How to Make a Tipi

Learn how to construct a tipi with a step-by-step guide and tips.

| January/February 1970


With centuries of use, tipis are among the best, natural living spaces.

Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff

For more than 400 years, knowledgeable people have agreed that the Plains Indian tipi is absolutely the finest of all movable shelters. To the Indian  whose concept of life and religion was broader, deeper, richer and infinitely more unified than that of his white conqueror  the tipi was much more: both home and church, a sacred place of being and sharing with family, friends, nature and Man-Above.

Unfortunately, the white man  with a fragmented and neatly compartmented view of existence  found the all-encompassing Indian way literally "beyond understanding" and, therefore, of no consequence. This high-handed and naive judgment extended, of course, to the lodges of the Plains Indians.

In the "either-or" white mind, the tipi was flimsy and primitive when compared to a solid, substantial frame building. The fact that a tipi was bright, open, airy, warm, dry and easily transported over (and, therefore, a part of) all outdoors while the frame structure was  and largely remains  closed in, dark, poorly ventilated and rather pathetically rooted to one spot was completely beside the point to this schizoid way of thinking.

Luckily, our "civilized" appraisal of the Indian way is now going through some changes and that more reverent life style is increasingly understood and embraced by the new gentle people. As one result of this trend, the tipi is enjoying a sudden popularity.

The tipi is not the final answer for everyone, of course (even the Plains Indians built other structures), but it remains  time, money and labor vs. comfort, utility and versatility  probably the world's most efficient shelter. If you've ever wanted one for camping, semi-permanent or even permanent living, here's how to make it happen...

How to Build a Tipi

There are two basic Plains Indian tipis: One uses three foundation poles and the other has four. Our plans are for the three-pole design which is simpler, stronger and  in general  superior to the four-pole model. The dimensions given here are largely taken from the Sioux tipi pattern presented by Reginald and Gladys Laubin in their University Of Oklahoma Press book, The Indian Tipi. 

9/24/2017 4:01:16 AM

I can't find the illustrations? ??

4/18/2016 7:15:24 PM

Going to build a tipi. The cost of the canvas was surprising... Where is the best (economical) source ?

serina harvey
1/18/2015 1:26:52 PM

I'm Shawnee Indian and I found the description of the "white man" as very offensive and am glad to see I'm not the only one to comment on this (also glad to see this article was written in the 70's). To say the whites didn't like Indians because they were naive is a naive statement in and of itself. My tribe for instance, very fairly earned a bad reputation--something of which I'm proud of and I believe my ancestors would be proud of too. This article harkens back to the either or viewpoint of indians as the noble savage or the evil barbarian. They were both and more as were the newer immigrants to the new world.

10/8/2013 1:58:53 PM

You have to remember that this article was written 43 years ago in a time of turmoil, with the Vietnam war at it's height, protests of all sorts and a generation starting a new culture off the heels of Woodstock. Laubin's book is informative and great for the information needed to build a Tipi.

9/26/2013 5:11:07 PM

Brenjen, I agree; many of the articles here are more interested in pushing a political viewpoint rather than providing information. While the article provides a fair amount of information how much more could we have gotten from the author if they left out their gilded and rose colored view of history

8/5/2013 2:54:26 PM

Naive, high handed, schizoid....the article didn't need the white bashing. In fact it would have been better without it. I'm part Cherokee & even I know it was a two way street, natives slaughtered many whites even children and the whites did the same to the natives.


It would be like writing at article and calling the natives murderous butt sniffing savages....think about it.

mother earth news fair


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!