If you are an army veteran of a certain age, you experienced the many joys of sleeping in the venerable Pup-Tent, your very own Hilton Hotel in the field compared to the alternative of sleeping in a trench, jungle, ditch or foxhole.

Thankfully, the improvement of technology also improved the sleeping experience of our soldiers, from the personal sleeping system to the military tents known as “pup tents.” Here’s how the temporary soldier shelter improved from the rickety A-framed canvas to the modern ones throughout different war periods.

Revolutionary War

When American soldiers were battling against the British forces for independence, they were usually sheltered in the houses of the civilians who opened their homes to help in the war effort. When they had to stay outdoors, they would protect themselves from the outside elements with simple A-frame tents made from a single sheet of cotton duck cloth used for sandbags. The tents did not have a floor, so the fabric had to be held up by either using tree branches or rifles. They were also oiled as a way or repelling rain. As you can imagine, these A-frame tents were open on both sides, so the rain and direct sunlight would soon cause the frames to rot or disintegrate. It did not provide much protection, but it was better than nothing.

Civil War

It was most likely in the Civil War era that the term “pup tent” was coined. They often apply their evident love for dogs in their military slang, like “dog tags.” For example, a Chattanooga Infantry reportedly called their tents “dog houses.” From there, they evolved into “pup tents.”

Pup Tents at Camp Crane, Pennsylvania. (United States Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

During the 19th century, the design of the tents evolved into two half sheets of cloth that could be fastened together using a row of buttons or snaps along a ridgeline. These pairs of half-piece shelters could be snapped together with a watertight closure along the top line to create a 7′ long and 5′ comprehensive sanctuary. It significantly improved compared to the simple single-sheet A-frames of the Revolutionary War. However, these shelter halves still did not have flooring, were still open on the sides, were not waterproof, and were still reliant on branches of the trees or rifles as frames.  Basically, they were shade and would maybe keep the dew off of you at night.

World War II

During World War II, there was a significant improvement. Tree branches and rifles were no longer used to hold up these tents. Instead, you could transform a single folding unit tent pole into three separate sections composed of wood that had metal tips. This made it easy for the poles to be transported from one place to another, mainly when divided between two people.

Korean War

The colors of the tents changed by the time the Korean War ended, from khaki to dark green. The poles, usually made of unpainted wood, were painted to match the army green color. To the soldiers’ delight, the tent flaps feature was added, protecting the troops from wind and rain and being exposed to the outside elements.

Vietnam War

The pup tents were not used that much during the Vietnam War, as the country’s tropical climate made it feel like the soldiers were rotisserie chickens in the oven. However, some used tents had revamped designs with a new A-frame style with two poles. This style created a bigger space and roomier feel for the troops. This design was carried through until the Gulf War.

Pup Tents Today

LiteFighter 1 Individual Shelter System. (LiteFighter Systems)

The pup tents of today addressed the soldiers’ struggle to balance unit speed with soldier load. They are incredibly lightweight at less than 5 pounds, more durable, fully waterproof, and have a mosquito mesh net, giving the troops mobility and protection. Not only that, but these modern pup tents were also roomier and had weatherproof gear vestibules and foldable frames. They were also customizable depending on the user’s missions, like the LightFighter 1. For instance, it can attach a standard-issue cot to keep the troops off the ground, which could also function as a mosquito net. An easy-to-carry piece of gear with multiple functions is a significant improvement. We could expect more progress to be seen in the future to cope with the ever-changing needs of war.