Very Lightweight, Folding Portable Blinds

     First a little history:    My early attempts at portable blinds were based on a longstanding concept that you had to be completely hidden inside a little "house" for a blind to work. I've since learned through practical experience that the "little house in the woods" concept is often overkill, and not always the best or most practical blind for many purposes, including wildlife and bird photography. I've discovered far more portable, practical, simple and very lightweight methods of camouflage that are just as effective, if not more so.

The "V" Blind V blind rear view.
     By "very lightweight" I mean they weigh almost nothing - certainly no more than your DSLR camera body alone. Now that's light for a blind. Weight was an important consideration when designing these blinds, but it wasn't the driving force behind them. I wanted something to replace my "leafy camo suit" when the weather got warm enough that even that lightweight camo might get stuffy to wear.

     These blinds are in basic purpose similar to the one-man pop-up blinds you can purchase for hunting. However, pop-up hunting blinds can cost from $50 to over $200, and they are made for hunting in even rainy, drizzly weather, being covered with water repellant material. Thus they are heavy - as much as 15 pounds or more. That's just too heavy to drag around for photography. Besides, I have no need for a weather-proof blind. I need sunshine for good photos, thus I won't be wasting my time and effort shooting in overcast, rainy weather. All I need is a fair weather blind that's very light and very portable. The materials and hardware for both of these blind frames together would total less than $25, plus whatever camouflage material you used to cover them.

     To that end I've created the two blinds shown at right - the "V" blind, and the "Dog House" blind. Their designs were inspired by another project of mine, the very practical "Marsh Blind", where I used flexible CPVC water pipe bent into arches for the frame. This sort of construction is quite inexpensive, extremely lightweight and easy to do.

The "Dog House" Blind
Concept diagram     
for the "V" Blind      
The "V" Blind:
     The "V" blind was my first effort trying to make a blind as simplistic and minimal as possible, with as low a profile as I could fit myself into while sitting on the ground (no stool, though I do have a small pillow pad to sit on).

     The "V" blind consists of only two small arches bent into shape by 1/8-inch camo nylon cord knotted through the pipe on one end and clipped with a small "S" hook on the other end. The diagram at left clearly shows the parts and method of construction. The two arches are pinned together on one end by two small bolts. A flexible "spreader" pushes the other ends apart, while a piece of nylon cord limits how far they can spread. It just couldn't be any simplier. The frame is covered with my favorite die-cut camo material, used in many of my projects.

     The front is open, just as with the "Marsh Blind", because my camouflaged camera/lens cover and tripod skirt act as the front of the blind, providing me and my equipment with well proven cover and camouflage. If you desire the front to be covered, it's a simple matter to add a drape of camo across the front with whatever slits or holes you wish. If you're shooting hand-held, this blind with a covered front added would work just fine. However, shooting with a large super-telephoto like a 500mm to 800mm lens requires a tripod, and that size lens and tripod will NOT fit inside this blind, with or without a front covering. The lens and tripod must have their own camouflage covering due to their size. In fact, the tripod's leg spread alone would certainly be larger than the blind itself.

V blind folded flat for carrying/storing.  
     Collapsing the blind is as simple as removing the spreader so the two arches fold flat. If there were some way to fold it again to make it half-size for carrying it would be nice, I agree, but in any event, it still weighs next to nothing to carry. I would advise against cutting the pipe in half at the top of the arch and trying to use pipe couplers in an effort to make it smaller. The stress of bending the pipe will split a coupler, even if you could somehow make the coupler stay on the pipe ends. I do have a couple of possible solutions for this on the back burner, and if any of them pan out, I will post them as an update to this article.

  Top photo: Size comparisons of "V" Blind (right) with Dog House Blind (left). Below: Dog House Blind compared with a PVC blind frame from another project.
     The spreader I use is a short length of fiberglass rod I found among my collection of "stuff". I don't know where it came from or where to find another one, but it worked perfectly for this project. I'd love to find more of this stuff, but I have no hopes of that. In any event, I can suggest some options for you. Get a bicycle flag and cut the small end from the fiberglass mast. It should work well. Alternately you could substitute a thin wooden dowel, perhaps 1/8-inch or 3/16-inch diameter. That should be flexible enough. You may even have some flexible plastic rods left over from an old kiddie tent that is defunct. Maybe even an old one-piece car antenna of light spring steel - anything thin and flexible. Simply cut your spreader long enough that when it's installed, it will flex and spread the two arches apart until the top nylon cord is taut. Drill a hole in each arch so your spreader tips will slip in and remove easily. Simple tension should hold it in place.

     One other method to spread it would be to use a stiff spreader, such as a 1/4-inch diameter dowel. Use a bungy cord of the right tension to pull the arches together right at the point where the dowel holds them apart. The dowel and bungy cord counter each other. Another idea is to use a left over end of the CPVC you cut off. Run a piece of nylon cord inside it, and where the cord comes out each end, thread that through holes in the arches and knot or tie each end to the arches. The cord holds the spreader in position and the spreader pipe holds the two arches apart at the right distance. Any of these methods would work, though some would be easier and quicker to use than others.

Close-up of bag for storing fiberglass spreader rod (shown in bag).  
     You'll want to keep track of your spreader and not loose it. I sewed a simple tubular "bag" from camo netting to hold my spreader and a couple of tent pegs. The bag is tied to the inside back of the blind so I won't misplace or drop my one-of-a-kind spreader and loose it in transport. In an emergency you could possibly cut a tiny thin branch or sapling and use it as a temporary spreader. It's a simple solution. Think, think!! If you use a section of CPVC as your spreader, one end could be permanently tied to one arch while the other end is tied/untied when setting-up/collapsing the unit. The permanently tied end will keep it from being lost.

     The dimensions in the diagram are optional. This unit fits my 5-foot 7-inch, 170 lb. frame. If you are larger and huskier, you'll need to adjust the dimensions so the arch is high enough for your seated height, and will spread wide enough for your shoulders. One possibility is the optional resizable frame idea in the diagram. By using a shorter section of pipe for the main arch, and adding extension pieces with couplers on the arch ends, you can get the same total height while having removable ends to make the frame a little smaller for transport. This gets around the problem of putting the couplers in the bend where they will fail under stress.

     This same idea could be used with the "original frame" sized arch, by adding coupled extensions onto the ends to make the unit even taller for larger people. It just takes a little thinking to come up with solutions. Don't forget that if you use couplers you will need a spacer between the pipes on the rear by the bottom bolt to allow for the coupler thickness. Also, concerning the bolts, the upper bolt should not be more than 12-14 inches from the pipe end for this size unit. Putting it too far up will limit how far the arches will spread apart on the other end. If you get it wrong, just drill a new hole lower down and reinstall the upper bolt. Note that this design will not work well without these bolts, as the two arches will shift and lean to one side or the other if not bolted in this fashion.

     Covering the frame with camo material is up to your discretion. You can use a section of military camouflage netting, burlap or any form of commercial camo material. It can be draped over, particularly with the military netting, but I'd recommend tying, lashing or using sewn loops or shower curtain clips to hold any fabric type material to the pipe frame.

Dog house blind frame raised, shown before and after camo painting.  
The "Dog House" Blind:
  Concept diagram for
the Dog House Blind
     On to the next blind, the "Dog House", so named because I couldn't think of anything else apropos - too much thinking to do! This is essentially the same as the cover and frame I used for the "Marsh Blind" project, except it has a third arch to replace the mortar mixing tub as a base. It weights just ounces more than the "V" blind above. It simply flips up and down like a hood on a baby stroller - simple and very effective. This too is meant to have as low a profile as possible for your seated height. Again, the pipe length used is optional. Just make it to fit your height and shoulder width.

     Options: Looking at the concept diagram at right, you can see that it can be held up by using prop rods (upper left in the diagram). Instead of prop rods, you could extend the ends of the bottom arch and use small bungy cords to hold it up (lower right in the diagram), just as I did with the Marsh Blind design. However, note in the diagram that in this case you must move the nylon tensioning cord from the vertical arch over to the extended base arch so the cord does not interfere with folding the unit flat.

     In either design, the tensioning cord will be under your legs, so the blind won't suddenly lift off in a wind if you don't have any tent stakes to hold it down (and I assure you, it takes very little breeze to carry these away). By adding a bottom cover, perhaps made from heavy upholstery vinyl, you will not only have a damp-proof bottom to sit on, your weight will also act to hold the blind down in a wind. In any event, I do recommend you have a couple of tent stakes with you, or else tie the unit to something (a sapling, bush or dead limb for example). Simply setting your equipment bag in the back (if you have a vinyl base covering installed as suggested) will suffice to weigh it down while you're not in it.

  The folded frame shows how the arches nest when flat (top). Details of the cord, hinge bolts and bungy cord are at bottom. Both photos show the two cords used for tensioning.

     A slight variation from the concept diagram is shown in this photo, where I used a second nylon cord aft of the hinge bolt to hold the arches in shape instead of the one cord depicted in the diagram. It's also quite easily seen in this photo. The second cord is not necessary, but I figured it couldn't hurt either.

     Though the concept diagram shows the middle frame arch at about a 45° angle, it will probably work better if angled upwards closer to 30 degrees from vertical as in the finished version depicted in this photo. This should allow a little more headroom. Also note the base arch does not nest as close to the others in the finished version (shown in this photo) as was depicted in the concept diagram. Though all three arch pipe lengths are very close in measurement, the base arch looks smaller because it is shifted forward at the hinge point so the ends protrude forward to provide leverage for the bungy cords. Had the base arch nested as shown in the diagram, it would have taken most of the 10-foot length of the pipe Such a large base arch is unnecessary.

The Dog House Blind folded for storing or transport  
     The actual finished lengths for the three arch pipes are:
      (1) front arch - 8 feet [=96 inches]
      (2) middle arch - 7 feet, 10 inches [=94 inches]
      (3) base arch - 7 feet, 6 inches [=90 inches]
Keep in mind that these dimensions make a blind that fits my build (and in fact is 10-12 inches wider than I need). You may have to adjust these dimensions to suit your height and body build.

     Just as for the "V" blind, you could add a drape to the front for hand-held photography instead of having it open in front. The covering could be any option from military netting to commercial camo fabric, though military netting would make the blind at least three or four times heavier than a lightweight material. You could start with a "fall/winter" pattern covering on it and then in spring and summer drape a greener cover or military netting right over the first cover. That way you would only have to carry the extra weight of the netting in season and not all year long. A better idea might be to make a cover of lightweight summer and winter camo materials back to back, and simply turn the cover inside out to change the season. All that is needed is to tie the cover onto the frame at several strategic spots around the frame with short pieces of nylon cord. Then untie the cords, flip the cover over and tie the cords again.