Village Science

Wall Tents

Wall tents

Living in a wall tent is very different from living in a house. In some ways it is wonderful. You hear everything that is going on outside . . . dogs, birds, the sound of rain, the river or ocean, and more. There is a tremendous sense of freedom.

As there is so little room inside, you want to go outside and be busy. It is hard to be lazy in a tent.

On the other hand, in bear country, sleep in a tent is much lighter than in a cabin. Alert dogs are essential for safety and a good night’s sleep. In rainy weather, tents get damp.


Spruce bark makes an excellent tent floor. It is fairly easy to sweep. It can be removed and shaken outside if necessary. To peel a tree from May to June, it is first ringed low, then ringed as high as the person can reach. A slit is chopped down one side of the tree. The bark is then loosened with a sharpened stick, starting at the bottom, and working around and toward the top.

Boards and plywood make a good tent floor, although they need to be nailed down well. As plywood splinters so badly in the weather, I hesitate to use it for tent floor unless it is taken up and stored in a dry place after use.

Some people use gravel for a tent floor. All the dust sifts out of sight, so it is self-cleaning. A gravel tent floor always feels cold which is fine during the summer.

Spruce boughs make good flooring, particularly in the winter. They insulate well from the cold ground and they smell wonderful. However, they are a fire hazard near the stove.


A 15
D 1, 4


Surface area


A tent is warm as long as the stove is burning, even at –30°F. The stove needs to:

  • be near the door so wood can be easily stacked,
  • be close to the ground so the lower areas of the tent are heated,
  • be big enough to hold a fire for a while,
  • be light enough to transport,
  • have a good flat top to cook on,
  • be set on rocks or legs to keep it from burning the floor, and
  • have a damper to control the fire.

Wall tentsSparks

Often sparks will fly out of the top of the stove, land on the tent, and make a hole or start a fire.

stovepipeOne time, at –30°F, I came back from my trapline, made a fire, and took a nap. I woke up looking at the stars surrounded by a ring of fire. My tent burned beyond repair.

To prevent sparks we used to shoot holes in the top stovepipe with a .22. This allows the sparks a chance to cool before they emerge from the stovepipe. Some people put a screen over the top of the stovepipe, but this hinders the air flow considerably.

We once tried to burn tamarack (larch) in a tent stove. It threw so many sparks two of us had to constantly bail water on our tent until the tamarack burned down. No more tamarack! Some people burn dry cottonwood. It doesn’t throw as much heat; it makes a lot of ashes, but there are no sparks.



The bottom of the tent must be fastened to logs or boards to prevent the wind from blowing the sides up and to keep drafts out. Mosquitoes have many more opportunities for gaining entrance into a tent than they do in a house.


Material & Color

A white tent will reflect much of the stove’s heat within the walls and will be very warm. A dark tent, green or brown, will absorb much of the radiant heat, and will be cold and damp. The white canvas of a tent is not a good insulator, but it does contain the warm air heated by the stove. It also reflects the radiant heat of the wood stove. Oil stoves don’t heat tents as well as wood stoves. They don’t radiate heat in the same way.

Nylon tents often frost terribly in cold weather. It would be unwise to put a wood stove in a nylon tent as synthetic fabrics melt with that amount of heat. Sparks destroy nylon in a short time.

Unlike nylon, cotton canvas allows the moisture from cooking and people’s breath to pass through. It “breathes.” Cotton tents can be treated to be

mildew and fire resistant, but both effect the tent’s ability to breathe out moisture.



Water doesn’t run off a canvas tent. It generally runs through it. That is why there must not be any sagging in the roof when the tent is set. Water settles to the low points and drips inside. A tight tent will shed all water except in a severe driving rain. Rain water passes through the tent and runs down any object that is touching the inside surface.



In a tent, it is good to have the beds above the floor, as warm air is less dense than cold air and rises. The floor is often cold. This allows for storage under the bed too. The mattress is often grass or caribou skin. They make good, soft, warm bedding.



It is very important to dry a tent well before storing it. Tents are made of natural fibers. They rot and mildew easily in storage. If a tent is dried well, the water necessary for bacteria and mold will not be present. Rotting cannot take place.



  1. Ask the oldtimers in your village what they use for tent floor. If they use spruce bark, get someone to show you how to peel one, although this only works from late May to mid July.
  2. Pitch a wall tent. Make the roof nice and tight. How big is it? 10’ x 12’, 8’ x 10’? How high are the walls? When you put the tent away, ask an experienced person to teach you the right way to fold it.
  3. Touch the inside of the tent when it is raining. Does it leak down your finger?
  4. Make a bed for the tent. Is it warmer on the bed than on the floor?
  5. Make a stove for a tent. Make a half-a-drum stove or a five-gallon can stove. We used to use Blazo cans, but square cans are now available from hotels and restaurants where they buy coffee in square five gallon cans. Take your time and make a stove to be proud of.
  6. Ask the experienced people in your village about tent stoves and sparks. How do they keep from burning their tent down?
  7. What kinds of tents are used in your village now? Many people still use wall tents for hunting camps. How many of the tents are wall tents? How many of them are white? How many of another color? Of the canvas wall tents, do any have evidence of mildew? Why or why not?
  8. Ask in the village why some people use nylon dome tents?
Student Response

Student Response

  1. What are four kinds of flooring for a tent? Which is best in the winter on the snow?
  2. What wood burns with the most sparks? With the least?
  3. What are two techniques to reduce sparks on a tent?
  4. Why is a white tent warmer than a dark one?
  5. Does water run off or through canvas tent fabric?
  6. What are two advantages of having a bed?


  1. What is the difference in floor space between a 10’ x 12’ tent and an 8’ x 10’?
  2. Frank’s tent weighs 72 lbs. His stove and pipes weigh another 27 lbs. He can haul 200 lbs in his sled to his trapline. How many pounds of groceries and gas can he haul on the same trip?
  3. Ed spent $225 for a 10’ x 12’ wall tent with 4’ walls. He used it for two seasons, but put it away wet and it rotted. The tent could have lasted eight years if well cared for. How much did the tent cost him per year? How much should it have cost him per year? Can you put a price tag on his laziness?

Questions or comments?
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