Intense Talk About Tents
by Jerry Dupree
When shopping for tents there are many choices and decisions to be made. Whatever you do don’t believe the box the tent comes in. When it says it’s a four man tent, they really mean four leprechauns! I haven’t seen many of the little green men lately, so I haven’t asked one if even they were comfortable packed into one. I think four men really means two. Tents are usually made of canvas or nylon. I prefer nylon, because it’s lighter and it’s flexible regardless of temperature. Also, I don’t roll nylon tents. I just cram mine in a large duffel bag, poles, stakes, and all.
Never touch the roof of your tent during the rain. It is bad luck, and means you are about to become miserable. Seriously, your finger on the fabric will break the surface tension of the wet surface and start a wicking action and the water will drip through and soak you and your bedding one drop at a time.
Try to keep your tent away from tree sap, check the ground for rocks and twigs that will puncture the bottom when you step on them. Clear the area before you set up your tent. Avoid getting lantern fuel on the fabric. It can dissolve the water proof coating. LED battery lanterns are better and safer. The part of a tent that wears out first is the floor. You can add seasons to your tent by bringing a scrap of carpet to put on, at least, in the middle of the floor. Also, a piece of carpet in front of your tent will make a good door mat. It will help keep mud or snow out of your tent.
Of the popular styles of tents, there are internal frame, external frame, dome tents, and variations of each. I recommend that whatever style you choose, make sure you can stand up in it. It’s very uncomfortable to try dressing in a tent that isn’t tall enough for you to stand. It’s also difficult to look for your equipment or do anything else while stooped over. Also, it will knock your hat off every time you go in or out.
Of the nylon tents, there are light weight nylon and rip-stop nylon. Rip-stop looks like a checkered or a plaid texture. If you don’t know what rip-stop is, just ask the guy in the store. Like most camping and outdoor gear, tents go on sale in the spring before Memorial day. That is not just the best time to buy one, it’s the only time to buy one.
I prefer dome tents, because they are easy to set up, put away, and store. Of dome tents, I like the ones with two poles instead of three because two are simpler than three and they have a square floor rather than a hexagon. Since none of my gear is shaped like a hexagon, things fit better in a square. Including me. Cots fit better along a straight side. I use cots instead of sleeping on the floor for several reasons. Things that crawl have a harder time making it up the legs of a cot. It’s also easier to get up by putting my feet down than it is to stand up from a laying position. You can store all of your stuff under your bunk, thereby doubling the effective floor space. Oh, and they are comfortable. A good way to stand up in the morning is to place an ice chest outside of the opening so you can use it to help you stand up. I wish I had all the money I ever threw away on cots and just started out by getting aluminum frame nylon military ones to begin with. They don’t stretch and sag, they last a long time, and replacement covers are available.
Once while deer hunting in Utah, four men in our camp were sleeping on thick foam pads on the floor of their tent when it rained. They had a teeny leak in their tent and before the night was over, they were trying to sleep on wet sponges. As luck would have it, the temperature dropped below freezing and their discom fort dropped to abject misery. I, on the other hand, was snug as a bug in a rug.
If your tent gets a hole or a rip in it, the best way to fix it is to bring along some nylon fabric and some contact cement. You can buy it in a tube. Cut the fabric larger than the damaged area and make sure the corners have a
generous radius. Trace the patch on the tent, and cover both the patch and the area to be patched with contact cement. After the cement is dry, press the patch on the tent. The repair will be very strong and waterproof. It’s easier to patch and it will hold up to stresses better than sewing. If there is damage to a seam or stake loop, sew it up with dental floss. That’s what the Indians used, honest injun. Nylon fishing line works even better.
One part of a tent that takes a lot of abuse are the stake loops. Keep all stress and friction away from the loops when pounding the stakes in. Never pull out the stakes using the loops for handles. Use a tent stake extractor. You can buy one or make it by bending a hook in one end of a piece of steel rod, and either weld a six inch handle to it, or make it by bending six inches over at 90 degrees. A stake extractor is also handy to pick things like pots off the fire.
Stakes are specialized and come in a variety of styles. The plastic ones will turn into a gob when you try to pound them into rocky ground. The ones that look like big nails will also bend in this type of ground. Don’t get the wooden ones unless you are hunting vampires. The ones that come with the tent are at best, a bad joke. They are either too soft, too short, or they look like wire slightly larger than paper clips. The best bet is to get plenty of all different kinds of them, and to have extras. You will damage some, lose some, and loan some, never to see them again. For the large nail type, get some thick rubber from a tire, or a floor mat, and cut it into round or square shapes to act as washers. That way any guy ropes or stakes can’t pull out over the head.
Most modern tents have zippers and lots of them. Zippers hate me and either break or jam at the least convenient opportunity. Whe n you set up your tent be sure to think of not stressing the zippers and you can fool them into not jamming up so badly or as often. Try to have a reasonable amount of slack in your tent. Some slack is important in the wind or in the snow.
I use a catalytic heater in my tent in cold weather. Mine uses liquid lantern fuel and works out well. It uses half a gallon per night on its maximum setting. If it isn’t cold enough for this setting, you don’t need it at all. I had a propane one for a while and gave it away because its heat output was about half that of the liquid fuel one. I used an eleven pound tank and it was good for three nights. It took up room and the efficiency of propane decreases with altitude and with temperature drops. Be sure to use a tent heater with ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide accumulation.
If it’s snowing, it’s necessary to keep some heat in the tent to prevent an accumulation of snow on top of it. One way to do this is to keep a kerosene lantern burning all night in your tent. They burn very little fuel, are inexpensive, and the light isn’t too bright. Be very careful where any lamp, lantern, heater, or any appliance is kept. I wish all tents came with a loop from which to hang a lantern.
Before you go camping the first time with your new tent, be sure to take it home, and set it up in your back yard before you go off into the woods and get too far from the guy you bought it from. The worst enemy of a tent is to put it away wet. Don’t do it. If you have to pack up a wet tent, set it up to dry as soon as possible.
Before striking your tent, (what’s this….tent abuse?) cleanup the floor as well as you can. You can make a dandy dust pan by cutting a paper plate in half and using a whisk broom. I hope with all this you can be happy campers. ~ Jerry