Tent camping tips based on experience: Go bigger or stay home
Rummaging through a storage closet a few days ago I came upon the backpacking tent I frequently used on our overnight canoe trips down the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers.
Back in the day, the Eureka tent company held an annual tent sale where they sold tent “seconds” at really cheap prices. My friends and I never missed it. At one sale I bought a two-person backpacking tent I thought would be ideal for our overnight canoe trips. I’ve since learned otherwise.
The first time I had a chance to use it was on a fishing/paddling trip down the Delaware River with a friend. The sun was going down when we pulled off the river and set up camp. After finishing dinner and cleaning up, a few cold ones set the tone for a good night’s sleep. The fire began to die and my buddy and I, who I’ll call Norman, crawled into my two-man tent and zipped up our sleeping bags. It wasn’t long before Norm, who I swear could sleep on a picket fence, was sound asleep. The only problem was he snored like a chainsaw. Poking him didn’t work well either because Norm simply rolled over and now, in addition to his snoring, I had to deal with his hot breath in my face. That was the moment I decided I didn’t have a “two-man” tent. From then on, I resolutely decided I was going to have a “one-man” tent.
I learned a lesson that night, and after that I have a few recommendations to anyone thinking of buying a tent for backpacking or canoe camping.
My first recommendation is to buy a tent twice the size of what you think you’ll need. A two-person tent is adequate for one person and their gear, a four-person tent is perfect for two people and their gear. The extra room will be greatly appreciated if you are asleep and it begins to rain. Your gear and you will be kept dry and you won’t feel cramped if you have to wait out the rain.
Some tents are marketed as “waterproof” and the fabric doesn’t breathe. Moisture from our bodies is constantly being given off and if the fabric doesn’t allow this moisture to escape it will condense on the inside of the tent. Unless you want to be greeted with an unwanted shower of your own perspiration when you wake up in the morning, don’t choose a tent labeled “waterproof.”
When looking for a tent, be certain the fabric from which it’s made is breathable and that it comes with a rain fly. Think of the rainfly as the tent’s umbrella. A tent fabric that allows moisture to escape to the outside paired with a waterproof rainfly that covers the top will allow perspiration to escape and will keep the rain away. The result will be much happier campers.
Another feature to look for when buying a tent is “no see um’” netting. The ultra-fine mesh of this type of netting will ensure all nasty bugs, including those you can’t see, remain outside where they belong. While you’re at it, check out the zipper to be sure it is heavy-duty. You’ll be in and out of your tent a lot and you don’t want the zipper to fail just as you’re going to bed for the night. Overnight camping is a lot of fun, but only if you have the right tent.
Finally, never pitch a tent without first laying down a waterproof ground cloth. This will not only keep ground moisture out and ensure a good night’s sleep, it will help protect the floor of the tent from excessive wear.