Choosing and Using a Tent

I’ve been doing a bit of research on tents. Actually I did a lot of research. I sold thousands of tents over the years so I’ve seen and heard everything and I’ve lost count of the nights I’ve slept ‘under the canvas’. Here’s outdoorstype’s (not so) common sense tips for how to choose and use a tent.

Someone in a tiny tent looks out at the sea

1. Choose a bigger tent

A four-person tent means it fits four people, side to side and head to toe, with no room in between for anything. Where are you going to put your gear? Had you considered four people trying to get dressed in a tent in the rain, when the second you set foot outside it’s muddy? The same applies for hiking tents, choose a two-person tent for one person. It’s manageable for most hikers, and gives you the room you need, and a sheltered space just outside the door for shoes and stuff.
The rule of thumb is to get a tent for at least one more person than you intend to actually sleep in there.

Not the tent for a two week camp.2. Understand that some tents aren’t made to stay up for long

Look, a $199 nine-person family tent isn’t designed to stay up on a beach for two weeks. Stitching will wear away, cheaper plastic bits will break, the fabric will degrade in the sun and wind, and the poles will snap very easily. Investigate the outer fabric (flysheet) waterproof rating and UV rating (this will give you a clue as to the thread count, and its durability). Look at the sleeves the poles slide into and the stitching on the hooks that attach the inner fabric to the poles.
The $199 tent is great for a few weekenders, but don’t be disappointed when it comes back from two weeks on the beachfront ready to be thrown out. Choose a tent that’s suitable for how long you want to go out for at a time, and how often.


3. Learn how to use your tent before you get out into the bush

It was pretty much guaranteed that after public or school holidays we would see the ‘Instant Up’ tent that somehow managed to fold itself into something resembling a crashed weather balloon. I took an enraged phone call on a Friday night at eight o’clock from someone who clearly couldn’t use a tent. They hadn’t bothered to try it out at home during the day before they got to their campsite, and wondered why they were having so much trouble getting the poles to stay upright under only the fly. When you’ve arrived five hours from anywhere, you’re tired, you’re stressed and its dark. Take some time to practice, or at least lay everything out before you go, you’ll appreciate the practice run you had setting up your tent at home.


4. Consider the ground beneath the tent

We’ve had lots of injuries over the years from just kneeling down to get something or to go to bed, from kneeling on a big, pointy rock we’d forgotten was under the tent. Remember they are there, and the tent floor does nothing to soften them. Consider finding a less rocky patch of ground or using extra matting underneath the tent floor.

Tensioning the guy rope on a tent.

5. Consider using the guy ropes and marking them with glow sticks

I try not to use guy ropes anywhere people will be walking at night. While your site needs plenty of room and you should use guy ropes, you can use the little toggles on them to make them as short as possible. BE CAREFUL! Tripping over guy ropes at night can cause serious injury. Consider, putting glow sticks down next to where your guy ropes are pegged into the ground.

6. Buy a mallet or tent peg hammer and keep it in the bag with the tent.

Buy a tent peg hammer and removal tool and KEEP IT IN THE TENT BAG. I think tents should come with these. Most places in Australia outside of caravan parks (and even a lot of them) require tent pegs to be hammered in. It’s not much fun trying to do it with random rocks and sticks, or searching the campsite for someone with a mallet they’ll let you borrow.

If you even think it is going to be windy and rainy, use ALL the guy ropes. They make the tent much sturdier and it will shed rain easily if the fabric is tightly stretched. Inside the outer shell, behind each guy rope attachment on the outside of that shell, there are velcro loops. They anchor the guy rope tie in point to the pole frame and I recommend using them.

I think it’s common sense but we know common sense isn’t common. What do you think? Do you have some tips? Tell us about it on Facebook or comment below.

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