It depends. Are we talking about a tent for use on a warm sandy beach in Baja, or something for more serious conditions when kayaking in, say, Alaskas Prince William Sound?
If the former, then definitely something big and airy. Keltys Screenhouse 10 ($200; kelty.com) offers protection from bugs and sun but lets in plenty of warm breezes. Its roomysix feet, four inches tall at its peakand has drop-down interior panels that you can position if you want some privacy for changing into swim gear. It doesnt have a floor, so youd probably want to get some cots if you plan to sleep in it.
For a little more shelter, I like REIs Hobitat 6 tent ($339; rei.com), new last year. As the name suggests, it can sleep six pretty comfortably. Its a tall tentagain, six feet, four inchesbut fairly sturdy thanks to its aluminum frame. It offers good ventilation and protection from the rain. It could use a bit more of a front porch/vestibule, and the four poles are enormously long when unfurled for set-up. But its a well-made and good-looking tent. Its great for the beach or other family-camping situations.
For somewhat more severe conditions, choices range from lower-profile family style tents to more traditional backpacking models. A good choice for sea kayaking, for instance, would be Mountain Hardwears Casa 4 ($320; mountainhardwear.com). Its a big four-person tent, but one that can be staked out and could ride through a pretty severe storm. And at around ten pounds, its manageable for stowing into a boat. Or, if you really expect some stormy weather, Keltys Pagosa 4 ($260) sleeps four but has a turtle-like profile to shed rain, plus a full-coverage fly. But it also has good ventilation for warmer nights.
The Gear Guy reports from 2007 Winter Outdoor Retailer, the bi-annual gearapalooza in Salt Lake City. Check out his top picks for gear to watch in 2007.