Our camping lists usually menCamping tenttion tents. We’ve used lean-tos, but usually we rely on a tent of some sort for shelter and privacy. The price of tents has drastically reduced in recent years. This may be due to stiff competition from foreign manufacturers, new fabrics and designs, or just over production.  Whatever the reason, I like the result. Again, as in previous posts, we’ll leave backpacking shelters to the specialized sites.  Remarkable claims are heard today of ultralight trail tents or under 5 pounds for a 2-person enclosure with rain fly.  The price changes don’t seem to have found this market yet.  These wonders of manufacturing and design can easily go over $300.

Tents we’re interested in are those with a center height of 6 feet or more and with room for 4, with gear. You can find many versions from well-known manufacturers, with these specifications, at well under $100. Is a tent really necessary?  Depends.  If you camp off season, when bugs aren’t likely to be a problem, strictly speaking, no, a tent isn’t necessary.  What does a tent provide? Security, visual privacy, warmth, and protection from the damp.

Privacy – From prying eyes.  A tent gives the illusion of structure, implying that within it’s confines you are not only out of sight, but also no one can hear you, and you’re safe from the critters that come out when you’re not around.  Only the first of these is true, of course.  Most tents only make it difficult for others to see you. The thin fabric that separates you from the world does nothing to keep sound in, or out.  So, if you are comfortable with the openness of no tent, then no, one isn’t needed.

Security – Protection for your stuff. There is some value here.  If you are planning on leaving you site for day adventures, hiking, or canoeing, bike riding or  shopping, having your gear out of sight is a little more confidence building than leaving it out in the open. But, if you are in the range of a determined thief, a couple of zippers isn’t going to deter him, or her, or it. And if you’ve made the mistake of storing your peanut butter crackers inside your pack, inside your tent, not only will they be gone when you get back, you’ll have 2 nice holes in your gear as souvenirs. So, if security concerns are negligible, no tent is the way to go.

Warmth – Actually a fairly significant issue.  Most modern tents do a decent job of retaining some of the body heat you generate. You are out of the night breeze, and you can create a micro-environment inside your dwelling that is noticeably warmer than outside.  A warm bag, a bivy sack, extra clothing, are ways to make up for the lack of a tent.  Each have their plusses and minuses. But a tent gives you a better option for managing your sleeping atmosphere than without.  So, we’d lean toward a tent here.

Dry – The biggie.  Waking up wet is not fun.  Even if it doesn’t rain, dew will soak everything you have left out unprotected.  we’ve had several experiences in lean-tos and enjoy them very much.  Lean-tos traditionally have an open side.  Good ones have an over hang on the open side to help shelter from rain and snow.  They keep out dew-mostly-also.  But some provision against wet is important.  Most camping tents come with an inner and outer layer.  The outer layer is typically called a rain fly and is designed to fit over the frame of the tent, leaving a 3″ to 4″ space between the 2 fabrics. The hope of the manufacturers is that the outer layer, usually a silicon treated nylon or rayon blend, will prevent moisture from reaching the inner layer and keep the inside dry. In most designs, the entrance to the tent is wholly vulnerable to rain . All designs have some modest awning treatment that is supposed to keep out the rain and moisture when you go in and out of the tent.  In practice, this is seldom the case.  We always add a 4′ x 6′ blue tarp awning, just for this reason. Which brings us to a potential substitute for a tent, a tarp.

Tarps – Tarps have become increasingly popular for serious backpackers and survivalists.  One version is made of a material called “silnylon” and is composed of a ripstop nylon fabric impregnated with a silicon coating to keep it water proof. Good versions of these are very effective at keep the elements at bay.  A disadvantage is they need to be pitched so that one side is very low to the ground to help wind and water stay their invasion of your space.  This can cut down the head room.

We use the blue woven tarp, made infamously known by FEMA after Katrina.  These are cheap, do the job, come in a wide array of sizes and  stand up to brutal punishment.  We tend to favor large tarps, 12′ by 16′ or bigger.  We pitch one over the fire pit, high enough to avoid melting…usually…over the tent, and covering the picnic table. Aside from the rain protection, some have a reflective surface that helps radiate heat back into the camping space.  And they give a cozy feeling when the sun has gone down, the fire is dwindling, and your feet are propped against the fire ring. You’re going over the day’s adventures, planning for tomorrows, and letting the brisk night air work it’s magic.  Soon the comfort promised by your sleeping bag and cot can no longer ignored. Taps plays, and you bank the fire and head for bed.

So. After careful consideration, a regular tent of some kind is probably your best option.  One doesn’t have to be terribly expensive to be serviceable. Here are a few links to sites with a good selection of modest but good shelters.

All of these sites will lead you to others with different varieties and makes…and prices. We like Coleman products, including their tents.  MSR is also a good name as is Kelty, or Eureka.

Current construction of most tents involves solid poles, usually of fiberglass. We have also seen some steel and aluminum solid poled tent designs. Avoid shelters with hollow poles, especially steel. These are usually not made well and can fail dramatically under load.  They are heavy, noisy, and will generally rust after a few seasons.  Look for heavy zippers with well sewn seams.  If there are windows, make sure they have some weather protection designed in so you can open them in damp and humid weather without  getting drenched. As we mentioned earlier, a good awning over the entrance is  essential. Most tents do not have one. Unless the awning protects the entire front of the tent, it is not adequate. Plan on taking a small blue tarp and a couple poles for an auxiliary awning to help keep you dry.

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