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Tipi Life - How to put up a teepee

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

Back in May 2015 we were one month away from our wedding - rather than hire a tipi we found out it was cheaper to buy our own - so we had to learn how to put one up.

We have a small, three metre tipi, it came from eBay and was delivered from Germany.

Please, if you do buy one from eBay or Amazon, remember, you are ONLY paying for the canvas. You can pick them up very reasonably priced between £99 to £150.

The Sioux word “tipi” is formed from “ti” meaning to dwell or live and “pi” meaning used for.

Our tipi – was used as a chill-out area at our wedding, and also to create an awesome backdrop for photographs. In the future, we plan to camp in it. I’ve always wanted one, so I’m pretty chuffed with it.

how to put up a tipi teepee

Above is what the tipi looked like on the day - oh I miss it!

Below we will explain how to put it together and what you will need.

Tipi’s are beautiful, but I think people are put off by them because of the size of the poles needed. Unless you drive a truck – they would not be the easiest of things to transport. For our three metre tipi we needed seven 4.5 metre poles and two slimmer poles for the smoke flaps.

Luckily we know a family who own some woodland with larch trees, and they kindly allowed us to cut our own. The poles are around 2.5 inches thick.

Ideally you want the poles to taper off at the end and not be the same thickness all the way up. The best poles to use would be Douglas fir, spruce or larch as they are all fairly straight.

Ideally you will need to strip them, sand them and linseed oil is optional, if you do oil them leave plenty of time for the oil to dry or it will come off on the canvas. We have not oiled or stripped ours!

I was given some very good advice from Ian Hansen-Hamilton from Hummingbird Tipis in Herefordshire.

He said: “Storing poles is easy, stand them up in a tree, leaving them outside is fine. If you can cover them then all the better but you just need to ensure they can breathe under plastic so they won’t go mouldy”.

The best tent pegs to use are wooden ones. You can order these from HW Morgan & Sons, they hand cleft wooden tent pegs from Ash. They are a family run business carrying on the family tradition since 1920. We ordered 10 - nine inch pegs, for a total of £13.80 including delivery, they were made and delivered very quickly. For the tipi you will actually need 12 tent pegs.

Hummingbird Tipis also sell tipi poles at £1 per foot in Douglas Fir. Their website is wonderful and has a great deal of information on.

As well as the poles; wooden tent pegs and canvas, you will also need some rope to bind the poles together (natural jute is the best) and around eight or ten lancing pins, to bind the doorway together. The lancing pins need to be fairly thin (about the thickness of dowling rods) and about 9 inches in length. Traditionally they would probably have been made from bone, but we will be using hazel or willow.

We would suggest watching a tutorial on YouTube before you put the tipi up. There is a fairly simple technique, but it helps to see somebody else do it. The main tripod structure was very easy to put up, as was adding the other poles and binding them together. But at first we struggled with the lifting pole (used to lift the canvas) as we weren’t really sure how to do it (I say “we” basically I stood there and took photos, whilst Lee did the hard work). After reading and watching a few more tutorials Lee finally managed to get the canvas on. It’s best to take some steps or at least something to stand on to help you. Once the canvas was on we put the tent pegs in place (12 needed). We have yet to hoist the smoke flaps, as this was just a practice run, but this is not difficult.

The tipi poles were decorated with some ribbons and a windsock on the top – and the lovely bunting was made by a friend.

I hope anyone planning on buying a tipi has found this useful? We can’t wait to use ours again.


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