History of the Tipi Tent
What is a Tipi?
A tipi is a conical shaped tent supported by poles. The cone shaped tent design and steep incline of the tipi effectively sheds wind, snow, and rain. Tipi designs have been used by ancient peoples all over the world. Modern Tipis are the tent of choice for camping in extreme weather and expeditions. Recently Tipis for glamping have been on the rise for their unique look and ease of use. Tipi tents for kids are popping up in backyard and even indoors as play areas in trendy households.
What are Tipis made of?
The time-tested cone shaped design remains popular today with modern tipis using high performance materials like canvas. Some modern tipis are made of plastics like nylon or plastic coated fabric like vinyl. Plastic tipis are cheaper to manufacture but lack breathability, making them stuffy and damp with morning dew. Looking for a tipi for sale? Make sure it’s canvas, preferably 100% cotton canvas. Read more about Canvas vs. Synthetic Plastic Tents here.
Today there are generally two types of teepee poles. Single pole tipis have a one center pole and rely on tensile strength of canvas, guy lines, and stakes. Single pole teepees are easy to pitch and transport and are the best fit for camping and glamping.
Traditional 12 pole tipis are what most people think of when picturing a tipi. Long teepee poles lean against each other and are then wrapped in canvas or occasionally hide for historical accuracy. Twelve Pole Teepees have a hole in the top where the poles converge. This hole was traditionally used to vent smoke from fires buit on the bare ground floor of the tipi. Today these style of tipis are still in use but if you don’t have a fire going and it rains, you're going to get wet.
How do you spell Tipi?
Tipi and teepee are the most common spellings today. However, there is no ‘right’ way to spell tipi, because the word pre-dates the written record. CanvasCamp prefers to use Tipi simply to keep ‘pee’ out the teepee. Laavvu, kota, goahti, and chum are variations of the what we know as the tipi, the history of each you can read about below.
Tipis are also mistakenly referred to as yurts or wigwams. Yurts and wigwams are similar to tipis only in that they are ancient tent designs. Follow us on social media and check back on our blog to learn more about Yurts and Wigwams.
Why are Tipi’s so Popular?
Despite their differences across cultures and geography, Ancient people all over the world seem to have settled on the tipi’s design for the same reasons: Weather resistance, stability, and heat efficiency. Modern tipis offer all the same weather protection as their ancestors with several improvements for ease of use and increased performance. CanvasCamp’s Tipi Canvas Tent Series has them all:
Dynamic Conical Shape
The cone shape of the tipi, widely embraced by Native Americans of the Great Plains, sheds wind, rain, and snow better than any other tent shape. The single center pole provides unrivaled tensile strength that extends all the way to the ground. A well-pitched Tipi can withstand gale force winds and driving snow!
The Tipi’s guy line system is specially designed to cinch up and provide extra airflow. Simply unzip the floor, release the canvas from their stakes, and pull the guy lines tight to create a ‘floating’ Tipi for maximum ventilation.
The Tipi floor is durable, thick, and water and vapor impenetrable. The ‘bathtub style’ floor rises 4 inches high to keep you dry even in standing water. A heavy duty zipper to attachs the canvas to the groundsheet and is completely removable for transport, storage, cleaning, or to go traditional route with a floorless tent.
Single Spring Loaded Center Pole
What makes CanvasCamp’s Tipi unique is that is relies entirely on a single heavy duty center pole and the tensile strength of the canvas staked to the ground. The durable nickel plated steel pole has internal spring loaded wires that guide the pole sections together for quick and easy assembly. The Single collapsible pole folds down so the whole tipi can fit easily in the trunk of a standard car.
Durable Guy Lines and Tensioners
For quick pitching in mild weather the Tipi can stand just fine without guy lines. When the wind howls, the snow falls, or if you’re camping out for a long time, guy lines are recommended.
The triangle shaped front door of the Tipi has a single zipper that runs vertically to the floor. Each side of the door zips securely into the groundsheet, or can be rolled up and neatly stored with hook and loops when not in use. A built in mesh door keeps the Tipi breezy and well ventilated. Designed for winter, the door zipper is protected by a storm flap to prevent ice and snow from accumulating.
Removable rain cap to keep you dry in the rain or vent a tipi stove chimney through the top of the tipi. The cap has extra long guy lines that can be used to hold it in place in high winds, or fold it open from the ground for extra ventilation on hot days.
Who invented the Tipi? Where did the Tipi come from?
The history of the tipi is really prehistory. In North America we tend to think of the Native American Tipi as the conical tent design. It's steep walls shed wind, rain and snow incredibly well. It's internal frame not only allows it to withstand punishing conditions while allowing space for a fire inside, but also allows for layers of insulation to be added in deep winter, making for an incredibly cozy home that no dome tent can even begin to compare to. However, the conical tent is not unique to North America; in fact it is common to native cultures across the Northern hemisphere.
In Northern Scandinavia, native conical tent designs include the lavvu, kota and a conical shelter of timber and peat moss known as the goahti. Their designs are very similar to the Native American tipi, however the weather conditions in which they evolved are considerably more harsh than North America. To remain stable in the high winds and treeless plains of Scandinavia, the lavvu's and kota is shorter and wider than the Native American tipi and they lack smoke flaps which could be a hazard in high wind. Smoke from the fire vents through a hole in the top-center of the tent.
From Western Siberia to Northern Mongolia, the native conical tents used by nomadic tribes are generically called a chum; a name which is often applied to the yurt or ger as well. Like lavvu and kota, chum are shorter and wider than a tipi, allowing them to likewise withstand the conditions of the Taiga and Mongolian Steppe. However the chum also shares design elements in common with the yurt in that they can be very wide; up to 30' in diameter and feature square wooden doors and door frames.
Native American Teepee
Like the Mongolian yurt and chum conical tents, the Native American tipi evolved to a very high degree of sophistication. Properly, the tipi is not circular when pitched; it's actually of a slightly elliptical shape to maximize space opposite of the door. Likewise, a tipi is not a right-angled cone; it slopes considerably from the door to the rear of the tent. This not only increases standing headroom in the rear of the tipi but it places the center of the tipi under the opening in the smoke flap, instead of where the poles meet. Perhaps the most iconic and distinctive feature of the tipi is its ingenious smoke flap design, which allows smoke from the fire to escape the tent unimpeded regardless of wind direction.
All the other tipi variations discussed here were made from reindeer or caribou hide, the Native American tipi was made from buffalo hide before cotton canvas was introduced. The slope of the tipi, the design of its smoke flaps, and even circular doorways were unique to every tribe. However, as with any equipment or skill set, the conical tent and it's subtle design differences evolved over millennia and are specially adapted to the climate in which they are used. Compared to Northern Scandinavia, the Russian taiga and the Mongolian steppe, the considerably more mild climate of North America allowed the conical tent to be interpreted in its own cultural milieu.
The Native American Tipi evolved into the Sibley Tent and then the Bell Tent. Read more on that fascinating story on the History of the Sibley Bell Tent.
The History of the Tipi Tent is still being written today. With 80% of camping occurring within 100 yards of a car, tipis are becoming more popular and convenient for everyday camping with families and friends. If you're inspired to buy a teepee of your own, shop our Tipi Canvas Tent Series now; Or Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media to be the first to receive our blog on how to make your own tipi and other awesome knowledge from CanvasCamp.