Before we set out in the wilds to pitch our first tent, it’s important that we know the different parts that make up a tent and make sure that they are all in good shape and packed up!.
Let’s start with a short anatomy:-
A standard “ready-to-go” camping- tent ought to have the following parts:-
• Fly-sheet-The outermost (water-proof) layer. Shelters us from rain & wind.
• Tent-body- The inner housing that encloses us and our belongings. It’s made of breathable material that can permeate both wind and rain water.
• Poles- Used to erect the tent body and sometimes, the fly-sheet, stretching it well enough to deflect rain-drops. They are segmented and joined together with an elastic cord and therefore foldable to fit into a carrier bag.
• Pegs or sticks- for staking or anchoring the tent sometimes using guy-strings to protect the tent from being blown away by the wind.
• Ground sheet- This is an anti-leak plastic sheet that doubles up as an insulator from conductive cold from the ground. Modern tents come with an already sewn-in insulated bottom.
As students on the Appalachian trail hike in 1996, we had what was a fairly standard tent for its day: An A-frame made by Alpine Designs. It took 14 tent stakes to set up and had a separate fly. It weighed 3.5kg.Now, adverts for tents always show folks setting up the tent on a beautiful sunny evening. HA! How about setting the same under torrents of pouring rain? How do you get a tent set up if the fly goes on last? You and your tent should be soaked by then- Awash!
And if you are standing outside of your tent in a downpour, so how do you:
1. Open the tent fly and door?
2. Shed your soaking wet raingear?
3. Get inside and close the fly and tent?
—without letting buckets of rain inside and getting soaked in the process?
And in the morning, when it is still raining, how do you get out and get raingear on without everything getting soaked again? Those 14 tent stakes and guy-lines and pullouts were just a tedious mess.
“Experience is what you get when you were expecting something else!”
After that trip, I started looking for something that actually worked. I found a company called “Mountain Hardware", founded by an aeronautical engineer. The tent used five tent-poles: 2 that bisect the diagonals, 2 pre-angled side poles & a verandah or vestibule pole. Set-up was fast.
The tent wall was waterproof, ultra-light silicone nylon with a vent low in back and another vent high in front. Body heat drove warm, humid air high and out, pulling in cooler air from the low back vent. It weighed about 2.25Kg! Beautiful tent & the company is still in booming business!
But opening the door in pouring rain was still a problem? Simple! Let’s go for a lightweight tarp. Set up the tarp first and Viola! You’re out of the rain! Get under the tarp, remove dripping raingear and stow out of the way to drain. If you set up the tent under the tarp you can enter and exit at leisure. You can cook under the tarp, too….Why not?
If you look at today’s lightweight tents with mostly mesh fabric, they, too, will be soaked during set-up in the rain. Plus, some of the coated tent-flies weigh more than the rest of the tent. My advice? Ditch the heavy fly and carry a tarp instead. Modern silk-nylon or spinnaker tarps are crazy light. Plus, the tarp does multiple jobs: set up a tarp for a dry lunch break in the rain, use as a screen between trees for bathing, use to cover a shelter opening to keep out blowing rain or snow, use as sunshade and be creative!
(Author, Mwai Kennedy).