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Trying to decide on a tent


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Toejam is right. Just like guitar players, there will always be another one that does what you want, or looks neat. Or you simply fall in love with it. Or something.

I did have one The Northface three person 4 season tent that was perfect for two people. Looked great. The weight wasn't bad when split between two walkers. It held up in a late Sierra summer blizzard and we were not only comfortable, because it was a genuine 4 season tent, we felt secure in it while waiting out the storm. It survived earthquakes, widowmakers dropping on it, a gale, one bear, and two wives. After 25 years of regular use it was still going strong.

Sadly, it met its demise when my son's six year old friend grabbed one of the hoops and began parading around with the tent dangling behind. He swung the poor old tent back and forth in the air and finally managed to snag it on a branch, and break a custom aluminum pole.  I watched this helplessly from across a small Sierra lake.

 I contacted The Northface, told them my story and we had a collective sigh of sadness upon realizing that a lifetime guarantee does not cover abuse by children Anyway, the replacement poles were long out of stock and the rip was bad. I probably could have patched it up but it would have looked like Frankentent. So I finally gave it a decent send off.

The lesson is tents may be bear and weather proof, lover proof, even hunter proof. But they will never ever be kid proof. So, reflex, one thing us old 'pros' forgot to warn you of is this: Plan on the half life of a tent that your child will be in with any regularity to be far shorter than you suspect. Buy a cheap car camping tent because it isn't going to last until your kid grows up. And keep your high quality backpacking tent out of the reach of sticky little fingers.

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I have no knowledge of the 6 Moons tent but between the Big Agnes Fly Creek Platinum and the Copper Spur UL2 I would recommend the Copper Spur.  With the Fly Creek tent, you have to crawl in and

My wife and I bought a Copper Spur UL3 a year ago and used it until the end of August.  Opinion?  Hated it in more ways than I can describe but the Zippers were the worst.  Nothing like trying to get

Reflex, guessing you're still planning to purchase a separate tent for car camping...if so any chance your kid would ever join for any short backpacking trips along the way?  Not sure how tall

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Saw video of setting up Tarptent Rainbow, takes the guy ages and they fast fwd through some parts. Perhaps as i gain more experience i will get into that poles tarp world :)

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I'll bet it wasn't even windy. If you haven't tried to erect a tent in a gale all by yourself, sister, you haven't lived! ;-) Never underestimate the importance of being able to erect your shelter quickly and competently. Many times I just take a 9x12 nylon tarp, or sometimes just a mylar ground sheet with grommets , and rig it lean-to style with the trekking poles on the front side and put rocks along the ground at the rear.  Once you do it a few times you get the hang of it. I usually use this for shade in the desert. But once I used it in Alaska for a rain shelter. Worked great. but I had to use a lot of mosquito repellent and I really prefer not to slather deadly chemicals all over my sleeping bag and myself. I'd much prefer to go au natural! Some people smoke cigars or light incense to keep those little gazigglies away.

When the wind changed and the rain began to angle in at a slant, I just lowered the trekking poles and tightened the chords holding them up. The result was the open side was lower and this kept most of the rain out. If it was blowing rain all over hell, I'd probably set it up more like an A-frame with the poles in the middle of each end and the rocks along the ground on both sides.

Where do you live? Is rain the biggest weather issue there? It sounds like you would learn a lot if you went camping with someone with some camping experience, especially creative shelter making experience. They would be able to show you all sorts of ways to set up the tarp. Maybe it could be a weekend dedicated to learning different ways to create a shelter. There is probably someone around to teach you. Check at the local REI. I live in Hawaii, which is a terrible place to camp. The worst. And we don't have an REI.So I always go to the mainland for backpacking treks.

In that Colin Fletcher book I recommended to you—The Complete Walker III—he shows how to rig all sorts of tarps. He calls them non-tents. ;-)

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Welp. Im gonna go for a bigger tent for car camping and decide later for another one for backpacking. For car camping with my one son, Im just trying to fig out between a big tent like REI Kingdom 4 (overkill?) vs not as big like Quarter Dome 3 or Half Dome 2 Plus of Half Dome 4.

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REI does make good products. I have a down sleeping bag of theirs that is at least 20 years old and it is still going strong. There is a hint in this note. If you get good equipment, it will last for a very long time if you take care of it. How old is your son? Any chance in the near future you will want to bring a friend of his (or yours) along?

You will be happy with all of these tents. So look at these things: ease of erection (you need to see it in person or at least a good picture of it and even then you may be in for a surprise. If you are going to erect it by yourself for a few years, this could be important. Next - size. room inside is obviously important for extra stuff, toys, other kids, boy friends, etc. The larger the tent is outside the more sensitive to wind it will be. I was on a car camping trip with my son and some boy scouts and their parents. We had that old Northface tent I told you about that was destroyed by a kid but this wasn't the time that happened. Our tent had plenty of room for the two of us. Next door was a gigantic Coleman tent the nearly caved in completely because of winds that came up in the night. But that tent was big enough for a small table, four folding chairs, a large cooler, two cots, and a lot more. Had it rained, we all would have been in there playing cards, or telling stories. But the wind made the inside shrink to less than half its intended size. I have never seen a tent cave so much because of wind. I was curious about this so I walked all around it to see if the dad had erected it correctly. He had. But it was a four person tent with only two hoops. Three would have been better. Just having two left too much tent fabric unsupported. I guess. That's all I could come up with.

We didn't even realize there was a big wind storm until we heard yelling from the neighbors at 3 AM.

So if you get a big one, make darn sure it has enough support. This is hard to tell in a store. But give an erect tent a good hard tug, a hard one, and see what happens. It's like kicking tires on a used car. No, it actually is better than that, come to think of it. A good tug will show you how the tent will behave in strong winds. I good hard pull. Don't worry about breaking anything  because if something breaks, like a seam or a stake point or a zipper, you don't want that tent.

One last thought. We were visiting relatives in the mid-west and they had a humongously enormous gigantic Coleman tent that slept 8 or 10, maybe more. It had 'rooms' inside. Anyway my son and I were camped in it during a major thunderstorm complete with strong winds and very heavy rain. It held up just fine. The entryway leaked a little in front of the door but this might have been because so many people went in and out that a shallow ditch developed in front causing water to pool there. Otherwise, it was totally fine. But it also had lots of hoops and tie down points all over it, not just on the ground. Almost forgot, be sure your car camping tent has a good rainfly and screened windows or you may find yourself literally car camping - in your car. And check the quality and material of the zippers. Most tents do not have metal zippers these days, but if you find one that does, this will be better. Finally, for any tent, play with the zippers. Open and close them several times. Look for fabric getting stuck in the teeth and if so, see how hard it is to unstick it. Almost all zippers will catch the fabric so the important part is how easy is it to pull free. A good zipper makes this easy. It's the same with packs, day bags, and, I guess, clothes. I once had a pair of pants that had a zipper from hell. Each and every time I needed to unzip the fly, it got stuck, and it was never far enough down to do any good. And it would not pull free without me exerting a huge amount of energy. One time I finally gave up and tore at it franbtically and it came lose. You can guess why I was frantic.

So: zipper quality, support, strength, reliability, space versus price. That's the equation.

Good luck. Send a pic when you get the tent.

Dr. Bob

ps The pic below shows me attempting to set up my Tensegrity in the Mojave Desert. This was the first time I used it and the wind was blowing. It isn't completely erect in this shot. Some things are still rather loose and it looks a little weird. It took a while to learn this tent. But in the end, it worked great. This was taken before I jettisoned the stakes and stuff sack. Since it was the beginning of a long trek, all the gear is new. It didn't look like this 387 miles later. Come to think of it this was Day -2. I didn't start walking for two more days. This was the first night of the caching part of the trek.

Also, and this never figured into my plans, this tent is bright yellow (except for the fly). The next morning was a bright and sunny crisp spring day and the yellow was glowing. When I got out to make breakfast I left the side door unzipped. Upon my return, lots of honeybees were buzzing around inside. The yellow attracted them. I never before considered tent color to be an important factor. But apparently it might be. Of course if you are operating illegally—or simply wanting to remain unseen—then you really don't want a bright yellow tent with an even brighter orange ground cloth, do you?

A Man and His Tent 1.jpg

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I will probably reiterate a lot of what was already said, but there is power in affirmation! The age old backpacking (camping) dilemma is trying to find one piece of gear to do it all, this is why my gear closet looks like a mini outdoor store. With that being said, tents are no exception. Often times a lightweight tent for backpacking is going to be missing some creature comforts of a car camping tent (tapered footprint, non-vertical sidewalls, lower head height, etc). The closest "do it all tents" for 2 people are probably the REI Half dome 2 (or 2+), The BA Copper Spur (lightest of these options) or the MSR Hubba Hubba. These all have rectangle footprints, relatively vertical sidewalls and a decent head height. All weighing roughly between 4 and 5 lbs they are classified as backpacking tents. 

As for activity specific, think of what you will be doing MOST. If you normally backpack solo (or not sharing a tent) but occasionally bunk up with someone, I would consider a 2p LW backpacking tent. Do consider the door aspect. I have a BA Fly Creek UL 2 and the single door is a pain even with 1 person, and definitely with 2 people. My go-to tent is the REI Dash 2 (2lbs7oz) it has 2 doors/vestibules and it is great for 2 people and even for 1 (I have 1 door for entry and 1 for gear/dog). And then get a cheaper family camping tent (depending on how often you go) Now if you mostly backpack with 2 people and occasionally car camp, I would lean toward a good quality 3p backpacking tent (my current quandary) My fiance is slowly getting into backpacking and the likely hood of bunking with someone is getting higher (whether it is her or someone else) so having a little more room is a plus. The REI Quarter Dome 3 is a solid tent (actually has 3 vestibules) it is relatively lightweight (3lb 12oz) and has ample room for 2 (or 3 snuggly) and you can use it car camping! 

Now if you split your time equally between car camping and backpacking, I would invest in 2 tents. 

Attached is a picture of the Dash 2 at sunset in the NC Mountains and a picture of the Dash 2 and Halfdome 2 on the coast of NCIMG_0738.thumb.JPG.2decdb7bd2c4d3a2100afIMG_1019.thumb.JPG.bf8942a691116bb28420d

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@Reflex the short answer is to make sure the fly is properly staked out taught. The longer answer is that most of the complaints of the fly deal with the foot of the tent. This is because of 2 reasons. 1. The rain fly doesn't cover the ground so rain get on the foot of the bathtub type floor. This alone does not cause issues. The issue comes from reason 2. The foot box of the tent is short height wise because the tent is partially free standing (you have to stake out the foot taught to get maximum room). This means that constant touching the foot of the tent (sleeping bag/gear) results in moisture transfer. Nothing major but a little moisture. The simplest way to combat this is to throw your rain jacket or pack cover over the foot of the bag. 

Bottom line is it is a great (atmitadly the rain fly could be better) tent. Especially considering the price (on clearance). For more money the copper spur is the "better tent" but marginally. And weighs more. All things to consider. But that is my 2 cents worth. 

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