PaddleWise Discussion on Tents

A big thanks to Hank Berger for organizing this PaddleWise discussion on tents for this website.

    I'm not familiar w/ Windfoil or Zen, but I am impressed w/ the Kelty 
Cyclone 2. A bit bigger and heavier than the two that you have mentioned, but 
the kayak carries the load. The Cyclone has two doors (nice feature when 
nature calls in the early morning), and two vestibules, sets up easily, and 
has kept me dry through some hellacious downpours. 

Will Jennings: Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight and other similar tents are well made, nicely designed, relatively light and compact, and economical choices.
Dave Baskett: have a sierra designs Draco, featured at which I can recommend very strongly. It's a very very sound tent. We carry it when ski touring in the Aus alps as well as kayak camping. space in the vestibule for preparing food during foul weather. (the worst of which was an 18 hr gale featuring sheets of sleet, during which we were kept dry)
Rich Dempsey: Many of the Cascade Design Backpacking tents (Flashlight in particular) are quite good. They are backpacking tents, not real roomy, but light. My "wife-to-be" and I used the original SD Clip-Flashlight for a 3 month hike down the MT Continental Divide Trail in the Summer of '86. The first 20 days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness was rain, drizzle, mist, and rain. We kept on using that tent until 1992, when we got the 3 person version of the CD Flashlight. Still a light, strong, well ventilated tent. When we began canoe-expeditions in northern Canada, we switched to the NF VE-25, which I would stake my life on, and on 2 occasions, in 55mph winds on the Barrenground, I suppose I did. But for light weight tents, I would recommend you seek a Sierra Design tent, which may be more in the weight/space range/price range for your usage. Remember also... unless the tent has completely "taped" seams, you have the additional time and expense of sealing them. AND, if you don't know the difference between "taped" seams, and the one's you seal yourself, I would ask around .
Dave Kruger: Hank, I'm also in the market for a compact tent -- for use in our rainy climate here in the Northwest -- and I looked closely at the Zen and a couple similar ones. Ultimately, I decided to wait for a sale on one of the smaller ("2 person") North Face tents -- like the very old NF "Tadpole" I currently own. What I did not like about the Zen: 1. Not free standing. 2. The rain fly opens over the door such that if it is raining, you will get water inside the tent. My Tadpole is free standing, and the vestibule reaches out far enough in front of the inside tent that #2 above is not a problem. I own a NF Nebula, which is a much larger two-person tent, and its vestibule design provides a large footprint in front of a nearly vertical door, such that entering the tent will not get water inside the tent during a rain. Problem #2 above is endemic among the smaller two-person tents I have looked at. The only one I have seen so far that seemed to avoid #2 is the MEC Tarn 2. MEC is on the web at:
Fred T: have a Sierra Design Clip 2 and really enjoy it. For larger parties, two or three I have a Eureka K2, older style. The K2 is almost bomb proof (there we go again) and has held up extremely well with a lot of use and a little care. It is considerably larger and heavier than the Sierra Design. The Clip is a great back packing tent as well and I love the way the ground cloth can be clipped into the two hoop poles along with the tent. Keeps things neat and I don't have to mess around with getting the ground cloth laid out right and covering everything.
Ashton Treadway: Personally, I *lerve* my Sierra Designs Meteor Light CD. Sets up in minutes, lots of ventilation but seals up nicely with the rainfly, spacious enough to hold a 6'3" guy and a 5'2" woman with two backpacks comfortably for a few days, and packs small and reasonably light.
Roger Voeller: I have a Kelty Zen tent and use it a lot for solo kayak camping. A couple of comments. 1 - It isn't self supporting (that is you have to stake it down). This is sometimes difficult on the rocky northeastern North America shores and Baja beaches where I've used it. 2 - It is pretty small for two people - just barely enough room to lay out the sleeping bags. But it is small and light, is plenty waterproof, and if staked down - sheds wind very well. When I'm going on shorter trips where storage space in the boat isn't so critical, I usually take a larger self supporting dome tent I have (from Eureka - about 10 years old.
Joe Pylka: I have the Sierra Designs Half Moon which came out about the same time as the Meteor Lite but is now discontinued. Similar design and function, but a little smaller. Packs small too; 4 pounds of weight, 4-5 inches in diameter, about 18 inches long. The vestibule is a great thing. I've added a gear loft up above which is very handy, and I now carry a rug remnant which I put out the doorway in the vestibule. Really helps keep things clean and dry. Never had a problem with water soaking thru, and it seems to resist wind well. Had the tent for some 6 years now; it is still in terrific shape but lately the rainfly wants to keep sticking to itself when I unroll it...
Mel Grindol: For kayaking I found that weight was not critical but packed size was. The tent I use for canoeing (North Face Nebula) is just too large (pack size of 24" X 8") to effectively fit in a kayak. For kayaking I use a Mountain Hardwear Light Wedge 2: It packs down to 17" X 6.5". I then put it in a compression sack and scrunch it down to about 17" X 5". Nice and small for fitting in the hatch. Both my wife and I can sleep in the tent, albeit without a lot of extra room but we don't mind being close. :) This tent has served me well, even in strong winds. And the window is a nice feature.
Kevin Tully: I would also recommend a Siera Designs tent. I am purchasing eather the Tiros Assault or the Lookout 3-Man. I work for an outfitter (Hudson Trail Outfitters, Ltd.), and being able to see all the tents first hand rather than in a magazine or catalog, and would have to say that SD is numero uno, with Mountain Hardware second and TNF third. They are all made well, and have great warrenties though. SD has a better pole attaching design than the others.
Richard Kemmer: Hank, you don't say what size tent you're looking for. Since my beloved NF Tadpole was stolen, I have searched for the lightest, smallest tents and accumulated the following: 1) Coleman Cobra (from Sportmart, ca $80). Best for one sleeper, two in emergency. This is a "one-hooper." Extremely light, yet seems durable if taken care of. (On Lake Superior, stood fast and dry through a storm that canceled the July 4 fireworks at Munising.) Good vestibules, outstanding ventilation. Like all non-free-standers, not suitable for camping on sand without anchors. 2) Slumber Jack Predator (from Cabellas, ca $100). One person "bivy" that allows you to sit up. No vestibules. Free-standing, great ventilation. This little tent comes weighing over six pounds, due to fiberglass poles and heavy steel stakes. You can order a complete set of aluminum poles for ca $30 and substitute aluminum or titanium stakes, bringing it down to less than 4 lbs. Seems durable. Although smaller and heavier than the cobra and lacking vestibules, has been my tent of choice for two seasons over the Cobra because of its free-standing nature. Cobra and Predator both work well for solo camping. I bought granite gear compression sacks for both and can cinch them down so they nestle in 6-in.-dia dry bags. They fit well in my low-volume Arctic Hawk. In a few days, I plan to trade my Hennesey Hammock for a NF Canyonlands one hooper but cannot comment on that ultra-light at this time. The next tent is somewhat larger and heavier but still acceptable for low-volume boats: 3) Marmot Nutshell (ca $300 from Campmor -- does not appear in current catalog). Excellent quality and free-standing, although fly must be staked out at, I believe, six points. Sleeps two comfortably. Can be fit into 6-in. dry bag if desired. If you can stand a few extra cubic inches of volume in the boat, this is a monumental step up in quality and function from the Cobra and Predator. 4) Walrus Warp/2 (ca $220 from REI). This is a high-quality free-standing tent that has vestibules, good ventilation, and can be used four season. It would be my choice of the tents listed for sleeping two and would be a great choice if you were paddling with your significant other and only one person needed to carry the tent in his/her boat. However, IMHO it's too big and bulky for solo paddling and more bulky than it needs to be for tandem camping. The problem is Walrus' patented system of sewing the poles into the tent so that you don't have to thread them at setup and takedown. This makes it impossible to cram the tent into a stuff sack or roll it tight, so that the packed tent is unnecessarily bulky. Because of this feature, I have reverted to my old Diamond Dome when more than one person has to sleep in a tent. The DD is a devil to set up, especially in the wind. But, if you plan to stay a few days, it's worth it. A suggestion: Free-standing didn't appear until the early '70s, and it represented a quantum leap forward in tent design. Unless you know you're going where you can stake down firmly, it is a BIG plus. Much of my camping in the midwest is done on sandbars or beaches, so my non-free standers get little use. On one occasion when I was camped on an exposed sandbar on the Wisconsin River, a storm arose and a gust of wind actually flattened my Diamond Dome down on my chest. When the gust abated, the tent popped right back to its intended shape. Tent-makers seem to be moving away from free-standing tents to minimize weight. IMHO, that is a cop-out. The Tadpole, for example, was an excellent combination of free-stance and light weight, so good compromises are possible.
Bob Denton: Here in Florida, ventilation is critical. I only purchase tents that have awnings over the windows (like the cheap dome tents). for solo I have a Coleman Apex which weighs lbs., packs in a small dry bag and sleeps two in a pinch. For two, I have an older Kelty (forgot the model) which has three alu poles and a 4th eave pole to support the fly. This tent is also compact, weighs about 7 lbs and packs in a 9" hatch. I'm able to leave the door and windows partially open and not get rain in the tent due to the peaks in the fly. The colors are reasonable and wont make the tents act like a Dutch oven in the Florida sun.
Mike Edelman: Dirk asked: > Shouldn't it be possible for tentmakers to design and make tents > that are waterproof (enough) without the user being forced to > seal the tent themselves? It comes down to the cost of the technology. The only way to make a really waterproof seam is to apply a sealer by hand or cover it with tape using a machine. The machines that apply tape are expensive, so at first it was only the largest makers (like Eureka) and the premium tent makers who could afford to do it. I think I posted a few thoughts on tent choices last year, but some of them bear repeating: 1. Don't bother with tents that use fiberglass poles,no matter how cheap they are. The poles are heavy and flop around when you're trying to put up a tent in darkness or weather. Anodized aluminum poles are the way to go. 2. Clips are superior to sleeves for ease of use when attaching the tent to poles. Feeding four poles through interrupted sleeves can be difficult and confusing. Sleeves distribute loads better, but that's not a factor unless you're expecting really heavy weather, in which case you should be buying a $600-$800 4-season tent. 3. Polyester flys, unlike nylon flys, are not affected by UV and won't disintegrate after a few seasons in the sun. (Especially important for that paddling trip around Cape Horn.) 4. You need more room than you think. I used to think minimal-sized tents were ideal, until I had to spend a day in one. Another 5-10 lbs of tent buys you the ability to sit upright and move around and is just that much more self-righting ballast!
Will Jennings: I like the SD tents for value, construction, efficiency, and room-to-weight ratio. I've used their 3 season line extensively and rate them as proven performers. That said, my favorite for water travels has been the Moss Titan. It's heavier than the SD tents of similar design, but it offers a solid room-to-weight ratio (2 and a half people, 3 in a pinch), is utterly bomb-proof, and gives me the best performance in wide ranging and extreme conditions. It opens to a 'screened in porch' set up, and clamps down to a bomb shelter. Rock solid detailing. And you can find them on sale, usually, at Northern Mountain Supply's Killer Deals page. I've weathered sustained heavy winds and rain mixed with sleet and snow and hail...cozy and cheerful because we could sit up, play cards, shelter ALL our gear, and still keep a fairly orderly 'house'. The hooped vestibule on the fly is a boon. I also will pitch a Moss Heptawing off the front as a 'carport' so we can sit on our thermarest pads-made-into-chairs while cooking and eating and staying dry.
Sandy Kramer: In a message dated 00-10-18 11:17:58 EDT, writes: << 2) Slumber Jack Predator (from Cabellas, ca $100). One person "bivy" that allows you to sit up. No vestibules. Free-standing, great ventilation. This little tent comes weighing over six pounds, due to fiberglass poles and heavy steel stakes. You can order a complete set of aluminum poles for ca $30 and substitute aluminum or titanium stakes, bringing it down to less than 4 lbs. Seems durable. Although smaller and heavier than the cobra and lacking vestibules, has been my tent of choice for two seasons over the Cobra because of its free-standing nature. >> Hmmmm..that sounds a lot like my Slumberjack Raptor. I love it because the fly is form-fitting and it has two doors that look like great big eyes when you unzip the fly portion. This means that you have great ventilation (and view) and don't have to rush out to put on the fly during sudden nocturnal downpours. Another great advantage is its aero-dynamic styling. It withstood some pretty heavy rain and wind last year at the Dry Tortugas. My companions (both in "cheap" dome tents) had lots of water inside and had been ready to abandon ship and head for the fort because of the swaying. I'm not taking it on the Suwannee River trip because of bulk, weight, no vestibule, and virtually no space inside for storage. Oh, and because I'm addicted to buying tents (and kayaks). I wouldn't have thought of calling it a bivy (it's a lot more spacious than my Slumberjack Summer Bivy that I use for overnight backpacking), but I see what you mean.
Rich Dempsey: I have found that the "clip" type pole to tent devices used on SD tents make for fast and easy setup. The "pole through the sleeve: attachment can be a real pain in the butt in windy or rainy weather (or failing light). I do think that the sleeve design may offer greater stability when be slammed broadside by winds in the 50mph range. I remember how my SD dome tent (an extended Domicile made in the mid-80's) would really deform in high winds. ) I have not had this problem with the NF VE25, although this may have more to do with the difference in tent shape rather than pole attachment. I now prefer free-standing tents , feeling that the are (when properly staked and guyed) more stable in high winds. TNF VE25 is way too big , heavy, and expensive for kayaking though. My usage has been limited to canoeing. I think it is too heavy as a backpacking tent as well.
Mark Schoon: I'd like to second the Clip Flashlight. I've used it for years backpacking in the blue ridge mountains and this year I carried it on a solo trip around Isle Royale in Lake Superior. It fit nicely in the boat, went up quick, and kept me dry and comfortable during some exciting overnight thunderstorms. It would be tight for two, works great for a solo.
Mark: I thought I'd toss in that I own, and have owned, quite a few tents. My current favorite is a North Face SlickRock (I think that's what it's called). Folds very small, weighs just over 4 lbs, sets up in about 2 minutes easy, very roomy for one, comfy for two who like each other, liveable for two and large dog.
Mel Grindol: My Nebula is a 3/4 season tent. I want to get the 3 season version of it (the Stratus, I think). More mesh, cooler in the summer. The Nebula was a bit warm in the BWCA even the last week of August
Amigh: i would have to add TNF's ultralight Canyonlands to that list, a great 3-season tent. factory sealed, single pole construction, a cinch to set up, weighs less than 4 lbs. and compresses to almost nothing to fit in the tightest of hatches. even pitched in the sand, it withstood high winds at assateague in the spring and was still standing in the morning when some other tents had collapsed.
Andy Johnson: For the past four years I have been using a Walrus model, Two-Star, I think, that was discontinued a couple of years ago. It has held up really well and gotten us through some pretty foul weather. Two winters ago my then five year old son and I were caught in a really big North Atlantic storm on the Outer Banks. We got through a night of screaming winds and driving rain with no problems. The tent was contorted out of shape by the strong wind, but popped back into shape as the wind died down. The only moisture that got through was from a small tear in the top of the fly incurred in a previous outing (tree limb came down). A little duct tape and it was waterproof again. I can point to an interesting comparison. A year or so ago I took this same tent and a larger four-person Eureka (canbt remember the name) on an expedition to the islands off Bajia de Los Angeles in Mexico. We had a couple of days of those raging winds the area is famous for. The low profile Walrus weathered it with no problem. The higher profile Eureka was crushed by the winds; a pole broke and the wall of the tent was torn.
Jim Tynan: Don't own a the Wedge, but I do own a Mountain Hardwear Room with a View. Great tent! Smart design and very well made! And all of the advertised features appear to be right on the money -- roomy, stable, solid fly, ample-sized vestibule, easy to put up and the UVX "window" ain't so bad either! Can't say for sure yet how effective the tension shelf is in high winds, but so far it seems to be doing the job [and the storage area is mighty handy as well]. I bought the two-person version and it's surprisingly roomy for a 7lb tent that packs down to 6.5 x 19. A bit pricey at $300 -- but I bought mine at an end-of-year closeout in Raleigh NC for $150 [plus another $30 for the MH footprint]. The only downside I can come up with the is having to deal with four poles. Still easy to set up though -- just takes an added minute or three than a two-pole "efficiency"! Won't "wear" y'all down with MH's feature list, but if you want to read about 'em in detail, check out
Mel Grindol: wrote in reply to Dave For kayaking I use a Mountain Hardwear Light Wedge 2: >> > >How much use have you gotten out of it? So far a week on Ross lake in the North Cascades NP. >How would you rank it as a (roomy!) one-person tent? It would work extremely well as a one person tent. The one downside would be the length. I'm 6'0" and seem to be just short enough to fit lengthwise. Very much taller and you could start to run into problems with your feet being pushed up against the bottom wall. >When entering during a downpour, does the interior of the tent stay dry? The heaviest rain I've entered the tent in was a light rain, not a heavy downpour. But the vestibule has enough room that you could squat in it and zip the fly back up then unzip the interior. Might be a little cramped but it could be done. I'm tempted to buy one of those front porch tarps that one of the tent manufacturers sells that are generic for most tents (forget who makes it at the moment). >How do you like the layout of the vestibule? I've never really used a vestibule for storing gear, just my shoes. I generally take a lightweight tarp with me and string up a tarp for gear protection. For what I use a vestibule for it works well. >Finally, they make much of the tension shelf -- is it useful or just a gimmick? We found it useful. If you don't have much to put in a gear loft it would make an excellent replacement for a gear loft. I got the gear loft they make for the tent also though (when I bought the tent, wasn't sure how good the tension shelf would be). I do really like the mountain hardwear gear loft. Instead of just being a sheet of mesh with clips at the corners to clip to the ceiling it also has 6 little mesh pockets. Very convinient for storing stuff. It also coincidentally fits my NF Nebula. More notes on the tent. We never really had a problem with condensation, even in the humid northwest. The tent breathes extremely well. We also went through one windy night. I would put the average wind speed at 20-25 mph with gusts over 30. The tent never seemed to be stressed or in danger of buckling. The only real sign of the strong gusts was a thrumming of the fly. We were rained on a couple of days (I did say we were in the northwest) and we never got water in the tent. But I did thoroughly seam seal the tent before using it.
drsm: I thought I might "stir the pot" in the tent thread by offering another alternative I like: tarp and bivy sac combination. The tarp can be set in a variety of configurations, depending on conditions and terrain and offers far more floor space than a tent. Condensation is never an issue. In addition, you can safely cook under the tarp. The view is better, and, when pitched correctly, is very weatherproof. Adding a bivy not only increases the safety factor a bit more in very wet weather, but offers insect protection and the option of just using it alone when desired. Packing is easy too.
Rich Dempsey: Stir the pot indeed! But , I wonder how many northern paddlers ( Canada, 'though MN and ME are North enough) would enjoy a night under a tarp and bivy sack during black fly season? Further North, you run into the problem of lack of trees, or even bushes, to string a tarp, and the strength of the winds preclude poles, even well staked ones. ( My ex-brother-in-law however, backpacked in the very maw of what Seattlites call Summer, Cascades and Olympics, using just the set-up you describe, and was quite happy with it.
Fred T: Having spent a few years in the Army, this sounds like the shelter half each Grunt is issued (we were all Grunts - Infantry) as part of your field gear. I remember that if there was a ten percent chance of being out in the field there was a 90% it would rain. The Army had a way of making camping out with your buddies less than comfortable. From experience, the Tarp and Bivy sac combo is really under rated! It is compact, light weight, versatile, but unfortunately not necessarily cheap. For a few years I used a military surplus poncho, which was coated rip stop nylon as a make shift bivy sac and/or fly depending on conditions. The cost of a high end bivy with netting and a supported head section for a little breathing room is close to or as much as many two person tents and more than many solo tents. Personal choice, but both approaches can provide more than adequate protection and a comfortable nights sleep. Caution: You will notice that all bivy's come with a warning label about ensuring proper ventilation. I'd hate to see someone suffocate.
Sandy Kramer: This is an apology to whoever called his Slumberjack Predator a Bivy. Slumberjack does indeed call my Raptor a bivy. I thought a bivy was supposed to be only way high above the ground. My S'jack Summer bivy is 24" high. When I took it to Dry Tortugas last year, my other pals were taking their super comfy infltable mattreses (not self-inflating type). I didn't want to be the only one who was uncomfortable, so I took mine. Well, it barely fit inside the tent/bivy. I know they made a camo version for hunters ' perhaps that is the Predator model.
Pete Cresswell: I've had a fly made out of the el-cheapo stuff up for a week now, through four days of fairly heavy rain and some decent wind with no even has a few spots where it's been worn through from covering my car.....I lined the hammock with newspaper to make spotting wet spots easier, and found none after three days. I did, however, find that over time water wicks down the ropes and into the material at each end of the hammock where the ropes pass though a sleeve. My solution to that has been a 3" steel ring that joins a short rope through the end to the long rope....The ring will break the wick and I'm hoping any water that runs down the rope will drip off the bottom of the ring. The fly weighs "only" six pounds, but the lightest ones weigh around three...and I'm not I'm gonna go with it. But now I'm coming to appreciate your 'thing'..... This monster wants two trees that are at least 15' apart and is happier with 20' to accomodate some rain fly overhang. My first cut at freestanding has been a tripod of six-foot tubes at each end with a windsurfer mast (which I'll always have handy when using the hammock). Two of each tripod's poles act as support for the hammock/occupant and lean inwards transfering their load to the ridge pole while the third leg of each tripod just serves to keep the whole thing from collapsing.
Joe Federici: >Since I've started white water paddling and kayaking in general I've >been pushing my 2 1/2 season tent into colder weather more and more. >After all the good information that was posted I started looking >around for good deals on end of the season sales in my area and on >the web. >I'm happy to report I ordered a new tent from Northern Mountain and >I'm looking forward to using it next weekend for a release on the >Tohickon creek. >I decided on a Moss tent, sargazer GT. The other tents I liked were >the Mountain hardware Night View and Sierra Designs omega CD
Rich Dempsey: I like the NF VE-25. I thought it was overkill when I bought it , and when storm-bound I hate the ghastly jaundiced light inside. (You sit there wondering if your partner has end-stage liver failure, due to their peculiar yellow-hue.) The other thing I find unique about this tent... it has so many tie downs..for the tent, for the fly, and an internal guying system. Sometimes in the morning, while un-pegging the 30 (?, perhaps an exaggeration, just maybe) lines, I find myself wondering exactly how bad DID the weather look last night??)
Dave Kruger: Know what you mean about the jaundice. I had always been a Luddite re: color of tents until this last season, when I acquired a light gray tarp to replace the forest green one I had used for a couple years -- man! what a difference in light underneath the gray tarp. On those days when tarp/tent-bound, it sure is nice to have something which lets in some light.