Portable Shelter Collection

The earliest portable shelters consisted of animal hides or interlaced plant matter. Later shelters were constructed from woven animal hair and plant fibers that formed cloths of wool, linen, and cotton. Beginning in the eighteenth century, these cloths were often “painted” or waterproofed with linseed oil, followed in later centuries by wax and other waterproofing agents. By the time of the American Revolution and the era of western frontier exploration, oilcloth was generally available and could be used in various configurations to form portable shelter. Seven of these configurations are shown here, all using the same seven-foot by eight-foot piece of oilcloth. A larger shelter—the canvas wall tent—remained in use from the early modern period to the present; and as late as the 1970s, smaller canvas tent variations remained popular among campers. The nylon tent of that decade ushered in a new era of lightweight, quick-drying shelter that was totally enclosed with a floor, zippered door, and mesh windows. Design innovations now progressed rapidly from ridge tents with stiff poles and central vertical zippers, to dome tents and pup-tents with rip-stop nylon, flexible fiberglass poles, and D-shaped doors (which put less stress on zippers). Later designs featured large pop-up dome tents and wall tents capable of being erected in a few minutes and sheltering several people. For four-season camping and harsh conditions, bombproof mountaineering tents offer protection against hurricane-force winds and heavy snow-loads. More recent innovations combine the qualities of four-season protection with an ultralight configuration that includes an attached inner-tent, rainfly, and ground-cloth capable of being pitched in a few minutes under any conditions.