Campers and Engineers, lend me your expertise...

I’ve got a 26 foot pop up camper (26’ when fully extended, that is) much like this one, with a canvas that needs replacing. Can’t afford to replace it this season. Can’t afford a $700+ canopy/shelter/“portable” garage like this, either.

I do have a big honkin’ silver tarp. I think it’s 20X40. I know it covers the whole camper and then some, because it worked last season…until the wind really picked up. Then it became a sail and then a shroud. Still, *most *of the grommets are intact…

How can I secure the tarp over the camper for 2 weeks in an unwooded spot for under $100? I don’t particularly care if there’s a ridgepole - it can lie on top of the camper roof for the most part, although I’d prefer it to not be in direct contact with the canvas of the slide outs. I do have one single utility pole at the back outside corner of one of the slide outs. I have four extendable tent poles which, along with some improvised conduit poles, are what didn’t work last year. (I no longer have the conduit poles.)

I’m thinking perhaps some8 foot 4X4s as “poles” with a screw through the grommet at each corner of the tarp and into the wood, perhaps with a nice big washer between the screw head and grommet to increase the surface area contact and reduce tearing. Of course, I’ll need more than the corners - would 6 do it? 8? 10? (I’m ignoring the utility pole for the moment.) And, for the big question: how to I secure the 4X4s to the ground? Will guys from the top be enough? Bucket of sand? Eyebolts on the bottom with tent stakes through them? I’d really love to use somefence post anchors like this, but they’re not cheap if I need 6 or 8 of 'em, and I don’t think they’re really designed for that height and lateral stress, either. Whatever I use has to be removable, so no pouring concrete.

I’m not married to the 4x4 idea, either, but I’m sort of in a rut. If you can suggest something better, I’m all ears.

I’d use some PVC piping to build an double A-frame about 4 feet high to elevate the tarp (set on top of the trailer roof) and then use the tent poles you already have through the tarp at the front of the trailer with guy wires to the ground to hold them in place. Add a few tie-downs along the back and sides down to the ground or the trailer to keep the tarp from flying away.

I like the A frame idea, but I’m just not convinced the tent poles will stay up. They were definitely the weak link in the set up last year, even guyed like heck I just couldn’t get them to stop flopping over when the wind lifted the tarp and eased the tension on top. Tightening them further resulted in ripping grommets. They’re not particularly great tent poles - they are those Coleman extendable ones, so despite all efforts, they change height on ya sometimes. Grr.

But the A frame would allow for nice air flow, and we could open the top vent in the camper if the tarp wasn’t right on it…

You can go to a hardware store or Lowes etc. to get a tool to install new grommets to replace any that have torn out.

You could get some rebar and cut it to 4" or so. Drive into the ground and use that to anchor PVC pipe. Connect several sections of pipe and bend into a half circle anchored to the rebar. Use a tee at the top center to attach you ridge pole piece of PVC. Attach the repaired tarp with black nylon wire ties as needed. Use heavy pieces of logs or concrete blocks to anchor the sides.

Don’t tie ropes to the grommets. Lace them through the grommets, with the ropes going completely over the tarp. The path of a single rope would be stake/through grommet on this side/over tarp/through grommet on that side/stake. Smaller rope can be used to tie to each grommet and pulled snug along the main rope using a taut line hitch.

4X4’s have edges sharp enough to cut the tarp.

For stakes, spiral ground anchors work quite well. Shop around, there can be huge variance in price.

Here’s a canopy for about half the price you mentioned. You already have the tarp, this can give you an idea for making a frame out of PCV pipe.

To guy out poles, use a trucker’s hitch. Use a taut line hitch secure the loose end to the rope. I favor a butterfly loop for the loop.

Do you need to get into the trailer? Otherwise just wrap the tarp on the trailer like a christmas package, get an assload of rope and wrap it like a package with the rope going around the entire RV over the tarp, in various directions then tying it off. If you secure it such a manner that the edges of the tarp are secured down so the wind can not really get under it and flip it up, you should be golden.

True. I have a slightly smaller grommet tool, for (I think) 3/4" grommets. Do you think I could get away with slightly smaller than standard tarp grommets? I’d rather not buy a new tool if I can get away with it.

I’m trying to visualize… you mean like a really large hoop frame with a ridge pole? Interesting…very interesting. It’d have to be very big to fit up and over the camper and far enough out to allow access to the door. And it would be too enclosed to provide shade and a place to sit outside, unless maybe I make another horizontal run six feet up on the front and secure the tarp there instead of at the ground. I’m intrigued… I like the curved idea, instead of trying to maintain 90 degree angles.

Great idea. I did something similar last year; an experiment of desperation. I sort of “laced” the rope up through one grommet, along the top edge of the tarp to the next, down to another stake, up to the next grommet, along the edge, down the next grommet to another stake, etc. all along the side. Ugly as sin, but it did work pretty well, and nothing tore on the two edges I did like that. Using the tarp to distribute the force of the rope seems to be a good strategy.

Hmmm…you’re right. Crap. Might have to teach the 7 year old how to round an edge and sand wood. :wink: Or maybe I can put scraps of leather over the corners between the wood and the tarp.

True. It’s also about half the size, and won’t cover the slide outs completely.

I’d like to just build a cabin shaped (with no walls) canopy out of PVC, but the SO is skeptical that PVC will be strong enough. He wants steel (like the premade ones) or wood. We’re still…discussing. With vigor.

Yes, we do. And ideally, sit in front of the trailer in shade, cook, eat meals, etc. It needs to be a functional family camp site for 2 weeks in unpredictable weather. Whee!

If I did this, I’d need, what, 25 long pipes for the legs, sides, edges and ridgepoles, right? Am I counting correctly?
8 exposed legs
8 slanty roof bits
3 for the ridge pole
6 for the horizontal edges

Can I get away with using 10’ lengths for all of them? Seems like PVC comes in 10’ lengths, and if I don’t have to cut, that’d be sweet. But I am not a math person, so that could be a disaster in the making, I don’t know. It’d be real tall, that’s for sure…maybe I can get the store to cut 8 of them to 6 or 7 feet for the legs.

Fittings… I see 6 places where three pipes have to join, and 4 where 4 pipes need to join. Am I counting right?

I really do think this is the way to go. How large of pipes do I need to get to be strong enough, do you think? Will 1.5" do it? Will four legs on a side support 10’ lengths of 1.5" PVC without bowing or cracking?

And what angles should I be looking for in the connectors? I assume there are standard offerings, are they labelled with the angle or some obscure plumbers’ code?

The more I think about this, the more I suspect that constructing a canopy is likely to take a lot more time and money than I suspect you’d like to spend. Perhaps we can come with an alternative.

I’m thinking about using smaller tarps to cover only the faulty canvas. Probably the biggest challenge would be fastening the tarp(s) at the top. For the side extension, it would have to be well anchored under the lip of the solid top. Once that’s achieved, draping the tarp over the extension and guying it out should be fairly easy. For the back side (opposite the door), it’s a simple matter of guying it out at, say, 30° to the vertical. If you need to cover the door side, the problem is maintaining room to open the door, and poles would be required.

If you think this avenue is worth exploring, let us know and we’ll see what ideas we can come up with to make it work.

I like the A-frame idea. To prevent the canopy catching the wind underneath it, drop the edges straight down a few inches installing guylines to hold the eave down (you might also need new grommets at the peak’s edges also.

If there’s a Harbor Freight store in your area they might be a good source for a cheap grommet tool. I do know they carry several sizes and types of tarps. They also carry some tarp clips that clamp on the edge and can be placed to supplement the grommets.

Lowes or HD carry a cable type PVC cutter. Has a ring on each end and works pretty good. Should only cost a few bucks. A hacksaw with a 24 TPI blade works well too.

Either replace the poles with 1" schedule 40 PVC, or rig the poles so they cannot collapse. Like jam the catch, tape, or otherwise secure the pole.

Use the Trucker’s Hitch to secure the ropes and provide tension so the tarp is drawn taut. No floppy tarp.

Rig a center post over the camper top to give it a bit of lift and help with the tensioning. A short PVC with a square of scrap carpet over the end would work well.

PVC cutters are cheap and sold in hardware stores with the PVC. I personally like this one.

I see some cheap ($5) ones online. I forget which one I bought that I didn’t like. It didn’t cut well, and the cuts came out angled.

If you wish to make a frame, they do have joint pieces. There is PVC glue you can buy, but it isn’t required.

If you can stake the ropes, great, or sandbag. Sufficient weight to keep from moving. 20 lb?

I like the idea of running the rope through the grommet and over the tarp to the far side. Less stress on the grommets/holes.

You’re right. At least, in a heavy enough pipe to appease my SO, it’s just going to get to be too much.

I found this. And I am amazed and impressed and utterly puzzled. Google image search finds this same picture on several sites - no others, no better quality and, despite tantalizing names, no plans. Anyone have any idea how he made that?

Freestanding poles are a pain in the ass, no matter what they’re made of. Tarps move, unless they’re tied down so tight they tear, and then they move because they’ve torn. Trust me, I’m not a newbie at camping, I’ve been tarping campsites for 20 years…but I’ve never had such a large area to tarp and a campsite without trees or other immovable objects to use. Even the camper isn’t immovable - it’s properly chucked and on the stands and all, but it still sways, and over 2 weeks, small sways lead to small shifts, which lead to big problems.

I may just pound some rebar stakes in as deep as I can get 'em and slide some PVC over it to make nice (pretty) stationary poles. Use the A frame idea to hold the tarp off the roof, and make my own trees. That’s something to consider…

(Hey, do you think if I drilled a bunch of holes in the PVC and dropped some LED lights down there that I could make starlightey poles?)

Whatever structure you make, get eight 5 gallon buckets and 12 to 16 bags of concrete plus 8 of the longest eye bolts you can find. Make weights with the bolts in the center and stay the canopy from the corners, 90 deg each. This is how big pro tents are done but they use 55gal drums with water


I assume we have rejected the idea of fixing small tarps directly over the canvas.

The bigger the shelter, the bigger the sail it makes. Holding it down against strong winds can be quite a challenge. There need to be at least two guy ropes from each point (essentially every vertical pole), and they need to be firmly anchored into the ground. The cost for rope and anchors adds up. Alternatively weights can be used, as mentioned, but that gets into a lot of material and a lot of work lugging it into place.

With an A-frame, when steel poles are used each joint is fastened to each pole with some sort of bolt. With PCV pipe, its trickier to secure everything together. Glue could work, but then disassembly is a nightmare, if not practically impossible. Drilling through and using bolts or screws could work, but unless you make a jig to do them all in exactly the same place you have to mark each piece’s place to ever reassemble it.

For an arched canopy, such as linked in post #15, it’s very difficult to make it stable unless the pipes go through sleeves sewn into the tarp, which is what I see in that photo. A friend of mine made a huge (80’ long) canopy like this. He had the tarp custom made, both for the size and the sleeves (wasn’t cheap). The poles went straight from side to side, not in a V pattern as in the linked example, and went all the way down, slipped over rods driven into the ground. Each end (the open arch) was firmly guyed out, which is what kept it upright.

I go to an annual music festival where a lot of attendees play music in the campground. Many have “picking parlors” such as what we’re discussing. With the exception of the friend I mentioned above, every one I’ve seen was bought off the shelf rather than homemade. That speaks to the difficulty and/or expense of designing and making your own.

When it comes to assembling all the materials – poles, tarp, rope, anchors, etc. – you end up with a pretty big pile of stuff. If the poles are steel, it’s pretty darn heavy.

I question how much money would be saved over buying a ready-made one. I have no doubt that a LOT of time would go into getting it designed and assembled.

Sorry to rain on your parade.

For simplicity and minimal cost, I’d consider draping the tarp right over the camper. Route the ropes over the top, and guy it out so that there’s no slack or loose fabric that can flap. The biggest challenge would be having clearance for the door, but that can be achieved with poles and rope. Fix your poles so they don’t slip, as Irishman described. For a center pole to keep a horizontal stretch peaked, slit a tennis ball and put it over the top of the pole so it doesn’t poke through the tarp.

One trick you may find helpful is fixing a rope to the tarp by tying it around a pebble, as described here (almost at the bottom, under “GROMMETS!”) and photographed here. It’s a much stronger attachment than an actual grommet. I’d use a constrictor hitch to tie around the pebble.

Yes, sorry I thought I replied to this last night, but I didn’t. Small tarps give me the same anchoring problems, only more of them. There really is nothing on the camper roof to attach anything to, so short of duct tape, I’d have that whole top edge free to catch wind. Plus, the great benefit of the Big Friggin’ Tarp is that we get shade inside the camper and out - the silver reflective tarp lowers the temperature in there more than 10 degrees in full sun.

Very true!

Oh, I’ve seen lots of DIY shelters. Some of them look just like the premade ones, but if you look closer, the pipes are PVC instead of metal. I go to lots of hippie/neopagan festivals, where people are big into recycling and cheap. One of my favorite festival folks makes amazing yurts and shelters out of various materials, including PVC and old discarded billboards!

The festival I’m going to even has a workshop on how to make your own shelters/tents…but I think it’s the second week we’re there. I intend to have a word with the workshop scheduling person about that choice! :wink:

Word. Luckily, we have a camper to store the stuff and haul it in. But yes, weight is a concern.

I priced out the cabin style with materials from Home Depot and got a total of $147 and change…not the <$100 I was hoping for, but still cheaper than premade in that size.

Rain on my parade all you like. Just don’t rain on my camper until I get it covered. :wink:

I prefer bungees with slide locks, like giant garters. Same principal, less wear on the tarp.

We tweaked and priced out the hoop design **GaryM **proposed, and I think we may go with that. It comes out around $139 with materials from Lowes. It’s a LOT of tubing - seems that 3/4" PVC can’t span more than 4’ without getting bendy, so we need a lot of ribs to support 30’ of ridgepole - but I love the design and think it will hold up to wind better than anything else we’ve come up with, gives us the most usable space under the tarp and it’s just darn cool looking!
Your extensive knowledge of knots makes me a little tingly, by the way.

Hi WhyNot. I did a rough design of a possible tarp support. I think you can see it here, but I haven’t done any photo sharing for years, and may have messed things up.

The illustration only shows one side of the support. The other side is a mirror image. Each side uses six 2x4s, three 10’ lengths of conduit, plus random hardware. Does it add up to less than $100? You may or may not already have some of the drill bits, stakes, bungess and wire that you’d need. Reinforcing the conduit would be good, but maybe not required.

Wow. Oh, wow. And in the nick of time, because this is the last time I know I’ll have internet for two weeks!

Thank you thank you thank you. I think that’s our solution, along with the rooftop A frame to keep water from pooling at the center.

This motel’s internet is slower than the dickens, so I’ll have to price it out the old fashioned way…going to the store and looking at the prices. Such barbarism! :wink: