Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tent Minutia

Remember the Tube Tent?
I've had some great tents!  And I have had some not-so-great tents.  In the years way passed, I began Boy Scouting as a child with a gift, a canvas army-type "pup" tent with no floor that weighed 10+ pounds with its wooden metal-jointed poles and wooden splinter-covered stakes.  That was "light weight" in the 1960's.
From that heavy tent I moved to a plastic tube tent in the early 1970's where I got soaked when it rained and eaten alive by bugs the rest of the time.  I didn't use it much but it was light!  After college, I purchased a small orange nylon "survival-type" tent. A two-person lightweight backpacking favorite at the time that lacked a screen door. The tent's cloth "doors" just tied closed.  It gave up the ghost in the Tennessee mountains, high in the Cherokee National Forest, during a heavy rain storm at night when a tree fell on me (no one was hurt except the tent).  I tried more tents while living in Tennessee but didn't come up with any winners, typically sharing my camping partner's tents for years.
After moving to Florida in the mid-1980's, I finally bought a 2-person Eureka Timberline tent with a center hoop and a vestibule at 7+ pounds.  It was a "5-star hotel" compared to my earlier purchases.  We could stand up to change inside (bent over) and we both had plenty of room to sleep and store our gear!  It worked great for the local, state and national parks where my wife and I camped by car, and it was dry no matter how hard/long it rained!  It even worked well under snow on our first Colorado trip!  My wife and I really enjoyed that A-frame tent and all the great tent camping and travel we did then.
Shortly after that, I purchased a Eureka Crescent tent, a 1-person, half-dome-type tent that became my favorite bicycling tour and single-person backpacking tent to date.  At 4-pounds, it was lightweight for the day, had aluminum poles and that great zip-open front screen door with wonderful ventilation!  It had a large hoop pole that held up the dome side of the tent with a short triangle overhang on top, just enough to leave the door open at night, with screen closed and no fear of bugs, or rain, but with great views.  This was part of my bicycle touring gear for over a decade!  It would disappear in the woods with it's light gray color, and wouldn't appear on the Internet this week no matter how hard I searched.  I used the tent from the late 1980's through to the early 2000's in the south, the eastern mountains, and the Colorado west until the waterproofing died.  I saved one long pole I still carry when snowshoeing in case I have to dig for anyone in an avalanche!  The Timberline suffered a similar fate about the same time and we used it for the kids in the Colorado back yard watching the milky way for meteors and other birthday "tent" celebrations until it failed.
Tarptent Notch
When my son joined Boy Scouts a few years ago, I used whatever tent was left over in the troop storage trailer or my 9-foot square "family" tent for the monthly camping trips.  We found the boys preferred sleeping 4-5 in the big tent we called the "Taj Mahal".  That's when I picked up my two Alps Mountaineering tents,  the 2-person Zephyr and the 1.5-person Mystique, and I used them for scouting, car and backpacking trips in Florida and summer Scout camp in Virginia and North Carolina.  I learned after I purchased them that they both weighed about the same at 4 pounds each.  They are well-designed and ventilated tents, but are just too heavy for ultralight backpacking.
So for ultralight backpacking what will I use?  A tarp or a tarp-tent?  While I'm experienced with setting up tarps outdoors, as long as I am camping in the south (read bugs, crawly critters, etc.) I'll be sleeping outdoors secure in a tent of some kind.  I like Henry Shires tarp-tent, the Notch.  It positively answers all my tent-type questions.  A one-person, two trekking pole, well-designed and breathable 1.5-pound tent.  It uses 4 stakes and sets up in about a minute, and won't get wet inside during the rain from setup.  Both sides have doors and make vestibules, and the interior separates from the fly.  I can cook in light rain from inside the tent!  Since my wife is allowing me to fend for myself on these ultralight backpacking trips, I won't be sharing sleeping quarters and will be in/out nightly and the occasional rain storm.  This tent will pack quickly and at just over 1.5 pounds (26 ounces), I'm very happy with the light pack weight.  There are several other ultralight weight and tarp tent companies like 6 Moon Designs and Big Agnes, but I like the way the ultralight industry has taken to Mr. Shires products, so this is my choice for now.  For a double-person tent the Rainbow and Scarp tarptents seem to also be winners and I may be considering one of those a few years from now for a possible AT through-hike with my daughter.

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