I am writing this post from our tent. I can hear the rain pelting on the roof and the waves of Lake Ontario crashing outside. We’d just come back from our failed hike on the Marsh Trail at Presqu’ile Provincial Park, all soaked through. Since it doesn’t look like the rain is going to stop any time soon, my husband and a friend of ours are outside trying to pitch up a tarp so we could make a fire and cook something for dinner later. I feel sorry for them because it is so cold and wet out there. Sprained ankles have their benefits. I can stay in our warm, cozy tent and cuddle with our kids without feeling too guilty.
Of all the gear we schlep around on our camping trips, a tent is probably the most important one. It’s not only a place to sleep. It’s where we play card games on rainy days, read books by the flashlight at night, share our impressions of the day and just cuddle. It’s our second home, sometimes for a few weeks in a row. The importance of a good tent cannot be overstated. We’ve gone through our share of tents so I know what I am talking about.
Our first tent was huge, I mean really big. It could easily fit ten or even 12 people and my 6 foot 4 husband could stand up straight in it without having to even tilt his head. Some people probably have apartments not much bigger than that. Why did we need a tent that big? I don’t know. There were only four of us. All I remember is that it was two days before our first camping trip, our friends dropped us off at Costco, this tent was on sale, the size sounded impressive so we just bought it. Later we discovered that it was pretty cold on spring and fall nights. Plus setting it up required three to four people with some serious upper body strength.
We retired it after a few camping trips and bought a smaller, more manageable one. It was easier to set up, took up less space, had a vestibule where we could leave our shoes and stuff and it seemed to be working. That is until our first rain when we were woken up by water dripping onto our heads. We still kept it for some time afterwards, covering it with tarp on those wet days. And then a raccoon tore a hole in it so we had no choice but to buy a new one.
(True story about the raccoon. We woke up in the middle of the night to find a raccoon halfway inside the tent going through a backpack with our son’s books and other stuff that keeps him entertained when he wakes at 6 a.m. giving us some extra time to snooze. As it turned out, there were also some snacks at the bottom of the backpack that we’d completely forgotten about. Our little friend was fishing them out and throwing outside through a hole he’d just made. Since then, everything that goes into a tent must pass a rigid inspection to make sure some forgotten morsel of food isn’t smuggled in inside someone’s pocket).
But going back to our tent. Once we decided that it was time for a new one, we made our must-have list. It had to be light and small or as light and small as it was possible for a four-person tent. It had to be waterproof (no more tarps). It had to be easy to set up. We were about to go on our first three-week road trip. During that time, we would have to set up and pack up a tent every three-four days so some complicated scheme of ropes and poles that you can’t figure out without a Master’s in engineering wasn’t going to work. It had to have a vestibule or even two to store things during our back-country trips. It had to be breathable and warm. Well, and not cost a fortune.
We did find it. It is Kelty Trail Ridge 4. It is a Goldilocks of tents for us: not too big, not too small, just the right size. The four of us can sleep there comfortably and it also feels extra roomy because of its special configuration and light colour (never thought about the colour before but it does make a difference). One person can set it up in about ten minutes. It has two vestibules so plenty of room for shoes and backpacks. With a full-length fly, it is warm and dry. We’ve had it for four years now and so far not a single drop of rain has grazed our foreheads. And we’ve been through some serious rain. Last year, while camping at Custer State Park in South Dakota’s Black Hills, we woke up in the middle of the night to the lightening so bright and frequent you could read and the rain was coming onto our tent with the strength of Niagara Falls or so it felt. And yet not a single drop made it inside.
It is also fairly light for a four-person tent. There are lighter tents out there and we may consider investing in a back-country tent once we start doing more multi-day hiking trips, but for now this one works. As it turned out, its aluminum poles are pretty flexible too. On our trip to Badlands, we returned to the campsite one day to find our tent lying flat on the ground. It was day four of our four-week trip and the prospect of looking for a new tent wasn’t particularly exciting. Upon inspection though, we discovered that nothing was broken or ripped and after some unbending and untwisting it was standing back up good as new.
So to sum it up, we love our tent. It keeps us warm and safe and happy. Truly our second home with ever-changing breathtaking views. Does it have any drawbacks? Well, I wish it had more windows. And a skylight to watch stars at night. A skylight would make it perfect!
Things to consider when buying a tent:
1. Size: Bigger isn’t always better, certainly not for a tent. It has to be big enough for the number of people you plan to fit inside. It is always easier to find a good level spot for smaller tents, especially on back-country trips.
2. Weight: it may not be important if you only do front-country camping. If you are planning to take it backpacking or canoeing, every pound or should I say ounce matters.
3. Waterproof: no one wants to get wet in the middle of the night so it’s better to invest in a good waterproof tent.
4. Warm: Full-length fly means there are fewer drafts on cold fall nights.
5. Set-up: the less time you spend setting up your tent, the more time you have to enjoy camping.
6. Vestibules: space to keep you shoes when it rains and store backpacks on your back-country trips.
7. Colour: You may think that darker colour tents are better because of dirt but they allow less light in, feel smaller and heat up faster in the sun.
8. Ventilation: Mesh walls make the tent breathable. Windows and doors that you can open on hot summer nights are important too.