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Emergency Shelter

10 things to consider before buying a tent

10 things to consider before buying a tent

Thinking about investing in a new tent for camping season? Here are some things to consider.

by Leon Pantenburg

Only a fool sleeps in a backpacking tent in July in Louisiana, I told myself, while listening to swarms of mosquitoes struggling to get past the netting. It was about 95 degrees, with humidity in the high 90s and I lay on my sleeping bag, sweating the night away.

Set up a new tent in your backyard before taking it camping.

Set up a new tent in your backyard before taking it camping.

But I also recall winter camping on an Iowa night where the temperatures got to -10 below, with a wind chill of about -30. In both cases, that same  tent was not particularly comfortable, but served its purpose.

Summer camping season starts soon. If you’re a new tent camper, you may be wondering what to look for. Here are 10 things to consider before buying a tent.

Setup: Make sure the tent is easy to set up, and that you can do it by yourself if necessary. Practice setting it up in the backyard before going out. We’ve all seen people at campgrounds setting up new tents by flashlight. Not a good way to start the camping experience.

Size: Always remove one person of the allowance of people that the tent recommends. This gives you room for gear. A two-man tent, for example is just about right for me and my stuff. My wife and I fit nicely in a three-man, with plenty of room.

Also, most state parks allow a 12′ x 12′ space for a tent. Anything more could overlap that allotted area. Just something to think about.

My friend (and Eagle Scout) Sean Jacox is six-foot-seven-inches tall and he doesn’t fit just anywhere. (We had to dig out an additional foot in the igloo we slept in last January.) Plan accordingly.

Longterm or overnight camping: If you’re planning a several-day stay, such as a hunting or fishing camp, you probably want a larger, possibly heated tent. This is where a canvas wall tent comes into its own.

Otherwise, a wall tent will probably be overkill. The extra time required to set one up could also get to be a pain if you’re moving every day or so.

This tent is designed for winter camping, and cold temperatures. (Bob Patterson photo)

This tent is designed for winter camping, and cold temperatures. (Bob Patterson photo)

Season: Decide which season you will most likely be camping in.  I prefer snow camping to any other type, so I require a four-season tent with complete coverage of the fly. (Here’s how to choose a four-season tent.)

But a two-season is typically spring and summer, and it will be a lot lighter, cheaper and not so warm. It will also have more mesh and ventilation for coolness. A winter tent can be miserable in summer, and vice versa.

Ventilation: Because of lawsuits, manufacturers have done their best to fireproof tents by improving the fire resistance of the fabric.

What has really happened is that the material doesn’t breathe anymore, and without adequate ventilation, some of these tents are like sleeping in a plastic bag. This has resulted in a lot more mesh, and more doors put in for air flow. In the winter, that air flow can be frigid.

Take a look at the design, and see if the air flow is going to be a problem in colder temperatures. If it is, keep looking.

Bathtub floor: This is a floor that doesn’t have long seams, but wraps the bottom of the tent. If you get standing water, or water running through the camp, a well-designed floor will keep the moisture from seeping in.

Backpacking: If you anticipate backpacking, get a lightweight, three-season tent that can take wind well. It won’t be as comfortable to long term camp in, but you must sacrifice some comfort for lighter weight.

To stake or not: Just about any tent has stakes of some sort. But this could become a problem if you’re going to a commercial campsite with established tent pads. The ground may be so hard that staking a tent down is difficult. Many  lightweight mountain tents need stakes to be set up. If you’re on rock, this could be a problem. Make sure to think about the possible extreme situations the tent might be used for.

Wind resistance: The taller the tent, the more kite-like it will become in high winds. More headroom = more wind resistance.

Do you like to stand up inside? Then this will require some planning. A tall center height tent may also act like a sail in heavy wind or rain. It will be cooler, it that is a consideration.

Fly: The rain fly keeps the tent dry. It also regulates ventilation, and subsequently, the warmth. A four-season tent should have a fly that covers the tent completely, and effectively seals out most of the wind.

A two-season car camping tent may have a partial fly and a lot of mesh for ventilation. In the summer heat, you’re probably more interested in dissipating heat than in staying warm.

Buying a tent is very personal decision, and what works for me may not work for you. But this list may help you make a good choice.

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Emergency Shelter

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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