What is a Yurt?

9 min read

If you aren’t a history fan, the word yurt may sound like a new kind of yogurt. However, it is a tent-like dwelling that is ideal for outdoor living. Many adventurists and camping enthusiasts enjoy staying on yurts. For those who have never heard, let alone stayed in a yurt, here is everything you need to know about them.

What is a Yurt?

The definition of a yurt falls somewhere between a prefab cabin and a tent. Yurts are an old version of the tents we use nowadays. They were homes to nomadic tribes, and this culture has been passed down from one generation to another. Yurts are built to be spacious, simple, and portable. Since nomads often move from one place to another, the yurt needs to be portable.

Another key characteristic of a yurt is that it’s a circular structure. It is assembled the same way as a tent, but it’s mostly designed to withstand extreme climate. Nowadays, most people are interested in yurts because of their minimal impact on the environment. Yurts are built using all-natural materials. As a result, these homes leave a significantly lower carbon footprint.

In the past, yurts were actual homes that people lived in. Today, yurts have been modernized into camping premises, restaurants, and even offices. You can sleep on a government-constructed yurt in some national parks for free. Yurts are the answer for those who want to detach themselves from the busy world and come closer to nature. Folks who are conscious of the environmental impacts of modern homes can decide to lead a sustainable life in a yurt!

What are Yurts Made of?

The structures of yurts can differ, depending on which culture inspired their creation. However, they are all made up of fabric that covers walls that are made up of flexible poles. A key material used in the construction of yurts is wooden frames that create a lattice wall. Regarding the cover, it can be felting wool, tarp, canvas, or anything the nomads would get their hands on at that time. Even though not a commonly used material in modern yurts, some cultures used animal hide as the cover. Yes, animal skin made the best cover of a yurt. It was even better than the above because it offered decent insulation.

Modern yurts and traditional ones are built differently. The ones we have these days are a bit fancy. But, regarding the structure, shape, and factors such as portability, the designs are all the same.

How are Yurts Made?

Let’s start with how long it can take you to build a yurt. A yurt can be erected in 30 minutes to 3 hours. This depends on the nature of materials you are working with and the amount of experience you have with building yurts.

To know how yurts are made, you have to take note of the following. We have traditional and modern yurts.

Traditional yurts feature two main things, a covering and a roof, often referred to as the crown. These yurts can act as fully functional homes with a wood-burning stove and a chimney. As mentioned earlier, when building a traditional yurt, you will have to erect portable lattice-like wall structures from woven pieces of flexible wood. Once you are done with the walls, you move on to the roof, which can be built using wood, colored fabrics, and reeds. The roof should be supported by poles on the side and a strong one in the middle. There should also be an opening on the cover that lets smoke from the stove pass through.

During summer, chimneys were not mandatory in traditional yurts because people used to cook outside. Another detail that you should note is that one is free to use as many layers of coverings as they want. This comes in very handy at keeping you safe from harsh weather.

Before we move on to modern yurts, let’s finish up with some additional features of traditional yurts. The doors of these yurts are made of wood. The roof is installed on a gentle slope to prevent winds from ripping it apart. You may be wondering what happens in a yurt when it rains. It’s simple, around the yurts, people build trenches to divert rainwater.

Thanks to technological advancements, modern yurts are way better than traditional ones. Unlike traditional ones built on the ground, modern yurts are built on a platform. The type of platform depends on whether the yurt will be permanently situated there or the owner intends to move it. The walls and roof remain to be temporary structures.

Modern yurts are also made using natural materials such as ash, wood, and chestnut. The lattice walls are still utilized. However, the doors are more modern and feature a portable frame. There are wide covers which are made of fabric. On the roof, rafters are used to hold the top cover. To promote visibility, modern yurts have a dome skylight.

If you are planning to own a yurt, there are many ways you can customize both the interior and exterior. First, you can use thermo-fabric covers. These come in very handy when the temperature becomes extreme. The other thing is that modern yurts often don’t need supporting posts. Not unless the roof is very big and is built using strong materials. Compared to traditional ones, modern yurts are bigger and better.

As we wrap up on how yurts are made, it’s important that we look into minimalistic yurts. These are yurts that feature a minimalistic design. They prioritize more on living essentials. Nomads were minimalists. Their homes, such as the yurts, were quite simple, and the designs were stripped down to the core function of the premises. Yurts are the ideal structures for people interested in living a minimalist life.

Where Did Yurts Come From?

Yurts have their roots in Central Asia. Yurts, also known as gers, were the homes of Asian nomads. These people led a nomadic way of life where they would move from one area to another within a short period. To accommodate such a lifestyle, they came up with light and portable structures that would be easier to carry when moving. These yurts could be dismantled in about thirty minutes, hauled on animals for transportation, and assembled later.

Nomads mostly lived in the deserts where there were no trees. They, therefore, traded livestock for wood with merchants and woodworkers. Wood was the main construction material for yurts. Material such as wool would come from the nomads’ animals since they had flocks of sheep. The traditional wool felting process entailed wetting the wool, wrapping it in a yak hide, and letting a horse drag it so that the fibers could be strongly woven together.

If you go through history, yurts have been the homes for many cultures, let alone the Central Asian nomads. The Greeks used them in 440 BCE. In Siberia, yurts were also used by the Buryat Mongolian community. As a matter of fact, these guys claim that they invented yurts. Because this happened years ago, we can’t know for a fact where yurts came from. What we are sure of is that the Mongolians love living in yurts.

Today, when you visit Mongolia, you can see the traditional yurts we have been talking about. There are yurt quarters in cities such as Ulaanbaatar. The lifestyles in yurt villages in Mongolia are more communal. You will find large families living in separate yurts, but cooking together and sharing supplies. The populations in these yurt quarters often skyrocket from time to time, leading to crowding. This is a clear indication that the yurt culture is here to stay.

In the west, yurts were introduced in the ’60s by William Coperthwaite, who made the first yurt in the US after reading about it in the National Geographic edition of 1962. The story was about Mongolia. To his surprise, a decade later, yurts were featured as a means of living sustainably by various magazines such as the Whole Earth Catalog. As a result of this increased awareness, modern yurt manufacturing companies were created. Today, if you want to own a yurt, you can order a premade one and have it delivered to your home. Premade yurts come with a manual that guides you on setting it up. This is usually a very simple process that takes minutes. They are also portable, and you can carry the setup on your truck.

What are the Benefits of a Yurt Compared to Living in a Traditional Home?

Undoubtedly, everything about yurts is interesting. From the structure to construction design, yurts will introduce you to a whole new experience. Most of us are accustomed to the traditional rectangle-built living spaces. The thought of moving to a yurt can be both exciting and overwhelming. Below, we will list some of the benefits yurts have over traditional homes.

1. Yurts are More Sustainable

From the construction till completion, yurts encourage sustainable living. If you are cautious about the environment, yurts are the solution. You can build a yurt using natural resources such as wood and woven fabric. Unlike traditional homes built on concrete, you can erect a yurt directly from the ground using posts. Instead of using fiberglass in the walls, you can use wool for insulation. Secondly, with a yurt, you can rely on solar energy and use rain as a water source. This cuts out the need for electricity and things that can hurt the environment.

2. Yurts Blend Easily With the Environment

This has more to do with their minimalistic and simple design. It’s just that we are so used to seeing modern buildings in our estates and towns. But, if you take a trip to Mongolia or go yurt camping, you will be amazed at how yurts blend with the environment. They look decent and create a relaxed atmosphere.

3. Yurts Are Portable

We have all thought about carrying our traditional homes and moving them elsewhere. Unfortunately, that is not possible. The only option is to sell your home and buy another in your location of choice. This process is often very hectic and takes a lot of time. If you were living on a yurt, you wouldn’t even think twice. All you have to do is disassemble your yurt, pack it in your truck and move to the location you want. It’s that easy. Don’t let the fact that yurts are portable mislead you to think they are not sturdy. These structures can withstand the harshest climates.

4. Yurts Can Serve Many Purposes

You can turn a yurt into anything. Unlike traditional homes that have a rigid design, the spaces in yurts tend to be flexible. At first, the round walls can leave you feeling confused about how to design it. But once you get the hang of it, you will realize how flexible yurts are. You can live in a yurt. Or, you can turn it into a yoga, workout, or entertainment room. Some businesses are even using yurts to run their operations.

5. Yurts Promote Enlightenment

Everything about yurts promotes spiritual enlightenment. From the history to the use of all-natural materials, all these things will enable your body to feel the free flow of energy. This is the reason why most people use yurts as yoga rooms nowadays.

6. Yurts are More Economical

The cost of building or buying a yurt is a tenth of what you would spend building a traditional home. Yurts are cheap to own because they require few materials. When you calculate the cost of building a large and advanced yurt, it is a fraction of the cost you would spend building a house from scratch. Other than building costs, living in a yurt is quite affordable. You don’t have to pay for electricity, water, and other resources.

As beneficial as yurts are, if this is a lifestyle you are considering, you must be aware that it will not always be a bed of roses. Brace yourself to interact with all parts of nature, not just the sounds of chirping birds and the scent of fresh air. Insects can be a bit annoying. You also have to get the plumbing right or look into composite toilet options.

Where Can I Buy a Yurt?

We have compiled a list of the best yurt manufacturers for the modern nomads out there who may want to spend some quality time on a yurt. These companies sell yurt kits that are portable and can be easily installed. If you are interested in buying a yurt, here are some manufacturers worth checking out.

1. Pacific Yurts

At Pacific Yurts, you can get a sturdy and stylish yurt for as less as $5,825. Their yurts are quite spacious, with some stretching up to 12 feet in diameter. For the environmentally-conscious lot, you will be glad to know Pacific Yurts are made using sustainable methods. Pacific yurts come with a manual therefore building using this kit should take a few hours.

2. Blue Ridge Yurts

They make bigger yurts that cover an area of 16 feet in diameter. Blue Ridge Yurts’ price begins at $7,445. This company provides you with a full yurt kit containing everything you may need. Based in Virginia, they are the leading yurt manufacturer in Mississippi.

3. Yurtz By Design

If you want a medium-sized yurt, look no further than Yurtz By Design. This Canadian company utilizes sustainable and ethically sourced materials. The prices of their yurts start at $6,195. And that’s not all. The accessories you get with their yurt, such as the side covers, have a ten-year warranty.

4. Smiling Woods Yurts

These yurts are a bit pricey, but you are assured of getting value for money. Smiling Woods makes big yurts with a diameter of 20 feet. The creation of their yurt kits takes time since they allow clients to customize the yurt design. Their structures are very durable and appealing.

5. Rainier Outdoor

Rainier is another high-end yurt manufacturer. They make yurts that have a diameter of 24 feet. Their yurts are big enough to accommodate big families or a group of friends. For a company that has been around for a century, you can expect its yurts to be durable.

Why are Yurts Popular for Camping?

There are two types of yurt lovers. Those who enjoy spending all of their days in a yurt and those who love getting the one-time thrill of a yurt. The latter group mostly comprises camping enthusiasts. Amongst campers, yurts are a top choice. They are better than ordinary tents and give you the full experience of the nomadic lifestyle. Campers also love yurts because they are easy to set up, portable, and withstand harsh weather.

Final Thoughts

If you want to experience what it’s like living on a yurt, there are various yurt camps all over the country. You have to research and find out the hidden yurt gems near you. Alternatively, you can buy your yurt kit. Carry bug spray and heavy clothing to get the most out of your yurt experience.

Victoria Miller

I'm the founder of NTT. I live in Miami, Florida, and enjoy learning everything there is to know about tiny spaces.