How many times have you come home soaking wet, with nowhere to put loads of wet and muddy kit? Why is there so much of it? What do you do with it all? Make a pile by the front door. Distribute it across the kitchen. Hang it on the back of chairs and doors across the house. Try to have a shower but your waterproof jacket is taking up all the space. Yeah, been there.
For many people this is an intermittent problem. Most people either wait until it stops raining, don’t go for wet walks that often or have someone else deal with it for them (hi mum!). But I live in a part of the world that is notoriously wet almost all year round. The kind of place where everyone owns waterproof shoes because, well duh! Why wouldn’t you?
On top of this, I’m out on the moors a lot. And often on days or nights with particularly bad and wet weather – because that’s what Mountain Rescue is all about. People don’t tend to get very lost on nice sunny days. So, as autumn sets in and I get fed up of dealing with piles of wet kit (never mind the tent), I thought it was time to take action.
Introducing: the cupboard under the stairs
I love a well organised gear system. You should see my living room walls. The cupboard under my staircase is not very big and generally full of junk. I’m renting the house and a lot of the junk was there when I arrived. I’ve never got around to clearing out what previous tenants haven’t bothered to take.
It also came with the interesting feature of a pipe-shaped heater, with a tiny wooden rack above it. Almost like it was put in for drying shoes on. Hmmm… It was time to make plans.
First, I cleared everything out. For a small cupboard, it’s amazing how much actually fit in it. There were a mad selection of half-used cleaning products, a stack of bathroom tiles, cardboard moving boxes, the works. Plus a solitary piece of uncooked penne.
Then I got on with the cleaning. It was pretty filthy, not least because it turns out there is a large hole where the top of the door frame meets the underside of the stairs. Spider central. It also turned out that there were a couple of large holes in the floorboards under the carpet.
Eventually, it was all cleaned up – at least well enough for a drying room! It was time to take stock of what I had to work with.
Built into the cupboard:
- Shelves – one under each step from about waist height.
- Hooks – screws and nails at regular intervals up each wall below the stairs.
- Coat rail – on left hand wall.
- A working heater
- A small wooden rack above the heater
Useful items either left in the cupboard or that I already own:
- Assorted racks and rails for washing
- The drying room must be able to fit a weekend’s worth of wet gear inside it to dry, most importantly a 3-man tent.
- The door needs to be able to shut.
- There should be enough room that the dehumidifier isn’t covered in stuff.
Designing the Drying Room
Based on those criteria and the space I had available, I came up with several ideas for what the drying room could look like. Eventually, I settled on making some sort of a cargo net out of bungee cord, that could be hung on the nails parallel to the underside of the stairs. The weight of the tent should stop the loops from falling off the nails.
I decided I would need to put something waterproof down on the floor, to stop wet kit from soaking into the carpet. I could also improvise some washing lines with spare bungee cord and the assortment of washing racks I seem to now have.
Ideally the tent could be hooked from the ceiling and then held back by the netting, but with the void above the door I wasn’t sure exactly how to do that.
Making a Cargo Net from Bungee Cord
The most involved part of the project was making a cargo net from bungee cord. Although it looks very complex, it’s actually really easy to do – just a series of knots. I’m going to give you a step by step guide on how to make one here. If it doesn’t make sense, watch YouTube – there are loads of tutorials.
STEP 1: Get yourself some bungee cord! I was very kindly gifted this set of bungee cord from the aptly named The Bungee Store. The name says it all, really, but if you’re into DIY gear then it really is a one stop shop for all your stretchy-cord related needs. You can get bungee in rolls of all sizes, pretty much any colour you like and in a variety of thicknesses. (I may use them again for making custom bungee straps for cycle touring purposes.)
I used cord in 4 colours, at 4mm thickness. The lengths you need really depends on how big a net you’re making.
STEP 2: After carefully measuring what size net you need (I made a little diagram) start cutting your bungee cord to length. Obviously, don’t stretch it while you’re measuring! I started with the top part in black. Then I cut double-length cords in each colour, that you can see attached vertically.
Below are some details of the knots. For the top row, I used a loop tied with a figure 8, with a hitch on the end for neatness, to make the eyelets at each corner.
Then to attach the vertical cords across the middle, I used a simple lark’s foot. Make sure you are consistent with which way up you thread the bungee. Try to get the knot as close to the center of the bungee you’re attaching (e.g. the center of the grey in the picture below) so that you have two equal strands to work with.
STEP 3: Great, now you’ve got your first row of knots, split up the double strands to make triangles along the top row. I used overhand knots for this. I’m not sure it really matters. Obviously, the higher up you tie your first knot, the finer a net you are going to make. Since this was for my tent, I could go pretty large.
Off the edge of the picture (to the left) is a single black strand. Then tie black and grey, grey and green, green and blue, blue and black. There will be a single black strand on the far right.
STEP 4: Then, keep going! Split the strands up again and tie them to the one adjacent. For the next row on mine, it meant tie all the strands of the same colour together. Easy to remember, right?
You can see an image of the finished net below.
STEP 5: It does get a bit complicated at the bottom. I simply got as far as I could making diamonds, without running out or cord. I then cut and tied loops in a black bungee as identical to the top one as I could make it. To attach the two together, I just tied all the loose ends onto it, in order. This looks a little messy and, since it’s just a single knot, I’m not sure how long it’ll last. We’ll see how it goes with use.
When I tried it in situ, I realised I didn’t have quite enough nails for how long I’d made it. So, I cut some more bungee and looped it round the bottom shelf at each corner. In an ideal world, I think I’d want to have a toggle on these two attachment points, so I can easily adjust. For now, a knot does the job.
Next up was the floor. The most obvious way to waterproof a floor is to throw down a tarp. This is exactly what I did. You can get tarps anywhere, but this tarp was also kindly provided by Rope Source (sister company of the Bungee Store). Again, they do what it says on the tin – all sorts of rope and cord from crafting to marine, although no climbing ropes – plus useful accessories.
My cupboard was not a very standard size, so I’ve got at least double thickness of tarp across the entire floor. The vinyl off cut is spare from my parents’ kitchen. You can probably snaffle a bit fairly easily by asking a local carpet shop or checking the likes of Facebook Marketplace. It’s not 100% necessary, but I imagine I’ll be standing there a lot and it’ll protect the tarp, plus keep it flat.
The Finished Drying Room
Tadaaah! Here’s what the finished room looks like. As you can see by the coats, I’ve got a standard “over the back of the door” style coat rack. The netting hangs down over the shelves and there are even more hooks in the way of old screws and nails in the walls. It’s quite hard to photograph because if I step any further backwards, I hit a wall.
I didn’t have to wait long to test it. I got back from my Dartmoor Way jaunt with a soaking wet tent and lots of damp and muddy kit. Would it all fit…?
Answer: yes. Just! The first thing I realised was I could really do with a light. There’s nothing in the corridor and once you start filling the cupboard, it gets quite dark at the back! So I’m going to add one of those battery powered LED press-lamps to the shopping list.
Amazingly the tent stayed in place. It was a bit challenging to wrestle into the netting while it is so heavy and damp, but I think I’ll get a knack for it over time. If I can think of a smart way to add a hook in then I will. Perhaps by means of a pull up bar… The tent also needed turning, once one side was dry.
But all in all, I’m very pleased. There will be a few little adjustments but otherwise, mission complete.
Do you have a home drying room? How do you dry all your outdoor kit? Let me know if you’ve been inspired to try to make a drying room of your own!