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Buying Your First Tent

Tents have so many features... where do you start? Right here - from poles to rain, read on.

by John

BUYING TENTS Keep it simple. Before you shop, estimate how often, how big, and how expensive. If possible, borrow a tent for your first camping trip and see what you like and don’t like. This will give you a huge headstart when you go shopping.

1. How often - First decide approximately how often you’ll be using your tent. If you’re going out twice a year and you will be pitching it in the park, you won’t need a $400 tent. For casual campers, start at Wal-mart, Target, Costco and discount sporting good stores. These stores can carry items of surprisingly acceptable quality.

Look for tents that are freestanding. All tents have stakes, but freestanding tents don’t have to be staked to the ground in order to stand up. Avoid tents that have more than three poles or that look really complicated. Most likely you’ll have to set your tent up in the dark or just before it rains and a complicated tent is the last thing you need.

My favorite tents are rectangular or square on the bottom and have two poles that cross in the middle. I also prefer tents that have good ventilation because I rely on my sleeping bag to keep me warm. Large windows that have zipper flaps and a screen on them are perfect for ventilating because you can adjust how much air you let in. A well ventilated tent is more comfortable to sleep in because the air won’t be stale and humid, but you don’t want it too drafty.

2. Size - Tent size can be tricky. Check the box or label for recommended number of people. This is the number you can fit if you’ll be sleeping only on your side. For normal size people always subtract at least one from the label if you want to actually sleep comfortably in the tent (If you’ll be up all night playing cards, then you can add one).

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But wait, there’s more. For larger tents (4 people or more) also look at the label to see the recommend layout of their recommended people. Most large tents will arrange a few vertical and one horizontal. Actually sleeping with people in these positions is a little ridiculous because they will either be kicked to death while they sleep or they will smother everyone else when they roll over on their heads. Besides, where are you going to put your gear when it rains?

Also, consider tent height. Get one as tall enough to facilitate comfortably moving around and sitting up or standing to change clothes.

3. Price – Usable tents start at $40 so try and pick a price before you go so you don’t accidentally (or willingly) get sucked into the Extreme section. Extreme style tents are cool, but if you won’t be pitching it on a glacier at 18,000 feet, it will be a waste of $700 nylon.

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