Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tent Living

It's one thing to occasionally spend a weekend in a tent. Living in a tent for months on end is a whole different experience.

There are some things that always matter no matter how long you camp. Don't pitch your tent in a low spot where rain water will pool. Never leave food in the tent. Don't cook in the tent -stuff like that.

If you are going to spend any time at all in tent, get a good one. We usually buy ours from L. L. Bean or Eastern Mountain Sports. We travel with two tents. One a 2 person, 4 season tent. It's small, low to the ground, and very good in high winds. It can also take a fair amount of snow loading. For our other tent we prefer a 6 - 8 person, 3 season tent. I'm 6'3" and I like a tent I can stand up in. Very handy for getting dressed.

We use the small winter tent for tight places where there's not enough room for the big tent. If it's extremely windy or cold, that's the tent we use. Sometimes we set it up because we are only staying one night. We've also used this small dark colored tent in places where we did not want to get noticed. Another good thing about traveling with two tents, there's a backup if something happens to one of them.

The big tent is what we normally use. It's much roomier and that can be important. On rainy days we can even set up our chairs inside it. Much more comfortable for using a computer or watching movies. My wife has a craft bag full of materials for her hobbies. A nice feature in a tent is a screened in entrance way. It doesn't have to be big, just large enough for a couple chairs and a folding camp table is fine. It makes a dry space in light or moderate rain. Good place to sit and watch the weather.

With practice, we could set up camp in about 15 minutes. In that time we'd set up the tent, inflate our air mattress, lay out the sleeping bags and bring our suitcases into the tent. We'd unfold camp chairs, set up the stove and the rest of the kitchen. Heck, we might even have the coffee peculator on the fire.

Often we'd be done while someone with a motorhome or trailer was still trying to back it into place. A great form of entertainment is to look for a new motorhome with temporary plates. More often than not, the driver doesn't quite know what to do. Often the spouse is outside trying to direct the driver. Try not to laugh too hard when the campground's picnic table is run over. Also keep an eye out for motorhomes from rental agencies. Odds are it's amateur night. Good fun.

Most people use a tent for a few weekends a year. Some might use it for a week or two at a time. Tent camping for months on end takes a toll on gear. A good quality nylon tent, used constantly, can be relied on for about 6 months. You might get months of service beyond that, but don't count on it. Constant set up and tear down cause wear and tear. We'd rarely stay in on place more than 3 days, so our usage might be harder than most. Sun and wind age a tent.

I own a canvas tent that's over twenty years old. The poles have reached the point where they could not be repaired and had to be thrown out. We used the tent for vacation camping when the kids were little. It's good sized, 10'X16', divided into two rooms. Good quality canvas can last longer than nylon, but we don't use canvas for our main tent. The big disadvantages to canvas tents are weight and bulk. When car camping, every pound and square inch are precious.

No tent should be packed wet. If you do have to pack a tent went, it should be dried out as soon as possible. Canvas is more susceptible to rot. Mold can foul a canvas tent quickly. Over the years I've used waterproofing treatment on the tent 4 or 5 times. During a rain storm, if anything touches the sides or roof a canvas tent, it'll leak at that spot. A nylon tent with an outer fly is less likely to leak.

If I was going to stay in one spot for a long time, canvas might just be the way to go. The leakage problem can be mitigated by stringing a large tarp over the tent. A friend of mine once left a large canvas tent set up all winter. It had woodstoves on both ends for heat. That old tent survived some harsh treatment.

Tents are great for canoe camping. Motor homes don't fit well in a canoe. We've river camped for a week once and I've always wanted to do longer trips.

My wife and I came close to buying a camper trailer a time or two. Always decided to stay with tents. For the way we travel, they work just fine.


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