What should I look for in a good three-season
tent? I have shopped at Galyan's, and I can't
understand why a Coleman two-room, nine-foot
by 12-foot [2.7-meter by 3.7-meter] tent is
[U.S.]$130, and a Galyan's/Eureka nine-foot by
nine-foot [2.7-meter by 2.7-meter] tent is
[U.S.]$130 without the partition? The listed
features were identical except for the flooring
which was somewhat different. What am I
missing? Does one use thicker gauge material for
the dome and tarp? Is it just the brand name?
Please help; I am going camping for the first time
(at age 33!) in southern Missouri.
Brian Fogle, East Amherst, New York
The most important question to answer is, do you really
need to buy a tent? You might not like camping. Can
you borrow one from a friend? If not, try renting from
someplace like Eastern Mountain Sports in Tonawanda
(1270 Niagara Falls Boulevard, Tel: +1 716 838 4200).
If you are set on buying, ask yourself how you plan
to use the tent? The tents you've described are large,
bulky shelters best used for car camping, circuses, or
moveable raves. If you're just backing your vehicle up
to a campsite and you want a lot of room, go with
whichever one seems the most comfortable. Don't worry
about floor thickness: In these kind of recreational tents,
ease of setup, number and size of windows, and general
personal preference are most important.
If, on the other hand, you might be carrying your
shelter on your back, you should look for something
more technical and a lot less gravity challenged, like
a backpacking tent constructed of nylon, typically with
a separate rain fly to shed any precip that falls and
lightweight aluminum poles and stakes. Most of what
you'll encounter on your search are indeed "three-season" tents, but three-season describes pretty much
everything shy of blizzard-worthy expedition tents.
Forget about labels and focus instead on how you're
going to use the tent. I'm guessing from your question
that cost is an issue and you won't be using it in
especially gnarly conditions or to hike the Appalachian
Trail, so I'd look for a tent with ample living space,
excellent ventilation, and lots of windows. (If you plan
long backpacking trips, weight becomes more
important than size.) Check out the Kelty Solstice
(U.S. $152 at
www.easternmountainsports.com), which is a
little hefty for a two-person backpacking tent (8 pounds,
6 ounces) but has lots of headroom, a simple setup, and
a screamin' price.