What's a good but affordable 2 person, 3 season tent?
August 11, 2004 9:57 PM   Subscribe

TENTS - tell me what you know about tents. I am looking for a good 2-person, 3 season tent that won't break the bank. [specifics inside]

So, here's mainly what I want to know. Are aluminum poles (vs. fiberglass) worth the about $20 more it adds to a tent? Are tent "footprints" a good idea (for the about $20-$30 they add)?

Basically, I am going to Burning Man last minute, and the usually piece of shit tent I took the last 3 times I went got lost during my last move. So, basically we are looking at dry, dusty as hell conditions here. I expect future trips to death valley or yellowstone with this thing too. I see Kelty and Eureka tents for decent prices, and a nice low-end North Face. Any brand loyaltys amoung us?
posted by Hackworth to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: oh yeah, and by yellowstone, I meant yosemite, of course. opps.
posted by Hackworth at 10:01 PM on August 11, 2004

This (lapsed) Eagle Scout has never had a problem with fiberglass poles.

And I've never used a Eureka, but Kelty makes good tents. The tent I've camped in the most is a North Face, and it held up really well for a long time.
posted by Vidiot at 11:05 PM on August 11, 2004

the REI camp-hut series are GREAT, sturdy as hell with the rain/wind fly on and tarp under, inexpensive and - as with all REI products - I understand they have a lifetime warranty. Is that still true, anyone? When I worked at REI 15 years ago it was. Have had a 3-person for 10 years, they have repaired a zipper once (the tent gets a very heavy workout). Easy to put together, but not a light weight backpacking tent, more for car camping or a short lug.

For a sturdy and superlight backpacking tent I suggest the Clip Flashlight, I think by Sierra Designs.
posted by luriete at 11:06 PM on August 11, 2004

I'll second the Clip Flashlight CD by Sierra Designs. It's extra small, extra light and meant for rugged conditions. The poles are alluminum and I'd recommend a footprint, though you can get away with virtually anything under your tent if you're not worried about carrying weight. This will prevent a lot of wear and tear and aid in keeping water out in the rain.

I've been in the tent in the snow, rain and other stormy conditions. It stands up well, but is extra small. Your pack is not intended to stay inside with you, though it does fit under the fly. It's really only meant for sleeping in.

If you purchase the Clip Flashlight, do yourself a favor and pick up some extra stakes. If I remember correctly, it does not come with enough for all weather conditions.

I have nothing but admiration for the their tents. They are well engineered and worth the price. Here are all of the current models available that meet your description.

You can pick up older models at a local Army Navy store or a local camping supplies store, something I almost always do unless there is a compelling new feature. Campmor also has incredible sales on their website and in their store. from time to time.
posted by sequential at 11:40 PM on August 11, 2004

Yes, you need a footprint, if you plan on being wet (which 3-season implies).

Footprints are quite clever. In the old days, we used to just rig up a massive tarp underneath the tent. Then, over several decades, we realized that this was working at a cross-purpose. If the ground tarp is larger than the ground-area of the tent, then really what it accompishes is this: gathering rain, and collecting it underneath the tent. Yep. Especially if you are on an incline, and double-especially if you are on a flat.

The foot print is expensive because it's custom-cut to match the ground-profile of your tent. This means no extra tarp protruiding from the sides of your tent. Rain that hits the ground gets - gasp - absorbed by the ground, instead of wicked underneath your tent by the tarp. The whole point is to allow more of the water that lands on and around your tent to be absorbed by the ground (which is the only good way you have to dispose of it, really). It's ingenious, and it works.

Get a foot print.

But this brings to mind: you'll only need a foot print if it rains. And it can rain suddenly and copiously on the Playa. This year will be my 5th out there, and I have one very serious recommendation for you.

If you want to stay dry while it's raining on the Playa, you don't need to worry so much about what kind of tarp is *under* your tent. Pack a small tarp to put down *inside* your tent. This will keep your sleeping bag relatively dry even after the floor of your tent soaks through. The real goal is not to wake up in a wet sleeping bag, yes? If so, think close to home and put the tarp INSIDE. The floor of your tent might be sopping went, but your sleeping bag will stay mostly dry. An air mattress or Therm-A-Rest helps keep you off the wet ground as well.

And please be sure to bring some rebar stakes. Regular tent stakes are utterly useless in the crumbly Playa surface. Nothing shorter than 12-16 inches will hold, period.

Don't shit bricks over the material that the poles are made from. that's wasted energy. Put more attention into overall weight and rain-proof feautres like a fly with vestibules. Fiberglass poles aren't going to snap in the middle of the night and ruin your trip.

Oh - and btw - I would like to invite you to show up at my theme campn. Show your face and I'll be more than thrilled to make you a drink, show you some shade, lend you our shower and discuss the finer points of tents, etc.

I'll be at the 3-o'clock plaza, in the bike repair camp. Our camp name is Borrachos Y Bicicletas - look for the Mexican flag and the bike mechanics at the 3 o'clock roundabout. I'll be one of them.

Our own CTP and DaShiv will be there with me. Come on out!

P.S. I have a Clip Flashlight, and I think it would be a good choice for the Playa, but you better be *damn* cozy with whoever you share it with. They say "2 person" but I think they're assuming you'll be in-coitus the whole time you're in the tent.
posted by scarabic at 11:56 PM on August 11, 2004

Footprints are a much more tidy solution than tarps for ground cover, IMO. It's not much more for one compared to what the whole tent costs.

If all else fails, I'm sure if you ask scarabic nicely, he'll let you spread your sleeping bag out under his truck. :) That's what I'll be forced to do myself if I don't pick up a tent sooner than later, since I don't think he's too keen on the whole "in-coitus" concept with me.

Just to echo scarabic's sentiments: feel free to drop by Camp BYB, 3:00 plaza.
posted by DaShiv at 2:28 AM on August 12, 2004

I'm gonna get you in my tent tent tent tent tent
Where we can both experiment ment ment ment ment
Yeah yeah, it's so convenient ent ent ent ent
Let's take a taxi to my tent
posted by rory at 5:27 AM on August 12, 2004

Now is the winter of our discount
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:48 AM on August 12, 2004

REI's Taj 3 is perfect, but may be too pricy for you. On the other hand, how much is it worth to you to have a sturdy tent that's super easy for one person to set up and never, EVER gets wet?
posted by norm at 7:24 AM on August 12, 2004

I've had fiberglass poles break on me in the middle of nowhere. Had to keep my tent up by threading dental floss through the loops and tying it to nearby trees. I would say the aluminum is well worth any extra cost.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:20 AM on August 12, 2004

Ground covers (tarp or footprints) lengthen the life of a tent by slowing the wear on the tent floor.

When I first bought my tent, I purchased a roll of 6 mil poly and cut a swath to fit (cheap). Since then, I found a nylon tarp similar in size to my tent and tuck under one side.

There are other decisions such as sleeves vs. clips for the poles. Clips are easier to set up, sleeves often have stronger structure, but tend to catch the wind more unless they're mesh sleeves.

Higher quality tents also have taped seams. Size of vestibules is also a consideration you might take into your purchase.

Aluminum poles are quite strong, lighter than fiberglass, but are more expensive. Worth the cost.

For $200-300, you could find a tent to last you a lifetime if you take care of it. Good tents can be found for $150. I'd stay away from most anything cheaper than that...there's too many trade-offs which could make for a miserable night. I love Marmot, but they are more expensive.

I can't recommend any one tent without knowing more about your needs, but hopefully, it'll give you something to go on when you're in the store.
posted by pedantic at 8:54 AM on August 12, 2004

I have a Mountain Hardwear Light Wedge that is great. I bought it for backpacking, but ended up using it for motorcycle camping even more.

I have seen some authorities that reccommend not buying a footprint as it only adds weight and a the floor on a well-made tent should last as long as the rest of the tent, however, I bought one and I would think that a footprint would be especially good for protecting the floor when pitched on a gritty, abrasive surface as I assume you would have at Burning Man.
posted by TedW at 9:03 AM on August 12, 2004

Now is the winter of our discount...

"Now is the discount of our winter tents", surely.

As a side note, once you have chosen, it's useful to think about how to look after your tent. Now that I know that by footprint you mean what we Brits call a groundsheet: YES YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED ONE!
posted by nthdegx at 9:07 AM on August 12, 2004

I've had fiberglass poles break on me in the middle of nowhere. Had to keep my tent up by threading dental floss through the loops and tying it to nearby trees.

Aw! That's a sad story! I stand corrected.
posted by scarabic at 10:40 AM on August 12, 2004

Best tent footprints are Tyvec Housewrap. Problem is finding it.

Footprints are more necessary as prevention against excessive floorpan wear (twigs, rocks poking through) than waterproofness. The floorpan should be waterproof already, but if it's a lightweight tent it won't stand up to abuse. It will stand up to light and/or careful use.

My advice: purchase smaller and lighter. My wiff and I got a 3-man tent, figuring it would be nice to have the extra space. It was fine for a decade... but as we've gotten older and lazier, we've realized that we're packing a lot of completely unnecessary weight. D-oh!

Our three-pole, three-season has lasted through gale-force winds, though truth is we had to lash the poles together for added strength and tie the tent to the ground. That was an exceptional night, though. Rather incredible, in fact.

MEC Tarn 3, for what it's worth. Very nice tent, as such things go.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:09 AM on August 12, 2004

As an Eagle Scout and someone who used to camp at least once a month, I say this to you: when it comes to tents, you get what you pay for.

If you go to Wal-Mart and buy the 3-person tent for 35 bucks, don't complain when you set it up and the zippers tear out of the seams, and the rain drips in the top. Eureka, Kelty, and North Face are all good names (I'm a Eureka man, but they're all quality manufacturers), and I would recommend aluminum poles as well. Fiberglass will break if you take them too far, whereas aluminum will just bend.

Also, a groundsheet is key. You can get away with a tarp if you fold it any protruding edges underneath the tent (fold the edges down, beneath the tarp, not up). But even better is heading out to the local hardware store and buying plastic sheeting: you can get it cut to your specs, and it'll run you something less than 10 bucks.

And one more thing: always, always stake your tent to the ground. It helps add structure to the tent and will only help you should the wind blow or the rain fall.
posted by rocketman at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2004

Response by poster: heh, i saw some guy offering custom cut tyvek tent footprints on ebay.

thanks everyone. I think my main problem is trying to go too cheap. the tents I was mainly looking at were in the $119 range, but I think I may have to bump it up to at least $150, if not more, to get the whole tamale. Time to do some more shopping.
posted by Hackworth at 12:33 PM on August 12, 2004

Response by poster: This is looking like a good deal right about now.
posted by Hackworth at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2004

Hackworth's tent is basically the same as the tent I've owned this past decade. Excellent tent IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:00 PM on August 12, 2004

Don't buy an expensive tent just to go Burning Man. Please don't. Playa dust ruins tents. (I've gone through two.) Tents get expensive as they get more lightweight, and you're not backpacking so what do you care? Get one of those cheap Wenzels from Sportmart or Sport Chalet or Big Five, cover it in space blankets to keep it cool inside and throw a cheapass tarp under it. Your ticket is expensive enough. I have one and it has never leaked. Just make sure you stake it down real good.

Another option worth considering: In '98 I built a dome with a week's planning, covered it in ugly blue and silver tarps and junk fabric (I sewed t-shirts together) and I have slept in it through sun and rain and dust and wind (and even lightning). I used these plans:


I have since built a nicer conduit dome, but the old one still rocks.
posted by judlew at 4:21 PM on August 12, 2004

A bunch of hoola hoops, some bungie cords, and some 1 1/2" gyprocing screws, and a couple space blankets would probably make for an easy dome.

Personally, though, I think Yurts are ideal for Burning Man.

Isn't Burning Man getting a little long in the tooth these days? I can't imagine it being anywhere near as hip as it once was.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:20 PM on August 12, 2004

Response by poster: fuck hip, i'm going to get away from work.

i disagree about b-man ruining tents, as I mentioned before, the piece of shit I used to have lasted through 3 of 'em and managed to survive a 3 month road trip after that. If I hadn't lost it, it'd still be here. Too bad it was too difficult to set up, though.
posted by Hackworth at 7:52 PM on August 12, 2004

Isn't Burning Man getting a little long in the tooth these days? I can't imagine it being anywhere near as hip as it once was.

Only for the burner-than-thou's who insist on being hipper than everyone else and bemoaning how "commercialized" it's gotten. :)

I'd be happy to gift you a metric ton of cheap plastic trinkets if you or anyone could show me how to put together a sturdy, reasonably water-resistant tent from scratch. Or to make a yurt from scratch. Oh, and in language easily comprehensible enough for someone who has trouble assembling pre-fabricated tents and instructions guaranteeing that I wouldn't kill myself trying in the process. And a pony.
posted by DaShiv at 8:37 PM on August 12, 2004

Got a good discount on a Marmot myself, it was pretty cheap in the end, and I love the thing.
posted by crazy finger at 9:27 PM on August 12, 2004

Response by poster: If I hadn't lost it, it'd still be here.

i can't believe i typed that.
posted by Hackworth at 11:16 PM on August 12, 2004

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