When a tent isn’t just a tent

UNICEF’s new High Performance Tents are a big step forward in providing support for children in emergencies.

By Amanda Westfall
UNICEF/UNI276745/Nomadic Media for UNICEF

23 January 2020

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – From the outside, the ubiquitous white tents bearing the UNICEF logo might not look all that remarkable. After all, a tent is just a tent, right?

Not exactly.

Inside these simple looking structures are a multitude of facilities for children fleeing conflict or natural disasters. One tent might be a classroom, offering a place to learn where none other exists in a conflict-torn country. Another tent could be a clinic bringing desperately needed, life-saving treatment. Yet another might host a playroom offering shelter and a welcome distraction for exhausted refugee children. Inside every one of them is a safe space for children and their families.

But while existing tents served UNICEF well for many years, the changing nature of crises – including climate change and protracted emergencies – posed a new challenge in ensuring these spaces remain safe and secure. Extreme weather, for example, has meant tents are increasingly at risk of collapsing from strong winds and rain, or of being too hot or too cold inside, making it difficult for children to fully benefit from the services being provided.

UNICEF looked to the market for a solution to these growing challenges, but couldn’t find one that fit all of its needs. So, the organization decided to team up with the private sector to develop a new tent through a co-creation process.

The process:


  • UNICEF explained its needs for a new type of tent to industry partners and identified more than 1,000 requirements, including the ability to stand up to extreme weather, improved internal temperatures, making tents more spacious, and ensuring they are straightforward to transport and set up.
  • Through a competitive trial and error process, prototypes were developed and tested in labs, including the Jules Verne climatic wind tunnel in France where hurricane strength winds and below-freezing temperatures were simulated to test durability, thermal performance and ventilation rates.
A prototype of a High Performance Tent is tested at the Jules Verne Wind Tunnel in Nantes, France.
  • UNICEF took the prototypes and manufacturers to three places it works to help everyone involved fully understand how climate impacts different emergency contexts and how the tents are typically utilized: Uganda was selected to represent hot and dry conditions, the Philippines wet and humid conditions, and Afghanistan for bitterly cold temperatures.
A prototype of a High Performance Tent is assembled in Uganda for testing in hot and dry weather conditions.

The final product:

UNICEF’s High Performance Tents include a number of improvements to improve efficiency and to make life more comfortable for children in emergencies.

Among the innovations are:

  • A new anchoring system to keep the tent properly secured.
  • A straight wall design to provide 20 per cent more usable floor space.
  • A three-layered window system made from a mosquito net, transparent sheet and full cover to improve lighting and ventilation, with an additional built-in shade net to help control the temperature inside the tent.

The tents can also be tailored and equipped with add-ons including:

  • Solar and electrical kits to provide illumination and improve safety at night
  • A winter liner for cold climates.
  • Hard flooring to provide a safer, cleaner environments in muddy conditions, and an inner liner to create a more intimate feel for child-friendly spaces.
Nomadic Media for UNICEF
Lights shine from inside prototypes of a High Performance Tent being tested in Cotabato, Philippines, where UNICEF and manufacturers analysed performance in hot, humid and rainy conditions.

These tents will have an important impact on UNICEF’s work in humanitarian emergencies worldwide, allowing UNICEF and partners to provide higher quality, more efficient services using a product made possible by working closely with the private sector.

UNICEF is now working to scale the tents to improve humanitarian responses across the globe, and to help more children like Rasid, who has already benefitted from the new design.

Formatoverde.pt for UNICEF
Rasid Kabagel, 12, was displaced from his home after a typhoon in the Philippines. He now lives at one of the sites testing the prototype for the High Performance Tent.

Rasid was displaced from his home following a typhoon in the Philippines. The camp he currently lives in was one of the sites selected to trial the prototype tent, giving Rasid and others the chance to access educational services in a more comfortable environment.

“Our classroom is no longer hot under the sun. I’m very happy now,” Rasid says.

Learn more about product innovation at UNICEF