Selecting a Tent
For whatever outdoor pursuits you may enjoy, there are a ton of tents to chose from these days. As I’ve written about before, I have quite a few tents; a few tiny pup tents, a few lightweight backpacking tents, a couple of good family-sized tents, and a couple of large canvas tents, and they all have their uses. Because I do a wide variety of activities outdoors, I need a lot of different types of tents; at least that’s how I justify it to myself. I’m kind of that way with boots too, but you can never have too many pairs of boots. It’s a lot easier to have too many tents or too many boots when you aren’t married, I don’t have to explain my reasoning to anyone.
If you are looking for a tent, the most important thing to do first is to think about what you will be doing with that tent. My different tents actually do serve different purposes. For example my light weight back packing tents are for when I am back packing obviously, but even then I need different ones for different situations. When I am fishing, I take much less gear than when I am hunting, that is mostly due to the time of year as when I am hunting I need more clothes and more food. If you are buying a tent for hunting, always get a tent that is rated for one more person than you expect to have in the tent. For me, hunting solo I use a two person tent.
If I will be taking my truck or my Jeep, and my son, I will bring a larger family-size tent that gives us plenty of room inside. One thing you should consider is having ample room inside the tent in case foul weather causes you to spend more time inside the tent than you anticipated. One time Kyle and I went camping for a weekend a few years ago in the late spring, and it rained an enormous amount, causing us to be trapped in the tent for all of the first night, and part of the next day. The tent I brought then had enough room inside to have our sleeping areas at either end of the tent, and a good-sized living area in the middle, where I set up a table and chairs. That living space allowed us to cook and eat in the tent, and gave us room to play cards and pass the time.
Having extra room in the tent is particularly important if you have small children or bring dogs camping with you. In general, always count your gear and supplies as an extra person in order to have sufficient room in the tent. For example, if you are a couple with a toddler and two dogs, you would want at least a six person tent.
Another important consideration is the time of year you will be camping. Most tents are three season tents, meaning that they may not be suitable for harsh winter conditions. If you camp primarily in the summer, get a tent with a mesh top that allows for maximum air flow. A mesh top tent is very nice in the summer so you can watch the stars as you fade off to sleep. For any tent that you buy, always get one with a rain fly, which will keep you dry in a mesh top tent if you need it, and will create a layer of air between your tent and the fly to help keep it cool in the sun.
Most tents these days are made of rip-stop nylon and are treated to repel water, but always check before you buy to see if the seams are sealed. The needle holes from seams being sewn together are not always sealed on tents, but that is easy to do yourself with tent seam sealant.
For the big game hunting seasons when you can either drive a truck or use horses, a big canvas wall tent is the ultimate for comfort and utility. These tents are configured for a wood burning stove, which is essential for cold weather hunting. Even if it gets to 70 degrees on a fall archery hunt, it will be frigid at night high in the mountains, and you need a wood burning stove to stay comfortable both while you sleep, and while you are spending time in the tent. These tents are like having a portable small cabin; you have a sleeping area, a kitchen area, and still room for a table and chairs, all inside a durable shell against the elements. Canvas wall tents are the personification of high country elk hunts and deer hunting all over the country. The romanticism of a hunting camp is spending time in the wild in a canvas wall tent, I wrote an article about that which you can read by clicking here.
The best advice for selecting a tent is to get one that meets your needs and your budget. If you are just starting out, don’t buy something too expensive. A low price tag doesn’t mean low quality. I have a tent that I bought 30 years ago from JC Penney that was $25 and I still use it today. That tent has been on many back packing elk hunts, and while it is made of older technology, it still works great. Of course you can always go cheaper than that if you are adventurous; one of my favorite tents for back packing is a forester’s tent, which is made from a tarp and three long poles. It is a primitive shelter, but it works, and it gives me a sense of adventure when I am out in the wild.