How to Choose a Camping Tent
The first time I went camping it was to impress the most beautiful woman on the planet. Six feet tall, road a Suzuki endure 650 to work wearing high-end silk dresses and army boots – AND she packed a Smith & Wesson 38! I didn’t have a chance.
A friend of ours was sailing down to Baja California and asked if we’d like to meet him there and camp on the beach for Spring Break. Sounded like a good idea. I borrowed a friend’s camping gear, (tent, sleeping bag, cooler) packed it in my 1971 Jeep Wagoneer and we headed out from San Francisco to a beach just outside of Mulege.
Did I mention that Mulege around early Spring is very hot during the day but freakin freezing at night? And, it rains. Ya! And our tent SUCKED! The rain seeped in. The floor was wet. We tracked sand in whenever we entered. The walls were made of something close to tissue paper. We froze our arses off!
So, let’s talk about tents. Over the years tents have evolved. Their weights have decreased, the living space has increased and durability has improved. There's a long list of features to choose from: 3-Season tents, 4-Season tents, Dome tents, tube tents, trendy hammock tents, camping tents, backpacking tents, mountaineering tents and a price range from $200 to $600 and more. Choosing a tent can be a daunting endeavor. The wrong decision can make your camping adventure an absolute misery.
Here are a few categories to consider when making your decision. Typically we prefer spacious tents that are durable without being ridiculously heavy.
Quality of Workmanship
One of the biggest benefits of a camping tent over a backpacking tent is that has more livable space and it's more durable. The better the tent the more it functions as a portable home away from home with many of the accoutrements and shelter features. A good tent should protect you from the elements and pests. You'll want to have ample space for hanging out, reading and sleeping. Look for a tent with a volume of around 29 square feet or more. Some dome tents have exterior poles that push the walls toward vertical which boosts the ceiling height. You can enter and exit these tents without having to crawl.
It's important to consider the campsite environment
We all want our camping adventure to be perfect. We want nice sunny days with temperatures in the low 80's, cool afternoons and mild evenings sitting around the campfire. But the ideal has a habit of turning into the less than desirable. When that happens, having inadequate gear is a real big downer friend. Here's the skinny. If you're in Florida or some other steamy hot bucket of a state, you'll want a tent with plenty of ventilation with big windows, lots of mesh and big doors. But staying cool comes at a price. Cause it rains like nobody's business in Florida! And all that ventilation and mesh won't keep you dry. The good news is that there are now tents that do just as well in the heat and rain as they do during winter months. Check out the MSR Access 2. It ain't cheap but it won't leave you wishing you were at a Hilton.
Ease of Setup
The drive from San Francisco to Mulege in Baja California took to 2 days. The driving was grueling and hot and tense. Tricky curves down half paved hills. Crosses on the sides of the road honoring those who zigged when they should have zagged. Finally, we found the shore and started to pitch our tent. Neither of us had ever camped before but hell, how hard could it be right? Wrong! If I weren't trying to impress this beautiful intelligent badass Amazon Warrior vixen, I would have thrown the whole contraption into the water. Read reviews of the tent you're thinking of buying. And give that puppy a test run in the backyard if you can.
Of course, the more expensive a tent is the better the workmanship. Usually. But there are exceptions. Take a look at the Sierra Flashlight 2 that costs only $200. Be sure to research the materials and stitching of your desired tent. Maybe you can skimp on these if you're in ideal climates. But if camping is something you're serious about, we don't advise it.
Pay attention to the total packed weight. Twenty pounds isn't heavy until you have to schlep it up hill and dale. There are many manufacturers making large durable lightweight tents: MSR, Eureka, Sierra, etc. Just do your due diligence.
If you have to choose some features over others, choose livable space, weather resistance, and workmanship. If it's heavy, take breaks. If the set-up isn't ideal, take a few brews with you. The set-up will still suck but you won't notice as much.
Our next post will dig a little deeper: 3-Season, 4-Season, Single Wall and Double Wall Tents.