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Camping 101: Choosing a Tent
Family camping tents come in many shapes and sizes. What suits your needs may not be right for someone else. That is why there is such a large variety of products for the enthusiast market out there.
- Shape your tent choices
Tents come in four basic forms: A-frame, umbrella, geodesic or “dome”, and wall. The A-frame is the old-style, traditional “chchen” shape of the tent, but it can also be quite large. The Umbrella is a commonly used family tent, with lots of standing room, including large windows and a rain fly. The geodesic dome has many variations, with various combinations of connected triangles. The wall tent is like an A-frame tent, but is generally larger and has vertical side walls, and is most commonly used in army and scout camping applications (These are usually set up on permanent decks).
Tents with square floor shapes are more efficient when it comes to sleeping arrangements and gear. If you decide to buy a tent with a round or oval floor, you should plan for some extra floor space to compensate for the less efficient layout.
- Size matters
The tents are sold as two people, four people, six people, etc. At best this describes most people you can enter the tent to sleep, with no storage for any of your personal items. This size determination is okay for backpackers who are packing light, but it makes no sense for the average camper.
Why put shoe-horns in your tent? Figure on using the tent at half its rated capacity and you should have enough room for two adults and most of their gear. Each person should have a minimum of 24 square feet of floor space; enough room for your pad, sleeping bag and gear. If you’re packing for a long trip, you may want to increase the square footage depending on the amount of gear you’ll be carrying.
Don’t forget to buy a tent that will be wide/long enough for you to stretch out when you sleep… a 6′ tall bed will be very cramped in a 6′ wide tent; leave yourself at least 1 foot of leg room. You will need a minimum of 30″ of space across the tent for each sleeping bag just to sleep.
Adding ‘dry’ storage for your gear, and enough space to get out of your tent without trampling over your tent mates, will result in a more enjoyable outdoor experience. With that in mind, an 8′ x 8′ tent would work well as a 2 person family tent. This gives each camper 32 square feet to spread out their gear and sleeping area. BUT, a 10′ x 10′ tent is more suitable for two adults (seems like too much, huh?). This size tent will have enough room for an air mattress, bed or pad AND still have enough room to stand when changing clothes.
Be careful when buying a tent larger than 10′ x 10′. First, finding a suitable place to pitch such a large item will be a challenge. You need a place as level as possible. Second, large tents are very heavy and cumbersome to carry. Finally, it might be better to have several smaller tents so that everyone does not share the same sleeping, changing and living area.
The peak height is very important for your comfort. For most trips, try to have a tent that is tall enough to stand in. Plan for the tallest person in your group. A peak height of six or seven feet is necessary for adults, and a peak of four feet is about right for children. Remember, the tent slopes down at a sharp angle, so the actual place where you can stand will be small. Larger spaces will be provided in tents with higher peaks.
Children can fit comfortably in smaller tents. Once they are old enough, about seven or eight, they will probably want to sleep in a separate tent anyway. Parents will appreciate the privacy provided by this arrangement as well. A five by seven foot tent is adequate for young types. Teens should be considered adults when pitching a tent.
- Support your local tent – pole
The poles included with most tents available today are made of aluminum or fiberglass. The best quality tents usually come with specially designed aluminum poles, with a high degree of flexibility. Fiberglass poles are included in most ‘everyday camping’ tents. The poles are usually linked together with an elastic shock cord. This speeds up the set up process (important when doing it in the rain!). Poles, when mishandled can bend or break, so many tent manufacturers provide repair kits for you to bring along on the trip.
- Seams to Me It Matters
Seams should be reinforced with nylon tape and double stitching. The tape is sewn into each seam, which strengthens the seam and adds to the weather protection. All waterproof seams in the shutter and floor (or tub), usually factory waterproof with a seam seal. Place the tent in your yard before the first tent is used to test the pitching process. You can also use this opportunity to go to your local sporting goods store to purchase some seam sealer and waterproof spray. It’s always a good idea to do this to ensure a dry trip. Make sure you allow the tent to dry before packing it back up.
Almost all modern tents are now made of nylon. Coated nylon is used for waterproofing. Nylon mesh is used for inner walls and gear pockets. Invisible mesh is used for window screens. Better tents use thicker fabric and rip-stop fabric.
- Hey!!! Post it up!!
Make sure when you go out to buy your tent…test the zippers. They should open and close with ease and should not catch on the tent fabric. Zips should be rust resistant.
- Flash hot and cold and “Why is my tent shaking?”
Weather variations will put a lot of demands on your tent.
Windy conditions will require large poles, stakes and anchor ropes. Dome tents are very windy. The rounded design reduces the effect of the wind, and the pole arrangement provides great strength.
Rain causes two problems in the surface. Keeping yourself and your gear dry is first and foremost. Second, you need enough room for everyone in the tent to be comfortable if ‘weathering the storm’ becomes necessary.
The floor should be constructed of waterproof coated nylon that covers the floor, and turn the sides for about six inches, creating the basin. There should be a minimum number of seams (the more you have, the more potential for leaks). It will catch any water that runs down and under the tent.
Make sure your tent has a waterproof rain fly made of coated nylon. The fly should wrap around the tent and reach down to the sides, leaving only a few inches of space between it and the ground. This should shut off the rain, even in windy conditions. The fly should extend far enough over the door, so it catches the rain when you open the door to enter or exit. Some tents even come with a vestibule that allows for this.
Sunlight and its accompanying heat create a great need for shade and air flow. The rain fly will provide shade. Screen windows on the opposite side of the tent, or a screen window across from a screen door, will allow air to flow through the tent.
Long hikes in cold weather require a special, heavy-duty 4-season tent. Unless you plan on winter camping, you can use a “three-season” tent with the features mentioned above. The most important features will be a rain fly that covers the top and sides to keep snow and other precipitation at bay, and an inner layer made of an open mesh fabric to allow water vapor to breathe out of the tent. In cooler weather, water vapor inside the tent from the humid, outdoor air and breath of the occupants will condense on the inner surface of the tent. This can be prevented by allowing air to flow through your tent or by passing through the mesh fabric.
Tent size is also a consideration with cool weather camping. A smaller tent will stay warmer than a larger tent with your body heat.
- You get what you pay for
Generally, the more expensive tents are made of stronger fabric, poles, and stitching. They are built to withstand the strongest winds and most violent rains. A good tent, well cared for, can last for many years.
Remember that not everyone will need this amount of durability. The more weather you camp in, and the closer to home you camp, the better solution will most likely be a less expensive tent.
If you’re just starting your camping trip, and you don’t know if you’ll enjoy it, you might want to start with a less expensive setup. Your first trips will probably be when the weather is warmer, and you probably won’t venture deep into the wilderness until you get some experience and decide if you like camping or not. Remember, you can always upgrade your gear later.
For more information you can visit us at Birdseye Outdoor Supply where you can find more advice to help you with your camping needs.
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