Gear Guy

Q:

What's the best tent for desert camping?

I need a tent that will protect me from dust storms while I'm camping in the high desert. (I admit it—I'm a long-time burner). Should I go for a single-wall tent? My mesh tent with a rain fly doesn't keep the dust out.

What's the best tent for desert camping?
Black Diamond Firstlight (Courtesy of Black Diamond)
A:

Burner? I had to think for a minute before I got it—Burning Man.

Your point about dust is a good one. I've become an avid Grand Canyon hiker and I fight the same problem. Single-wall tents, of course, provide just one layer of fabric between you and the outdoors. Often, that fabric is a waterproof-breathable material treated for flame-retardation. (Some companies use less-expensive, completely impermeable materials, then include ventilation to clear water vapor that leads to condensation.) By contrast, double-wall tents have completely waterproof flies that sit over inner canopies made from fine-mesh netting and highly breathable ripstop nylon. In my experience, the ability to remove the rain fly makes double-wall a bit more versatile, but single-wall design would certainly help eliminate the dust-in-the-tent issue.

Interestingly, single-walls have become something of a dying breed. Five years ago, several tent makers offered single-walls, largely because they were so much lighter than other designs. But with double-wall tents shedding ounces by the season, it's become hard to justify the extra cost and engineering required to build single-wall tents. Today, Black Diamond is one of the only companies that still makes a range of single-wall tents.

For starters, check out their Firstlight tent ($379), which fits two people, or one person very comfortably. It’s free-standing and is made with a Black Diamond waterproof-breathable shell. At 2 pounds 13 ounces, it's also quite light. Another option from Black Diamond is the HiLight ($379) a large solo tent. Its generous side door, which can be fully zipped or covered with a mesh panel, is simple and user-friendly.

I'm looking for a new tent that will protect me from dust storms while I'm camping in the high desert, (I admit it—I'm a long-time burner). Should I go for a single-wall tent? My mesh tent with a rain fly doesn't keep the dust out.

The North Face Phoenix 2
The North Face Phoenix 2 (Courtesy of The North Face)

Sierra Designs Origami

Sierra Designs Origami

The North Face makes a good two-person single-wall called the Phoenix 2 ($329). It's relatively light (3 pounds 10 ounces) and, like Black Diamond, uses a proprietary waterproof-breathable fabric.

The other main alternative is to find a tent like Sierra Designs’s Origami 3 ($219) with a single-pole pyramid structure. Unfortunately, pyramids often have an open gap along the floor, and blowing dust tents to stick close to the ground. It’s a great concept, but I'm not totally comfortable vouching for it.

One final option: buy a beach windscreen. Get one that’s 10 feet long and erect it upwind when you pitch your tent. It should disrupt wind flow enough that most of the dust settles before it hits the tent. Plus, it'll give you a little privacy.

Hope that helps!

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