Choosing a Tent: Commercial Tent Comparisons, Design and History

Choosing a tent: A look at the history, present and future of tents, including camping tent progress, designs, sleeping capacity, fabric and how to set up a tent.

| March/April 1988

A preview of the upcoming "Great Outdoors" issue of Mother's sister publication, American Country. When camping choosing a tent is vitally important for your overall camping comfort and ease in setting up and taking down camp. (See the tent design photos in the image gallery.)

Choosing a Tent: Commercial Tent Comparisons, Design and History

A worthy tent is not so much a portable abode as a vessel. In fact, one that's well designed will make an earnest attempt to float if need be.

This pithy observation came to me the other night as I lay in a meadow of ripstop gluttony. It was snowing. Thanks to a 40-mph tail wind, the flakes sounded and felt more like sand. This is weather that can work its way through all sorts of protection schemes. Tent-testing weather.

My prejudices and curiosities, aided by the happenstance of certain returned phone calls, had resulted in my examining four tents of varying pedigrees and raisons d'etre: The Walrus Orbit Rapide ($298), a roomy, two-person, four-season, six-sided expedition tent; the Sierra Designs Comet ($242), a three-person, three-season, rectangular tent; the Eureka Alpine Meadows ($130), a four-person tent based on the company's time-honored Timberline design; and the Moss Encore ($675), a graceful brown ballroom in which four can easily sleep and eight can easily stand. Two dome de luxes, two Volkstents.

It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit—warm for Wyoming, November, midnight. About an inch of snow had collected on the ground. I was trying to sleep in the Walrus. Rain flies on all four tents whipped and popped, making sincere going-away noises. Should a tent become unmoored, the next two obstacles would be a barbed-wire fence 100 feet away and, a quarter mile after that, a saloon parking lot.

The nagging question was, should I get up and see to their security? The answer was easy: Nah. Each had at least four stakes pounded into frozen ground. I did finally stir, however, when it occurred to me that the same wind was causing a 75-foot cottonwood about 60 feet upwind to gasp for its breath. Feeling adequately inspired about the meaning of tents, I unzipped my down bag, wriggled into britches, emerged from the Walrus, inspected for loose stakes and walked across the lawn to my own bed.

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