Make Your Own Theater System For Camp

Definitions of what it means to “go camping” range from roughing it like the Paleolithic Era to bringing a genny and powering up like electricity is going out of style.

For the latter type of contemporary outdoor squatter, camping has the upside of providing recreation you normally won’t find in the woods such as movies on DVD or Blu-Ray. Luckily, there is an inexpensive portable theater that can be built for $50-60. Assuming you already own a projector, that is. Below are instructions on how to watch some flicks in the sticks.

Materials On the Cheap
Choice of materials depends on the style and frugality of the builder. Do you want a professional-looking mounting? Buy PVC pipe, connectors, Velcro fasteners, and hooks to hang the entire shabang onto. Are you a cheapskate? Hey, nothing wrong with that. Go for cheap wooden poles or long sticks that you scavenged from the local woods. Combine with duct tape and wire hangers and–voila!–you have almost everything you need in addition to halving your total costs.

Screen Your System
One item that should not receive the short end of the budget stick, however, is the screen. Other than the projector, the screen will determine the quality of your picture, so for this reason alone you need to do it right. Blackout curtains work particularly well in this regard as they bounce back most of the image, unlike traditional curtain or drape fabric which is porous and diffuses the picture. Blackout curtains or drapes with solid, white backing work best. Darker colors decrease the natural brightness and sharpness of the movie.

Sew What?
Before you rush to buy curtains, be aware that your local fabric store should be able to pre-cut the length you need. This is important for two reasons: 1) You’ll likely save money buying a single sheet as opposed to joining separate curtains, and 2) you’ll waste more time sewing them together. If you’re a Handy Seamstress or Seamster, you won’t bat a pretty little lash at this. If you’re not that handy with a sewing machine, however, you should just pony up the money and have it done the right way.

Lay Some Pipe
Once your screen is cut to dimension, it’s time to lay the pipe (or sticks, if you’re cheap). It’s recommended that you cuff the top and bottom edges of your screen to create a natural insertion point through which the piping can slide. Also, cut a hole halfway across the cuffs; this is where your PVC pipes will connect, and leaving a gap gives you greater freedom to assemble and disassemble at will. You can always poke some holes in the edge of the fabric and tie the screen to the piping/sticks using string or zip ties. Whether sophisticated or crude, mounting is essential for keeping your screen as straight as possible.

Go Out on a Limb
Your next move is to fasten the top of the mounting to the low-hanging branch of your choice. If you cuffed the top of the screen, you can get away with looping the fasteners or hooks onto the exposed middle portion and ends of the pipe. If you fastened the screen to the pipe or stick without a cuff, you’ll need additional hooks or string to secure the mounting to the branch.

Anchors Aweigh
You don’t want to be watching some cheesy romantic comedy that your fellow campers forced you to watch when the wind picks up and flaps the screen in the breeze (although it would make a great excuse to stop watching). Two anchors, one at either edge of the bottom piping, should be enough to keep your screen from moving. Tent hooks can be corkscrewed into the ground and tied with wire, rope, or Velcro fasteners to the bottom piping.

Veg Out With Your Keg Out (Keg Optional)
Congratulations! Your portable theater system is ready to be enjoyed. If you opted for PVC piping with connectors, the entire system can be disassembled in less than 5-10 minutes and stored easily in a gym or camping bag. Fold the screen neatly to avoid wrinkles, toss the fasteners, string, and hooks into the bag, and your theater is ready for next time. But don’t worry about next time just yet. Simply sit back and soak in the joys of bringing your living room to your campsite. And because you built the entire thing yourself, you can still brag about how you are a (mostly) hardcore camper.