ScoutingMay-June 2002

Outdoor Smarts
The House You Carry Camping

By Karen Berger

Tents come in every shape and size imaginable, so it's important to pick a style that matches the way you camp.

Sleeping out beneath the stars is one of camping's great pleasures. You can gaze upon the night sky's wonders and fall asleep bathed in soft moonlight. But what happens when those clear skies fill with pelting rain in the wee hours of the morning?

The house you carry with you camping can provide shelter from nature's fiercest weather or peskiest insects. It's a vital piece of camping gear, as important as your boots, pack, or sleeping bag.

Types of shelter

Coleman's Mantis 2 ($150) is a three-pole modified dome with offset doors and spacious vestibules on each side.
Courtesy of Coleman

Tent designs are seemingly endless—from the one-person models barely bigger than a bivvy sack to palatial domes that sleep three people plus packs. Also, there are single-wall tents, freestanding tents, minimalist tarps, even shelters designed to go over hammocks.

The type of tent you buy depends on whether you're buying it for yourself, yourself plus another leader, or if you're outfitting a troop of Scouts. It also depends on the kind of camping conditions you expect.

Size and weight

BSA's Supply Division sells Eureka!'s Single Wall Tent ($139). Its patented ventilation system eliminates the need for a rain fly.
Courtesy of Eureka!

Canoe- and kayak-campers have some leeway here, but for backpacking, be ruthless about weight, because younger Scouts can't carry as much as veteran hikers. For hiking, tents should weigh in at no more than 3 pounds for bivvy tents, 4 pounds for one-person tents, 6 pounds for two-person tents, and 8 pounds for three-person tents.

The larger tents make sense for groups because the pounds-per-person ratio drops. And remember, tent capacity is measured for adults; some two-person tents may be able to sleep three boys.

Freestanding or staked?

Freestanding tents don't need to be staked, so they are easy to move if you have to change your campsite location. They're also easier to pitch on hard ground, on sand (where tent stakes tend to slip out), and on tent platforms. (Note: Guylines are generally required for the rain fly that covers a tent; if you can't drive stakes into the ground, tie the lines to logs or large rocks).

A classic freestanding design is the wedge-shaped Thru-Hiker by Mountain Hardwear (5 1/2 pounds), which provides superior foul weather protection although somewhat cramped quarters. Mountain Hardwear also makes the 4 1/2-pound Tri-Light 2, a similar design that shaves a pound by using shorter poles.

Another lightweight choice is The North Face's Slickrock, a two-pole dome that uses a single layer of waterproof fabric for part of the tent. The Slickrock has excellent ventilation and is roomy enough for two adults to sit up when eating.

Nonfreestanding tents require stakes and guylines, but they are lighter, mostly because they use either fewer poles or shorter poles. Sierra Designs' best-selling Clip Flashlight is a classic two-person shelter, tipping the scales at just under 4 pounds.


Sierra Design's Clip Flashlight ($189) uses two poles for easy setup. Rain fly provides vestibule for gear storage.
Photograph by John R. Fulton Jr.

A low-to-the-ground profile and full rain-fly coverage are best if you expect brutal conditions. But in temperate climates, you can trade coverage for comfort and ventilation. A tent with more headroom gives space to move around, which can help prevent cabin fever.

The Single Wall Tent from Eureka! is a two-person backpacking model sold through the BSA's Supply Division catalog. Eureka!'s patented High/Low ventilation system eliminates the need for a separate fly and keeps the tent weight less than 4 pounds. The tent's single wall construction is completely waterproof.

If weight isn't a concern, check out Coleman's two-person Exponent Mantis 2 (6 pounds 14 ounces), which offers good ventilation and plenty of room.

Perhaps the most useful tent feature, regardless of shape, is a vestibule. This sheltered space outside the tent's living area is a place you can store gear, like wet boots, raingear, and a backpack.

Ultralight designs

To reduce pack weight even more, check out such specialty manufacturers of lightweight equipment as GoLite, which offers its Cave tarp-tent (12 ounces for one person, 18 ounces for two people). For complete bug/weather protection, a net tent can be attached (total weight—more than 1 1/2 pounds for one person; 3 pounds for two people).

Hammock tents are another interesting idea. Hennessy Hammocks weigh between 1.2 and 2.5 pounds and have a unique design that allows you to sleep with your back straight. Hammocks can be pitched anywhere there are trees.

Perfect pitch

The Scout ($69) by Hennessy Hammocks is for campers up to 5'6" tall. It features No-See-Um netting and a coated rain fly.
Photograph by John R. Fulton Jr.

To keep you dry, every tent, regardless of quality, has to be pitched properly. Remember these tips:

  • Pitch a tent taut. Use all the guylines and stake them securely. Make sure the rain fly isn't sagging onto the interior tent fabric.
  • Seal the seams. Factory-sealed tents aren't completely watertight because manufacturers only seal major seams. Seams around grommets and guyline loops can let water in, too, so seal them yourself. (Sealant is available in outdoor stores.)
  • In high winds, stake down your tent even if it's free-standing—especially if you plan to be away from it.
  • Shelter your shelter. Use trees, bushes, or large boulders as windbreaks. Tents should face away from prevailing winds.
  • Watch drainage patterns. Don't camp in a depression (where water can collect) or in a streambed (even if it's dry).
  • Camp 200 feet away from water wherever possible. And when you leave in the morning, make sure your tent site is as pristine as it was when you arrived the night before.

Karen Berger is the author of eight books on outdoor adventure. Visit her Web site at

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