter camping together as one big group. There’s a camp going on almost every week throughout the year among the woodsy friends in these online groups. Mark and his family join in as often as they can.

“Most camps last three to five days, but I’ve done up to two weeks in Canada,” he recounted.

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Mark with one of his custom-made hammock hot tents.

“People from all over the United States and Canada meet up in places like the Huron-Manistee National Forests [extending across the northern lower peninsula of Michigan],” said Mark. “The camps can last for three days up to a week with campers staying however long they can.”

The Carters camp year-round, mostly in the Midwest and Canada. Although his sons are grown now, they still enjoy spending quality time outdoors with their father and other family members. Winter camping is a bit of a tradition for the Carter Clan. “My son Carl and his wife, Jessica, my son Corey, my brother James and a few cousins camp with me,” Mark stated.

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Mark (on the left) and several family members including his youngest son (on the right) enjoying a winter camping reunion in 2014.

Through his winter camping hobby, Mark realized there was a void in the camping gear and equipment industry for hammock tents. So what does any self-reliant, determined hobbyist do? He made his own, of course! Mark first learned to sew practicing on his mom’s old Singer, repairing his camping gear. He later purchased a used Singer that he uses to sew his tents and hammocks.

Mark was inspired to sew his own hammock hot tent after watching a YouTube video his friend, and fellow winter camper, Tom Brown had posted. The video featured a tour of Tom’s handmade hammock hot tent as he explained how he’d constructed and sewn it. In the video, Tom mentioned using double-sided Seamstick Basting Tape on the tent’s seams, and that’s how Mark first learned about Sailrite.

Why sew a DIY hammock hot tent instead of buying one? “No one makes them commercially to the specifications I’m looking for,” Mark explained. “Sewing allows me to make the things I dream up a reality. I can make them the way I want them to look — a tent that weighs 4 lbs. that lets you sleep in a hammock and stays heated with a small wood stove. By sewing the tent myself, I can save money and build a tent with quality materials.”

Mark has sewn two tents so far, as well as hammocks. His first tent was based on a wall tent, also known as a safari tent, and sleeps three. With more experience under his sewing belt, he kicked his design skills up a notch for his next tent. “My second tent was based on a Dogger TZ Brown design. I modified it for additional height and simplified it for easier construction and faster set up.”

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The two photos on the left show Mark’s tent panels laid out and matched up with tape lines. The photo on the right is a 12-foot toboggan Mark uses to haul his supplies to the campsite.

When designing and constructing a tent, Mark always begins with a paper drawing. He scales it down and decides how he wants it to look and the features he needs. He then figures out the dimensions and measurements. Next he plots out a full-size pattern on the floor in his home using painter’s tape to map out the pieces. After that, he marks and cuts the fabric to match the taped pattern on the floor.

Next come the sewing and construction process. Mark uses Sailrite basting tape to sew the slippery silpoly tent panels together. “Silpoly is very slippery fabric to sew and you want to avoid using pins through the fabric as it can create work waterproofing all those extra holes. After I assemble the tent, I set it up to evaluate how I did and look for ways to make it better the next time.”

In addition to basting tape, Mark also orders the other materials for his tents and hammocks from Sailrite, basically everything but the fabric. “I started buying supplies from Sailrite after watching Tom Brown’s YouTube video. I order #10 Vislon zippers, 1-inch webbing, binding and vinyl window material. Hammock campers are DIY types, and Sailrite is well-known in the community.”

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The wood burning stove inside his tent keeps Mark warm and dry.

Altogether Mark’s tent weighs about 5 lbs. It’s heated with a small wood burning stove with an opening in the roof that fits the pipe for the smoke to escape. He can cook food protected from the elements and he can dry his clothes and gear in the comfort of his tent. Plus, sleeping in a hammock means he’s protected from the cold, hard ground.

Mark loves the tents and hammocks he’s custom made to fit his camping pastime. For him, it’s not just a way to be creative and experience the joy and pride that comes with making something with your hands. Camping is also his family’s way of coming together for good laughs, good fun and a little adventure. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what life’s all about?

“My hammock hot tent lets me travel to remote areas and sleep in comfort,” Mark said. “Winter camping is peaceful. Give it a try!”

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Mark kicks back in his hammock while enjoying the view outside.

8 thoughts on “Winter Camping: A Cold Case DIY”

  1. Great article. Camping year around can be a great way to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
    I’m glad I could inspire others to try the DIY gear sewing, especially to make it custom for our needs
    TZBROWN01 on Youtube

  2. Fantastic set up, Mark! I’ve loved camping in winter but I muddled through with 3 season tents and equipment. Your designs simplify the entire process so there’s more time to do what you’re there for in the first place! Wishing you lots more of this stuff, thanks for sharing!

  3. Way to go, Mark! Very professional job. Your camping friends will be placing orders for tents and winter camping items. Very inspiring work!

  4. Never being exposed to winter camping, this is a first for me. Admittedly, I love winter but prefer the warmth of Summer. Your tent style is terrific, especially the window view. Most of all, the enthusiasm and family unity you have created over the years. A great story. Gratifying.

  5. Would love to do that. Are you sharing your tent pattern? Or can you provide some basic approximations? You need a basic training program for this and I will be one of your students. Keep it up!

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