Today, tents represent outdoor life, a life ‘close to nature’. However, for a long time, that was not the case. The forerunners of modern tents were simple shelters made of bones, animal hides and branches taken from trees. The oldest example of a tent was discovered in Moldova and dates from around 40,000 BC. We cannot really call those shelters real tents because they were too heavy to move easily. Light-weight tents based on various components were invented by nomadic tribes, who could take their shelters, or parts of them, with them when they moved.


A castrum was designed to accommodate soldiers, their kit and their food supplies when they were not on the march or in battle. The encampments were the responsibility of technical units comprised of a wide range of specialists and commanded by architecti, ‘head engineers’, who could order the soldiers to do manual work, if necessary. Those specialists could build a camp within a few hours while the enemy attacked on all sides. Considering the names they had for those camps, the Romans must have had a wide range of ground plans for their camps, one for every situation, depending on the amount of time a legion would be spending there: tertia castra, quatra castra, etc. (a three-day camp, a four-day camp, etc.). More permanent camps were called castra stativa (standing camps). The least permanent camps were known as aestive or aestivalia (summer camps), where soldiers were housed ‘under canvas’ – summer was a popular time for campaigns.


A traditional yurt is a transportable, circular tent covered with hides or felt; they were used as dwellings by various nomadic peoples on the steppes of Central Asia. The construction consists of a structure of lattices made from wood or bamboo for the walls, a door frame, joists and a wheel. The roof structure is often self-supporting, although large yurts have poles in the middle for support. The top parts of the walls of self-supporting yurts are held together by a compression band. Modern yurts can be built on wooden platforms for permanence, and contemporary materials are used, such as steam-bent wooden and metal, frames, canvas and sailcloth, Plexiglas domes, steel cables and radiation insulation. Yurts have been a distinctive feature of life in Central Asia for at least three thousand years.


Tipis were the dwellings of the nomadic tribes of the Great Plains. A tipi was built using a number of long poles that were bound together at the top to form a frame and spread out at the bottom to create an upside-down cone. Next, the outside was wrapped in a cover of buffalo hide. When the tribe arrived at a new place, the woman of each family would erect the tipi. Tipis are erected very efficiently, and it usually only took 30 minutes. In the summer, the canopy could be raised to create a large opening at the bottom, allowing cold air to flow into the tipi to keep the lower part of it cool. In the winter, extra covers and insulating materials like grass were used to keep the tipi warm. A fire could be lit in the middle of the tipi; the smoke was drawn though a hole made in the top. The Native Americans of the Plains also used buffalo hides for their beds and as blankets to keep their dwellings warm.


A lavvu is a temporary dwelling used by the Sami people of Northern Europe. Its design is very similar to that of the Native American tipi. However, the lavvu’s structure is less vertical, making it more stable in high winds. Lavvus meant that the indigenous peoples could follow their reindeer herds over the tree-less plains of Northern Scandinavia and the Eurasian regions close to the Arctic. The Sami still use lavvus, and more and more other people now use it for camping too. The traditional lavvu is constructed with two kinds of wooden poles: three or more forked poles and a number of straight ones. The forked poles have a fork with two branches at the top and the three forks are locked together to make a tripod. The straight poles are placed in a circle around the construction of the forked poles. In the past, reindeer hides were mainly used as covers, but halfway through the 19th century, large quantities of cheaply manufactured British textile were introduced to the Sami.


This is a picture of the interior of a traditional yurt, a Turkish one in this case. The Turkish yurt is used in countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It differs from the Mongolian yurt in certain ways. Turkish yurts have curved roof poles, which add more space to the interior. The poles curve to the wall intersection and the roof is steeper. The crown has a light-weight structure of bent wood. The weight of the dome is transferred to the walls through the curved rafters. This light-weight dome structure does not need poles to support it, unlike the large Mongolian yurts that have poles to support the crown.