Affordable tent?

Is there a decent rain resistant 3 person tent out there that doesn’t cost $300+?

Looking for something to stuff in the kayak for the off 1-2 night trip looking for a rain rating of 2000+ if possible.

I would suggest looking on Craig’s List or a hiking/camping forum - potentially here if there’s a sale section - for something being resold.

You would not believe how many people buy camping gear with the intention to go and then use it once or never and have to try and resell it for a fraction of the cost. You can find some really nice gear on Craig’s List at the right season for far less than you would buy it new and more often than not it’s never used or lightly used.

Alternately, if you have an REI near you their spring sale is coming up and they always have good deals on camping gear at that time. Also worth looking at their Outlet - prior season clearance items or unused/lightly used returns that they sell at a fraction of the original retail price.


MSR Elixir lists @ $299.95. I have one and like it a lot. Oddly, I don’t see REI or Campmor listing these now. I bought mine form Campmor 2 1/2 years ago.

I’ve owned a lot of tents (Coleman, Cannondale, Eureka, North Face, Sierra Designs, Jansport, REI) in my 50 years of outdoor recreation and I have to say that the two man, mesh walled Marmot I bought in 2002 has been my favorite fair weather tent of all time and is perfect for kayaking. They don’t make the exact model I have any more but it is roughly similar to their Tungsten line, which has several models, a few of them under $300. Marmots are very well sewn with high quality materials. I’m a seamstress myself who has made my own gear over the years and I appreciate the craftsmanship of all Marmot stuff. The catenary designs set up tight so that they shed rain and wind very well and they are quick to assemble. I also like that they tend to make their poles break down into shorter sections than many other companies which makes the packed tent much easier to fit into a kayak hatch. This little tent has been one of the most rain-tight of any model I have owned. The fly goes all the way to the ground (very important when the main canopy of the tent body is mesh mosquito netting) and all the seams are well sealed. I have only had to touch them up once in 17 years of ownership. I first bought it to use as my “base camp” on an archaeology dig in the mountains of Wyoming and I lived in it for 3 weeks very comfortably.

Just as an example of how great this tent is: my boyfriend and I pulled into the campground at Flamingo in the Everglades late one Summer evening as a storm was threatening. We picked our tent site and as we were pulling out the gear bags we heard the lightning. We immediately dumped out the Marmot tent bag and scrambled to set it up. He had never set it up before but as I quickly yelled instructions he was able to figure it out fast. The set up is intuitive and all 6 pole sections are identical – the canopy clips to the frame easily. We had the frame and canopy done in less than 5 minutes and while he grabbed our sleeping gear and tossed it in the tent door I threw the fly over the frame and made my way around the edge, clipping that to the bottom of each pole connection. Just as I clipped the last one in place and dove into the tent with him and zipped it up, the monsoon started. We did not even have time to shove some stakes in the ground, but being a free standing tent we figured we would not need them since our weight inside would keep it in place. It felt like we were sitting under Niagara Falls! We crept around inside and got our pads and bags and night gear arranged. We had the presence of mind to bring in a couple of compact umbrellas from the car so we could each make a mad dash to bathrooms before turning in – we were able to leave the wet umbrellas and our muddy flip flops outside under the small tent fly vestibule.

The rain continued all night without apparent let up until around dawn. We slept very well and were pleased to discover when we awoke that we and all our gear were completely dry. An advantage of the mesh walled tents is that you get no condensation even in the most humid conditions. The tent design is so well ventilated that even the fly doesn’t get appreciable condensate. When we first poked our heads out in the morning we saw that many of the campers around us had tents that were sagging with collected water on the roofs and flies and people were already hauling soggy sleeping bags out and draping them over picnic tables and bushes because their tent walls and floors had leaked. Our own tent was sitting in a swamp by then, with the grass poking up through at least an inch of accumulated rainwater. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at our own site’s picnic table while everybody else was wringing things out, then broke down and packed the tent by only having to wipe down some damp sand and grass from the underside of the tent floor.

My old Marmot is 5 lb 2 oz but many of their newer ones are under 4 pounds. Hard to beat for price, design and quality. This one is closest to mine but has a side entry and vestibule whereas mine has dual entries at one end and a smaller end vestibule. That does have an advantage in that one occupant does not have to climb over the one nearest the door (in a side version) but the larger vestibule is a plus and one less zipper reduces the weight.


There are a lot of good, affordable tents on the market. I’ve never spent more than $175 on a tent, and have never had a tent that leaked or failed. Cheap, reliable brands include Alps Mountaineering, Mountainsmith, and Kelty. Check on Steep and Cheap. There are always sales somewhere, and Craigslist usually has a lot of tents.

It’s harder to find a 3P. You know that a 3P is for two people, right?

For waterproofing, 2000mm rating is good, but not essential. Anything 1500mm or above will be adequate.

Something interesting I came across on Amazon recently: The reviews are surprisingly good and there are some good videos on YouTube. Cheap $95, light 6 lbs, and 5000mm coating on the fly and floor! Maybe worth the risk at this low price? I would buy this myself.

Mountain Hardwear Shifter 3, $200

I have had good luck with Mountain Hardware. We have the Trango 3.1 which is a non mesh tent. It is great for the shoulder season but far from light. It is a winter rated tent. I suspect MH tents across the board are good.

I have had a Marmot Limelight 3 P for eons. It has done well; the fly extends low enough. I don’t know if it is still carried. It irks me that tent makers change model names. It is a mesh tent so we found it useless in fine desert sand and it is too cold for any camping here until June. ( that mesh)

If you have a sports consignment store nearby it is a good source. I took in a Hubba Hubba very newish to Ragged Mountain Sports in Intervale NH. They are strictly outdoor hiking and skiing store and have a huge consignment section.

I used to prefer 10000 mm ratings but no one does that anymore. So pitch on well drained ground and add innie or outie groundcloth.

Steep and Cheap is a great site but watch it a lot. Stuff flies in and out.

NEMO makes some killer products! I’ve been BERY happy w/ my Losi 3P. It’s now marked down as Nemo is revamping their tent lineup.

I can’t vouch for whether this particular tent is any good, but there’s an Outside Magazine article that makes a good case for it:

I would have posted a link to the article, but it automatically plays a video and I’m concerned that people may find that annoying, though it’s worth watching.

I have several tents, all older models that are no longer available and all good brands, but there’s something about a bargain…

Some excellent responses on here, thank you!
I’ve never heard of strep and cheap before, I’ll be diving into that site…

And @waterbird, thanks for that amazon link, that’s a pretty solid deal and those reviews are incredible.
Until I know this is something I’m going to do regularly, that might be the ticket.

I would be VERY cautious at this point in time about on-line ordering, particularly of off brands of outdoor gear. This is because of the massive slowdown in manufacturing and business operations in China, which is the source of most of those oddball brands on Amazon. Such companies are not known for customer support or warranty protection to begin with, and as long as the country is in the throes of the coronavirus management, don’t count on quick shipment or resolution of any problems. Also be very cautious about reviews on Amazon – they are often seeded with fakes.

For something as important as a tent, I would stick with a recognized brand name and buy it through a local outfitter or a well-respected on line dealer like Campmor, Outdoorplay, Backcountry, REI or Eastern Mountain Sports. Saving $50 or even $100 on a “no-name” tent is throwing away your money if you can’t get replacement poles or service if a zipper blows out during a windy rainstorm or if parts are missing when you get it. I worked for years in the wilderness outfitter business and sold a LOT of tents to people who regretted first spending their hard earned dollars on discount store items. I had a side business during those years doing gear repairs for people and saw a lot of crappy off-brand tents that fell apart in use and literally could not be made serviceable.

If you want a lot of space and a simple tent, the Eureka Timberline 4 (which sells for around $230) is a little over 7’ x 8.5’ and at nearly 5’ at the ridge-line a bit taller than some of the more geodesic models. It’s a pretty basic A frame that has been popular for over 50 years. Sturdy and easy to set up. Drawbacks are that it is heavy (close to 8 pounds) and the packed size is 24" long which makes it a hassle to get into some hatches. Doesn’t come with a vestibule but you can buy one to add on. However, having worked for a Eureka dealer for some years which had Timberlines in our gear rental program, we did find back then that the waterproof coating the company used tended to fail within 5 years and start to peel off the floor and fly. The company always made good on the coating failure, even if the warranty was technically expired. I hope by now they have remedied that problem.


Spotted this Marmot 3 person on REI: only $229 and you would get $23 back as the member dividend. Comes with a footprint (tailored ground cloth). A bit heavy and, again, has the long packed size (22") but that’s a good price for a Marmot tent.

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The Clostnature tent I linked is designed in Japan, manufactured in China, and fulfilled by Amazon. So it’s a Japanese company and the tent is stocked and shipped by Amazon. That means Amazon handles problems and returns.

You can get a sense of the reliability of a foreign company by reading all of the reviews and the questions, and posting a question yourself. For this tent, the reviews are mostly enthusiastic and the people who posted 1, 2, and 3-star reviews got a helpful and authentic response from the company.

I find Japanese tent designs interesting. They’re affordable and practical, as seen in the front awning on the Clostnature tent. A big question here is, what is the difference between a $450 tent from MSR and a $150 tent from Alps Mountaineering? I stick with the cheaper brands I mentioned above because the designs are practical and the materials and quality are as good as the more expensive brands. You can easily compare the materials by checking the specs. I chose the Clostnature tent because (1) the OP expressed an interest in a cheaper tent, (2) the materials are rugged, and (3) the reviews are strong, including references to customer service. It only has 103 reviews, which is a point in its favor, compared to items that have 5,000 reviews.

If you buy intelligently by comparing specs and reading reviews carefully, you’re not “throwing your money away” by buying a non-US tent. Personally, I would take a risk on that Clostnature tent. I would NOT throw my money away on a US-made tent that offers no added value in the design, materials, or workmanship and only offers brand-name recognition to justify the steep price. People who are just starting out in paddle camping could easily be facing $1000 in camping gear on top of the kayak or canoe and associated gear. I recommend going with affordable, solid gear to start and upgrading if you come to love the sport. Why not take advantage of intelligently designed gear produced in other countries and the easy accessibility of the global economy?

Regarding the Eureka Timerline 4, the A-frame is a retro design that people buy for the sake of 1970s nostalgia. There’s a reason why not many people live in A-frame houses: they have wasted, constricted space in the “attic,” making the height a bit irrelevant since it’s not usable space. The material in the “attic” only adds needlessly to the weight of the tent. A lot of the space along the sides isn’t very usable either—you can lie in it but you can’t sit up in it. The Timberline has no ventilation on the sides, only 1 door, and no vestibules (unless you purchase one separately). The rainfly and the floor have an 800 mm coating, which is really unacceptable by modern standards!! The Clostnature is a far better tent.

I don’t judge the quality of any tent (or backpack, or sleeping bag, or kayak) until I can inspect it in person.

I was not specifically dissing Clostnature since I don’t know their products, just warning that in general there is a lot of poor quality stuff on Amazon and a buyer can’t know what they are getting until it shows up if it is a brand with no presence in retail stores. And – just as with the gear for any new hobby – a novice camper is not going to know what to look for or how well the tent is going to perform when it counts.

Just because Amazon will arrange returns, refunds or reshipments if a product does not meet the buyers’ requirements does not mean anything in terms of the product inherent quality nor customer service by a manufacturer. The odds of getting parts or any kind of warranty service for camping gear from overseas companies that don’t sell through brick and mortar stores rather than through bulk resellers is unfortunately rather poor. Any individual buyer needs to weigh a lower price against that reality.

Besides price, functionality and durability are important. For light use in warm, calm and moderate weather, any tent will do OK (just like any plastic kayak-shaped object from Walmart will float in a pond.) But in the kind of windy and heavy rain conditions that can often be encountered in exposed coastal areas or the backcountry by someone paddle touring, a cheaply made tent will often leak and even have poles snap and collapse the whole thing. Even if they don’t leak or fall down, cheaply made tents are notorious for having the flies and canopies so imprecisely cut that they flap and snap in the wind loudly, making sleep impossible, and for having the fly lay against the tent wall, creating condensation.

So, caveat emptor.

The Timberline is a good tent. We have used the SAME tent in Wabakimi for work parties for six years. This is not casual camping. The campers are portage maintenance crews. After six years of 100 consecutive days yes there is wear and it is time for a new tent.
But the design works in areas where you can stake it down, or on wet caribou moss ( which holds a lot of water) and also is amenable to rock staking ( no dirt. but just ledge where you run rope around rocks. Its got enough lash points for this to work. Some more modern tents lack this capability. And invariably during any summer there are winds that blow down trees. ( 30 percent of the boreal is on its side at any time}

Nostalgia? BS! It is a tried and tested design for northern climates where mesh frankly is crap. It is for subarctic. Arctic you move to Hilleberg tents.

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timberlines were great rental tents, their heavy duty outfitter models really held up well and the j tubes were attached so there wasn’t a big mystery about setting it up. Clips were easier than sleeves. They were heavy however. I never felt the “attic” was wasted space. As I got older it became even more important. Now I bring in a camp chair and put it in the tent or by the door. I need this to help me get up from the ground. Now a days I also want to be able to stand up, even if I’m hunched a bit to get dressed, and that means at least dome tent, and the chair helps with putting on the shoes and socks as well. My worst experience with tents was with North Face Dome Tents. Lots of seams to leak, and I had a zipper on a door blow out, not fun at 17,000’ in a gail but at least we were in Mexico and not some harsher climate. My favorite tent was a trailwise Fitzroy- a true mountaineering tent- but heavy and a bit difficult to set up, not totally free standing- but you gotta like a tent that features a stove “hole” and built in vestibule. Somebody picked up the Gerry Brand and I have one of their mesh tents and it is well built for summer use but it is tiny, just one step up from a bivy sack, I definately gotta crawl out of that and that ain’t a pretty sight. But my Gerry packs in a kayak well. Mostly though I set it up and then sleep in the car. Gives me the appearance of being legal with some campgrounds and gives me a place to store some stuff. None of that helps the o.p. much but tents are always fun to ramble on about, kind of like boats. The truth is I got me a nice rv but it’s kinda hard to pack that into a boat, so I’m gettin’ soft and doin’ just day paddles.

Yup, there is a reason why Timberlines have been stock for outfitter rental liveries, scout camps and field crews for decades. They are simple but made of stern stuff (heavier gauge fabrics and poles, tougher stitching and zippers) than most of the modern ultra-light backpacking tents. The floors are particularly sturdy and have a deeper “bathtub” than a lot of the geodesic styles.

Though not really recommended for winter conditions by Eureka, I have used a 4 man T’line for winter camping and the steep simple A-line, if staked out tautly enough and banked around the fly bottom, will shed snow rather than collecting it and sagging, which was a problem with the North Face VE-24 geodesic (supposedly designed for alpine conditions) that I used for years.

I fact the best winter tent I ever had was the now-extinct Cannondale double-walled integral fly A-frame Aroostook with its giant vestibule. That tent was as quiet as an empty library even in gusting high winds. A well rigged and guyed A-frame with the short end aimed into the prevailing wind holds up well even in a gale.

Also, if worse comes to worst and you lose one or more poles with a Timberline, they can be rigged between two trees with a ridge-line rope. I’ve used just the fly as an open tarp tent with para cord on past trips when we needed extra shelter – hard to do that with a polyoctagon or dodecahedron fly.

The question is not what works for any of us individually, it’s what would best suit the OP. OP, there are approximately 5,000 tents on the market that are superior to the Eureka Timberline. Don’t even think of getting a tent with an 800mm coating. That’s folly and potentially dangerous if you get caught in the rain in cold weather, especially with a down sleeping bag. There is no reason to take such a risk with the number of good, affordable tents that are available.

Modern tents are especially known for being spacious in the “upper story.” This is achieved in a couple of ways: (1) Sides that are relatively straight up and down rather than slanting sharply in toward the center. (2) Sometimes there are one or two “brow poles” that stretch out the top even more. Both of these make a big difference in the volume of the tent. Pay attention to not only the square footage of the floor, but also the volume of the whole tent and how it’s distributed. Volume is especially appreciated if you have to spend a rainy day in the tent, sitting up rather than lying down.The least efficient use of ceiling space is the A-frame, hands down.

The most efficient use of floor space is a square or rectangle. A hexagon (Alps Mountaineering Extreme 3) is inefficient because the side corners aren’t usable for human bodies, only for gear.

Other things to look for (partial list of basics): floor and fly minimum 68D and 1500mm coating; bathtub floor (which the Closetnature doesn’t appear to have); solid zippers; fly comes to within a couple of inches of the ground on all sides; guy-out loops on the sides of the fly (or else rain will run onto the base of the tent); seams sealed; solid double stitching throughout; aluminum rather than fiberglass poles; poles of sufficient diameter for the size of the tent (i.e., avoid skinny poles on a larger tent); mesh on all four sides and the ceiling for use in hot weather; vestibules if you plan to put 3 people in a 3-person tent (not so important for 1 or 2 people); two doors if you have more that one person. Side-entry doors are more convenient than front entry, so you can roll onto your bed from the side rather than crawling onto it from one end.

Unfortunately, depending on where you live, you may or may not be able to examine a large number of tents in person. Alps Mountaineering, for example, makes very good-quality tents but sells them mainly through online distributors, not brick-and-mortar stores. Tents from such companies tend to be considerably cheaper because of the reduced distribution cost. I would rather make a well-reasoned guess about the quality of products I can’t see before purchasing than to restrict my choices to only what’s available in local stores. This applies to tents, mattresses, sleeping bags—just about everything. Even large companies like REI have a limited number of items on hand in the store. And of course you can save a great deal of money by buying online sight unseen. If I’m concerned about the quality of something I haven’t seen, I check the return policy carefully.

I had one of the original Eureka Timerblines. I bike camped all over Europe with it. It held up fine. But the Timberline was all we had in those days and we were grateful for it. Today’s designs are far better than in those days of yore. Also, there are numerous reports that the quality of the Timberline has fallen drastically. I doubt very much that mine had an 800mm coating.

ahh come on now, if we can be a bit sentimental about our grumman canoes on this forum than we should be allowed to reminisce about timberline tents and dutch ovens.

I do agree 100% there are far better options for the OP than my tents.

The last few tents I got were purchased from the local sporting goods store, Ozark Trail, Coleman and the like. Next thing ya’ know I’ll be out buyin’ a pelican or sun dolphin kayak so watch out.

My kids ran off with a few of my tents, on my last tent the fiberglass poles snapped and splintered in a late afternoon thunderstorm. Now the whole contraption has several poles sheaved in duct tape. A true disadvantage to the new instant set up models is that it is harder to replace the poles.

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Wow, TD, I have not heard Trailwise mentioned in a hen’s age! I worked for their local dealer in Pittsburgh back in the 70’s and they were very generous with shop employee discounts (20% off wholesale) so I had quite a bit of their gear, which was nice stuff. I still have my 15 degree Trailwise down mummy bag and I got a Fitzroy for my boyfriend at the time (an avid mountaineer who took it with him on winter ascents of the Grand Teton and to climb Aconcagua). I winter camped with it myself a couple of times and it really was a snug tent with a lot of thought put into the design and incredible quality in the cut and stitching.

I see you had many of the same troubles I had with the much vaunted (and pricey) North Face domes. I truly grew to despise that VE-24 with its fussy pole tunnels, horrid ventilation (the only openings being those two “sphincter” tunnels) and the poorly fitted fly that sagged onto the tent roof and created puddles of condensation on my sleeping bag until I sewed myself a GoreTex bivy cover. Re-sealing all those danged seams every few years was a nightmare. I finally hauled it out of the back of the closet and gave it away in 2017 to a young activist who was going to join the winter sit-in with the Native Tribes protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

While I still like my compact little Marmot backpacking tent, I feel you on the effort to drag old bones out of such a small space. So I broke down a few years ago and bought a giant REI 4-man Hobitat tent from a guy who was selling it on Craigslist for $100. One of the big frame members is permanently warped, giving the tent a rakish tilt and earning it the familial nickname of “The Squirt” (as in “squashed yurt” which it resembles). At close to 20 pounds and packed in a bag the size of a sleeping St. Bernard, it is strictly for drive in sites but it is like the bridal suite of the Hilton for “glamping” with 5’ side walls, 7’ ceiling height, huge windows, and with a queen sized inflatable bed, a couple of folding chairs and a little table and rug in it. Took it to Quebec when I went to kayak the Saguenay fiord and was mighty glad I had it because every single night it poured rain from about 6:00 PM to 7:00 AM. We could only day paddle due to the high winds and frequent rain so we stayed at a basecamp in the campground. I caught up on a LOT of reading in that spacious, dry and well-furnished tent. Geezer heaven.

What kind of RV do you have? I have been thinking about buying one of the older Pleasureway Class B’s. Rented one out in the Southwest a few years ago and it seemed like the perfect size. I had a vintage (1977) 21’ Class C that I 95% restored but never really got on the road. It was really too big for me to handle comfortably on the road so I sold it back to its original owner last year. I want the most compact van type 1 or 2-person motorhome I can find that has a minimal but functional bathroom, room to stand up and room to stretch out. I could even live without a fridge and cooktop as long as it had a flush toilet! Have considered retro-fitting my own, maybe one of the Ford Transits (after rebuilding that old Class C I think I could tackle anything), but the Pleasureways are so nicely fitted out they are awfully tempting. Watching a 2007 with 70K on it that is for sale in Oregon at the moment and a similar one in Florida.

I used to be one of those crunchy granola outdoor freak hippies who scoffed at people in RV’s. But I became a convert when the guy I was dating 10 years ago convinced me to rent them on our many trips out to the Western deserts and mountains. We loved to do canyon hikes and off road biking and it was so great to be able to take a break halfway through the day back at the parked rig at the trailhead, fix lunch, have a cold drink, use our own bathroom and take a nap before driving to the next trail. My folding kayaks would fit handily inside a Class B. Might even be able to slide the 13’ pack canoe inside a big enough one.

More geezer gear freak geekiness follows (don’t waste your time reading this unless you started backpacking when the only choices for colors of gear were forest green, international orange, navy, or royal blue AND you have a high tolerance for perseverant technical minutiae. There are many of our ilk on here but only fair to warn off those with little patience for such things.)

I have to confess I am amused by company marketing that tries to convince tent buyers that they need to pay attention to how many thousands of mm of “water pressure” a tent’s fabrics are “rated” for and how they try to outdo each other with high numbers. The fact is that such “test ratings” are completely irrelevant for the coated fabrics used for tent flies and floors and those ratings are only marginally viable when you are looking at “breathable” membrane composites for clothing and sleeping bags. As long as the coating is intact ANY coated fly (or raincoat) is as waterproof as a common garbage bag or sheet of saran wrap (as long as the seams are properly sealed).

Even if fabric is NOT coated, it would have to be hit with a fire hose to achieve the levels of pressure applied in the “tests” some of these numbers are based upon. With uncoated fabric It is tightness of weave or tiny-ness of the membrane perforations (as in GoreTex) that prevent moisture from passing through. To achieve a balance of breathability (transference of water vapor OUT) versus passage of liquid water IN there is only a medium bandwidth of porosity that works for both. Also to effect water vapor passthrough it must have pressure that is higher within the space enclosed by a garment (or tent), hence only clothing or sleeping bags and bivy sacks, and to a lesser extent, shoes, are candidates for breathable/waterproof fabrics.

It was proven back in the 70’s when Goretex flooded the outdoor gear market that such “breathable” fabrics were pretty much useless for tents because not enough warm expanded vapor pressure could build up inside such a large space to force the vapor through the tiny pores of the membrane before it could condense. Clothing and sleeping bags are close enough to your body that they stay warmer than the outside air. The few attempts to make Goretex and other “breathable” tents failed and the vapor simply condensed on the cool inside walls. It tends not to really work in hiking boots either, since there is such high moisture in footwear from sweaty feet that it is going to condense on the socks and boot materials before transpiring through a membrane layer that is trapped between other materials.

I used to backpack in wet cold weather wearing leather boots and wool socks (the only options back in the early 1970’s) and I would pull plastic bread bags over my socks before slipping my feet into the boots. It worked to keep my feet warm and only moderately damp from trapped sweat (my feet don’t sweat much anyway) and kept out cold water from stream crossings and wet slushy snow that soaked into the leather and through the bootlace holes and my gaiters. The modern GoreTex lined boots I have used for the past 30 years work pretty much the same and I still get slightly damp socks from sweating in warm weather, just as I always did with the garbage bags. Which pretty much proves to me that Goretex is wasted in footwear. It keep outside dampness from penetrating, but doesn’t allow sweat transpiration. So it might as well just be plastic. I have never consciously chosen boots lines with Goretex but so many include that “feature” that at least half the dozen or so pairs I have include it. They work no better than the ones that lack it,

Getting back to tents: In fact, some of the best tent designs ever for water shedding as well as keeping the inside of the tent dry were done by several companies who made double walled tents with NO waterproof coating at all during the backpacking boom of the 1970’s.

A finely woven fabric, stretched tight enough, sheds water because surface tension fills the tiny voids between the weave threads so the water hitting it flows off. Some will soak through but with normal rain that will generally not have enough pressure to create dripping. And with some fabrics which are absorbent, like traditional cotton and linen canvasses and even woven or felted wool, that were used for tents and shelters for millennia, the fibers swell when wet and block rain from leaking through. The walls and ceiling will be damp but will not drip on the inhabitants as long as it is pitched to drain.

Virtually no fabric umbrella is made of coated or waterproof material, right? But an umbrella still sheds rain and keeps you dry under it. Look at your own umbrellas if you don’t believe me. Same principle works with tents. The secret to a dry tent is a very tautly pitched canopy designed for runoff. Higher end tents achieve this with good precision catenary cut, well designed pole structure and material that won’t stretch or sag when wet. It is critical that the bias stretch of the fabric weave be oriented and sewn correctly in the catenary panels to avoid sagging. This is something often missed in cheap knock off tents.

My two Cannondale tents were constructed with two layers, both of uncoated ripstop Dacron, which were separated by attached connections to create an air gap of about 3 inches when the the tent was tightly set up. (The Early Winters Omnipotent was a similar design, but had a coated outer wall). Heavy rain would mostly run off the outside of the tent, just like it would a common umbrella, and what little soaked through would simply run down the inside of the fabric to the ground rather than dripping onto the inner wall.

Meanwhile the air space which went all the way to the ground so air could not circulate through it insulated the cool outside of the tent from the warmer humid inside where the people were respiring and perspiring so that their exhalations were less likely to condense on the inside wall of the tent but instead passed through both tent walls or condensed inside the outer wall, away from the inhabitants. Those were the only solid walled tents I ever used that did not develop frost on the inner walls during winter camping or sweat in warm wet weather. I weathered some monsoon like storms in both of those tents, and never had any leakage.