Turtle Tuff Shelter Demonstration

As a web developer who freelances in addition to my full time employment, I sometimes take advantage of bartering opportunities. Last year one such opportunity presented itself—I was on the lookout for a military surplus tent of some sort, and came across a company (based here in Utah) called Turtle Tuff Shelters who made yurt-like geodesic shelters. Their website at the time was very.. ahem.. lacking, so I suggested a barter. They agreed, and a few months later I became the owner of a 24′ Turtle Tuff Shelter.

The interesting thing about these shelters, and the reason I opted to get one of these as opposed to some other form of tent/shelter, is that the structure is a geodesic frame which helps greatly with load bearing, wind resistance, with lightweight, high-strength, tempered, aircraft aluminum alloy rods. The dome shape distributes any weight or force across a broader area, thus minimizing any impact it receives. Each of the individual hubs/joints hold over 300 lbs. because of this design. The frame is designed to withstand almost 150mph winds when staked to the ground.

Putting the shelter together has been on my to-do list since last year, but not until today have I made the time to do it. With the help of a friend of mine, I spent the morning putting the tent together—partially, anyways. We assembled the frame and covered it; due to time constraints, we weren’t able to proceed with setting up the floor. Additionally, once the shelter is assembled you determine where you want your door and window to be, and you then cut out material, apply adhesive zippers, etc. I preferred to wait until if/when I actually have to use the shelter before making any permanent alterations to the materials.

As seen on their products page, there are several options for purchase. (Note: since I completed the website, they have made certain alterations that I disagree with, namely, that hideous repeating background image… but I digress…) I received the Galapagos Package 4, their high-end offering. Here are the materials (not including the stove) that come in that package:

The bars (220 lbs. total for this size shelter) are color-coded to denote the three different sizes required to achieve the correct form factor. The large boxes contain the material for the cover and floor, as seen here:

Getting started was the hardest part. As the geodesic shape forms, the bars begin to (intentionally) bend inwards, making it easier to join the five or six (depending on the joint) bars using the provided bolts, washers, and nuts. To construct the shelter you begin at the top and work your way outward. Here’s the first step:

Using the provided instructions (which could be improved…), more bars are added according to their color-coded pattern. The first few levels were difficult until we figured out that often the best way to get all the bars to join, and leave enough room on the bolt to secure the washer and nut as well, was to leave one off, tighten everything really well, then remove the washer and nut, add the other bar, and then re-tighten everything. As the nut is secured, the bars each bend slightly; extra force is needed to bend the bars to a sufficient angle. As this progresses, the top of the shelter begins to raise as seen here:

And here:

And here:

And here:

Here is the shelter before finishing the last level. This level was fairly difficult because pulling the bars in to join together at the right place meant maneuvering a much heavier, larger object.

Here is the shelter frame fully assembled. At this point we had spent over 3.5 hours. (This is clearly not a quick setup for weekend use; these shelters are meant for long-term living.)

While I (thankfully) don’t come anywhere close to the 300+ lb. limit for what weight a single joint can handle, here I am doing a pull-up on one of them. This shelter’s design is great for hanging a hammock between two joints, or a shelving system, or any number of other things which could be raised up until the air to maximize living and storage space on the floor.

The cover provided for this size shelter is a 34 square foot piece of water-tight, UV, puncture, and tear-resistant material, which is a “multi-laminate polymer with rip stop nylon grid fibers”. It will hold out water to 90 lbs. per square inch, and there are no seams through which water can leak. As such, no water-proofing treatments are required, unlike tent canvas or other commonly-used cover material.

Getting the cover over the frame was very easy with two people tugging back and forth.

Since the cover is a square, having it conform to the shape of the dome requires making several pleats, folding sections over each other and tucking them underneath the dome, as seen here:

Here’s the inside of the dome, with the cover over it. It got very warm inside the dome, very quickly. I also obtained insulation material (which we did not try applying), and once the door and window are created, the cross-wind will help create a draft to keep the inside cool.

Here’s another shot of inside the dome:

The takedown was extremely quick. What took us almost four hours to set up (frame and cover) took us roughly 20 minutes to disassemble.

The setup took a bit longer than expected, but I believe that next time we go through it, it will be quicker—not only because we now know how to best assemble it, but also because the bars are each bent to conform to the geodesic shape, and will therefore be quicker and easier to join together.

Had I not done the barter to obtain this shelter, I’m not sure if I would have spent the money on one. The price range is a bit high, but I do like the design, space (450+ square feet), portability, and the ability to hang things such as hammocks. Regardless, today’s work to assemble the frame helped me prepare for if/when I ever need to actually use this shelter in a preparedness or other scenario.

6 Replies to “Turtle Tuff Shelter Demonstration”

  1. Dang, that thing is huge! I’ve wanted to see the setup process on one of these for a while. I can understand the time to setup, which is worth it for a longer term shelter.

    My Questions. Since the cut and attach the door. What kind of adhesive is it, and how strong do you think the zipper really is?

    How about punctures? Does the material seem like it could handle a branch or something pretty well?

    As for the ventilation, I’d suggest looking into making something like a tipi liner (http://www.coloradoyurt.com/tipis/tipi_options/liner/index.php has a few pictures)

    1. Since the cut and attach the door. What kind of adhesive is it, and how strong do you think the zipper really is?

      Great question. As I didn’t yet install it myself, I can’t say with any certainty, but from photos and other information I’ve seen, the adhesive is fairly strong. The company recommends cleaning the cover with alcohol wipes prior to placing the zipper to ensure a strong bond with no dirt or other material interfering. I suppose that for added strength, you could stitch the adhesively-secured zipper into the cover as well.

      How about punctures? Does the material seem like it could handle a branch or something pretty well?

      I believe so. The company specifically states that the cover is puncture resistant, which is fairly evident visually due to the grid of fibers that run throughout the material.

      1. I’ve been using my 24′ turtle tuff shelter as a green house. Going into my second winter. I couldn’t see letting it sit idle in the garage just waiting to be used.

        Generally, it has performed really well. The biggest issue the the zippered doors and ventilation window. The zippers work good, but the adhesive doesn’t. I am now in the process to securing the zippers using a sewing awl and am hopeful that this will keep them attached.

        It is also important that the shelter is anchored down. Since my door/zipper wasn’t working the wind got through and blew it over. It was anchored with rebar stakes I had made, but came right up. (because the wind got inside). So my wife and I are outside at 1 AM with a huge wobbling bowl – it did maintain its shape. I was able to turn it back over. But had to take the plastic off (I’m using clear greenhouse plastic rather than the white covering that came with the shelter.)

        Another problem is securing the frame to the ground without puncturing the cover. When I put the cover back on this weekend I am going to dig a small trench around the frame and bury the plastic rather than tuck it back up around the frame. –Apparently this is how greenhouse plastic is secured in France with their greenhouses (per Eliot Coleman’s Organic Gardening Book).

  2. Yeah, the repeating background is not good. Too bad they didn’t heed your counsel but oh well, the rest of the site looks top notch! Neat tent, didn’t know these were out there. Thanks for sharing!

  3. We looked at a piece of property in the Uintas which had one of these geodesic domes on it. It had stood there, no upkeep no nothing, for 4 years. It was built on a wooden “deck” and seemed to be holding up very well. I’d never seen anything like it.

  4. I was very disappointed in my turtle tuff shelter. It was not as described at all, I don’t believe is emergency ready or able to be set up in adverse weather. Also if you already have one, better check and make sure you have all of the parts if you haven’t set up yet… Shipping was terrible, many missing parts. The zippers are the ultimate downfall, this terribly overpriced tuff to build tent is held together with cheap cheesy zippers. I waited and waited until there was no rain and conditions were proper for application of adhesive, all proper preparations and alcohol cleaning, multiple times, the adhesive is junk. Yes you can stitch zippers on but they won’t be water tight, it’s not emergency ready, it will let you and your family down. A wal-mart tent is a better emergency shelter. Trust me I’m a camper mechanic and metal worker. It has a good frame but that’s all. And even that is teeth gritting with 3 people, as the bolts are short as possible and are not long enough for easy assembly.

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