The Waterloo Project: Shelter Sketches and Sketch-ups

The most critical piece of equipment for my Waterloo adventure will be the tent. I have to be able to erect and dismantle it in under two hours, and I have to be able to carry it, which means it has to weigh as little as possible. It needs to be water-resistant (water-proofing is aspirational) because it’s likely to rain in Belgium. (It did, on June 18, 1815 — that’s why the battle started around noon.)

It also has to be period — so no domes, no Sibleys, no tipis or wigwams. (Bender domes are period for the Roma, but by 1815, they were transitioning from their traditional domes to vardos.) It also has to be made of cotton or linen, not nylon. Earlier tents (medieval) were generally round with center pole and spokes, and few if any external guy lines, but by 1815, the structures were mostly either wedges or marquees.

However, all tents of the time were essentially custom, save for the simplest wedges (which were mostly the equivalent of shelter-halves — two or three men each carried a tarp; one for the pup-tent walls, one for a rain fly or floor.) There really weren’t tents at Waterloo — the actual battle happened too fast.

I’ve got two initial designs that I’m willing to try. The first is a basic marquee (i.e. rectangular, with a peaked roof) made from 3/4″ square dowels, joined with threaded inserts and threaded rods and angle brace hardware. It will have interior tie downs and staking, and the exterior will be entirely attached together, so it basically slips over the frame like a pillowcase. (order of assembly — roof trusses, then the fabric over-wrap and rain-fly, then the first set of legs, then the second set, then tie everything down.)

The frame will look like this:


The body will look something like this: (photo credit to Charlie Scott; construction credit to Sally Scott, link here )


If that doesn’t meet my parameters for packability and ease of construction, then there’s the covered wagon system. I’ve got images of extant covered wagons from the supply trains of the armies, but Napoleonic Wars wagons were smaller and lighter than American prairie schooners or Conestogas. They were simple boxes, usually about 4.5 feet wide and 7-8 long, about 6 tall from bed to peak, and they used willow withes as wagon bows instead of steam-bent planks. Willow withes are hard to get, but small diameter bamboo plant stakes make a decent substitution.

This is a preliminary sketch, using IKEA Ivar shelf standards and IKEA Gorm shelves. The point of using IKEA components is they’re off the shelf, there’s an IKEA near Waterloo, they require very little modification, and being soft wood, they’ll take screws and drilling easily. The downside of the IKEA solution is they generate waste I’ll have to get rid of and depending on the world financial situation, they may be significantly more expensive in two and a half years than they are now.


Fabric will be water-resistant cotton twill, selected specifically for lightness and water-resistance. Finely woven twill (think raincoat fabric) is incredibly sturdy, reasonably warm, and much lighter than canvas or duck. It’s not quite as light as nylon, but it’s also not as flammable. I’ll be adding a beeswax finish to seams to help with water-resistance. The twill I’ve selected weighs 6 ounces to the square yard, and I expect this to take between 15 and 18 yards of 60″ wide fabric, giving me a weight in fabric of about 15 pounds.

Groundcloth and floor will probably be canvas paint tarps — they’re sturdier than twill, so better able to handle being walked upon.

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