The first thing to know is that no tent on the planet is really that difficult to set up. It's true, if you're new to tent camping, some models may require a bit of puzzling and looks at the manual. But after two or three repetitions it will become second nature. Personally, if I have a new tent in hand and need to refer to the instructions, I figure it's too complicated.
Most tents nowadays are known as "freestanding" tents, because their poles provide the tension needed to keep the tent erect (instead of needing stakes and guylines to anchor the tent). But that's a bit of a misnomer, as most of these tents have a vestibulea small, awning-like cover over the doorthat requires stakes. Also, any tent should always be staked out in order to ensure it doesn't blow away.
So, which tent is best for you? For a summer in Alaska you'll want a "three-season" tent, one with a good balance of weatherproofing, ventilation, and bug resistance. Marmot's new Nyx ($269; www.marmot.com) is an excellent choice: light (under five pounds), sturdy, with plenty of room for two (or your thoughts), and a bathtub-style floor with all seams raised off the ground to ensure leaks can't happen. And, it's intuitively designed for easy setup. Mountain Hardwear's Hammerhead 2 ($245; www.mountainhardwear.com) is a little larger than the Nyx (and heaviernearly seven pounds), but you might appreciate the extra room. It also has two doors, one on each side, and each has its own vestibule. So there's lots of covered storage space. Lastly, Sierra Designs' Meteor Light ($230; www.sierradesigns.com) is a now-classed three-season design that's roomy, rugged, and weatherproof. Its poles are all the same length, so you can't possibly get them confused with one another.
If you're really looking to go über-minimalist, then you may want to take a look at a one-person shelter to shave some weight (and room and pennies!) from your purchase. MSR's three-season Hubba ($220; www.msrcorp.com) is a good bet in this category, weighing just three pounds and featuring an easy-to-use single hub-and-clip interface for the pole setup.
Whatever tent you get, make sure you take the time to set it up several times in your yard or in a nearby park, which will help you familiarize yourself with the procedure. (As I said, don't lose sleep over thisyou'll get it soon enough!) Also, buy some lightweight plastic sheeting at a hardware store and cut yourself a ground cloth that's a little smaller than the actual footprint of the tent body (that's the part you sleep in; the "fly" goes over the top and keeps the rain off). Throw that on the ground and set up the tent over it, which will protect the tent floor from abrasion or cuts from sharp rocks or sticks.
For more tent choices and advice, including information about the anatomy of a tent, check out Outside Online's all-new Tent Buying Guide.
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