Putting up a Parachute as a Shelter

Finished Parachute Camp

Following on from part one where we looked at the knots involved it’s now time to put the parachute up.

Things you will need

  • Obviously! A Parachute
  • Paracord (if the parachute still has all the cords attached you will have plenty!)
  • Knife
  • Axe
  • Saw

Things you will need to source – no apologies for using feet as the unit of measurement, didn’t have a tape measure in the woods, but I did have two feet! And my size 8 boot is 11.5 inches so close enough.

  • 3 x long poles (Approximately 30ft)
  • 3 x Y Poles, of varying lengths e.g. 5ft, 10ft, & 20ft
  • Up to 28 x 6-8ft Poles and 2ft Stakes with notch and point
  • 28 x Pebbles (if the base of the ‘chute has a smaller circumference than where the strings are attached)

Knots you will need to know (see part one)

  • Simple overhand knot (and with loop)
  • Bowline knot
  • Slip knot
  • Tensioning Knot
  • Jam knot
  • Reef knot
  • Clove Hitch
  • Surgeon’s knot
  • And also, how to Hank a length of cord

These two blogs on how to put up a parachute came about because we are using a new style of parachute. Woodland Ways had purchased surplus Irvin-GQ LLP Mk 1 parachutes, which is the standard British Military Low Level Parachute (LLP). The LLP is used for static line parachute drops, including mass tactical drops of paratroopers, down to a level of 250 feet. The old shaped ones, the X type parachute, had limited availability when we needed them to make our camps more COVID-19 safe by having more camps and teaching areas for social distancing.

The LLPs brought about a challenge and some prolonged head scratching to solve a problem caused by an extra panel and netting arrangement, but more on that later. Putting up an LLP is the same as any other ‘chute in the initial stages.

You are going to need three long poles to form the tripod. This isn’t a blog about felling a tree, but just a quick run through of things to consider. A straight, suitably tall, live tree is needed to ensure strength and integrity. Felling the tree using three cuts:

Felling cuts
Felling cuts.

The Upper Common at the Oxford woods has a block of relatively young Spruce trees, a good source for these large, long poles. Once felled, the branches and twigs growing out from the main trunk will need to be cleaned off, do this where the tree has been felled. Make the area on the main trunk where the branch has been cut off as smooth as possible. An axe is perfect for this, or a draw knife used in the making of bows. The silk of the parachute will be prone to catching on the slightest rough or sticking out bit of wood.

Ideally, when the ‘chute is up, the paracords will be pulled out and attached to trees to spread it out using a tensioning knot (Backhanded Hitch). If trees aren’t available, then the paracord will need to be attached to poles 7ft to 8ft tall and then secured to 2ft stakes hammered well into the ground. Hazel or Ash would be better than Sycamore, which will need replacing sooner. Best to source more than you think you need, the ‘chute we used has 28 seams, so potentially up to 28 poles and stakes will be needed for a free standing ‘chute in open ground with no available trees.

Pole and stake support
Pole and stake support.

Don’t forget to source the various height Y poles, and then you’re ready to get started!

Step 1 – Preparing the Parachute
The top of the ‘chute may still have the drone or smaller parachute that is deployed first and helps pull the main ‘chute out. This will also need to be cut away from the main ‘chute and all the attached paracord lines cut off and, hanked up for use later.

Step 2 – Preparing the Tripod
Line up the three long poles so that the thinner ends are together with two pointing in one direction, and one the opposite way, lying between the other two. Balancing them on another log will make lashing them together easier. Positioning this set up with a little forethought will make life easier later. Things to consider are, the direction of the prevailing wind, generally in the UK this is from the South West. The thicker ends of the two poles need to be pointing to the SW, and the thick end of the single pole needs to be pointing NE. This will maximise the stability of the tripod in the wind. Also, when lifting the tripod up, the legs will have a tendency to slide along the ground, so if there are two suitable trees to the SW, the thick ends of the two poles can be placed at the base of these during the initial phase of the lifting process.

Long poles ready to lash
Long poles ready to lash – photo by Jay Jenner.

Step 3 – Lashing the Tripod
Reference my previous blog Putting up a Parachute for a base camp or teaching area Part One – The Knots you’ll need…

To start the lashing for the tripod, take a length of paracord from the drone ‘chute you cut off earlier, or a new length. It will need to be long enough to go around the three thin ends of the poles ten times, then around the cord itself between the poles four times (twice) plus extra to tie off at the start and finish. Start with a simple overhand knot to form a stopper. Around one of the outer poles, tie a Clove Hitch making sure the stopper is wrapped in the centre of the hitch to prevent the cord being pulled through. Wrap the paracord neatly around the three poles ten times. Then wrap the cord around these ten rows of lashing, between the poles, and repeat, as shown below. The lashing is finished with another Clove Hitch and stopper Knot. N.B. The extra knot in the example shown is a surgeon knot joining two pieces of paracord together, hence the note above to measure a sufficient amount of cord before you start. You benefit from my opportunity to learn, otherwise known as a mistake!! 

Lashing – photo by Jay Jenner.

Step 4 – Lifting the Tripod and Position the Parachute
Have the shortest of your Y poles to hand, lift the lashed ends up and place the Y pole underneath to support the poles off the ground. You may need two Y poles to steady this (or a friend!) while you splay the bases of the two poles pointing to the SW. Again, learning from my experience, best to hank all the paracord lines attached to the base of the ‘chute before you attempt to pass it over the tripod and position the top central hole over the lashed thin ends of the tripod. I had great fun tripping over all the loose lines of paracord whilst trying to get piles of silk over the tripod.

Y Pole helping lift
Y Pole helping lift – photo by Jay Jenner.

Step 5 – Continuing the lift
Before you lift the tripod any further, secure the bases of the two legs pointing to the south west, either by positioning them at the base of a suitably sturdy tree, or by digging the bases in to the ground slightly to prevent them from sliding. Using the Y pole to push up on the lashing, you can then slow bring the single leg in towards the central hole and so bring the whole tripod into a more upright position. Obviously, many hands make this easier, but it is possible to do this singlehanded.

Tripod Upright
Tripod Upright – photo by Jay Jenner.

Step 6 – Finalising the tripod legs
Before you start to pull the canopy out and tying the lines to trees or poles, take the time to ensure the legs are correctly positioned. They need to be equal distance from each other, and equal distance from a central point directly below the lashing / top hole. That central point will also be the fire pit if using as a base camp. You may find the legs are too long, i.e. when you try to pull the ‘chute out to its final position of the outer edge is way over head height. This is the time to cut them, in small equal increments as required. Also dig the pole bases in to the ground by a foot or so to make them secure.

Step 7 – Stretching out the canopy
It’s important to note that this is quite a time-consuming task, don’t try to rush as it will just take longer and get frustrating. Start by arranging the parachute so there are equal number of panels between each of the legs. Not perfect, the ‘chute with 28 panels divides in to two lots of nine and one ten, but close enough. With a seam over each of the poles, start by loosely attaching these lines to an appropriate tree is preferable, or post and stake. With these first three lines done, take the middle seam that lies between each of the poles and tie these out, you’ll now have six lines loosely stretching the canopy out. Then keep working around the ‘chute in order to stretch it out evenly by taking the seam between the pole and the middle one just tied, and so on. Hopefully the numbering sequence in this illustration should help.

When the line was attached to a tree, a Backhanded Hitch was used. With the post and stake, a Clove Hitch on the pole, with the line going down, around the stake and tied off with a slip knot and a half hitch with the loop for good measure.

N.B. If the paracord has been cut off with just a short tail of cord remaining attached. Use this short piece to form a loop using an overhand not, and then attach a new length of paracord with a Bowline Knot.

Stretching Canopy Illustration
Stretching the canopy illustration.

Step 8 – Sorting out the billow  
When the ‘chute was being stretched out it became apparent that the paracord lines at the base were not attached to the widest point. This meant the ‘chute was not under tension in a continuous straight line from hole at the top, down the seams, along the paracord to the trees or poles. There was a huge billow of silk, you can see this in the image below.

Source: 3 Para - Low Level Parachute (eliteukforces.info)
Source: 3 Para – Low Level Parachute (eliteukforces.info)

To cut out this billowing material would be very time consuming and potentially weaken the integrity of the parachute. The solution was to put a pebble inside the ‘chute, at the widest point (marked in illustration below) in line with the panel seam, and fold a section of the material over on to the netting section at the base and tie the pebble around the silk material to the netting.

The billowing problem
The billowing problem.
Taking out the billow
Taking out the billow.
The solution
The solution.
Pebble and surgeon knot
Pebble and surgeon knot.

Step 9 – Tensioning
Having solved the issue of the billowing silk, we were able to now pull out the ‘chute evenly following a similar pattern as Step 7. Go around in turn tightening each of the lines to bring the canopy out to its widest. A trick with the pole and stake option is to move the base of the pole towards the parachute, lowering the height of top slightly. Tie off around the stake, then ease the base of the pole out towards the stake, thereby lifting the top of the pole and increasing the tension.

Finished Parachute Camp
Finished Parachute Camp.

Step 10 – Making a Cooking Frame
Another three poles were sourced to be tied to the tripod legs above head height with two jam knots at each end. Another pole was laid across two of these to give a support for cooking cranes over the fire. You’ll see this setup on many of our camps. Although there is a variation whereby another tripod is made and the three cross beams attached to this, giving a movable cooking frame. This gives the team at Woodland Ways the options to use the parachute as either a base camp with a firepit, or as a teaching area when the cooking frame is moved away (and the fire put out).

You may see some of the parachutes have pleats to temporally remove some of the triangular panels. This is to help create a better cone shape or to overcome issues caused by trees not quite being in the right place and the canopy is not able to be stretched out to a perfect circle.

Taking out slack panels
Taking out slack panels.

Well, congratulations, you made it to the end! That’s one way to do it. Check out all of the ‘chutes around the various woods when on one of the Woodland Ways courses to see the subtle variations as other members of the team did it their way.

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