Sibley Tent versus Bell Tent


The history of the Bell Tent is quite a long and interesting story, woven through various continents, time-periods and wars. The Bell tent’s history begins as an adaptation to the Sibley tent.


Serious tent enthusiasts know that the Sibley 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:

Bell tent sibley tent patent


As you can see from the diagram above, the Sibley 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 Sibley 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, Sibley 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.


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):



  • Davey Eddy says:

    Interesting, I have a cast iron Air Ministry stove based on the Sibely Stove for heating these tents – it was made almost 70 year ago now.

  • Laura Dorman says:

    interesting history. So this bell tent is actually an adaptation of the Native American Tipi which requires 17 very long poles which are made from felled trees which have to be debarked and soaked. To attempt to construct a Tipi requires a community of at least 6 very strong people. And transporting the Tipi itself is arduous with those long lodge poles. So Sibley was very clever in using that center pole. Thanks for the history.

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