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What is a Sibley Tent?

The Bell tent’s history begins as an adaptation to the Sibley tent.

This tent was originally designed by Henry Hopkins Sibley in 1856 while serving as an Officer of the US Army. He had observed the Native American Tipi’s during Frontier duty in the Southwest and adapted his tent for travel by making a single center pole.

Sibley filed for a patent:

diagram of the sibley tent patent

As you can see from the diagram above, this tent has no sidewalls and is a more tipi like structure. It features a smoke hole at the top, a smaller entrance and is not defined with any protruding porch. It also has no guy-lines, but uses tent stakes to secure the canvas into the ground.

The above tent was used exclusively during the Utah Expedition and the US Army agreed to pay a $5 royalty to Henry Sibley for each tent made. However, shortly after reaching that agreement, he resigned from the US Army and joined the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, consequently forfeiting his royalties from his tents. The Union Army proceeded to make over 40,000 Sibley tents during the war.

During this same time period the British Cavalry was using Bell tents, an adapted version of the Sibley tent. The Bell tent is differentiated from the Sibley tent mainly by it’s sidewalls and guy-lines. Bell tents had the same benefits that the Sibley had in regard to canvas and conical shape – able to deflect high winds, set-up and pack down easily with the single center pole, but the adaptations offered additional headroom and breathability due to those side-walls.

So, what is a sibley tent and how is it different than a bell tent? In short:

Sibley Tent:

  • No sidewalls
  • Low Entry
  • No defined porch
  • Tripod pole
  • Stove hole
  • Fire Pit

Bell Tent:

  • Sidewalls (more headroom)
  • Guy-Lines (instead of tripod pole)
  • No fire pit inside tent

Bell tents in the Crimean War (1855):

300px-Bell_tent_detail