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What is a Tunnel Tent?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A tunnel tent is a tent which is made by stretching fabric across rigid rings to create a tunnel shape, which may be entered through a slit in the side, or via one of the ends of the tunnel, depending on the design. Tunnel tents can be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from play to camping in inclement conditions. They are available from some outdoor supply stores, as well as stores which stock games and objects related to play. Tunnel tents aren't just for people: scaled-down versions for pets are also available.

The tunnel tent design is distinctive and also very easy to work with, with no framework to erect when the tent is put up. Some tunnel tents have very rigid hoops, which can make the tent challenging to pack, while others are designed to compress for convenience. There is a lot of workable space inside a tunnel tent, with the side of the tent being determined by the diameter of the hoops and the number of hoops involved.

Tunnel tents designed for camping usually need to be staked in place to be secured, but they have the advantage of being able to withstand lots of weather conditions. They are highly resistant to wind and snow buildups, because the tent doesn't provide a surface for wind to push against, or for snow to build up on. Tunnel tents can also be used to connect larger upright tents, allowing people to travel between tents without having to go outside.

When designed for play, a tunnel tent is more lightweight. Play tunnel tents can come in a variety of sizes, and some connect to other types of tents and shelters which allow children to explore different environments. Pets sometimes enjoy tunnel tents because they can provide a space to shelter from the weather, in addition to a safe space to play in; cats in particular enjoy tunnel tents which have been designed for them.

Whether for play or for camping, a tunnel tent usually has a tough liner so that occupants of the tent will not be hurt by the hoops which provide structural support. Materials like nylon are common choices for construction, as they are lightweight and durable. The tunnel tent may also have features like an awning which can be extended over the entrance, or entrances with zippers which allow the tunnel tent to be mated to other tents to create a bigger shelter.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lighth0se33 — On Nov 30, 2011

My friend runs a ferret rescue, and she has several tunnel tents that they use for playtime. She currently has twenty ferrets, so she has to have a way to entertain them. The tunnel tent is their favorite toy.

It was originally designed for cats to use, but it works fine for the ferrets. They have long, slinky bodies that can easily curl and flip around inside the tunnel, and you never know which side they will use as an exit because of this.

Does anyone know if there is such a thing as a tunnel tent made specifically for ferrets? I would love to get one for my friend as a gift if it exists.

By wavy58 — On Nov 30, 2011

Those play tent and tunnel combos for kids look like a lot of fun, but as an adult, I can’t maneuver my way through the tunnel very well! I feel bad that I am unable to play with my daughter in it, but it just wasn’t designed with big people in mind.

The tunnel is so small that she has to crawl through it. When she stands up inside the tent, her head almost touches the ceiling. I’m afraid it may not be much fun for her for much longer, because once she hits a growth spurt, it will be claustrophobic for her.

I’m always glad when her younger cousin can come over and play in it with her. They have such a good time in there, and once she outgrows it, I will probably pass it on to her little cousin.

By shell4life — On Nov 29, 2011

@orangey03 - That does sound like it would keep the interest of young children! I am a science teacher, and I would love to do something like that for my class. Maybe I could make it a class project, where the students could build the organs.

Our school already has a tunnel tent I could use. Last year, to avoid having to cancel classes due to icy conditions in the parking lot and on sidewalks, the school invested in a tunnel tent to connect the two buildings here, so that no one would be in danger of slipping on the icy concrete.

By orangey03 — On Nov 28, 2011

I have seen tunnel tents used in exhibits for children at museums. Inside the tunnel is a replica of the inner human body, complete with organs and descriptions.

The tours have a guide who explains what each organ is and what it does. The purpose of having the exhibition inside a tunnel tent is to make it seem like the kids are traveling down the tubes of an actual human body.

They are able to get a grasp of where the organs are located, because as they travel down the tunnel, they come upon them in actual order. I think it’s a great educational tool. It definitely gets their attention!

By Mykol — On Nov 27, 2011

Oh, I have many memories of playing with tunnel tents. I remember getting a ladybug tent and tunnel for me birthday one year. My sister and I had a lot of fun playing in this together.

It was also just as fun using by myself as a place to hide and get away. Even as I got a little older I would find myself using this as the perfect place to get away and read a book or take a nap.

One of our favorite things to do was take the tunnel tents we had and make as long of a tunnel as we could with them.

Sometimes they became like small houses where we could each have our own space, but crawl through the tunnel to see each other.

Both of my kids also enjoy playing with tents. I think there is just something about having that space you can call your own.

By SarahSon — On Nov 27, 2011

I use tunnel tents quite a bit when I work on agility training with my dogs. It doesn't matter the size of the dog, getting them to go through tunnel tents as part of their training is important.

They are lightweight, portable and easy to set up so I can easily take them anywhere with me. Many times I will have more than one tunnel tent in a course.

Some dogs have no problem going through a tunnel like this, while other dogs are very hesitant at first. Once they get the hang of it, they seem to enjoy it.

When I am working with them, they usually have a treat when they get to the other side, so that is good motivation for them.

It doesn't seem to matter whether you use a play tent tunnel for kids or dogs, they both seem to get a lot of enjoyment out of them.

By nextcorrea — On Nov 26, 2011

I have used a tunnel tent on a few occasions when I have been backpacking. They work pretty well. They are light weight and cheap to buy and if the weather is nice they are a good way to get an easy source of shelter.

I wouldn't use it in all situations though. They are definitely times when you want a fully enclosed tent. This could be because of weather or animals or just for the sake or privacy. But at the right time and the right place they are great.

By truman12 — On Nov 25, 2011

I remember that my brother and I had several tunnel tents as kids. We had them in a playroom and we invented tons of games using the tents and our forts. Everything from cowboys to spacemen to all kinds of animal games.

I think these are a great toy for kids because kids like the feeling of having a space of their own. Kids like forts and little houses and mazes and all kinds of other things where they can have their own inside spaces. Tunnel tents are a easy and fun way to provide this.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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