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Types of Tents
Features to look for it a tent
Tent Pitching - where to place a tent
Reducing Condesation in Tents
Bivvy Sacs - single person tent
TYPES OF TENTS:
The following information isn't intended to be an exhaustive survey of all types of tents in existence. It is, however, a review of the types of tents that have been proven to be the most successful and popular within the backcountry community.
Basic dome shape with walls that gently curve in and up to meet at the apex. This design provides ample headroom, maximizes "living space" and the ability to sit upright. However, its basic symetrical design with just two poles leaves a significant amount of unsupported tent material, such that, this design is best used in moderate weather conditions, only.
Variations on the basic dome shape provide more structural integrity for withstanding nasty weather. Most notable is the addition of more poles--including cross sections--and tapered tent ends for better wind resistence.
Hoop / Tunnel:
In the shape of a tunnel, typically with a higher section in front--just high enough to provide the only place in the tent where you can "barely" sit up--and tapering downward to the rear. This is a one or two pole design with the longer pole in front. This tent requires stakeing in order to create and maintain structural integrity. Also, and most attractive, is that this design is very lightweight--but does not provide a lot of room to move around in.
Pyramid / Teepee:
Essentially, this is just a waterproofed sheet or tarp draped over a center pole and staked out. This design is gaining popularity for snow camping. It provides a roof under which you can dig and design your living quarters. In the summer, however, beware the bugs !
This is, undoubtedly, the most convenient tent design to work with. It is easier to set up, since it is self supporting--once the poles are inserted, it stands on its own without tent pegs. After set up, it can easily be moved around to the ideal piece of ground. It can be turned upside down and lifted overhead to shake out dirt, turned upside down or hung from a tree (or ceiling) for ease of drying. However, it is always prudent to stake out these tents since they could easily be relocated by a strong breeze. In addition, on double walled "free-standing" tents, the fly may need to be staked out, as well.
These tents are made with one layer of waterproofed / breathable material. They forego the use of a tent fly. They also, typically, require less zippers, stakes, webbings, and tie-out cord, and as a result, are significantly lighter than double-walled tents, and are easier to set up. Ventilation is a critical factor here, because these tents are more prone to condensation. Whereas the double walled tents have an inner canopy made of thin, uncoated nylon which breathes very well, and air space/air movement between the fly and canopy to provide excellent breathability and ventilation, the thicker, waterproof-coated material of the single-wall tent does not breathe as well, thus condensation results. Extra care must be taken to ensure that these tents have good ventilating features like lower vents in back to draw in cold air and high vents in front to release warm air. Also, it is important to pitch the end of the tent into the wind to enable increased ventilation. It is helpful to leave wet, steamy gear outside or under the vestibule so it won't create water vapor inside the canopy. Also, heavy breathers are more inclined to see condensation.
The inner wall is uncoated, breathable nylon (solid or mesh) and the outside wall is coated, waterproofed, non-breathable nylon. The inner wall allows for excellent water vapor transfer out of the tent chamber and the outer wall provides excellent rain and wind protection. The air space between inner and outer layer also provides a bit of insulation, to keep the tent warmer in Winter and cooler in Summer.
Ventilation, Sunshade, and Bug Protection are the functional keywords here. This class of tent is designed primarily for stable, moderate warm-weather conditions. These lightweight tents, typically, feature a plentiful amount of nylon-"no-see-um"-mesh screen for ventilation and bug protection, with nylon flooring and a "waterproofed" nylon rainfly for protection from the occasional summer rain shower. They are lightweight and pack small. They are usually light-colored in order to reflect sunlight and, consequently, help keep the tent's internal temperatures relatively bearable.
These tents provide an adequate storm shelter from heavy rain and moderate winds. However, they fall short of 4-season Mountaineering tents in that their design and/or materials will not stand up to high winds and/or snow.
Typically, this tent is one of two things. It is either (1) a 3-season tent, beefed up with stronger poles and more or them and with design changes to enable better snow and wind resistence or (2) an overgrown Mountaineering tent. In any case, this tent, structurally speaking, falls somewhere between the Three-season and the Mountaineering tent.
This is a bombproof, low lying, aerodynamic, weather shedding, lightweight, spartan, small footprint for sitting on Mountain perches, tent. If you spend four-seasons in the high country, invest in one of these.
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-- Carry an extra tent stake or two. They bend, break, and disappear.
-- Carry three or four of the stout Eastman Monster Stakes to anchor your tent corners. They are made of Tempered Aluminum and have a larger diameter for added strength. The remaining stakes can be the wimpy regular aluminum ones that came with your tent.
-- Aluminum tent poles are better that Fiberglass. Most good tents, nowadays, are using Tempered Aluminum poles which have a better strength to weight ratio than regular aluminum. Carbon fiber also provides an adequate strength to weight ratio. All variations of Fiberglass, in my opinion, are not adequate for backcountry tent poles. They are heavier than aluminum and provide less strength. In addition, they are prone to splinter and break under high stress.
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FEATURES TO LOOK FOR IN A TENT:
-- Tub Floors: adds significant waterproofing protection in that it lifts floor seams off the ground.
-- Factory Seam-Seal: hundreds/thousands of needle holes along the seams let in water. They must be sealed with SeamGrip or some other sealer. In some cases, sealing done at the factory is sufficient, but to be safe, an additional, light application of your own won't hurt. On single-wall tents, seal all seams. On double-wall tents seal all seams on tent fly and seams on tent floor extending six inches up the sides (this will protect from any water splashing up under the fly).
-- Vestibule: (1) provides space for gear--clean and/or muddy (2) provides shelter over tent door opening for entry/exit during inclement weather (3) provides shelter for cooking in inclement weather. (4) provides shelter for dog companions.
-- Appropriate Color: light colors in Summer to reflect light/heat, dark colors in Winter to absorb light/heat.
-- Living Space (not floor space): manufacturers publish floor-space specs but your job is to get inside the thing to see how much space is actually usable for your purposes. In a modified dome, for example, the manufacturer's "Floor Space" probably will equate to your "Living Space", whereas, that may not be the case with an A Frame because of its shape. Try them out for yourself.
-- Headroom (not height of tent): Do you want to be able to sit up in more that one spot in the tent ? Test it out. The manufacturer tells you only the highest spot. Its your job to test out the rest !
-- Ease of Set Up / Take Down: It's nice to have a tent you can set up and be inside of, in just a few minutes. I have one tent that's very simple to erect--one pole inserted from the inside. I have another which is equally simple setup--two poles installed from the outside. Test them out for yourself. What works best for you. Will you get caught in a Summer storm in the mountains ?
-- Ease of Entry / Exit: tents with two doors are very helpful. Consider the shape of the door, how easy it is to enter/exit, does the vestibule get in the way, does the door zip provide a large enough opening ? Are the zippers large enough to grip with gloves on--with cold hands ?
-- Ventilation: critical requirement ! Do homework on this one. On single-wall tents, look for low vents in back and high vents in front, look for double door zips so "air holes" can be created even when the door is securely shut. On double-walled tents, look for mesh windows, rear mesh windows, mesh doors (in addition to solid material doors), make sure design allows for good circulation of air between the tent and the tent fly.
-- Amenities that aid in making it more "Homey": e.g., ceiling loops (to use for rigging up clothes line), mesh wall pockets (for organizing and storing small gear items that are readily needed) dual entry way (so you won't step on your partner's face in the middle of the night).
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-- Don't Store It Wet: clean & thoroughly dry whenever you can, on the trail, and especially, when you get home, in order to avoid mildew destruction.
-- Use a Ground Cloth: protect the bottom from object intrusions.
-- Fastidious Selection of Tent Sites: protects tent bottom & aids in a good night sleep.
-- Seal all Seams ! keep water outside !
-- Don't Cook Inside: duh ! Don't melt the nylon walls ! Don't burn down your shelter ! Don't asphyxiate yourself !
-- Don't Leave It In the Sun for prolonged periods--set up in shade, if possible: UV rays break down the fabric (and waterproofing).
-- Keep It Swept Out: dirt under you and your sleeping bag slowly grinds away at the tent floor.
-- Isolate Wet/Muddy Gear: better to clean up one small messy spot than the whole tent.
-- Assemble/Disassemble Poles with Caution: poles chip, dent, break, and cords stretch.
-- Poles & Stakes in Separate Sack: poles & stakes can tear and/or poke holes in the tent material.
-- Stuff It for Transport constantly folding the same way causes creases which compromise the weatherproofing on the tent, as well as, eventually, cracking the material, itself.
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-- First, always look for well-established tent sites that are already flattened (and probably bald).
-- Look for a well-drained flat spot--avoid low lying areas where water may collect, especially if a sudden rain storm should occur.
-- Always pitch lower-rear-end of the tent into the prevailing winds. This will increase ventilation inside the tent and protect the tent entryway (and you) from wind and inclement weather.
-- Look for natural, protective windbreaks like boulders, clumps of thick brush, trees, etc. behind which to pitch your tent, in order to enjoy a more calm cooking and camping area.
-- Before driving tent stakes too far into the ground, lay on your sleeping bag inside the tent to ensure that (1) you will be lying level or with head slightly higher that the rest of your body and (2) there are no stones or sticks directly under the floor. Make adjustments, then finalize your stake-out.
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REDUCING CONDESATION IN TENTS
Really, condensation usually isn't a problem, but in inclement weather, when you have to "batten down the hatches", the following tips will be especially helpful:
(1) I try to prop up the tail section on the outside of the tent with a stick or rock so more air can get in (and I sleep forward enough on the inside to keep the rear vent unblocked but not so far forward that my breath isn't picked up by the flow of air moving toward the front vent.
(2) I generally sleep on my back so moisture from breath goes up to air flow rather than collecting on floor or sides of tent - generally, I say, but not always.
(3) I replace the delrin rod sections which hold vents open with a longer piece of delrin so that the opening is opened to capacity (ie, it opens wider than it originally did) so more air can flow thru.
(4) I don't camp in low places (where air flow gets stagnant and moisture settles) and face tail of tent into prevailing winds to maximize air flow.
(5) I spray the outside of tent with Tectron DWR so water will bead up and roll off (rather than saturate the material). Now, W.L.Gore has come out with Revivex, which is supposed to be superior.
(6) In inclement weather, I try to at least prop the door(s) open at the bottom to increase air flow. On some tents you may have to sew a "non-moisture-absorbing" nylon loop on the bottom outside of your tent door, for this purpose. Tie an elastic cord to the door, via the loop, and stake it out.
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-- Rig up clothes lines across tent ceiling for drying wet/damp clothes--helps to minimize mildew & overly offensive odors, as well as effective for drying clothes.
-- Carry miniature card games, cribbage, etc., to pass time during inclement weather.
-- Use plumber's candles or commercial candle-lanterns for prolonged periods of artificial light.
-- Establish consensus on rules of the tent related to eating, drinking, wet clothes, etc. in the tent, before the trek begins.
-- Use available mesh wall pockets to organize and store items which are needed in the middle of the night--flashlight, toilet paper, time piece, altimeter, whistle, medicine, etc.
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Bivies are a great alternative shelter when you want to travel fast and light. There are definite trade-offs, though. Typical applications or situations where bivies are frequently used are (1) emergency shelter for very long day hikes (2) emergency and/or primary shelter for alpine climbing (3) long-distance, high-daily-mileage travel, and (4) multi-day cross country travel.
-- Lightweight (my Bibler weighs 18 oz)
-- Packs Small (like a medium-sized cantaloupe)
-- Requires Little Ground-Space--fast and easy to setup
-- Condensation can be a problem.
-- Gear has to stay outside.
-- Tight quarters. Hard, but not impossible, to change clothes inside.
-- Clostrophobic quarters when inclement weather necessitates total closure.
-- Place boots and/or clothes in headspace. This (1) keeps them dry and (2) lifts the bivy material off your face.
-- Sew loop on hood. Tie parachute cord on loop. Toss parachute cord over tree limb. When snug in bivy, pull on other end of parachute cord to pull bivy material up off your face. Provides ample room for reading via headlamp.
-- Use Gore-Tex or Dry-Loft sleeping bags, otherwise condensation could get fill material wet--especially a problem with down.
-- Apply thin bead of SeamGrip on all seams, even if bivy was "seam-sealed at the factory".
-- A bivy with 2/3 coverage of Gore-Tex, Todd-Tex, or other waterproof, breathable material, generally has less condensation problems. Most bags have top 1/2 in waterproof, breathable material and the bottom 1/2 in waterproofed, non-breathable tent bottom material--(ergo the condensation). Some manufacturers--like Feathered Friends--make bivies with 2/3 wrap around gore-tex and 1/3 tent bottom--(ergo more breathability and less condensation).
Attributes to Look For in a Bivy:
-- Large enough for a Winter sleeping bag and mattresses.
-- Room in headspace for (at least some) gear.
-- Factory-sealed seams.
-- Mosquito netting.
-- Top 1/2 to 2/3--preferably 2/3-- covered with breatheable, waterproof material.
-- Design which best prevents you from getting clostrophobia.
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TWMC c/o John Payne
Tsukuba Walking & Mountaineering Club