Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Advice on buying a Tent

I was complaining to a friend in email about my 10 lb Sierra Designs Trios that I carried on my backpacking trip in the Olympics last week. And he sent me some great advice on buying tents. Here are the backpacking tents that I currently own :

Tim Hammer's Tent Advice :

Ah... Shopping for new gear. One of my favorite passtimes. A man can never
have too many tents...

Tents (IMHO):

Unfortunately, lightweight and “good” in the rain can be a bit of an

If you are worried about getting wet while you sleep most tents from
reputable companies should keep you relatively dry (I've never experienced
"absolutely dry"). And if you want something light, generally speaking, the
smaller the tent, the lighter the weight -it here we run into the true
problem; Is it possible to be light (small) AND good in the rain?

In my experience, if end up spending most of your camp time locked in the
tent while the deluge (insert: blizzard, plague of biting insects, hurricane
force winds…) has its way – for days on end - well, that light and small
tent that was so pleasant to carry becomes a misery to inhabit - like one of
those torture cells they use to break the hard cases. After a few too many
near homicidal episodes we've switched to a two tent, forcast dependant

If the forcast is favorible we pack a very light and very small 2 man tent.
(Noel “Solitary” @ 4 lbs light and a bit too tight if you are not on
friendly terms)

If the forecast is poor or we will be in a region notorious for long term
tent internment - like say, the Olympics :), we suck it up and schlep our
larger, heavier 3 man tent. It only takes one long trip trapped in a small
tent to never again cry over the extra pounds of security.
(MSR “SuperFusion 3” @ 11 lbs. Feels like 30 lbs on the back, but in a nasty
spell of weather it is palatial and worth every ounce. We used to own a
Sierra designs Tiros, which was a wonderful tent until it eventually wore
out from too much love)

Some people prefer to carry a small tent and a tarp for rainy trips. I’m not
a fan of that method. Your setup is limited to what the campsite can provide
and by the time you add up the weight it usually puts you in the range of a
medium size tent. In my experience a medium size tent with a good vestibule

Things I look for in a tent:

Absolute requirements:
Free standing - A tent that requires stakes to stand upright can be a real
bummer in some situations.
Bathtub floors - No seams along the ground.

Important features:
Good ventilation - I prefer two double wall tents for almost all conditions.
Barring extremely cold temperatures, the more mesh, doors and windows the
better. Condensation from breathing is the primary cause of wetness when
sleeping in a tent and one that does not ventilate well will leave you
soaked. Be careful when shopping for a double wall tent - there are a lot of
lemons out there. One common problem is for the fly to come in contact with
the interior ceiling or wall during heavy rain or snow. This allows the
wetness to come inside and can be a big problem. Avoid tents with large
horizontal ceiling panels and nothing to support the fly when it becomes
laden with moisture (like the Northface tadpole – what a piece of s*** that
was). Steep walls, a narrow ceiling and good amount of space between the
interior wall and the rainfly are usually good signs.
Clip Style pole fasteners – (as apposed to sleeves) Provide better
ventilation and easier pitching, the only drawback is that clips are not as
stable as sleeves in heavy winds.
Taped seems – like a good jacket – nothing keeps the water out like taped
seems. If they are not taped spend some time (and brain cells) with a heavy
duty seam sealant before you go out.
A good vestibule for gear or cooking in the nasty

Nice additions:
A BIG vestibule - usually comes with a small weight penalty but can provide
a lot of extra comfort.
Lots of interior pockets and "attic" storage.

If I were in your shoes, the first tents I would go check out are:
Sierra Designs - "Lightning Tent"
MSR - "Hubba Hubba Tent"

Ah the beauty of shopping for gear,

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