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How to Build a Tent Platform: 10 Steps for a Solid Camping Setup

Building a tent platform provides a more permanent foundation for a canvas or wall tent. A tent platform provides excellent drainage and a level surface, ensuring that rain or moisture won’t damage your tent.

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Building your tent platform is not just about practicality; it’s a project that adds a touch of personality and comfort to your camping experience.

Whether you have set your sights on a serene lakeside or a secluded forest spot, constructing a platform allows you to choose your perfect view more permanently. A well-built platform can also enhance the aesthetics of your campsite, blending functionality and protecting the environment. 

Key Takeaways

  • A tent platform ensures comfort and protection by providing a level and dry area for tent setup.
  • Construction involves careful planning, such as designing the platform, selecting materials, and woodworking.
  • With a platform deck, your camping spot becomes more permanent and weatherproof, increasing the practicality of outdoor living.

Step 1 – Design the Platform

Choose the Right Location

You want a spot with privacy, natural protection, and a great view.

Also, a spot with good drainage is preferable, although not always possible.

Avoid spots that are in danger zones, such as areas that could have rock falls, landslides, or flash floods. 

Determine the Tent Platform Size and Shape

  1. Measure your tent’s dimensions.
  2. Add the perimeter of space you’d like around the tent—for walking, an extra deck, or gear storage. A good rule of thumb is to add at least a couple of feet extra on each side.
  3. Sketch out potential shapes: square, rectangle, or hexagon.
  4. Mark your platform on the ground using a nylon string line to outline your desired shape.
  5. Consider how high off the ground you want to raise the platform to mitigate moisture issues.

Step 2 – Gather Tools and Materials

Materials

  • Pressure-treated lumber (cedar lumber as an alternative) for posts and joists
  • Decking material of either wood or composite decking
  • 3” Galvanized screws or 10D nails
  • Joist hangers for securing the joists to the posts
  • Post anchors to secure the platform legs to the ground.
  • Concrete for setting the post anchors firmly in the ground
  • Concrete deck blocks (optional/alternative)

Tools

  • Circular saw for cutting lumber to the desired length
  • Drill, preferably cordless, for fastening screws
  • Hammer for driving in nails and other fasteners
  • Post-hole digger to prepare the holes for your posts
  • Tape measure for precise measurements
  • Level 
  • Carpenter pencil
  • Nylon string

Step 3 – Clear the Area

Once you’ve pinpointed your ideal location. Grab a pair of gloves and clear away any rocks, sticks, and forest debris.

Look out for larger rocks or roots that might need a shovel, saw, or large equipment.  

Consider also placing gravel under the platform area to improve water drainage. 

Step 4 – Dig Foundation Post Holes

Mark the location of the footings/post holes with stakes and nylon string to square the corners and establish a rough layout.

Mark the location of the holes with spray paint.

If you are in an urban area, remember to call before you dig to avoid hitting any underground utilities. 

If you’re using cinderblock piers or concrete deck blocks for your platform post legs, you can skip to step 6

5 Steps to Dig Post Holes

  1. Choose Your Tool: Grab a post-hole digger, a sturdy shovel, or a powered auger.
  2. Measure Up: Generally, you want each hole to be roughly three times the width of your post.
  3. Consider Alternatives: If digging isn’t up your alley or the terrain disagrees, a concrete deck block or cinder block pier can save the day. They’re a solid base for your posts without all the digging.
  4. Start Digging: With your post-hole digger, cleanly remove the earth. Remember to check your measurements as you go, ensuring consistent depth and diameter.
  5. Setting the Scene for Support: If you’re using concrete to set your posts, a concrete form tube can guide you to a smooth, strong pillar. Level the form tubes so they’re about 1” above the ground. Pack the soil around the form tubes with a tamp. 

Step 5 – Pour Concrete and Place Post Anchors

Mixing and Pouring Concrete

  1. Start with ready-mix concrete from your local hardware store.
  2. Follow the package directions. Typically, you’ll combine the concrete mix with water until it has a thick, oatmeal-like consistency.
  3. Shovel or pour the concrete into your pre-dug holes, filling up to just below ground level.

Setting Your Post Anchors

  1. Immediately after pouring, set your post anchors in the center of the wet concrete.
  2. Use a level and be meticulous to ensure they’re perfectly straight.
  3. Align them with a string line

Cure Time

  • Let the concrete cure for at least 24 hours.

Step 6 – Attach Posts or Beams to the Concrete Base

  1. Place your beam or post into the anchors.
  2. Utilizing a drill or hammer, fasten the posts to the anchors with post-base screws or nails.
  3. Always do a second sweep with your level. A well-leveled beam or post makes all the difference.
  4. Use a nylon line that is leveled and set to the correct height to mark and cut posts evenly and consistently. 

Step 7 – Attach Rim Joists or Beams

When setting up a sturdy tent platform, rim joists or beams are the backbone of your structure. They provide the perimeter frame on which every other part depends, so attaching them correctly is critical. 

  1. Attach rim joists on the outer edges of the posts. Start with one fastener per post in case you need to adjust. 
  2. Add fasteners to the rim joists after confirming everything is level and square. 
  3. Cut the posts even with the joists if not already trimmed.
  4. If you’re using beams, finish the open ends with a rim joist on both sides, making an enclosed, secure perimeter. 

Step 8 – Attach Inner Joists to Rim Joists or Beams

  1. Position your joist hangers along the inside face of the perimeter rim joists or beams spaced 16-24 inches apart. Be consistent and follow any building codes in your area.  
  2. Attach joist hangers with fasteners. 
  3. Slide each joist into its hanger. They should fit snugly. Then, with a drill and screws, secure the joists to the hangers.
  4. Check each joist to make sure your platform is level. If a joist is a bit off, a wood shim can help level it. 

Step 9 – Install Decking Boards to the Top of the Joists

  1. Begin at an end: Start by aligning a decking board against the first joist. Check that it’s flush with the edge for a clean look. Hold it steady and then drill two screws into the board—one at each end—securing it to the joist. Move down the line, driving screws through the board into each intersecting joist.
  2. Mind the gaps: A crucial but often overlooked step is leaving a small space between each decking board. Use a spacer or a small nail to keep your gaps consistent. These gaps are vital for:
    • Expansion and contraction: Wood responds to weather, and those spaces allow it to breathe.
    • Drainage: Gaps prevent water from pooling, ensuring a dry deck.
  3. Sawing it down to size: If your boards extend beyond your joist frame, don’t fret. Mark the excess length with a pencil and line up your circular saw. Finding a comfortable stance, cut along the marked line for a tailor-fit finish of your deck.

Step 10 – Stain and Seal Wood

  • Pick Your Stain: Stains always have pigment or color in them. Select a stain with high weather resistance and a color that matches your style. I prefer a semi-transparent stain since it enhances the wood grain and stands up well to the elements, including UV rays.
  • Sealing Matters: After staining, don’t forget to apply a waterproof sealer. This extra layer is crucial for keeping moisture out and preserving your platform. Sealers have no color, and they dry clear. 

Applying Stain and Sealant

  1. Ensure Wood is Clean and Dry: Clean any debris or dust off your wood and make sure it’s completely dry.
  2. Apply Stain: Using a brush, roller, or sprayer, evenly coat the wood following the grain. Remember, it’s not just aesthetics—this is your platform’s armor!
  3. Allow to Dry: Patience, my friend. Let the stain dry as the manufacturer recommends, usually 24-48 hours.
  4. Seal It: With a clean brush or sprayer, apply the sealant thoroughly

FAQs

How much does it cost to build a tent platform?

The cost of building a tent platform depends on several factors, such as the size, design, material, and location of your platform.

You can expect to spend between $1,000 to $5,000 on materials, and between $1,500 and $3,500 on labor, for a standard platform that can fit a 12’x14′ tent.

However, these are only rough estimates, and your actual cost may vary depending on your specific needs and preferences and the current cost of lumber.

How long does it take to build a tent platform?

The time it takes to build a tent platform also depends on several factors, such as the complexity, skill, and tools involved in the project.

You can expect to spend between one and two days building a basic platform that can fit a 12’x14′ tent. However, this is only a rough estimate, and your actual time may vary depending on your specific needs and preferences.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tent platform?

A tent platform can have both advantages and disadvantages, depending on your situation and preference. Here are some of the pros and cons of using a tent platform:

Advantages

– Can protect your tent from water and other damage, turning your canvas tent into a practical and enduring shelter.
– Can provide you with a flat, comfortable, and dry surface for sleeping and relaxing, regardless of the terrain and weather conditions.
– Can discourage insects and animals from living under your tent, and reduce the debris that you track into your tent.
– Can offer more headroom, storage space, and configuration options than a ground tent, especially for larger and taller tents.
– Can enhance the appearance and style of your tent, making it look more elegant and inviting.

Disadvantages

– Can be expensive and time-consuming to build, requiring materials, labor, and tools that may not be readily available or affordable.
– Can be difficult and tricky to pitch a tent on, requiring special techniques and equipment to anchor the tent securely and properly.
– Can be less flexible and movable than a ground tent, requiring more planning and preparation to find a suitable and legal location to set it up.
– Can reduce the natural and authentic feel of camping, as it separates you from the ground and the elements.

How to pitch a tent on a platform?

You want to pitch your tent in the same way and shape that you would on the ground. You fasten the tent to the platform with screw through the metal grommets on your tent not the elastic bands. Your guylines really need to have the same angle they would on the ground to avoid stress on the tent poles. This might mean using short guyline poles or stakes that are attached to your platform. Remember to keep 1-2 feet of line you can tension between the guyline pole and the tent.

How can I figure out how much lumber I’ll need for my tent platform?

To figure out the amount of lumber you need, first decide on the dimensions of your tent platform. Let’s say your desired platform is 10 feet by 12 feet. Standard lumber sizes typically come in even-length increments, so you’d need to calculate how many pieces of lumber will cover the platform’s length and width when cut to fit. For custom sizes, you can get beams cut to specific lengths at your local lumberyard or home improvement store—just bring your measurements.

Why use concrete for the posts?

Pouring concrete for your post holes ensures a stable and durable deck foundation to withstand the rigors of mother nature. A concrete base prevents your structure from shifting, keeping your tent platform level and secure.

Why use a stain or sealant?

When building a tent platform, selecting and applying the right stain and sealant is crucial for durability and aesthetics. You’ll want to choose a stain that not only complements the natural beauty of the wood but also provides a reliable waterproofing barrier, especially under heavy rain. You don’t always need both, especially if you want the natural wood color. 

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AUTHOR
Daniel Borkert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Outdoor Footprints, a website that tells you everything you need to know about camping and hiking. He is an avid outdoorsman with almost four decades of experience in hiking, camping, caving, and fishing. Daniel loves to involve his wife and kids in his outdoor pursuits and inspire other families to do the same. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his family and an energetic Boston Terrier named Zion.

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