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Camping 101: Choosing a Tent
Family camping tents come in many shapes and sizes. What suits your needs may not be right for someone else. That’s why such a wide variety is produced for the outdoor enthusiast market.
- Design Your Tent Choices
Tents come in four basic shapes: A-frame, umbrella, geodesic or “dome” and wall. The A-frame tent is the classic, traditional “plump” tent, but it can also be quite large. The Umbrella is a commonly used family tent with plenty of standing room, including large windows and a rain cover. The geodesic cube has many variations, with different combinations of connected triangles. A wall tent is similar to an A-frame tent, but is usually much larger and has vertical side walls, and is often used in military applications and Scout camps (These are usually set up on permanent storage).
Tents with square floor shapes are more efficient when it comes to sleeping and gear arrangements. If you decide to buy a tent with a round or oval floor, you should plan for extra floor space to compensate for the less efficient layout.
- The DOES scale
Tents are sold as two men, four men, six men, etc. Best of all this means the maximum number of people you can fit inside the tent to sleep, with no storage for your personal belongings. This size specification is fine for backpackers who pack light, but makes no sense for the average camper.
Why is your tent stuck with a pile of shoes? Figure on using the tent at half its rated capacity and you should have enough room for two adults and most of their gear. Each person must have at least 24 square meters of floor space; enough room for your pad, sleeping bag and gear. If you’re packing for a long trip, you may want to increase the square footage based on the amount of luggage you’ll be bringing.
Don’t forget to buy a tent that is wide/long enough to stretch out while you sleep… A 6′ long sleeper will be very cramped in a 6′ wide tent; leave at least 1 foot of leg room. You will need at least 30” of space across the tent for each sleeping bag just for sleeping.
Adding ‘hard’ storage for your gear, and enough space to leave your tent without hitting your tent mate, will result in a more enjoyable outdoor experience. With this in mind, an 8′ x 8′ tent will work well as a 2 man family tent. This gives each camper 32 square feet to spread out gear and sleeping area. BUT, a 10′ x 10′ tent is much more suitable for two adults (seems like a lot, right?). This size tent will have enough space for air mattresses, shoes or boots AND still have enough space to change clothes.
Be careful when purchasing a tent larger than 10’x10′. First, finding a suitable place to put such a large object will be a challenge. You need a place as much as possible. Second, large tents are too heavy and bulky to carry. Finally, it may be better to have several small tents so that everyone does not share the same sleeping, changing and living area.
Peak height is very important for your comfort. For most trips, try to have a tent that is tall enough to stand in. Plan for taller people in your group. A peak height of six or seven feet is required for adults, and a peak of four feet is about right for children. Remember, the tent slopes down at a sharp angle, so the actual space you’re standing on will be small. Larger spaces will be provided in tents with higher peaks.
Children can comfortably fit in small tents. When they are old enough, about seven or eight, they will probably want to sleep in a separate tent anyway. Parents will also appreciate the privacy provided by this arrangement. A five by seven foot tent is sufficient for the young species. Young people should be treated as adults when pitching the tent.
- Support Your Local Tent – Poles
The poles that go with most tents available today are made of aluminum or fiberglass. Better quality tents usually come with specially designed aluminum poles, with a high degree of flexibility. Fiberglass poles are included in most ‘everyday camping’ tents. The coils are usually tied together with an elastic shock cord. This speeds up the installation process (important when doing it in the rain!). Poles can become punctured or broken when handled incorrectly, so many tent manufacturers provide repair kits for you to take with you on your trip.
- It’s important to me
The rod should be reinforced with nylon tape and double-stitched. Tape is sewn into each seam, which strengthens the fabric and adds to the weather-proofing. All waterproofing seams on the fly and the floor (or tub), are usually sealed from the factory with a seam seal. Before using the tent for the first time, set up the tent in your yard to test the installation process. You can also take this opportunity to go to your local sports store to buy some sealer and waterproofing spray. It’s always a good idea to do this to ensure a smooth ride. Make sure you allow the tent to dry before packing it back up.
- The house
Almost all modern tents are now made of nylon. Woven nylon is used for waterproofing. Nylon mesh is used for the inner walls and the pockets of the gear. No-see-um fabric is used for the window curtains. Better tents use thicker fabric and rip-stop fabric.
- Hey!!! Zip It Up!!
When you go out to buy your tent, make sure… try the chains. They should open and close easily and not touch the tent fabric. Zippers should be rust-resistant.
- Hot and cold lightning and “Why is my tent shaking?”
Weather variations will place many demands on your tent.
Wind conditions will require strong poles, poles and anchor rings. Dome tents perform extremely well in the wind. Their rounded design minimizes the effect of wind, and their column alignment provides great strength.
Rain causes two problems to arise. First and foremost is drying yourself and your clothes. Second, you need enough room for all tent occupants to be comfortable if a ‘storm break’ is required.
The floor should be made of waterproof coated nylon covering the floor, and turn the sides about six inches, creating the table. There should be a minimal amount of seams (the more you have, the more potential for leaks). It will not let any water run off and under the tent.
Make sure your tent has a rain flap made of coated nylon. The stroller should wrap around the tent and reach out to the sides, leaving only a few inches of space between it and the ground. This should hold rain, even in windy conditions. The fly should extend far enough over the door, so it doesn’t rain when you open the door to get in or out. Some tents even come with a vestibule that allows for this.
Sunlight and the accompanying heat create a great need for shade and ventilation. Rainfall will provide shade. Screened windows on opposite sides of the tent, or a screened window across from a screened door, will allow air to flow through the tent.
Long trips in cold weather call for a special, heavy-duty 4-season tent. If you plan to winter camp, you can use a “three-season” tent that has the features listed above. The most important features will be the rain flap that completely covers the top and sides to keep out snow and other rain, and the inner layer made of an open mesh fabric to allow water vapor to escape from the breathable tent. In colder weather, the water vapor inside the tent from the humid, outside air and the breath from the occupants will condense on the inner surface of the tent. This can be prevented by blocking the air flow in your tent or by passing through the mesh.
Tent size is also a consideration in cold weather camping. A smaller tent will keep your body temperature warmer than a larger tent.
- You Get What You Pay For
Generally, more expensive tents are made with stronger fabrics, poles and seams. They are designed to withstand stronger winds and heavier rain. A good tent, well maintained, can last for many years.
Remember that not everyone needs this amount of persistence. The cooler the weather you will be in, and the closer you will be camping, the better solution will most likely be the less expensive tents.
If you’re just starting your camping trip, and don’t know if you’ll enjoy it, you might want to start with a less expensive setup. Your first hikes will probably be when the weather is warmer, and you may not venture deep into the wilderness until you’ve gained some experience and decided whether you like camping. Remember, you can always upgrade your equipment later.
For more information you can visit us at Birdseye Outdoor Supply where you can find more tips to help you with your camping needs.
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