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How to make a shade structure for Burning Man that won’t blow away!

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Note - many people have copied this design (brilliant, this is the idea!) and contacted me with their version, skip to the end of this post for photos of them and please send me details of yours!

How do you make a shade structure for Burning Man that won’t blow away?

I first went to Burning Man in 2007… My challenge for 2008 Burning Man festival; to provide a shade structure for about 15 people that could not blow over, or otherwise fail, in the viciously strong winds that you get on the playa while shading us all from the sun. We used it again in 2009… and again in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Why bother?

Why you do need to bother to do it properly and not just use a cheap gazebo? Here are two photos of our 2008 neighbour’s shade structure, taken about one minute apart :

Now you see it…

…now you don’t!

I have no what happened to it or who it hit…

To make one that won’t blow away you will need:

Measurements imperial or “English”, sorry! I may be British and use metric, but you will be buying your components in the USA and that is what they use here.

  • 21 foot by 21 foot bit of 70% Alumanet – about $200 – Search the Internet for garden suppliers in the US, tell them what you want it for, they have heard it all before. You can buy Alumanet with webbing sewn around the edge and eyelets fitted. I have not used this myself, if you do you will need to adjust the design as the square won’t stretch  - see rest of description.  Alumanet is used because it is light, strong, reflective and above all it has thousands of holes in it – a tarp will not do as an alternative!
  • Sixty, or more, special grommets/eyelets for the edge of the Alumanet – about $1 each.
  • One 100 foot length of cheap 3/8 inch rope (to help reinforce the seam/edge of the Alumanet) – $20 – cheap because it will be dynamic/stretchy and it does not need to take any real load.
  • One 100 foot length of good quality rope (we used a length of retired climbing rope) that has as little stretch in it (static rope) as you can find. One person used a length of wire rope, this seems like an excellent idea so long as you use an appropriate size/type and use the right fittings.
  • Loads of 1/4-inch wide zip-ties. Don’t take white ones, find some black ones and buy them, or you will loose them in the dust and create MOOP.
  • Four 7-foot bits of 2×4 (to make the four corner uprights) – about $5 each.
  • Four eye-bolts (one for each corner) and a penny-washer for each – about $2 each.
  • One 9 or 10-foot bit of 2×4 with a big heavy thing at its base (your batteries, maybe?) to make a central pole. Maybe think about cutting it in half if you can’t transport it in one piece. You will need to bolt it together when you get there, so don’t forget to drill holes in it and buy two bolts.
  • Eight ratchets (to make the whole thing very tight) – $5 each?
  • Eight x 2-foot lengths of 1/2-inch re-bar (for pegging it down) bent over at the top – $2 each? – Do not follow the instructions all over the Internet that say you should bend the top of the re-bar over in a rounded way. This is terrible advice as it makes them very hard to get into the ground as when you hit them they go “boing” and curl up. Instead, bend the tops over sharply to 90 degrees or more, you will find this easier if you use a large engineer’s hammer, a large vice and a gas-torch heat the re-bar up where you are going to bend it.
  • One 100-foot, or so, length of thin 1/8-inch rope / thick string / cord – £10? – to do corner-to-corner and tie the lights etc. to.
  • A big-ish hammer, a 10-pounder should do.

Corner detail:

The finished structure:

Inside the structure:

The entire structure is put up and tensioned without the Alumanet in place; each corner is placed about 21 feet apart with the eye-bolt in the top and facing inward. Two two-foot re-bar pegs per corner, about 4 feet from the corner-post at 90-degrees from each other, a ratchet strap on each and the 100 foot piece of good-quality-rope going through the eyebolts, tied together at the ends to form a square… once erected tighten the ratchets so the perimeter rope makes a tight square of rope about 25 feet by 25 feet strung between the 7-foot uprights. This needs 2 people or more, practice before you leave home.

The perimeter rope does not need to be so tight that you can do pull-ups on it, but it needs to form a solid structure. This is why you need to use such long corner pegs. There must be no chance of the structure moving, collapsing or the pegs coming out when the wind gets up; this would be the worst time for it to fail, do it right!

As an alternative to the 100-feet of good quality rope you could use a 100-feet length of wire-rope to make the perimeter as this will really easy to get tight as it won’t stretch – just make sure you use suitable wire rope and fittings!

Only once this is up, 25 feet square, stable and solid… the 21 foot square of Alumanet is added… strething it gently, corners first, using the (black!) zip-ties to attach it through the rings. It may well droop a lot in the centre, don’t worry about this.

After that the 9-foot centre pole is placed in the centre. Something big and soft attached to the top so it does not wear a hole in the Alumanet during the week. Put the top of the pole in the middle of the Alumanet first, push up and bring in the base of the pole to the centre. Then add a big heavy weight at the bottom or use some more re-bar to stop it moving because people will lean on it and it will wobble about in the wind and you don’t want it falling over and killing someone.

Add, maybe, a corner-to-corner cross of some string to suspend your lights or whatever from.

Come find the original, and us, in the AEZ (Alternative Energy Zone); we are Camp Starstruck.

The same, but improved, structure in 2011:

The entire structure during a strong gust of wind blowing from behind the photographer:

Detail of the top of the centre pole. Yes that is a saucepan lid screwed to the top.

Here is some instructions of another shade structure from BM 2011 written by someone who used this design.

Photos of other people’s versions of my shade structure from BM 2012:

My structure at BM 2012:

Another version at Kiwiburn in New Zealand 2012:

Delyth’s version at Nowhere festival in Spain 2012:

Delyth's shade structure

And Ian Wallace’s 2013 shade…

If you follow my design then I’d love to know. If you can help improve this description or the design then please do. Send me photos of your structure or links and I’ll add them. While this was all my idea I’m sure it was not original, if you know more then please let me know:

Contact me here.

And one last thing… if this page has been useful to you then you could show your appreciation and buy  me a beer.

Written by Jon

September 6th, 2008 at 7:07 pm

12 Responses to 'How to make a shade structure for Burning Man that won’t blow away!'

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  1. Hey this post was really inspiring for my own shade structure! I’m planning on building a very similar one at burning man 2010 except I’m using a plain old tarp instead of alumanet and some aluminum poles instead of wood posts. I hope mine stays up as well as yours :) . I’m experienced at building this type of thing because I was in boy scouts all my life so I’m confident it will work.

    However, I was planning on using this just for a hang out spot at my camp. I still need to figure out how I’m going to shade my huge 8 person tent. Possibly I’ll just tie some reflective pads or space blankets on it because otherwise i’ll have to build a huge shade structure to cover it, which i don’t have the resources for.

    Anyway, thanks and maybe I’ll come around to your camp to say hello. I’m shark! THE MAN BURNS IN 52 DAYS!


    14 Jul 10 at 8:23 pm

  2. I just ordered a bunch of alumanet, and intend to execute a variation of this awesome idea for burningman 2011. I first had this hairbrained plan to build use half circles of PVC piping and a big military parachute, but after reading a bunch I figure your design may hold up better. Thanks and I’ll try and follow up on this!


    21 Jun 11 at 10:54 pm

  3. I came across your shade structure design whilst hunting the BM website and
    have decided to give it a go this year at Nowhere festival in Spain. It certainly looks like one of the simplest and best I’ve seen.

    I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about it if you don’t mind. I’m
    afraid I really do need walking through this kind of thing!
    - you mention climbing rope. There are many 10mm cheaper options out there that can support up to 80kg. Do you think they’ll be good enough for a budget version of your structure? Like BM, It gets pretty windy at Nowhere.

    - Another version of your design suggests using rebar as a pin that you then
    place each post over and presumably hammer in. Is this essential or can you just keep the posts in place with just the ratchets and rebar.

    -Aluminet is hard to come by in the UK. I will however be in the states in the next few weeks and will attempt to source some. My question is would your
    structure support tarp instead? The weight difference seems to be extreme: 3kg aluminet vs 11.5kg tarp or thereabouts.


    31 May 12 at 5:03 pm

  4. Hi Delyth,

    Any bit of rope will do, we only used climbing rope as we were given a bit of decommissioned climbing rope. Ideally you want a non dynamic (non stretchy) rope as you are going to be putting a lot of strain on it and you don’t want it to change shape too much or the Alumanet won’t fit and you will have to take it all down to make the rope shorter. However, our climbing rope is very stretchy and we manage it.

    The centre pole needs to be tied to the ground somehow, rebar or something heavy. The outer four poles are held in place because the ratchets are pulling the side poles over/down and the horizontal square of rope is holding them back/up, close-to-upright. There are no pegs/pins on the bottom of the corner poles, they are not going to move anywhere if you have done it right and got the whole thing very tight.

    You don’t need to be able to do pull-ups on the horizontal ropes, but think about getting them really tight. You are making a fairly rigid horizontal square of rope attached to four corner poles (which are a little of vertical, leaning outwards) which are in turn tightly ratcheted to the ground.

    If you go to any UK festival this year go look at the big tops, my design is based on what I learned at combined with what I know about the Burn.

    Without the Alumanet the whole structure will stand freely and be tight and strong, the Alumanet is not part of the strength, it is not structural.

    Once you have it standing tight/rigid and about the right shape and size to fit your Alumanet (a bit bigger than the pice of Alumanet seems best), only then do you attach the Alumanet. After that a pole is inserted in the middle to hold that up and stop it sagging and something put on its bottom end so it does not fall on someone’s head at 4am.

    Alumanet keeps the sun off, is very light weight, is quite cheap, quite strong, quite stretchy… and above all it lets the wind pass through. If you use a tarp it will catch the wind and blow away or tear. Google where to buy it in the USA and get them to send it somewhere so you can pick it up. It is probably worth getting them to sew an edge and some eyes into it. Look on the BM website for places to buy it.

    I strongly recommend that you and a few friends go to a park or field and practice setting it up and getting the rope lengths right before you go to NoWhere.

    Any more questions? Send them over!


    31 May 12 at 5:09 pm

  5. thanks so much, i came across this last year, and used it as a blueprint, ive since modified the design a bit, 2x4s work fine, and are much easier to transport, and sometimes i string the aluminet without any rope tension at all between the posts, just with the stretchy tension of the aluminet…


    31 Jul 12 at 2:26 pm

  6. I see that in one of your photos you have 2 12v batteries running a laptop and speakers. Could you let me know how you set that up? I’m looking into how to do that. Did you have a solar panel charging the batteries? What kind of batteries did you use? how long did it last?



    23 Feb 13 at 7:19 am

  7. Doug,
    How is it set up? Several 12V solar PVs charge two massive deep-cycle lead-acid batteries via a charge controller. The batteries run a 12V to 110V inverter an this is used to run the lights, sounds and everything else.
    How long does it last? That entirely depends on how much energy you can generate/store/use.
    The AEZ has some resources on this –


    23 Feb 13 at 8:52 am

  8. Jon,

    A suggestion here. The tie down straps used to secure your corner poles, you show them set at 90* to each other. Bring each in about 15 degrees towards the bisecting line for the corner. This increases stability to the rigging. Standard practice in telephone and pole line construction.
    Lineman in another lifetime.


    5 Apr 13 at 3:31 am

  9. Use rebar caps instead of “Candy Cane”ing…

    Manky MoonBunny

    10 Aug 13 at 10:53 pm

  10. Hi Jon,

    Thanks so much for these great tips!

    Had one question. Our shade tarp is considerably larger – 40×50′. Do you think 2x4s will still cut it? Or will we need something stronger? (4x4s or metal poles)

    Let me know what you think.


    Evan Blaser

    5 Jul 14 at 8:37 pm

  11. Oh and one more follow-up question:

    I noticed your rope was ~20′ longer than the perimeter of your tarp. For a larger tarp, would you recommend still just adding ~20′ to the perimeter? or should it be done as a % of the perimeter (in your case it was a 25% increase on the perimeter, so for our perimeter of 180′ we’d then move up to 225′).

    Thanks again.


    Evan Blaser

    5 Jul 14 at 8:40 pm

  12. Yes, i think that the 4×2 will work fine but using 4×4 won’t hurt – what you need to worry about is your wind loading, it is going to be so much bigger so you need to be sure that it won’t break the rachet straps or pull the pins out of the ground. I don’t know about the perimeter rope length – my design assumes that the Alumanet that you have bought does not have a webbing srtip sewn into the edge, lots of people copying this design are using the webbing ones and they work differently to my design as you can’t stretch the webbing while mine is designed to stretch and move – just have a bit extra rope and have a go at setting the whole thing up at home in a park or a field so you are sure that it all works and fits together so that you don’t get any nasty surprises when you are in the desert.


    7 Jul 14 at 4:25 pm

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