Tent Camping Essentials

Tents

Because I am an author, and supposedly a ‘subject matter expert’, I get many questions directed at me regarding camping, and camping gear in particular. Trust me, if you think your an expert at anything, be prepared to learn new things that you don’t know! I do like to pass along tried and true camping tips, and hopefully some of the information will help improve your camping experiences.

One thing I MUST Stress: Buy quality camping gear!
If you take good care of your equipment, it will take good care of you; and you will probably pass it down to your grandchildren. First of all, camping gear, is like anything else, you get what you pay for. I have stood by Coleman products for the most part, Coleman products have never failed me. Coleman products are very affordable and will last. Three of the four tents I own carry the Coleman Brand, all were reasonably priced and are of quality construction. While no tent is perfect, you can still buy very good tents at reasonable prices. Some folks are willing to sink $300.00 – $600.00 into a Kelty, Marmot or a Northface or other expensive tent. Are these expensive tents  worth it? Absolutely! Can I myself afford to spend that kind of money on a tent? Absolutely not! Camping has gotten more expensive over the years, yet you can still buy excellent gear for a reasonable price.

Before any tent purchase, become familiar with the various tent materials, construction types and seaming methods. Think about how you will use the tent; is it going to be a few trips out in the summer, or are you going to really hammer down and use the equipment more frequently?  Are you interested in three season camping, or are you interested in adding a few cold weather trips to your camping? Will you use the tent while hunting? Are you expecting snowy outings, and if so what type of tent will you need to be assured you have little to no snow load accumulation? Will you need to use a heater in the tent, and if so which heater type is the safest, and how do you ventilate a tent properly when you have to use a heater?

There is nothing worse than a camping trip that ends due to equipment failure. Going home because your tent failed can be devastating! In cold weather camping, you can become vulnerable to hypothermia, and it can kill you. When you get wet, you need a way to get dry, a shelter to stay dry, stay warm keep the inner furnace fed and keep your bedding dry. I have camped near people who spent the night in soaking wet sleeping bags, not because they had inferior equipment; but they failed to do just a few simple things to make the equipment that they have work the way that it should work. With a leaky tent, your sleeping bag will become one gigantic sponge!

Discuss products with the experts, at stores like REI, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, or Sportsmen’s Warehouse. Employees in these stores know camping equipment because these employees actually go camping all the time. They are seasoned experts who can assist you in getting the most from your purchase! Many of the “big box stores” such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Big 5, Walmart or other sporting goods stores that have multiple departments lack employees who are really knowledgable about the products relating to camping. Most of these employees are not seasoned campers, they are shelf stockers.

I had two new untested tents out today to seal the seams. Seam sealing is essential to ensure your tent seams do not leak. No matter how much you spend on a tent, sewn seams will leak. Most tent seams are treated during the tent’s manufacture, but be aware, sooner or later, they will leak!

The larger the tent, the more seams there are and the more leaks you will likely encounter. Incidentally, almost all tent manufacturers will recommend sealing the seams. I use Atsco Brand, a silicone based aerosol spray, it costs about $6 a can from Walmart. it is very easy to use and I carry a can or two with me on my camping trips. This can of silicone can turn a really leaky tent into a very dry, functional weekend home. Some tents will leak more than others, usually due to construction.  My Coleman Red Canyon (the large gray and orange tent in the photos),  leaked like a stuck pig. I learned to generously apply enough silicone material to allow the product to really penetrate into the stitching, and made several generous applications. I sealed the seams from the outside and from the inside of the tent. I did not spare the silicone and soaked all the seams thoroughly. That tent is now stays dry as can be, and I have  no fear of waking up wet!

A few years ago, a fellow camper came by my camp to visit while I was sealing my tent seams. He stated that he had never sealed his tent seams. Later in the day we had a real “New Mexico Monsoon Gully Washer”, and his tent began leaking like a sieve. He came over and borrowed my seam sealer!

Quality, much like beauty, is often times in the eye of the beholder, or in the eye of the consumer, as it were. I am really not familiar with all of the tents on the market. Without actually owning and using the tent I am critiquing or rating, I would not able to be objective. I decided I would critique my own tents, describe the features and the construction, and tell you what I like, and what I don’t like, and why. I believe to be honestly objective, a person rating this type of equipment should have had the product out numerous times to see how the equipment actually performs. I could not do that with the Coleman “Meadow Falls” Tent, however i have owned three dome tents previously, and understand how they should perform. I also know the expectations of  cabin tents, because I have camped with friends and slept in their tents dozens of times.

While I may be rating a small segment of the vast types of tents, I wish to provide you with tent features, what to look for, what seems to work for most folks, and certainly what to avoid. I will describe the four tents I use, the approximate price I paid, and break down how I use them. I will objectively cover what features are good, and what features really are not so good. I will explain why I like or dislike certain features of a these tents.

Coleman “Red Canyon” Tent: (The orange and gray tent in the pictures)
$100.00, 17′ x 10′ x 6′ high center section. 22.5 lbs.
Purchased in Spring of 2003.
Features Weathertec System, strong material and the fabric will not leak, (instructions advise seam sealing).
Built for 3 season camping.
•    Rooms: 1 to 3 (with removable partition curtains)
•    Sleeps up to eight people
•    (6) Shock-corded fiberglass poles
•    Welcome mat and pockets keep interior tidy
•    Access gear or adjust ventilation with Cool-Air port
•    Variflo adjustable venting system increases airflow
•    Separate storage bags for tent, poles, and stakes
•    Instructions sewn onto storage bag

•    The Reality:
•    I will give this tent a grade of about 90 out of 100. I would shave 5 points off due to fiberglass poles. Light aluminum poles would be preferred. I would shave off another 5 points for the flimsy shock cord bows that hold up the rainfly. I will not shave off any points for the leaking seams, because that is a potential reality for any tent.
•    We have never used the partition curtains. My wife Susan and I sleep on either ground pads or air mattresses, setting the beds on one end. On the other side of the tent, we set up two camping chairs, a table, port-a-potty, and store our clothing bags behind the chairs.  This tent is very roomy, and large enough to endure a day long rainstorm! (Believe me, I have endured many day long rainstorms!)
•    On clear nights (with a dry forecast), I leave the rainfly off. The ceiling material is mostly screened, and you can literally sleep with the stars shining brightly overhead! The tent is large and airy, the ventilation is excellent. Due to the great ventilation, water condensation on the wall is not a major issue, even with 100% humidity and rain.
•    One trip, the tent comfortably fit five men, a couple dogs and five gear bags. Eight people would not fit if the gear bags were in the tent.
•    In spite of the huge size, the tent is very easy to set up. It takes me about 15 minutes to set up by myself. Takedown is somewhat longer, perhaps 20-25 minutes with cleaning being considered.
•    The shock corded poles are made of collapsible sections of fiberglass with aluminum end sleeves. The inside cord is made of elastic bungee type material. The bungee material will wear against the aluminum sleeves, and ultimately fray as all shock cords of this design will. It is recommended to keep a roll of elastic cord with you so you can make a field repair if required.
•    The two shock cord bows that extend the rainfly over the entrance door and the window are very small in diameter and are very weak. One has actually cracked. Instead of ordering a replacement set, I will fabricate the bows with spring steel wire which will be much more durable.
•    The tent bag, unlike the tent, is made of an inferior thin material. The seams on the tent bag failed, and I replaced it with a duffle bag. Even so, the original tent bag held up for ten years.
•    Wind resistance is excellent. In 2007, Susan and I were camping in a canyon outside of Carlsbad Caverns State Park. Late at night, the wind came howling down the canyon. I estimated the gusts at between 40-50 MPH, and the tent bent, swayed, and looked like it was going to collapse. The tent did not collapse at all. I inspected the tent, and there were no rips, tears or any damage whatsoever!

Eureka Zeus EXO (Tent is discontinued) (The powder blue tent in the pictures)
$175.00 original price, purchased on clearance for about $75.
4′-10″ x 7′-5′ x 3′-6″ high, vestibule (covered storage area) 5 square feet.
Purchased in Spring of 2006.
Sleeps up to two persons (who really like each other!!!)
(2) Shock corded 9.5mm collapsible aluminum poles.
No rainfly required.
70D Ripstop Nylon material with 40D fine mesh will keep out “No See Um Biting flies”.
Storage poles for tent, poles, stakes.

•    The Reality:
•      I will give this tent a grade of 85 out of 100. I would need to take off a total of 10 points because the tent is not at all breathable. Another 5 points off due to the side vent flaps are not closable during cold weather. I would not shave off any points off due to flooring not being waterproof. After all, its a backpacking tent.
•    I originally bought this tent for overnight excursions on my motorcycle. It worked out fantastic! You cannot expect a two man tent to be anymore lightweight or compact than this tent.
•    I used it on several other car camping excursions, and found it to be barely acceptable size-wise for two people (neither of my wife or I would be considered petite), but it might work out for a smaller boned couple.
•    The vestibule is good for storing gear bags (If it rains, the vestibule has no flooring material, so a tarp must be used to keep the gear bags off the wet ground).
•      The Ripstop nylon tent material is very strong, as is the fine mesh screening.
•      The tent material is not at all breathable, and the condensation during a rain storm is excessive. The entire wall becomes soaking wet with condensation, compromising anything that comes into contact with the wall. Even with       the side mesh screening that runs the length of both sides of the tent is not enough to stop or slow the condensation.
•      The flooring material is not waterproof, as is in most backpacking tents, which makes sense- (the solution to this dilemma is by laying down a tarp and tucking the tarp completely underneath the floor of the tent).
•      The weight of the tent is excellent for backpacking and excursions where small tents are ideal.
•       The aluminum shock poles are made of excellent material, have plenty of camber, and remain fairly straight. Each tip of the shock cord poles is machined down, to “lock” the pole end into the grommet. That is an ideal           design!
•       Set up is extremely easy! Tent poles cross over one another, and the tenth material has plastic caribiners sewn in to latch the tent to the poles. the tent is up in a little over a minute! I would recommend replacing the plastic           caribiners with aluminum caribiners.  The tent stakes are very weak, so I replaced them with the heavier duty tent stakes I use with all of my other tents.
•       Windy conditions really surprised me in this tent, it is extremely stable in high winds. Susan and I camped at Pancho Villa State Park in the desert of southern New Mexico with this tent several nights. The weather was dry, but       the wind blew very hard one night. This little tent was very stable and really stood its ground in the gusts. Another trip to Alamogordo, New Mexico I strapped the tent onto my motorcycle. The wind was blowing so hard while       setting the tent up it blew away the tent bag, and I never found it! But this little tent really braved the wind that trip! In the desert on a windy night, very fine sand particles comes into most tents, lightly dusting everything in the       tent. Not in this little tent! The mesh screening is so fine that nothing gets through!

Coleman “Meadow Falls” Tent: Green and white tent in pictures.
$70.00, 10′ x 8′ x 5′-10″ high center section. 12.0 lbs.
Purchased in November of 20133.
Features Weathertec System, strong material and the fabric will not leak, (instructions advise seam sealing).
Built for 3 season camping.
•    Sleeps up to five people
•    (3) Shock-corded fiberglass poles
•        Separate storage bags for tent, poles, and stakes
•       Assembly Instructions sewn into storage bag
•    The Coleman warranty is good for one year from the date of purchase.

•    The Reality:
•    I will give this tent a grade of about a 90 out of 100. I would shave 5 points off due to fiberglass poles. A light aluminum pole would be preferred. I would shave off 5 points for no adjustable straps on the rainfly. I will not shave off any points for the leaking seams, because that is a potential reality for any tent.
•    We have not used this tent yet. Upon set up, the tent is large enough to use one queen mattresses, plus two chairs, port-a-potty, and store our clothing bags behind the chairs.  This tent is fairly roomy, and large enough to endure a day long rainstorm!
•    On clear nights (with a dry forecast), I can leave the rainfly off. The ceiling material is mostly screen,  sleep with the stars shining overhead! The ventilation is excellent. The door and window provide excellent flow-through. Due to the great ventilation, water condensation on the wall will not a major issue, even with 100% humidity and rain.
•    The tent material is lighter weight than the “Red Canyon.”
•    The tent will comfortably 3 persons, a couple dogs and several gear bags. Five people would not fit if the gear bags were in the tent.
•    The tent is very easy to set up. It took me about 10 minutes to set up by myself. Takedown is somewhat longer, perhaps 15-20 minutes with cleaning being considered.
•    The shock corded poles are made of collapsible sections of fiberglass with aluminum end sleeves. The inside cord is made of elastic bungee type material. The bungee material will wear against the aluminum sleeves, and ultimately fray as all shock cords of this design will. It is recommended to keep a roll of elastic cord with you so you can make a field repair if required.
•    There is one shock cord that supports the the rainfly over the top of the tent. The rainfly has no adjustable straps.
•    The tent material is very lightweight, and may be questionable for camping in colder weather.
•    The tent bag is made of an inferior thin material. I will replace the tent bag with a duffle bag.
•    Wind resistance remains to be seen, The tent is a shock-corded two fiberglass pole frame. There are adequate caribiners and attachment hooks on the tent body to assure rigid attachment to the poles. The tent material itself is light.
•    One thing that is deceptive, the packaging says that the tent is “Great For Backpacking.” I sure would not want to lug a ten pound tent up Long’s Peak!

Coleman “Instant Up” Tent:

Gift- Estimate around $100.00 – $125.00
8′ x 7′ x 4′-11″ high center section. 19.7 Lbs.
Features Heavy-duty 150D fabric external folding frame hinged upper frame with telescoping legs.
Built for three season camping, but based on the heavy duty tent material, this tent might be a good candidate for winter camping, provided there is no snow accumulation.
•    Sleeps up to four people
•    Claims 60 second set up
•    Separate storage bags for tent and stakes
•    No rainfly required, a separate rainfly is available for $30.00.
•       Assembly Instructions sewn into storage bag

•    The Reality:
•    I will give this tent a grade of about 90 out of 100. I would shave 5 points off due to the plastic frame hinging.  I would shave off 5 points for not providing a rainfly as standard equipment. I will not shave off any points for leaking seams, because that is a potential reality for any tent.
•    We have not used this tent yet. Upon set up, the tent is large enough to use only one queen mattress, plus gear bags and thats about it.  This tent is fairly roomy for one person, and but questionable for two people to endure a day long rainstorm! The ceiling of the tent is 4′-11″ which is a little short for a cabin tent.
•    The tent with the cabin tent type pole design is very rigid once it is set up. the problem is the hinged frame parts made of plastic. The upper horizontal pieces connect to the four vertical legs with screws, and that hinging might just be the weak link of the chain. As with all Coleman tents however, the warranty is good for one year from the date of purchase.
•    The ceiling material is sewn together with numerous pieces of material. The potential for any accumulating snow load is highly questionable due to the plastic frame connection. The ventilation is excellent. The door and two very large side windows provide excellent flow-through. Due to the great ventilation, water condensation on the wall will not a major issue, even with 100% humidity and rain.
•    The tent material is heavier than the “Red Canyon.” tent material.
•    The tent is very easy to set up. It took my son Chris and I about 30 seconds to set up the tent, I am not exaggerating. We did not stake the tent down, and that would take another minute or so. There are four corner guy lines which are used to help hold the tent down in the event of high winds. Takedown is somewhat longer, perhaps 1-2 minutes plus a few more minutes with cleaning being considered.
•    There is no rainfly provided, and that would be important to consider with any accumulated snow load for winter camping. With the patchwork of material and seams, the necessity of a rainfly is apparent.
•    The tent bag is made of an inferior thin material. I will replace the tent bag with a duffle bag.
•    Wind resistance remains to be seen, The tent frame being the greatest concern, plus a cabin tent is always more vulnerable to a sail effect from the wind. There are adequate attachment hooks on the tent body to assure rigid attachment to the poles. The attachment hooks remain connected during set up and take down.