Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tent Buyer’s Guide

     When spending one to several Benjamin(s) on a mountaineering dome tent, a super light backpacking tent or cavernous family camping tent, you want to make sure you get exactly what you need for your outdoor adventure. Here are some things to consider when picking the tent best-suited for you.

     Tents are engineered for varying activities, and you need to decide how you will be using the tent you buy.  There are the immense family and outfitter tents that are only going to make it to the campsite in a vehicle, because they don't pack down into a convenient size for backpacking and they weigh too much to carry very far on your back.  On the other end of the spectrum of tent design you have the lightweight solo models designed for hardcore backpackers needing the smallest and lightest tents available.  These backpacking tents minimize the weight and amount of space needed to haul them in a backpack. In the middle of the spectrum of tent designs you will find tents that are perfect for something like a canoe trip, where weight and packed size are not as important.  These mid-range/mid-size tents sleep 4-5 people, have a gear loft or vestibule, and offer roomy sleeping accommodations.  So, first you must decide on what it is you plan to do with the tent before you start sizing up all the features that the various tent makers offer.

     Don’t forget the weather! Before purchasing a tent determine what the worst possible weather you will encounter is likely to be and then choose the appropriate season rating for those weather conditions.   What are season ratings you ask, Season Ratings are used to differentiate the suitability of a tent for the various weather conditions and tents are sorted into one of four groups.
  • 1 Season Tent – appropriate for summer family camping at your favorite campground.  These 1 season tents are for use in warm, relatively calm conditions. Usually these tents are made using lightweight materials with high ventilation to reduce condensation and heat inside of the tent. These tents can handle short showers but will not withstand consistent rain.
  • 2 Seasons Tent – appropriate for locations open to the elements in late spring, summer and early autumn.  These 2 season tents are slightly more robust than 1 season tents, are designed to handle prolonged rain and are generally speaking slightly heavier.
  • 3 Seasons Tents – appropriate for general backpacking, hunting, canoeing/kayaking, and mountain biking trips into the backcountry. This 3 season rating gives you the confidence that in the autumn conditions of prolonged rain and cold these 3 season tents will insulate its occupants in the cold weather conditions. These 3 season tents are considered the jack of all trades in the tent business.
  • 4 Seasons Tents – appropriate for cold climates and mountaineering. These 4 season tents feature touch construction and allow you to camp in any weather in confidence.  These tents tend to be made of heavier fabrics to better insulate its occupants in the frigid weather conditions at altitude.
     Remember, it is always better to get a robust tent which will keep you warm and dry rather than getting a lesser tent which will leave you wet and cold.

     Once you have determined what you plan to use your tent for and the worst weather conditions you plan to camp in, you can start looking at the various bells and whistle are designed into the tents you are interested in.  So, let’s cover some of the features and considerations you should take note of when buying your tent:

  • Set-up time and durability are important factors as well. High-priced tents usually come with thin poles and light materials for extreme lightweight backpacking, but if you'll be driving to your campsite, don't clean out your wallet to get the lightest shelter available.  Further you should consider the terrain when you purchase a tent.  If you are camping on rocky or hard surfaces, you will want to make sure you choose a tent floor made of a durable fabric.  It may cost a little more, and be a bit heavier, but this is definitely an area where you may want to spend extra money. 
  • Bathtub Floors - Most tents now come with bathtub floors, which keep seams several inches above the ground in order to keep the water out.
  •  Double-track door zippers - Lets you unzip the fabric door while leaving a screen door in place, allowing ventilation while keeping the insects out.
  • Rain Flies - Full-coverage rain flies are by far the best. Many tents on sale today increase ventilation by providing only partial-coverage rain flies that include little awnings over the windows and doors.  These are sufficient in a light rain storm, but can let in driving rain. It is better to have a rainproof tent that keeps you dry and uses cleverly placed vents for ventilation.
  • Factory-Taped Seams – Although these are important for rain protection all gear experts recommend using seam sealer on your tent to ensure you stay dry.  Fresh from the factory, you probably will not have a problem with the tent seams leaking, but remember to periodically use seam sealer on your tent through the years to remain dry.   Inexpensive tents may need seam sealing before the first use.
  • Storage - Look for plenty of storage pockets, gear lofts, and loops. Built-in storage makes a big difference in tent livability. Some tents come with plenty of interior storage, while others make gear lofts and outdoor vestibules available only at extra cost.
  • Vestibule  - Two vestibules are better than one. The extra vestibule space allows you to store gear on one side and prepare dinner on the other if it's raining outside. Large vestibules are also a good place for your dog to sleep in protected space, out of the rain place, and it is right outside the tent. Vestibules of at least 6 square feet are recommended, so you can store your pack in the space and also leave your boots outside.
  • Ventilation - Look for mesh placed both low on a tent wall and high in the roof for good airflow, because airflow is crucial to minimize condensation inside of the tent. If possible, find a tent with vents you can open and close from inside the tent, without having to go outside and remove the rain fly. Tents with a rain fly, known as double-wall tents, usually provide the best combination of ventilation and storm protection, while single-wall waterproof fabric is usually used only on tents designed for ultralight backpacking, where a little condensation isn't as important as light weight. Some hybrid backpacking tents are partly double-wall, partly single-wall, to balance these factors.
  • Door(s) - Wide doors allow you to enter with ease and are a big convenience. Wide tent doors allow more ventilation into the tent, so you can enjoy that evening breeze and when it is time to go to bed, you minimize your chance of having to climb over someone else or their gear to enter and exit the tent.  Bigger doors provide better views from inside the tent.
  • Square Footage – These tent specifications do not tell the whole story, so take it with a grain of salt. This measurement is a starting point to help you decide if a tent is big enough, but you must check the length to be sure your sleeping bag or cot will fit in the tent. Total interior space (measured in cubic feet) depends on the tent's shape. A-Frame tents have less interior space than hoop, dome and umbrella style tents. Even within these style types there is still a wide variation in available space, so look for a design that maximizes the space. The general consensus among the gear Guru’s is to get a larger tent then you think you'll need.  If you require a tent with room for two people, buy a three- or four-person model. Most tents are smaller than they're advertised. Always take into account the gear you will need to take with you. Just because some tents come with vestibules that accommodate gear outside the sleeping area this outside storage is no substitute for your sleeping comfort.
  • Headroom - For a family tent, make sure the tallest person in the group will be able to stand up inside. For a backpacking tent, make sure there is enough headroom space for everyone in the group to sit up in the tent. It is possible to get dressed without sitting up, but it's not comfortable. The ability to stand up or sit up comfortably makes rainy days and snow storms inside the tent much more tolerable.
  • Tent Poles - Shock-corded poles, color-coding and quick clips make for fast setup. Shock-corded poles fold into sections for compact storage, but unfold quickly to full length. Clipping the tent to the poles is faster than having to thread the poles through sleeves. Color coding means that the pole tips are matched to specific tabs around the grommets where they're supposed to go. Some tents have the setup instructions printed right on the carry sack, especially useful for large family tents with lots of pole parts.  Aluminum poles are stronger -- but heavier -- than fiberglass or carbon-fiber poles. Some family tents use steel poles, which are heavy and eventually rust. Carbon-fiber poles tend to be the lightest, and most expensive poles. Fiberglass poles are light, but they're prone to getting brittle and then splintering as they get older. Variable-diameter poles are designed to minimize tent weight, putting the largest diameter where the most strength is needed and smaller diameter poles in places where less strength is needed.
  • Footprint - A footprint, ground sheet, or ground cloth is used to protect the tent floor from being puntured. Some tents have an optional footprint you can buy, which is a little smaller then the tent floor and is already shaped to fit under the style of tent your using. You may also purchase a tarp from your local market to set your tent on. There are many different materials to choose from when looking at Footprints.
  • Neoprene-coated nylon -- Stronger, yet heavier than the average groundsheet, usually for mountain camping to keep rocks from poking through.   
  • PVC coated nylon -- This is the heaviest.  Used for larger family tents.    
  • Polyurethane-coated nylon -- The norm for lightweight tents.  Good for backpackers who don't want to carry a lot of weight.    
  • Polyethylene -- Strong but heavy and usually used on lesser-priced models.
Picking a tent with a good rainfly can also make the difference between a good night's sleep and a soggy one.  Here are some of the different materials available:
  • Canvas -- Heavy material that doesn't readily collect water, but but is prone to mildew.   
  • Polyurethane-coated nylon -- A very lightweight material with a small pack size.  But unless it is treated with UV inhibitors, the sun with eventually break down the PU treatment and material and make it more susceptible to tearing.  This material also tends to bring in condensation.    
  • Polyurethane-coated polyester -- A very water-resistant material and doesn't sag much when wet, but the PU treatment is even more susceptible to UV rays than nylon and also brings in condensation.    
  • Silicon-elastomer-coated nylon -- One of the best water-repelling rainfly materials available.  The coating actually strengthens the tearability of the tent.  With coating on both sides of the material, the fly won't sag under wet conditions.
  • Stakes - The more brightly colored they are, the easier to find them in the vegetaion. Most of the modern tent stakes even have a reflective coating on them, so you can move around the tent site with a flashlight without tripping over guy lines. Colored stakes also make it easier to avoid leaving a stake or two behind when you pack up to leave. The cheap metal stakes are prone to bending, and the heavy-duty plastic stakes are preferred by most.
  • Lifetime Warranties - Lifetime tent warranties usually don't cover sun degradation of the fabric. To prevent sun degradation, buy a fabric that will resist the effects of the sun.  Canvas is the best tent material followed by polyester and then plain nylon, which has the least resistance to ultraviolet rays.

Now that you know what to look for it is time to buy your tent!  Remember, just because a tent costs a lot of money, does not mean it is the best choice for your planned use. Hopefully this guide has provided you with some insights to help you find the best tent for you next outdoor adventure and we hope I hope you will share it with others.
<Tent Buyers Guide Originally Posted Here>
                                                      - Backcountry Gear @ Gear&Gadgetry

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