Camping Gear - Acquiring and Caring for the Gear you Need
Camping Gear Basics
Family-Outdoors Camping Gear is designed to provide gear advice on a wide range of camping gear for families and individuals. The focus of our information here, is to provide unbiased resources.
When we began this site in 2008, we were trying to fill a niche we saw that was being under-served. Namely, it was and is, our observation that leading magazines, television shows, and other sources are guilty of steering folks to outdoor gear that is overpriced for the needs of the average outdoors person.
For example, if you look at a typical gear review at F&S or OL magazines, the gear they feature will be at the very top of the line, and of questionable value for the money. One particular area I always find amusing is flashlight gear reviews. With all due respect to any of our readers who have chosen to buy a $150 or more flashlight, why? There are definitively better ways to spend your outdoor dollars!
How Can Family-Outdoors Help
We are trying to provide you, the reader, with as close to 100% unbiased information as we are able. We describe products and technology in a manner where the consumer can make an educated buying decision where-ever he or she wishes to do so. Our suggestion is to use our site to do some research, and then begin the process of making your purchase. These should be two separate steps. The sites whose sole purpose is to sell gear are really not the places where you will get the best advice on what is right for you.
Camping Gear Articles
Once you have all of your gear, you need a checklist to remind you of what to bring. Here is a checklist that you can get a good start with.
Choosing a Tent
Choosing the right tent is both hugely important for successful camping experiences and potentially overwhelming. Once you have factored in your needs and chosen an appropriate style and size of tent, the issue of price becomes key in your decision. Is it important to spend hundreds of dollars to get a tent that will serve your purpose, or can you get by on a lot less? Well, it all depends.
According to Wikipedia, a tent is "a shelter consisting of sheets of fabric or other material draped over or attached to a frame of poles or attached to a supporting rope." Within that context, materials can be canvas, nylon, and/or a host of other materials which all are important considerations when choosing your tent as they impact warmth.
Canvas (Cotton)... This material is often considered "old-fashioned" and is therefore overlooked as a modern tent material. There are certainly some disadvantages to canvas tents, but they do have their place. One of the most obvious disadvantages of canvas/cotton is its weight. Another disadvantage is that it is almost always necessary to treat the canvas with a waterproofing material, often parafin. For canvas tents used during summer months, air flow is almost non-existent. Finally, with canvas it is critical that the material be 100% dry before it is stored away. The advantages of canvas include its resistance to tearing, the fact that they are made from natural materials, and if treated properly, longevity. Canvas tents are most often used for wall tents, which will be discussed later.
Nylon (Rip-Stop)... Most nylon is coated with polyurethane for water proofing purposes. Rip-Stop Nylon is regular nylon with a heavier fiber woven intermittently into the fiber, you guessed it, to resist tearing. Look for a grid pattern in the nylon to assure yourself the material has the rip-stop feature embedded in the material. Once the material has been coated with polyurethane, it loses much of its breathability. The material is probably still more breathable than canvas in terms of air flow, but screened door, window, and often roofs are important elements for summer camping. A disadvantage of nylon is that it is susceptible to ultra-violet (UV) sunlight degradation over time. For tents used only a few weekends each year, this really should not be much of a factor.
Polyester... Really, this material has all the qualities of nylon with the advantage of somewhat better UV resistance.
Tent Poles 101
There are a host of pole materials available including:
Aluminum Tent Poles
Fiberglass Tent Poles
Carbon-Fiber Tent Poles
Composite Material Tent Poles
Aluminum poles are where you will look when evaluating tents in the higher price/higher quality category. Their weight to strength ratio is hard to beat. Backpackers, mountaineers, and others who will be carrying their tents will likely eventually go this route.
Fiberglass... Many tents at the lower end of the price spectrum come with fiberglass poles. This should not be considered an automatic reason not to purchase such a tent. The problems with fiberglass poles often come in high wind conditions. They flex to a large degree, but when they break, they splinter and make field repair difficult. If you know you will not be subjecting your tent to these conditions, and you are looking to keep price really low, a tent outfitted with fiberglass poles shouldn't be automatically dismissed.
Tents in the highest price range - those of professional quality - think K2 or Everest or climbing guides - have carbon fiber poles which give you the very highest possible (currently) combination of strength and low weight. They come at quite a price, but one that may be well worth it for certain applications - but maybe not family camping trips.
There are some other materials such as air beams (inflatable) and steel, but they are rare enough and sometimes problematic enough that we won't cover them here.
Besides basic designs such as A-frame, dome, and cabin style, a fairly recently popular design that might be considered is the "one-person" tent, a personal favorite of mine. Each of these designs has a place and an application; only you will know which is right for you. We will discuss each and you will have to consider how you might be using your tent to decide which is right for you.
Cabin tents are available in all of the materials discussed above. Generally speaking, floor plans for cabin tents vary all the way between 13ftx8ft and 10ftx25ft, and often are fitted with removable dividers so that the enclosed area can be subdivided into rooms. The room dividers can be handy for situations where privacy is a concern. It is always a good idea to look for a tent fitted with a canopy/rain fly that extents over the tent and a real advantage is when the canopy extends over the door area and out a bit to allow shoes/boots to be taken on and off outside the tent but also out of the elements. One feature to perhaps seeks out is an extention of the tent floor under the extended canopy over the door. This also helps keep the interior of the tent cleaner. Finally, look for a cabin tent with either a domed roof or a slanted roof to help shed water and insure that poles are strong and fitted in a manner to stretch the wall and roof material taut. Otherwise, due to the larger profile of these tents, with any wind at all, it could result in the tent failing during even moderately windy conditions.
Dome tents have certainly become the most popular style of tent over the past 15 or 20 years and this is because of a number of advantages they possess. Even dome tents need to be chosen for the right conditions, but they do tend to be very wind resistant and excellent for shedding water. Dome tents also maximize area for their weight when compared to cabin or many other frame tents. Because of their shape, they provide quite a lot of head room for their size. The corners of a dome tent provide room for gear storage. Finally, dome tents set up and stow away relatively quickly and easily. Depending on your needs, a 3-season or 4-season tent might be the right choice. Some dome tents come with vestibules, or can be added as an option. These extensions to the entry area can serve as kind of an arctic entry way and/or some added room for storage of shoes/boots and the like. Again, a rain fly is a must, and the 4-season tents usually come with a fly that more fully encloses the structure of the tent. Dome tents can be had in about a wide a variety of floor sizes as one could possibly need, as well as a wide variety of shapes.
The old stand-by "pup-tent" falls into the category of an A-frame and has been around about as long as any style tent. Essentially, all you need to make a very simple A-Frame is tarp, poles, ropes, and pegs. Obviously, there are A-frames available on the commercial market and are used very often by backpackers or people who are camping alone, or perhaps with one other person. Space efficiency is really the main drawback to this style of tent as their simplicity is hard to beat. As with the previously mentioned tents, A-frames are available in all the material types, though canvas is awfully heavy. A rain fly is a great idea as with all tents.
"One-Person" (Solo Tent) Style...
The main two considerations here are size and weight. At 6 ft 3 in tall, the length of a solo tent is quite important to me. Even the width of these tents is an issue to look into. If you are claustrophobic, this also might not be the best option. If you are looking for ease of set-up and take down, these little tents are hard to beat. Typically, these tents have two poles and a few tie downs to contend with, and take about 5 minutes max to erect. This option really isn't even a bad one for families with older kids. We often bring ours, set them up side by side, and we are afforded a measure of privacy, but can easily communicate through the walls. Typically, the weight of these tents is very low thus making them ideal for backpacking. I would even contend that carrying one of these attached to a day pack might be a great added bit of security for a hunter or fisherman. These tents are almost always nylon and almost all come with a rain fly.
The cost of a tent is a consideration for anyone reading this website. Our theme centers on getting into the outdoors for a reasonable cost. Having said that, depending on where you are going and when, a good tent might be something on which you would want to spend a few extra dollars. Because of all the types of tents that are available, it is hard to specify a range of prices. All I can really say is that we have spent under $100 on solo tents and the costs just go up from there. Prior to beginning your search, perhaps ask yourself the following questions:
Who will the tent be used by? Whether it will be a family of 4-6, a couple, or an individual will dictate some of the decision.
How will the tent be used? Consider seasons, wind conditions, and whether the tent will be packed on a backpack.
How often will the tent be used? Let's face it, if you are using the tent, 20 weekends a year, you may wish to invest a bit more than if you will use it once or twice.
Due to budget, will you have to strike a balance between the cost of your tent and sleeping bag(s)? A great 4-season tent will be irrelevant in 0 degree weather if you have a sleeping bag rated only for 40 degrees. Sometimes reality has to guide part of our decision process.
Once these questions have been answered, you are ready to start looking. I suggest sticking with a reputable retailer who will stand behind the product after the purchase. Also, for whatever money you allocate for the tent, take the time to properly care for and store away your tent when not in use. I always get my tent back out after I return home, hang it until thoroughly dry, and then repack it.
We wish you all the best using whatever tent you buy, sleeping in the best place in the world - the Great Outdoors!