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Choosing the Right Tipi
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Note: All poles are shipped direct from our yard in Butte, Montana. A very limited supply of sanded and oiled poles are kept at our Colorado Springs, Colorado location - a destination fee is charged for pick-up here.

The Right Length

Some tipi owners like long poles that extend as far above the crossing point as they do below that point. This creates a double cone or mirror image effect in the structure. Others like short poles that barely extend above the fabric, reminiscent of old photos of Indian tipis with worn down poles (from dragging as a travois, or perhaps from the normal popping off of ends and the difficulty of getting new ones).
Tipi Poles
One of our friends likes the hourglass look; you could turn one of his tipis upside down, pull the fabric down to the ground and hardly know the difference. For a time we used poles from a 22 foot tipi in a 19 foot tipi. These poles extended 12 to 15 feet above the cover. However, it didn't take us many months to discover it was a lot easier for us to handle shorter, smaller poles. This is a matter of personal preference.

Formula for Pole Length

For our own purpose, we have developed a rule of thumb for determining tipi pole length for a tipi of any given size. We call it the 1 point 2,3,4 formula. If someone wants short poles, we multiply the size of the tipi by 1.2 (Example: 1.2 x 19.5 foot tipi = 23.4 foot pole length). For medium poles multiply by 1.3 (Example: 1.3 x 19.5 foot tipi = 25.35 foot pole length). For long poles multiply by 1.4 to achieve a pole length of 27.3 feet. If you want super long poles, multiply by 1.5 or 1.6. We like a multiplier of 1.3 to 1.4 for our tipis and recommend a 25-27 foot pole length for a 19.5 foot tipi.

When you have decided how long you want your poles to be, just cut one to that length and use it as a guide in finding the remainder of your poles. If you cut a dry pole for this purpose, you will find it much easier (lighter) to handle than a green one. We suggest this technique because it is so difficult to estimate the length of a pole from the ground, looking up.

My Father prefers poles all the same length because the tips form an interesting "war-bonnet" effect, high in the front and low in the rear. This happens because the Door pole is longer to the point of crossing than the North and South poles. It follows then, that with poles of the same length, the tips of the back poles (which are shorter to the point of crossing) will extend further out from the point of crossing than will the tips of the poles in the front of the tipi. This effect is amplified by the more vertical slope of the back poles.

My Mother and I prefer poles of random lengths. By placing the longer poles in the front and the shorter ones around the structure to the back, you can come up with tips essentially level across the top. This option also makes it possible to put the poles in alternately or haphazardly, thus giving the top of the tips an unplanned or casual appearance (which is inevitable after a few tips have popped off).

The Right Diameter

The most important dimension on a pole is its diameter at the point of crossing - assuming, of course, that it is long enough to reach that point with a little something left to poke out into the sky.

Most tipi covers are designed to accommodate pole clusters with an average diameter of up to 2 inches per pole at the point of crossing. Larger diameters at this point will sometimes cause an improper fit and create wrinkles. We strive for an average of up to 1.75 inches on 17.5 to 19.5 foot tipis and up to 1.5 inches on smaller tipis (up to 2 inches on larger tipis).

Generally, we prefer slender poles - as slender as possible. However, if the pole bends inwardly under the weight of the cover, it is too slender.

Lodgepole pines of any given length (if not stunted or influenced by unusual weather patterns) are generally consistent in the degree of taper from butt to tip. It is therefore possible to select poles by butt size. We have developed a formula for selecting poles that are slender but sufficiently stiff to support the cover without bending. We multiply the size of the tipi by .144 (Example: .144 x 19.5 foot tipi = 2.81 inches in diameter at the butt prior to peeling). We call this our gross formula.

Peeling the pole will remove about 1/8 inch from the diameter (.125). If you prefer heavier poles, use .150 as the multiplier (.150 x 19.5 = 2.925 inches butt diameter). Obviously, butt diameter can vary as much as 1/8 inch over or under the selected size without adversely affecting the appearance or function of the tipi. However, there is a general tendency to select poles that are heavier than they need to be. We like the two Door poles to be heavy for shinnying, the North, South & Lift poles to be medium, and the rest of the poles to be relatively light in weight.

The Right Quantity

The number of poles required is dependent on the tipi size. Tipi size is measured from front-to-back at ground level. Tipi pole length should be 1.2 to 1.4 times the tipi size.

The following table lists the number of poles required for each tipi:

Tipi Size Structure Poles Smoke Flap Poles Medicine Pole (Optional)
9 ft Tipis 9 each 2 each 1 each
11 ft Tipis 11 each 2 each 1 each
13.5 ft Tipis 13 each 2 each 1 each
15.75 ft Tipis 13 each 2 each 1 each
17.5 ft Tipis 15 each 2 each 1 each
19.5 ft Tipis 15 each 2 each 1 each
22.5 ft Tipis 17 each 2 each 1 each
24 ft Tipis 17 each 2 each 1 each
26 ft Tipis 19 each 2 each 1 each

Smoke flap poles are shipped slightly longer than needed to allow for variations in slope at the setup site. Smoke flap poles may need to be trimmed for proper fit.

Medicine poles are used at the front of the tipi to hold the lower smoke flap ropes up and away from the door when the smoke flaps are in the forward position. It is customary for tipi dwellers to hang "good medicine" or good luck charms from the medicine pole - thus the name.

We now have high quality draw knives available if you wish to harvest your own poles. Please see our prices page for current pricing.

© 2001 - Frank Reese - All Rights Reserved.