I tried to find answers elsewhere, but I have only suppositions. A tepee is a portable shelter, so:

  • Why have so many poles? These weigh a lot and require more work to dismantle and rebuild it. I think 4 poles with square base would be enough. Maybe only 4 poles are not strong enough?
  • Other types of cone tent have only one central pole, and are tensioned by cable guys. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this solution?
  • 2
    Don't forget that the travois, used to drag loads behind a horse, also needed nice long poles. Get a few horses and the need to have long poles around goes well beyond any shelter requirement.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 14, 2023 at 12:39
  • 4
    A single central pole gets in the way of free movement inside the tent, the guys create trip hazards outside the tent, and it gives no support to the covering. The more poles there are, the more 'useful' is the interior space, and the better is the support for the covering. Also with one pole there is nowhere safe to build a fire, and nowhere to make a chimney. Aug 14, 2023 at 16:09
  • 4
    Tensioning with cable guys implies you have good, reliable, limited stretch cabling. They didn't. A storm on the plains (blizzard or thunderstorm) can have pretty brutal winds even for a modern tent. Bottom line is those poles were good for multiple reasons.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 14, 2023 at 17:05
  • 2
    Yes, they create a rigid structure that is portable. It was their home, not a weekend bivvy. The yurt is similar from that point of view, but with a different construction method. Aug 14, 2023 at 17:16
  • 1
    Both of the commenters have given enough info to warrant an answer.
    – ab2
    Aug 16, 2023 at 20:30

2 Answers 2


Interior space. Any roundish shape with more sides more closely approximates a circle, which has the most area for its perimeter. This makes it more efficient in terms of usable real estate. The absence of a central pole has obvious advantages, especially when that's the common location of a heating and cooking fire.

Exterior space. Guy ropes would quickly make a problem for a cluster of shelters. They'd become a trip hazard and would require more space between tepees.

Stability. Tepees are fairly tall, so the unsupported panel between poles would have a lot of free play. In breezy conditions there would be a lot of flapping, which is noisy and inconvenient. More poles means narrower, more rigid panels. In some regions setting robust stakes in the ground for guy ropes is very difficult.

Strength. Poles tend to be long and narrow (often lodgepole pine), and the hides used to cover them are not like modern fabrics (at least traditionally). They're heavy natural animal skins. That, plus moisture from rain and show, can weigh hundreds of lbs. You wouldn't want to risk having that come down on you as you sleep.

Availability. Modern rope wasn't available historically. Trees were. Leather strapping and other natural rope was difficult to produce in quantities necessary for a stable, durable structure.


Some thoughts regarding tipis/teepees that might answer your question

  • The structure doesn't have a pole blocking the middle, which is good for living there, and cooking over a fire and so on.
  • The structure relies more on the sticks being sturdy than the fabric and ropes holding tension, so it's good if you use e.g. animal skins rather than modern strong materials.
  • I'm not an expert, but it seems like they often stayed in the same place for longer periods, and transported the tents by horse, so the weight is not really the biggest consideration

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