Tipis and Yurts

Discover the simple lifestyle of tipis and yurts, these marvels of engineering have been used for shelter for thousands of years.

| December 2002/January 2003

  • Tipis and yurts are an earth-friendly, affordable shelter for a simpler lifestyle. A 20-foot-diameter yurt hugs the shore of Dorena Lake in northwest Oregon.
    Photo courtesy Pacific Yurts
  • Tipis provide secure shelter during the cold winter months.
    Photo courtesy Reese Tipis
  • A couple enjoys a fire outside their tipi in southeastern Colorado.
    Photo courtesy Reese Tipis
  • Sunlight streams into the spacious interior of a 30-foot-diameter yurt in Oregon.
    Photo courtesy Pacific Yurts
  • Diagram of a yurt structure.
    Illustration courtesy Pacific Yurts

Earth-friendly Tipis and yurts provide secure, low-cost shelter for camping, temporary housing or guest quarters.

Nomadic people have used portable tipis and yurts for thousands of years. These simple, circular structures provide snug, low-cost shelter. If you're looking for a spacious "tent" for family camping trips, temporary housing for weekend breaks from the rat race, or even a unique studio or guest quarters for your own back yard, these easily constructed, Earth-friendly structures may be the perfect shelter.

Tall Tipis

Imagine a circular room. 16 feet across with ceilings 12 feet high; a room, filled with lush, diffused light, that can be built in less than an hour and transported in the back of your pickup. Now imagine this room functions as your sole living space for cooking, sleeping and storage.

Many- modern tipis include raised wooden floors for the sleeping area. This addition to an otherwise austere interior keeps bedding and clothes free from creepy-crawlies and the inevitable dust and dampness brought in from outside. A fire pit or carefully vented small woodstove in the tipi s center provides heat during winter months or cool mornings and evenings.



Living in a tipi is an exercise in simplicity. The simple, graceful lines lend a peaceful aura to the tall, spacious interior. A small fire or kerosene lantern provides adequate light for cooking, reading or guitar playing. Kate Robbins, a counselor from Spokane, Washington, imagines the amber glow of a tipi's interior to be womb-like. In his mid-20s, Harry Janicki of Bend, Oregon, lived in a tipi for five years. "Living in a tipi was the best experience of my life," he says. "It taught me patience and what was really important to survive: shelter." When you live in a tipi there aren't 6-inch-thick walls separating you from the elements-just a thin skin of canvas. "You're more in tune with your environment living through all the seasons in a tipi," Janicki says.

Prior to the introduction of horses to North America, tipis were small, 8 to 14 feet in diameter, since the poles and buffalo skin coverings were pulled on travois from one encampment to another by dogs or women. Once the American Indian plains people acquired horses, tipi designs expanded into the shape and style we're familiar with today. By the late 1800s, after the near extermination of the buffalo herds, tipi covers made from bolts of canvas provided by the U.S. government replaced the 10 to 14 buffalo skins needed for the earlier style.






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