Pup Tent History

Feet sticking out of a pup tent.

While many people enjoy camping, they often aren't acquainted with pup tent history. Find out more about the origins of this popular tent design, from it's civil war beginnings until modern times.

About Pup Tents

Pup tent history still plays a role in the style of tent the military uses today, although the design actually dates back to the Civil War. Pup tents are very small tents, often no taller than three and half feet although they may be as long as seven feet in length and five feet in width. They are notoriously known for their lack of waterproof materials, although that has changed in pup tents used today. Pup tents are often referred to as "shelter halves" because of their menial construction. While modern tents offer numerous options, including separate rooms, individual "doors", and screen windows, as well as waterproof material, this was not always the case. During the Civil War, pup tents were basically constructed out of two half pieces connected with a row of buttons. While this rudimentary design may not have seemed to offer little shelter from the outside elements, its construction was actually quite ingenious. The buttons or snaps that were used to join the two halves at the roof of the tent were usually two-sided, so that any pair could be connected together, creating a water-resistant seal at the top.

Pup Tent History Timeline

The design of pup tents originated from a combination of common sense and necessity. Many Civil War soldiers moved mostly on foot, and they needed lightweight equipment and supplies if possible. Even if they had the luxury of a horse, their extra equipment and supplies still needed to be carried, either on a wagon, a horse, or by the soldier himself. Pup tents were often shared by two soldiers, and the weight of the material, stakes, and poles was generally around ten pounds. If each soldier in a pair carried half the material, stakes, and poles, then he would have an additional five pounds on his back.

Earliest Pup Tents

Civil War, and even early World War II, pup tents did not contain the triangular ends and flap doors of today's pup tents. These early tents offered only basic shelter, with each end of the tent open to the extreme elements.

World War II Tents

By the end of World War II, tent poles transformed from a single folding unit to three separate sections comprised of wood with metal tips. This typically made transportation of the poles easier, particularly if split between two men.

Korean War Tents

By the time the Korean War arose, cotton duck material was used. Tent colors also changed from khaki to a dark green by the end of the war. Once this darker color was chosen, poles went from unpainted wood to a matching army green, and most contained a "US" stamp as well as the name of the contractor and the date. Tent flaps were added as well.

Vietnam War Era Tents

Vietnam's tropical climate meant pup tents generally weren't favored. However, some tents were used during the Vietnam War and actually followed an adaptive design comprised of an A-frame with two poles, creating roomier accommodations.

Modern Pup Tent Design

Finally, today's tents are still often referred to as pup tents, but they've come a long way from their original design. Modern shelter halves feature mildew resistant and water repellent material, roomier lengths of over 12 feet, and weather-resistant flaps.

Today's tents are also designed to be sturdier and drier than their predecessors, with some even featuring environmental control ducts for heating and air conditioning. While the premise behind the original design is still the same--shelter and portability--modern conveniences now rule in the overall construction of today's pup tent.

Origin of the Name

There are a couple of different stories that relate to the origin of the name "pup tent." The most common story states that pup tents were given their moniker by Civil War troops, who commonly used the word "dog" when using military slang, such as "dog tags." Interestingly enough, however, a more specific story points to the Chattanooga Infantry who were said to give their tents the nickname "doghouses" and the name transformed into "pup tents." Whatever the true origin of the term, the phrase "pup tent" is still used today, particularly in the military.

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Pup Tent History