The making of my own Dome Hide

Although it is not absolutely necessary to use a hide, it usually is a big advantage which can allow the nature photographer to get closer to his subject. Experience showed me that a hide might come in handy under certain circumstances.

Having seen some hides I finally opted for a dome shaped hide. Main reason was the versatility of dome hides and the possibility to buy, relatively cheap, an existing dome tent which could be reshaped into a ‘custum-made’ hide. So I went out to a large do-it-yourself store and bought a dome tent (1,5 m length; 1,1 m width, 1 m height) for € 15,-. For that price, if it didn’t meet my demands, it would still be a well-appreciated item in the toy-box of my son. Unlike most hides this tent consisted of an inner and an outer part. Erecting the tent, few people considered the brightly yellow and blue colored tent fit to conceal a photographer from eyes usually superior to ours.

Why a hide?
Now I never have the illusion that keen animals like birds and mammals are not aware of your presence when you hide in a well camouflaged tent. Usually they ‘allow’ you in their ‘fear’-circle which makes it possible to make pictures. They simply don’t see the hide as a threat. The main reason to camouflage a hide in an overpopulated country like the Netherlands is to conceal your activity from human attention. There is nothing as frustrating as having waited for hours in your hide when finally the Bewick’s Swan comes into your range. You focus on the subject just as it starts to spread it’s wings….. You hold your breath and your finger is about to push the button…… And then some fellow human being appears close to your hide and asks what you are doing, and if you had much success. It takes quite some self-control to face these situations without getting involved with the law.

Camouflage fabric
So it is necessary to conceal the hide from anxious eyes. The outer part of the tent can serve as a template for the new ‘camouflaged skin’. Now it the moment to chose the type of fabric you want. Not only are there a large number of camouflage patterns but there are also all types of fabrics from cotton to nylon in various weights and strengths. Now here is the big advantage of the Internet. The cheapest fabric in Europe I could find was € 16,99 per meter. I needed about five meters of it. Rockywoods in Colorado was able to supply me with the same stuff for only US$ 6,99 per meter. And the all time high euro against the dollar at that moment did the rest. Within three days I had the fabric on my doormat. Rip stop nylon is light and waterproof and coated at one side which made it very suitable for my purposes.

The experts
I loaned my mothers sewing machine and went to fetch information about tent making. I found two interesting articles on the Internet. Benjamin Miller and Henry Shires  describe how to make your own (tarp)tent and, which was even more important, that it could be achieved by an unskilled tent maker like me. All it needed was fabric, a design, determination and hours, lots of hours. The site of Kevin Keatley offers plenty of information about the specifics of hides. So I made templates of the original blue and yellow outer tent from the local newspaper (the weekend edition), and used them to cut the four parts from the nylon fabric. I made sure to leave about 8 cm of extra fabric at the lower sides of the parts.

That was the easy part. Now it was time to make holes through which the lenses could be aimed and through which the photographer could see his environment. At first I decided to make three holes. One hole in the front and two on the sides. Later I added an extra hole in the front beneath the initial hole in order to eyelevel with birds. In order to keep everything waterproof I made trapezium shaped covers to protect the holes in case of rain. Because of the shape of the hide it is necessary to make the holes elliptical. From a mathematical viewpoint easy but technically it took quite a lot of effort to make them. After a few futile attempts to make seams to these holes my mother in law advised me to use the fabric diagonally which makes the fabric a lot more flexible to use. So I had three sides f my tent with three oval shaped holes which could fit lenses with a diameter up to 18 centimeters. The fourth, additional hole was shaped in a trapezium like way, in order to allow some space to look alongside the lens to the subject area. 

Holes and nylon
So far the sewing went quite easy. At first I used a 080 size needle but found out that a 070 size worked better. Unlike cotton nylon doesn’t ‘close’ itself after a hole has been punched in. A hole in nylon fabric remains a hole and therefore hampers the water resistance characteristics of the fabric. For the same reasons I didn’t use pins to hold the pieces together before sewing. I used paper clamps and water soluble glue, it only needs to hold the parts together for a short time. After sewing the stitching holes needs to be worked with wax in order to keep the fabric waterproof. The smaller the holes (e.g. the needle) the better the wax can do it’s work.

On the local market I bought a color matching 90 cm zipper and Velcro of the same color (olive). The attachment of the zipper was relatively easy after I found out that I had to cut up the fourth (back)side of the tent. I made a small overlap to cover the zipper so it would not get wet in the rain. Fortunately I left enough spare fabric (the 8 cm!) to allow this (unintentional) cutting up, without getting into trouble. The Velcro was used to keep the covers and the flaps closed and windproof.

Self adhesive tape
Finally I had to sew the four flat pieces of fabric together in a three dimensional shaped dome tent. That means making two rounded sides straight. My ever so helpful mother in law advised me to use pins, but adding extra holes in nylon? Finally I found what I was looking for: very thin, two-sided adhesive tape. I knew this technique is used in making sails and it applied very well to my tent making. So after attaching some straps to hold the pegs and cords and finishing the hems I finally had my camouflage colored outer tent ready. A small bag in which the hide could be stored and attachable to the LowePro MiniTracker backpack completed the outfit.

Now it was the inner tent that had to be modified. I cut some squares were the lens had to come through and where the photographer can take a look outside. The squares, approximately 15 cm larger than the lens diameter (in order to see alongside the lens!), were filled with gossamer painted in the same color as the outer tent. In the centre of the gossamer I attached a flexible, tight-fitting lens cover from the same nylon fabric as the outer tent. This way the entire tent would be mosquito-proof too since there were no larger open spaces between the lens and the inner tent. Finally I decided to make only two lens holes in the front of the tent and two ‘portholes’ at the sides allowing a view of approximately 300° horizontally and 80° vertically.

The first time I tried the hide in the garden of my parents I was able to get within 2 m of a Long-tailed Tit and within 3 m of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Of course all the birds were used to the intense feeding by my mother the previous winter but nevertheless, the many hours spent making the hide paid of for me the first hour I used it. The money I spent on the basic materials of this hide was approximately € 80,- but I didn’t count the hours…..