A comprehensive guide to all the tents you shouldn’t buy
A comprehensive guide to all the tents you shouldn’t buy

What Tent Is Wrong for You?

Don’t bring a tree tent to Antarctica, and other sound advice

A comprehensive guide to all the tents you shouldn’t buy

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Two things will be here soon: camping season, and a bunch of articles telling you what gear to buy for camping. Here at Semi-Rad, we’re doing something quite a bit less helpful: pointing out which tent is wrong for you.

(Brendan Leonard)

You Are: A thru-hiker or ultralight backpacker

The Wrong Tent: A 12-person car camping tent

Why It’s Wrong for You: It weighs 45 pounds. A tent this heavy, while spacious and luxurious (someone on Amazon asked if it had a vent for an air conditioner), is a bit of a pain in the ass to carry from the trunk of your car to a nearby tent pad in a campground, let alone 2,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail. I’m no ultralight expert, but I believe you should be looking for something more in the “similar weight and bulk of one liter of water” range, not the “similar weight and bulk as a bag of concrete” range.

(Brendan Leonard)

You Are: A music festival-goer

The Wrong Tent: A bivy sack

Why It’s Wrong for You: Are you drunk? Because at that music festival, you might be. And although bivy sacks are great for plenty of situations, wriggling into one at 3 a.m. after a night of sweaty dancing (and potentially consuming several alcoholic beverages and other party treats) is not exactly ideal, especially if you meet Someone Kind of Special and would like to spend some more time with them in a horizontal position and I don’t know, see if there’s any magic there. Consider instead a tent, which has poles, a door or two, and more room for things like sitting up and/or making out with someone.  

(Brendan Leonard)

You Are: A budget-conscious camper

The Wrong Tent: An expedition base camp tent

Why It’s Wrong for You: They’re $5,000.*

*The least expensive one is, anyway.

(Brendan Leonard)

You Are: A person going car camping with your family of three to six people

The Wrong Tent: A one-person backpacking tent

Why It’s Wrong for You: If you have more than one person in your family and you want to sleep in a tent with them, you should get a larger tent. If math isn’t your strong suit and you don’t know how many people are in your family, try writing down the names of your spouse and children on a piece of paper, then count the names, add one more for yourself, and voila, that’s how big of a tent you need. If in doubt, call your spouse and ask a few questions, such as, “How many kids do we have?” Then try googling, for example, terms like “three-person tent,” “four-person tent,” “six-person tent.” Alternately, if your family is really pissing you off lately and you just want to go camping by yourself, a one-person tent would be great for you. So would some time away.

(Brendan Leonard)

You Are: A cyclist on a self-supported cross-country bicycle tour

The Wrong Tent: A rooftop tent

Why It’s Wrong for You: Before you head out on your months-long cross-country bicycle tour, check over your gear list: if you don’t see an item titled “motorized vehicle with a roof,” you should shop for something in the category of “rooftop-less tents,” which is basically all tents that aren’t rooftop tents. If you have your heart set on taking a motorized vehicle with a rooftop tent on a trip across the country, I would humbly suggest doing a “road trip” instead of a “self-supported bicycle tour.”

(Brendan Leonard)

You Are: Camping

The Wrong Tent: An E-Z Up

Why It’s Wrong for You: Not to get bogged down with technical minutiae, but if you get out in the backcountry and pitch an E-Z Up, you will notice that it lacks a few features that other tents usually have, such as walls, doors, and a rain fly. If you examine an E-Z Up closely, you’ll note that there are not one, not two, but four 10-by-10-foot openings on the sides—these will let in precipitation, mosquitoes, and overly friendly fellow campers like Wayne, who would like to talk to you about conspiracy theories. E-Z Ups are great for the beach, trade shows, and outdoor events where you might need some shade for the day, but as far as camping goes, not so great.

(Brendan Leonard)

You Are: A person doing a ski traverse of Antarctica

The Wrong Tent: A tree tent

Why It’s Wrong for You: There are no trees in Antarctica. That’s right. Bring a tree tent on your ski traverse of Antarctica and you’re going to be very disappointed when you get there and don’t find any trees to anchor your tree tent to for the next 60 to 90 nights. Also: if you are planning a ski traverse of Antarctica and you are just discovering this information through this article, you might want to consider if you’re actually qualified for that sort of trip after all.

(Brendan Leonard)

You Are: Taller than 3 feet, 11 inches, and camping outside

The Wrong Tent: A Thomas the Tank Engine Pop-Up Train Tent

Why It’s Wrong for You: I don’t want to sound like an elitist prick here, but Thomas the Tank Engine Pop-Up Train Tents are kind of for kids ages 3 to 12. If you pack one of these up to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier or the Boulderfield on Longs Peak, you might die. It’s a free country, and you should do what makes you happy, but if I were to give you some solid camping advice, I would gently suggest you look at actual camping tents instead of the Thomas the Tank Engine Pop-Up Train Tent.

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