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yurt in the country with a sign

What Is a Yurt?

Lauren Nowacki5-Minute Read
May 12, 2020

Those looking to escape civilization for a few days typically find solace in a quiet, natural setting that’s miles away from the hustle and bustle of their normal lives. While cabins, RVs and tents have been the common shelter for these retreats to a simpler life, yurts have become a popular new option that fits somewhere between a resort-like cabin in the woods and a simple camping tent that may succumb to heavy winds and rains. Read on to learn more about yurts and whether they’re the right option for your next getaway – or guest house, secondary home or even primary residence.

Yurt Definition

A yurt is a style of portable home once used by ancient nomadic tribes in Central Asia, particularly Mongolia. They’re traditionally built with a circular structure and one-room layout that houses multiple people.

Mongolian Yurt in a field near the mountains

Inside, you’ll see the structure’s skeleton, with lattice walls (made from crisscrossed pieces of wood) and roof poles attached to a ring in the center, known as the crown. To circulate air inside the yurt, the crown typically remains partially open. A traditional yurt, used as a home, will contain what a normal living space would – beds, seating, a table and a coal- or wood-burning stove for heating and cooking set up in the middle. Yurts used for short-term stays may be set up in a similar way, with the wood-burning stove moved to the side and only used for heating and aesthetic.

interior of a yurt with a bed and a dresser

How Is A Yurt Different From A Tent?

Developed for nomadic living, yurts can be portable and put up or taken down within hours. They’re typically made from easy-to-transport materials. Their frames are collapsible and they are made of light wood materials and covered by carpets, hides or felt. More recent and permanent structures, typically found in the U.S., are made with metal and covered in durable, waterproof canvas.

Because of its design, materials and transportability, it’s often compared to or put in the same category as a tent. While they do have some similarities, a yurt differs from a tent in that it is more structurally sound than a regular tent. A yurt is supported by its lattice wall and with rafters fortified by a compression ring in the center of the roof. A tent is supported by tension between various poles and anchored to the ground with stakes. A modern yurt is also designed with actual windows and door frames, while a tent typically has windows and doors that are part of the structure and zip open and closed.

How Is A Yurt Different From Other Structures?

Though yurts can be permanent dwellings, they differ from a house or cabin in that they are round-shaped and covered in fabric on the outside. They are also usually one room (though more modern layouts may have multiple rooms) and one floor. This makes them a popular option for those who wish to live in a unique home or for year-round minimalist living. They are also better for the environment than campers and RVs, other popular options for minimalist, unique or mobile lifestyles.

Traditional Vs. Modern Yurts

The yurt has been a popular home design in Central Asia for thousands of years and has more recently been popularized by the glamping industry. To truly appreciate these structures, it’s important to know more about their history and how they’ve been modernized in Western cultures.

Traditional Yurts

Yurts were the traditional dwelling for Mongolian nomadic tribes, as well as surrounding areas on the Central Asian steppe, a flat grassland area with no trees. These areas usually have an extreme range in temperature and often experience high winds in the spring. Known as a “ger” in Mongolian, the yurt was built to be aerodynamic against the high winds on the steppe. Layers of felt, typically made from sheep wool and yak hair, covered the exterior of the yurt to help insulate the structure from harsh winter weather. As nomads in this area moved several times a year, the yurt was made to be easily assembled, dismantled and transported. Traditional yurts are still the popular housing option in Mongolia today and a huge part of the cultural identity in Central Asia.

traditional yurt in a field near mountains

Modern Yurts

Yurts have gained popularity in the western world, especially in North American campgrounds and ski resorts. While the general structure and design has remained the same, some of the characteristics popular in traditional yurts have changed. Often built permanently on a wooden platform, modern yurts are not made for mobility and, thus, many have a metal frame instead of wood and are covered with high-tech fabric instead of felt. Most yurts in the U.S. are outfitted with heating, electricity and plumbing and have additional amenities, like windows and a skylight in the central ring. Instead of permanent living spaces, modern yurts in the West are more popular as lodging options for vacations or glamping weekends as well as tourism experiences.

modern yurt surrounded by snow

Where Can I Find Yurts For Sale Or Rent?

Yurts can be purchased like any other property you plan to live in. However, since yurts are less popular, there may be slim pickings on the MLS or other listing sites – especially if your desired location is more urban than rural. When buying a home and considering a yurt as your permanent residence, it may be best to reach out to a real estate agent who specializes in these types of listings or at least knows your area well. If you’re thinking of building a yurt, you can hire a builder or purchase a kit.

Portable camping yurts can be purchased online or in outdoors stores. However, their designs may vary greatly from the standard layout. If you’re looking for a weekend getaway or interested in testing out a yurt before you build or purchase one, review the various accommodations at your local campgrounds or check out Airbnb.

Is A Yurt Only For Camping?

While yurts have been particularly popularized for camping and getaways, they’re an option for personal use in North America as well. People desiring a smaller home may be attracted to a yurt’s layout, which provides ample space. A yurt can be great as a secondary home or as a guest house or studio on your primary property. Whatever their use, they allow for several opportunities for personalized interior design.

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Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.