Tips for Tent Camping in 2012

“Have tent, will travel” is the motto of a growing number of weekend adventurers, since camping shelters being sold today offer comfort and convenience at a competitive cost.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, more than 20 percent of Americans tent-camp, and 4 percent go tent-backpacking.

And it’s easy to see why. Innovative fabrics and designs keep close-to-nature sleepovers cozy and dry, without sacrificing portability. Many of the newest tents are light enough to fit into a backpack, while some car-camping models feature room dividers, awnings, and other amenities.

With so many options on the market, choosing the right tent starts with assessing your basic needs.

Delaina Lee of Coleman offers these pointers.

“Consider where you’ll be using the tent. If it’s bound to rain, be sure to choose a tent that is seam-sealed on all exposed areas,” she said. “Also decide how you plan to sleep. A six-person tent won’t be big enough for six air mattresses, plus the gear and clothes you plan to keep inside.”

If you don’t want to lug around an eight-person tent, find one smaller with closets, pockets and other storage space, she said. Look for tents with vestibules that serve as mudrooms for stashing wet or dirty gear. Vestibules also save wear and tear on tent floors.

Consider how much time you want to spend setting up, Lee said. “Unless you like the challenge of pitching a larger, more involved tent, you might be happier with a two-pole dome option. They’re generally smaller, but buying a couple for your group can save you headaches later on.”

While it’s a good idea to do a practice setup at home, some new tents, like Coleman’s line of Instant Tents, are designed to make set-up hassle-free. Poles are pre-attached to the tent, so there’s no assembly required, and there’s no compromising on quality, Lee said.

“The tent fabric is twice the thickness of conventional tents and every seam is fully-taped for extra protection against rain.”

Prices range from $164.99 for a four-person Instant Tent to $309.99 for a tent that sleeps eight.

Campsite weather and terrain are important elements in tent selection, said Kate Ketschek of Nemo Equipment, a New Hampshire-based tent manufacturer.

“Generally speaking, if you’re going somewhere hot and humid, a double-wall tent with full mesh body and separate rainfly will be more breathable. But in colder, drier environments, a single wall tent in waterproof breathable fabric is probably better.”

Sandy areas call for staking a tent, while free-standing tents are fine for hard terrain. “Free-standing also may be easier where there’s a lot of platform,” Ketschek said.

Tent material is critical. Polyester typically withstands ultraviolet rays better than nylon for long-term use, although nylon is a little lighter in weight. Most tent makers tout their own brands of hyper- or ultra-light polyester-based fabrics treated to handle extreme weather and abrasion.

Ventilation is also essential, so look for breathable side walls and roofs that minimize condensation, and mesh windows and doors that promote air circulation. Nemo features some tent models with condensation curtains for winter camping.
Poles determine tent stability. Many manufacturers advise that aluminum beats fiberglass for strength and durability. Nemo departs from traditional poles in some models with trademarked technology that uses polyurethane and sailcloth beams you inflate with air from a two-ounce pump. The beams give tents structural stability but are ultra-light and easy to pack.

REI features color-coded poles and clips for easy set-up in its brand-new Half Dome 2 Plus tent. At $199, this model is an extended-size version of REI’s popular Half Dome 2 tent, and features an extended floor plan plus two doors and two vestibules.

High-quality tents typically feature outside loops for attaching guy lines used to batten down hatches during high winds. Many also include lantern loops inside, as well as gear-loft loops for hanging separately-purchased mesh shelves, or clotheslines.

Other optional accessories include a custom-fitted, rather than generic, ground-cloth for protecting the tent floor, stakes for sandy-soil or snowy campsites, inside-outside floor mats, and battery-powered ventilation fans and lights.

While tent weight is a key consideration for backpack campers, other factors, like space, are important, too, says Ketschek.

Nemo has created excellent space-to-weight ratio in its award-winning Losi 3-P tent that retails for $399.95.

“Unique pole configuration gives you near-vertical walls and headroom in the corners,” said Ketschek. “It’s a three-person tent but eight people could play cards inside. And it weighs under 6 pounds – that’s under 2 pounds a person.”

Nemo makes dozens of different pack tents, from single-person bivvys that weigh less than 1½ pounds to four-person models that weigh just over 10 pounds. One of the newest models for 2012 is the Nemo Gobi COG (Cot or Ground), a single-person free-standing tent that can be placed over a cot or put directly onto the ground. It retails for $349.99.

“It’s one of the designs we came up with when we looked at how to make tent-camping accessible to more people by factoring in features that include comforts of home,” Ketschek says. “It even has a bed skirt you can tuck your shoes under.”
Merging comfort with high-tech innovativeness has earned Big Agnes numerous awards for its ultra-light and base camp tents. The 3-pound Seedhouse SL, dubbed a “new school shelter” by Backpacker magazine, features a single-hubbed pole/clip system that sets up quickly, and solid pole structure that withstands strong winds.

Big Agnes’ Copper Spur UL4 is a freestanding, three-season, ultra-light backpacking tent that has double doors and vestibules and weighs just 5 pounds, 10 ounces. It retails for $599.95 and won Outside magazine’s 2011 Gear of the Year award.

Tents by Eureka!, a division of Johnson Outdoors, also have earned kudos for merging comfort with superior design. The Mansard tent – rated to sleep up to eight – features near-vertical sidewalls and interior standup headroom of over six feet, plus a D-style door that zips fully open for easy access. A removable divider allows for creating two rooms, and large vestibules at either end of the tent are perfect for stashing gear. The zippered rainfly, with extra poles, can be configured as an awning. This three-season family shelter retails for about $680/

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