between here and there

tents for backpacking

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Slide004

If you are joining us for Remote Studio or Quest– Utah you do NOT need to have a tent. We have enough for the trips. But if you are thinking that you would like to invest in one for the program (if you are attending Remote Studio you may want to camp on the weekends) or that you want one not to have one for the future, following are some tips I have learned over the years.

looks comfy, right? Don't expect to find a pillow in the backcountry...

looks comfy, right? Don’t expect to find a pillow in the backcountry…

1. A car camping tent is not really the best for backcountry camping, but a backcountry tent can always work for car camping.

 

3-season mountain hardware tent with vestibule and end entry

3-season mountain hardware tent with vestibule and end entry

2. Unless you live all the time and camp all the time in a temperate climate you should have a 3-season tent. And if you live in Alaska or want to trek in Nepal, you would need a 4-season tent.

3. A few years ago the tent manufacturers came up with a concept called an “integrated fly” for 3-season tents. I think the idea is that these tents weigh less.  I have not seen these perform as well as the traditional fly with tent system. What’s a fly, you are asking? Take a look at the images of tents here. The fly is the outer layer of the tent applied after the primary tent enclosure/structure. The fly is like the rain jacket or coat of a tent. It keeps the bad weather from getting to you. And the fact that it is on the outside of the frame structure means that it is held away from the surface of the primary enclosure. In nasty weather, which happens often enough in the Rockies or in the shoulder seasons most anywhere, you want a 3-season tent that has a separate fly.

Side entry with vestibule. Mountain Hardware

Side entry with vestibule.
Mountain Hardware

A very large vestibule, a new idea,could be useful if you need to "cook" in the vestibule, But not in bear country!

A very large vestibule tent from Big Agnes, a new idea, could be useful if you need to “cook” in the vestibule, But not in bear country!

4. A few more things about the tent fly. If its cold and rainy you want it. If its not you can leave it off and let your tent breathe, and you get to watch the stars. Worst case scenario if the weather changes you can snap it on in only a few minutes. (Unless you are totally convinced that the weather is going to be perfect when you are out in the backcountry and decide you can leave it at home or in your car.)

5. Quality of the tent. Walmart or a real technically designed tent? Seriously? If you are car camping or camping in your friend’s backyard you can last in a Walmart tent, or other “cheap” tent. But if you are hiking for miles into a place that has no alternative accommodations, not even a cave, you want to spend the cash to get a good tent. Why? Because they are built and designed to stand up in bad weather, and to last a long time. If you take care of the tent. I have watched cheap tents buckle under the weight of a spring snowstorm and almost blow away in the wind on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. I don’t think anyone was enjoying life inside those tents.

Mountain Hardware, Drifter . You could easily end up camping in snow like this in early June in the Northern Rockies, be prepared.

Mountain Hardware, Drifter . You could easily end up camping in snow like this in early June in the Northern Rockies, be prepared.

6. Tent profile: The “taller” the tent the more challenged the tent is in adverse weather, snow or wind. So, while the idea of being able to stand up inside your 3 or 4 person tent is cool when you are in the store, I recommend a lower profile tent. Being able to sit up is nice, and good enough.

7. Shape of the tent? Shape is relative to use and how many are using the tent and how well you know the person you are sharing the tent with and how much weight you want to carry on your back. Consider all of these conditions when considering the shape. If its low in profile and thin in plan you are going to want to be pretty comfortable with your tent mate.

Make sure you check the size of the footprint and the head height.

Make sure you check the size of the footprint and the head height.

7. How many doors? How many vestibules? This question relates to the question above. There have been times when I have slept in tents with folks I don’t know very well. I hate climbing over them to get in and out of the tent. So, consider that issue when you are looking at the tent layout. Also, double vestibules and openings allow each person the ability to simply slip out of the tent from their “side”. Long, slender tents with an end opening are nice. But they seem the best when you are intimate with the person you are sharing your tent with. Because most of the time you need to shimmy in and out of the sleeping bag and tent to get outside. One more thing about about multiple openings/vestibules. If you travel with a dog and you don’t want them in the tent with you, they can sleep in the vestibule. And if you are camping in a place that is not storming or has bears you can leave some of your gear in the vestibule and not in the tent. And lastly, if you are experiencing terrible weather you can heat water in your vestibule if the vestibule is big enough.

8. Weight of the tent?? Weight is certainly an issue. The more highly engineered tent, with the latest fabric and poles is going to be lighter than the others. But usually they cost more, too. So while you don’t want the heavy and inexpensive Walmart tent, you still want something lighter and affordable. Consider the issues above, how you are going to “live” in your tent, and where you are going to be living and then also consider the weight. There will be several tents of different weights to choose from even after you have used the above criteria to narrow your decision.

Another Big Agnes, 3 season, double vestibule tent. Removable Fly. Tent has screen above for night watching.

Another Big Agnes, 3 season, double vestibule tent. Removable Fly. Tent has screen above for night watching.

 

9. Color. Yes, color. I didn’t think too much about color of the tent when I bought my “blends into the landscape” colored tent. But here are a few things to consider if you actually have a choice in color. There is conflicting data on whether color makes a difference to a bear. Some say a brighter color attracts them. Some say they don’t care. I have no experience to offer regarding this issue. But what I can say is if you are having an emergency and need to be rescued, or send someone out for help in changing weather conditions and they need to find you and the tent again, a brighter color can help for identifying and locating the tent in the back country.

10. Best tent manufacturers? There are many. Marmot, Big Agnes and Mountain Hardware to name a few. They all make their tent details and shapes a bit differently. But are of a good quality and well engineered. And just about any tent you are going to find sold with these three will be similar quality. You can pay full price, or you could do a little research and figure out what you are looking for (size, type, weight, etc) and then buy one online at a site such as backcountry.com. Check them out for other gear, too.

11. Don’t forget the ground cloth. It goes between the tent and ground. Should be light weight. There is a specific ground cloth for the tent you buy. Well worth it when it is pouring rain and the water is rushing under your tent. The ground cloth can be turned up on its edges to ensure that water runs under it, and not into the tent. (true story).

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Author: loriryker

Designer, educator, author, painter, jewelry maker. Exploring the relationship between nature and culture.

2 thoughts on “tents for backpacking

  1. Hey loriryker! Some great info here. One thing I have found is that using a hammock meant for backpacking works really well at keeping out the water. There is no ground to let the water seep in or even bounce up. If you are looking for some more information on using hammocks when camping a good resource is http://www.backpackhammocks.com. This site also has some featured hammocks that would seem to work well.

    Good luck!
    -Nick

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