Tipis: A Guide For Campers

Tipis are increasingly popular for camping holidays in the UK. But whether you have your own, or are staying in one at one of the many campsites offering such accommodation options, you may be unaware of the fascinating history and culture that lies behind these versatile and useful structures.

Tipis are conical shaped dwellings that were developed and refined by several different Native American tribes living across the Great Plains of the United States. These are still important structures for many Native American cultures and their history of use as shelters stretches far back into the mists of time. No one knows exactly when the tipi evolved but we do know that it was around when horses were re-introduced to North America by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. The horses, used as beasts of burden, made it possible for larger tipis to be made and transported.

Tipis were (and still are) prized for their flexibility and transportability. Their structure makes it possible to heat with a wood fire when it is cold, while in the heat, good ventilation is easy to achieve, so the structure can remain cool.

The tipis that you can buy, or stay in, today are not dissimilar to those used by Native American tribes. The skeleton of the structure is a series of straight wooden poles, tied together at the top and spread out around the base to form a cone shape. A wrap, often made of canvas, though also, historically, from hide or birch bark, is lifted up along with the last pole placed (called the 'Lift pole') and laced together around the front of the structure. Stakes can be used to keep the wrap tight, though one of the advantages of this structure is that you can also choose to roll up the wrap at the sides to allow for plenty of air flow in warmer weather.

Traditionally, the poles of a tipi used by Native American families could be formed into a travois – a simple kind of cart that could be piled with all the family's belongings when they moved. Today, most tipis are kept in static locations, on glamping sites and the corners of farmer's fields, for example. However, some do still use tipis in a nomadic fashion, and can erect them on a new site in as little as a few hours.

Many compare tipis with another traditional dwelling also used for camping – the yurt. Tipi's however, are much simpler structures than yurts and so come with a much smaller price tag. It is also worth noting, especially if you are camping in the UK in cooler seasons, or during a wet, chilly summer for that matter, that tipis are not as warm or weather tight as yurts – so that might help you make up your mind as to your next camping or glamping accommodation choice.