When it comes to camping and backpacking, a tent is an item you should be willing to invest in. Like I mentioned in a previous blog post, it’s possible to go camping without a stove. It’s also possible to sleep without a tent for a while too, that is until there is a rainy cold night where shelter is a must. Don’t get me wrong, sleeping in a hammock with a well-placed tarp is a great, and less expensive, option (just don’t try to put two people in one hammock, you will never find comfort), but at some point you will want to get a tent. In this post I’ll give you some tips on how to find the right tent for your needs, and explain what tents I have and why I like them.
1. Know your camping style and trends
If you know you hate backpacking then don’t get a backpacking tent (AKA a tent that boasts about how light-weight it is). You will probably pay more and you will not be as satisfied with the amount of space on the inside. A true backpacking tent will be all about cutting weight. Many times they do this by taking away head space, which cuts down on fabric. They also use lighter-weight materials that are more adapt to ripping and are less durable. This is not to say they are low-quality by any means, but they are truly made to weigh less for backpacking purposes.
2. Know your camping group
If you are drive-up camping, it’s best to buy a size up based on the number of people you will normally have going, meaning if you have five people staying in a tent you should size up to a six man tent. If those 5 people pack heavy, you may want to even size up to a seven man tent. The only exclusion to this general rule is when it comes to backpacking. If you are buying a tent, you should buy it at a store that will let you set it up and see the inside. You can read dimensions all day but it’s not the same as actually setting it up and seeing what it’s like.
3. The bigger the vestibules, the better
For those that don’t know, vestibules are the large overhang by the doors on the tent.
They are great for stashing your stuff out of the weather without forcing you to bring it inside the tent. Some tents even have large enough vestibules that you can stand inside. These are great for rainy days when you want to take off your wet gear before getting in the tent and dripping all over a down sleeping bag. Large vestibules can be an issue when you are trying to cut weight backpacking (because they add so much weight to the tent), but otherwise they are quite useful.
4. Buy the footprint now
When I first got into camping and backpacking, I would have told you that a footprint was a waste of money. To the inexperienced camper, this is true. I would often use old shower curtains or painting drop cloths as ground covers when I would go. These worked but would always rip at some point. When it would rain I would have to make sure I tucked my DIY footprint so water wouldn’t pool, run under the tent, and soak my stuff. It’s just not worth the hassle. Buy the footprint now before they change models of tents and you will not regret it. I have never regretted buying a footprint.
You may be wondering what tent I have. Well, you should know by now that I have more than one. The two tents that I own are the MSR Elixir 3 (as featured above in the vestibules section) and the Kelty Trailridge 8 (as featured in the article main photo). I purchased the Trailridge 8 because it was too good of a deal to pass up (a trait I inherited from my father). I also bought it for those overnight drive-up trips when everyone wants to come along. Kelty claims you can backpack with it. I guess you could, but you better be splitting it up between all 8 people.
The MSR Elixir 3 is a great tent. I would say it’s one of the best-made tents on the market. This tent often gets overlooked because so many people purchase the Mutha Hubba from MSR (which is also a great tent). Well, I picked the Elixir over the Mutha Hubba. The first reason is the included footprint which saves you some cash and the worry of having to use something else. The other reason I got it is because of the side-to-side head room. I love how much space there is on the inside. This, on top of the lower price point, made it worth it to me to carry a little more weight. I also felt like the three person size would be perfect for my wife and I to take drive up camping. This made it a duel purpose tent for us. It was light enough to take backpacking, yet large enough to house our mega mat duo (if you don’t know what that is, it’s made by Exped and it will change your life). In fact, the mega mat fits perfectly in this tent with 7 inches all across the bottom for gear with the rest of the tent floor a sleeping pad.
These are just my opinions on tents. If you have strong opinions of your own or you disagree with mine, please let me know in the comments section below and get outside and start camping.