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PlayaLabs testers have built a LOT of shade… domes, tents, sails, carports, pyramids, Tipis, lean-tos, and hybrids. The basic best for simplicity and cost is the flat-top steel shade structure.
This tutorial is for the basic-bitch 10 by 20 ft shade structure. Sidewalls are a nice additional feature for shade and wind/dust protection. (We updated some new modification to expand your shade—scroll to the end to see the mods!)
When Black Rock Hardware is sold out, this tutorial lets you build your own shade structure easily. It’s not exotic, but it’s easy, light, and will last multiple burns. Use 1 structure for your group shade and 1 for your tent or vehicle too.
1) Make A Fucking Decision:
There is a long debate over the best tarps. Shade, wind, breathability, reflectivity, and even rain protection are all valid. We’re not trying to convince you that one is better or worse, but our testing shows a good, versatile compromise is this:
Light color, high-end roof tarp
Black mesh sidewall
Cheapy floor tarp
This balances shade, breath-ability, cost, and will protect from rain (it does rain in BRC!). So just start with these 3 tarps. You can always modify later.
Corner Fitting Kit #1
Leg Fittings Kit #2
White Tarp for roof, 10 x 20
Mesh Tarp for sidewall, 8 x 20
Rebar Canes (4)
Floor Tarp 10 x 20 (Optional but recommended)
Yard Staples (for floor tarp)
Footplates (Optional but recommended), set of 4
3) Hit the Town
Once your online parts arrive, take a Connector to your local hardware store, and buy the correct size poles to fit:
Ask the clerk for “1 inch EMT conduit”
From your hardware store:
1-inch EMT Conduit, 10 feet long: 14 pieces (You are buying 1 extra backup)
Straight Rebar, ⅜”, 2 ft long, 6 pieces. You need BOTH the straight rebar and the candy cane stakes.
Use your rotary cutter to trim down 6 of the steel poles to 8 feet long. If you plan to park or put your tent under your shade structure, measure the height of your object first and make sure 8-feet gives enough room (generally, 8 feet is high enough for most cars and tents). After cutting the poles, sandpaper or file the cut ends as they are sharp.
If you are using footplates:
Test to see if your straight rebar stake will fit through the holes on the footplate. It usually won't. If not, drill out ONE of the holes in each footplate to make it large enough for a rebar.
That’s it! No more tools. Everything else is just assembly.
5) Pitch a Tent
You have 2 types of connector pieces: T’s and +’s
Lay out the T’s and +’s with the poles like this. Use a big flat area:
Start attaching the connectors to the poles. You just need to hand-tighten the eyebolts, don’t go crazy stripping the bolts too tight.
Attach the roof-trap while it’s still on the ground! Loop Bungee-balls through the tarp and roof frame.
Now start adding the legs. Slip on all three legs to one side, then prop up the structure to make a lean-to. Hand-tighten the eyebolts. Have your friends lift up the roof and attach the three other legs (a ladder or tall friend is helpful)
Now add the footplates if you are using.
6) Attach To Playa:
The footplates are NOT ENOUGH to hold your shade structure! Your structure is guaranteed to go flying away!
Determine where you want the final placement of your shade structure. Within this rectangle, lay out your cheapy floor tarp first, pull it tight and hammer it in with the yard staples.
You and 3 friends, now lift and position the shade structure over the floor tarp. Ideally, the corner poles of your shade structure line up over the corners of your floor tarp. If it’s a little off, that’s OK.
Put a straight rebar stake at each corner pole. Hammer it in, right next to the pole (punch through the floor tarp if you need to). If you are using the footplates, go through the hole in the footplate.
Hammer in about 14” of the rebar but leave 8-10” exposed. Wrap duct-tape liberally around the rebar and EMT pole.
Start like this:
But keep wrapping liberally up the poles, so the rebar and pole get lashed together like this:
It looks janky but it works! Playa tested and approved.
Next, ratchet straps:
Hammer in candy cane rebar at each corner, about 2 ft outside the perimeter of the structure. Hammer in the rebar at an angle, and get these stakes ALL THE WAY into the Playa. Mark each stake with a rubber cap or solar light, etc.
Loop a ratchet strap around the corner connector. DO NOT hook through the eyebolt! It will bend the bolt and ruin it. Loop the strap around the connector itself and hook back onto the fabric strap.
Hook the other end of the ratchet into your rebar candycane. Tighten down the straps. Plan to check and tighten straps every day on-Playa.
Now add your sidewall tarp with more bungee balls on the sunny/windy side of your camp.
7) Final Check
Very important! Go around the whole shade structure and tighten eyebolts, straps, and stakes. They wiggle during assembly. Check and tighten once a day.
That’s it! You have amazing shade!
These shade structures are great because you can easily expand and enlarge with extra pieces.
The EMT Poles and the tarps come in 10-foot increments, so expand your shade in 10-ft intervals easily. Suggested options are:
Corner Connectors #1 (set of 4)
Leg Connectors #2 (2 sets of 2 = 4 total)
5-way Center Connector (1)
Foot pads: (at least 4)
Extra ratchet straps (4-8 total)
More rebar posts & canes (8-10 of each)
2 roof tarps (10 x 20 ft), and sidewall tarps as desired.
More bungees! Don’t forget!
EMT Poles: 21 + 1 spare
* Cut 9 poles down to 8ft long
Corner Connectors #1 (set of 4)
Leg Connectors #2 (3 sets of 2 = 6 total)
5-way Center Connector (2)
Foot pads (at least 4)
Extra ratchet straps (8-12 total)
More rebar posts & canes (10-12 of each)
3 roof tarps (10 x 20 ft) and sidewall tarps as desired
More bungees! Don’t forget!
EMT Poles: 29 + 1 spare
* Cut 12 poles down to 8ft long
With the expanded Shade Structure, you need to add leg poles within the “interior” of the structure”. The extra leg poles are necessary. Add rebar stakes at each leg and do the duct-tape lashing. Also add more ratchet straps running up to the corner connectors. All 4 corners should get a ratchet strap and add at least 2-4 more straps at the other leg-connector joints, depending on the size of your mega structure.
You can also get more usable shade by adding angled sidewall tarps:
For this trick, get more sidewall tarps in 10 ft width x whatever length of your structure. (you can use solid or mesh tarps for this. Solid is cheaper and better wind protection, but gets hotted b/c is doesn’t breathe).
Add more bungee balls to attach the sidewall tarp to the roofline. Then stretch the tarp out gently to form the angled shade. Use a candy-cane rebar or lag, but don’t run it through the grommet directly -> instead, use a bungee ball through the grommet and attach around the rebar/lag using the bungee ball, pulled fairly taut. The bungee gives just a little during wind gusts and will help keep your grommet from getting ripped out.
Add more stakes/bungees to pin the rest of the tarp edge down to the playa. You just got 50% more shade with the same amount of metal!