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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear: Tents 101

There's a bewildering array of tent options available, including hundreds of three-season tents and specialized models built for hot deserts, Arctic summits, and steamy rain forests.

by: The Backpacker Editors

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Half a century ago, campers needed a car-top roof rack to lug their home-away-from-home to the backwoods. And more times than not, they'd leave the tent at home in favor of saving pounds of shoulder weight. These days almost no one sleeps without a tent, because backpacking shelters are lighter, stronger, drier, and roomier than their predecessors. Your only concern is which model to choose. There's a bewildering array of tent options available, including hundreds of three-season tents and specialized models built for hot deserts, Arctic summits, and steamy rain forests.

WHAT ARE YOU USING IT FOR?
Your first consideration when choosing a tent should be whether it will suit your seasonal backpacking needs. Here are your options.

Three-season
This has always been the most popular tent category for backpackers because these shelters are designed for the seasons most of us like to camp: spring through fall. These tents can handle a little surprise snowfall in early spring and late fall, and most have plenty of ventilation options to let in cooling summer breezes. They typically are held up by two or three poles, and some are even sturdy enough to handle mild winter conditions.

Summer/Screen
In the old days, the only way to see the stars was to sleep with the bugs. Most modern summer-only tents feature wide swaths of netting that let you be almost one with Mother Nature's elements rather than with her critters. If the sky clouds over, just pull on the fly and you'll stay dry during a downpour. Beware, though, because strong windblown rain can get up under the typically scant rainfly. Likewise, the tent won't do much to keep you warm if an
early fall frost settles in during the night. Desert travelers can use these tents for midday sun shelters because the light-colored fabrics are good at reflecting heat.

Convertible
Think of these as ragtop Jeeps; they'll take you just about anywhere and adapt to almost any climate. Like summer/screen tents, convertibles have large vent panels for stargazing and breeze-catching. But when the weather turns foul, fabric panels seal up the screen to trap heat and seal out blowing rain or snow. The rainfly provides full coverage and often features more guy-out points than you'd find on a rainfly designed for mild three-season conditions. Of course, all the extra lines and stakes mean this type of tent can take longer to set up, but in bad weather it'll be extremely stable.

Mountaineering/Hhigh altitude
These tents, also known as four-season tents, will stand up to whatever comes your way. The price you pay for such all-weather toughness isn't measured simply in dollars, but also in increased weight and sometimes reduced ventilation. The design often employs four and sometimes more poles that crisscross for strength, and maybe even an extra pole to prop up a large vestibule. The fabric is beefy, and ventilation panels may be skimpy. Some mountaineering tents are made with a single waterproof/breathable wall, rather than typical double-wall construction. The single-wall design reduces weight but elevates price because of the special fabric used.


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Reader Rating: Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

SHAWN
Jan 23, 2012

VERY VERY SIC!!! RAD!

LaMadre, Oregon Coast
Dec 03, 2011

Very well done! Thanks!

Eagle-Eye
Jan 23, 2011

Typo in your heading: Mountaineering/Hhigh altitude

rob
Sep 30, 2010

sweet

hunter
May 07, 2010

cool

Anonymous
May 07, 2010

very cool

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