Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive
Gear: Tents 101
WHAT CAPACITY DO YOU NEED?
A decades-old maxim for figuring tent weight--3 pounds per person--still holds as a rough estimate, but these days improved technology generally gives you more interior space per pound. Tents haven't gotten that much lighter on average because standards for comfort have gone up right along with improvements in technology. Where once you'd be willing to bump shoulders against a sagging A-frame wall, now most of us want steep, dome-like walls that provide more freedom of movement inside.
Your personal tolerance for cramping will determine how you view the capacity figures listed by manufacturers. One tent's two-person rating might leave you and your mate butting heads, while another "two-person" tent lets three people sit up and play card games.
Since weight increases with volume, you'll need to think carefully of your specific needs. Snow campers, for example, like to bring their gear inside and sleep in warm, puffy sleeping bags
; they need to dress inside the tent and cook in the vestibule when extreme conditions mandate it (remember, cooking inside a tent is never recommended). Likewise, if you'll be holing up in a multiday rainstorm, you'll want some wiggle room. But if a light pack matters more to you than a spacious bedroom (say, you're a Sierra summer hiker who hasn't seen rain in years), go for tighter quarters. Use the manufacturers' capacity ratings as a rough guideline, then focus on actual square footage and shapes of tent floors. In general, an average-size adult needs 20 square feet for sleeping comfort and necessary gear. To get a better idea of what shape and square footage mean in real life, go to your local outfitter and stretch out in several different models. Make sure you take a sleeping bag with you, and note how you like each tent's floor plan.
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