Gear Guy

Q:

Can you recommend a tent that's cheap and versatile?

My husband and I are neophyte campers who need a tent that is reasonably priced, waterproof (Florida's thunderstorms are sudden and legendary), roomy, well ventilated (humidity here reaches 99 percent most of the year), and useful for both forest and beachside camping. Did I mention that we have only $150 to spend? Lynn Orlando, Florida

A:Yes, you DID mention that you have only $150 to spend. Right at the end there. Sort of sneaked it in, didn't you?

I expect the main thing is that you need a lot of bug netting. Also, something that's easy to set up and not too heavy. Eureka's Backcountry 2 tent ($140) would be a pretty good choice. It could perhaps use more mesh, but it has big mesh panels on each side so breezes can blow through the tent. It weighs just over five pounds, so that's not bad. Kelty's Zen tent is another good choice for two people. It's a stake-supported tent, meaning you have to anchor it down so it will stand up. But that's not an issue—really, all tents should be well staked out, even "free-standing" ones. Campmor has last year's Zen for sale at $119—$40 off. Campmor is also closing out the 2001 model of the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight, a classic lightweight two-person tent, for $160.

Another interesting solution might be MSR's Bug Hut ($120). It's just a piece of sewn, pole-supported mesh, with a little waterproof "roof" to go over the thing. It'll give you plenty of ventilation.

Part of me says what you really want is a shaped tarp, if you have some other way to keep the bugs off you. You might take a look at something else from MSR: the Vistawing ($160), an aerodynamic tarp, will keep the sun and rain off while allowing perfect ventilation. But then again, the bug problem might strike. Therefore, my money is on the Bug Hut or the Backcountry 2.

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