Backpacking and Camping Tent Selection

In order to choose the right tent for that hiking or camping trip, you will need to ask yourself the following questions:

Who will be using the tent? Adult, child, a couple, a family.

What do you need the shelter for? Backpacking, camping, back yard, family gathering.

When will you be using the tent? Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.

Where will you be taking the tent? Desert, Mountains, Forest.

Why will you need a tent? Privacy, protection from weather, bugs.

How will the tent be used? Sleeping, storage, eating, living in?

How often will you be using the tent? Every week, once a month, a couple times a year.

If you are an avid outdoors person, you may need a variety of portable shelters.

Keeping the above questions in mind we will address a few of the considerations in selecting just the right tent for your camping trip. Any portable shelter will need to be a compromise of all the requirements.

Weight – If you plan to backpack the tent any distance then a lightweight tent becomes a prime consideration. Season – Tents tend to be labeled 1, 2, 3, or 4 season tents based on how they will stand up to the weather conditions.

1 season tents are light weight, small rain fly, designed for mild, summer weather. These tents can handle light rain and mild wind.

2 season tents are heavier with a larger rain fly, designed for late spring through early fall usage. These tents can deal with moderate rain, light winds, and cooler evenings.

3 season tents are a very good basic shelter for most camping and backpacking use. They have a rain fly that almost touches the ground with a small extension over the entrance to help keep the inside dry. Many have an extended entrance cover to allow the wet gear to be left protected but not in the main tent. This is usually an accessory. These tents can deal with moderate rain and winds and are suitable for late winter-early spring through late fall to early winter.

4 season tents are suitable for winter camping and deal well with snow and having to live inside the tent during inclement weather. The tent to be made from heavier fabric and use heavier poles.

Size – Typically choose a tent sized one person larger than the number of people you expect to be in the tent on a regular basis. This will generally allow room for your gear out of the weather and at hand for convenience. When backpacking often a 3 person tent is used with one person carrying the poles, stakes, ropes, and perhaps the fly while the other carries the tent body. Adding a vestibule can add a place for wet outer clothing during inclement weather. Food should never be stored in a tent as animals won’t always use the door.

Type – There are several basic designs, A-frame, dome, cabin, tarp.

The A-frame is the classic style needing to be staked out with or without a floor and having 2 poles, one at each end. Some will have extra space under flaps the extend beyond the

The dome tends to be heavier but doesn’t require staking making it much easier to move slightly if needed. The dome often has 3-4 poles. The dome tent gives more headroom and greater stability, a reasonable all round choice.

The cabin is used for larger groups, families, meeting areas longer term base camp providing the most headroom. The cabin often has 4-6 poles, some have a ridge beam, with lots of stakes and ropes.

Tarp – While the tarp is not a classic tent, they can be very effective in mild weather utilizing tarp clamps rather than grommets can make a tarp tent a very versatile shelter and for summer backpacking trips the tarp is very lightweight. Tarps can also be very effective if you select a hammock as part of your sleep system.

So, in summary, in selecting a tent, consider weight, expected conditions, usage, and quality. If you are an avid camper or backpacker quality is going to be a greater consideration than if you are an occasional car camper.

Owen King

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