Choosing a tent

I have been paddling now for three years, I am now looking for my first Tent. This one will have to serve dual purposes. One , to set up at a campgrounds for two or three days to either camp or do some paddling from a base camp. The other would be to throw on the Kayak for an extended paddling trip. I am going to have to set a budget for no more than 300.00. I know there are quite a few out there in this price range , but getting feedback from owners of tents I find extremely helpful. Just attended my first Canoecopia in Madison,Wisconsin. Attended some very informative seminars, and bought some cold water paddling gear. Mike

Tent Basics…
A tent is listed as one, two, three man tent. This is for sleeping only. Get a two man tent if you wish to have room for gear inside, sleeping solo. A three man for two people, etc.

It’s nice in cooler climates to have a tent that you can add a vestibule to, if you need the extra climate protection, or to store muddy or wet gear outside the tent, yet out of the dew and rain.

When I lived in the north, I used a Eureka! Timberline for year 'round camping trips. They are still around, all these years later. Must be a reason.

I’m sure there are more modern designs with more head room, but it’s something you could consider.


We used a Timberline 4 for many years
and it had much to recommend it. The poles are simpler and easier to use than the super-long poles on our Kelty Vortex 4. The Timberline poles were more likely to bend in a severe blow, but could be bent back by hand. If one does not need super ventilation or super headroom, a Timberline is worth a look.

We just got back from a four nighter
We have a REI “Half Dome II Plus” and like it very much.

It is a nice small package and fits easy into my kayak compartment.

This is our third year with it and we used in on five day trips for the past two years.

It has a 4’-6" x 7’-^" foot print.

It has a round zipper door on each side that has never caught yet, (my kind of zipper !)

Take a look at it and it’s specs. I would buy the same thing again.

Jack L

I had a Timberline 2 person
tent for many years and it never let me down. Then it wore out. So I got a Halfdome 2 and it is also a fine tent. Both had plenty of room for me and the dog and weathered many a rainy stormy night. The small vestibules on the Halfdome are handy for wet stuff and a bit of gear but I don’t like not being able to see outside as easily. The Timberline went on lots of motorcycle adventures and a few BWCAW journeys. They are both good, inexpensive tents in my opinion.

if you

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tape out a tent's dimensions on the floor, place the stuff inside that rectangle and lay down in that area.

If you camp in the temperate zone's summers go for a screen equipped tent. Screen tents keep you outside, the reason for going right > and if needed a fly keeps you dry, maybe.

Wind ? If your area is CONSTANTLY WINDY at 15-20mph+ then practice guying or $pring for a 5 pole or more tent.

I have a second Kelty Gunnison 2 this time the Pro or Outfitters model. My 2012 ? Gunnison sports a screened top half. The fly when correctly guyed snugs down onto ground in a stiff wind. That is just excellent. Having seen that, I would expect all well designed tents capable of wind tunnel design performance.

Tents are repaired using nylon fabric and Red Weldwood.

Wax all zippers before and after heading out with the makers recommended lube. Brush zippers clean with a toothbrush or similar

Walmart sells $1 bottom painters plastic tarps. When impossibly crudded, like the next morning..throw into the used ground tarp bag then that evening breakout a fresh one

Over in the corner STOP SCREAMING !

Campmor sells tents at low costs and 12" tent pegs.

All tents need extra and extra length guy loops.
The Kelty's can use a middle extra loop for pegs and a couple here and there for flying out.

Visit Seattle Fabrics for supplies.

Solid wall tents are obsolete as are their users.

Avoid large groupings of solid wall tents.

Avoid all mesh tents
if you are in the North… It does get down to freezing in the summer and those mesh tents are refrigerators.

Also if you do buy a mesh tent be sure to have an extra panel of mesh and a sewing kit.

I prefer something inbetween like the Limelight by Marmot but in the fall you betcha we go to the non portage but warm solid wall Trango by Mountain Hardwear… Its a mountaineering tent.

Whatever you get make sure it has adequate guy line tie outs. The Timberline is sorely lacking in that department. Its for sheltered areas only.

I am a huge fan of eureka and marmot.

Are you solo? For the type of thing you’re doing, a lightweight two person tent might be the way to go. Still luxurious enough for base camping but compact enough for extended solo trips.

I have the marmot limelight two and have used that a lot both car camping and on paddling trips… never let me down. One of my paddling friends also has the eureka midori two person and its great. I also have the eureka spitfire solo that I use on backcountry trips too and its a great tent if you want to go minimalist for your extended trips- I’ve used it car camping too and its cramped but I really don’t mind it.

I have the eureka timberline but I only use that for big group paddling trips up here in ontario canada woodland, sheltered areas with a lot of tree cover. We’ll throw four people in that tent, two in my marmot and two in the eureka midori. Its not as storm proof as some of the other tents, but I still love it.

Kelty and Alps Mountaineering
You don’t mention the number of people so I’m assuming you camp alone. Best tents:

FOR PRICE AND QUALITY: Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 2. It can usually be found somewhere for $100. The quality is much better that that price would suggest. It has dozens of excellent reviews.

FOR INTERIOR SPACE and QUALITY: Kelty Trail Ridge 2 or 3. The Trail Ridge has a lot of head room and the square footage of the floor is generous. Very good quality (better than the Zephyr), excellent ventilation. For base camping with a car I would get the 3P (in fact I use the 4P for car camping). For SOT camping definitely the 2P. For a sit-in kayak probably the 2P unless you have very large hatches.

Whether you would be happy in a 2P for car camping depends on what you’re used to, but definitely the 3P is more pleasant if you have to spend a rainy day in your tent.

Mesh tents

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It's good to have several inches of fabric around the bottom to keep out wind-blown debris.

But I've camped close to zero in a mostly mesh tent (the Kelty Trail Ridge 2). I rely entirely on the sleeping bag and mattress for warmth. Even a mostly mesh tent does a good job of protecting you from the wind in the winter. The temperature inside the tent in the winter is about 10 degrees warmer than the outside.

These days the northeastern United States is blazing hot and humid all summer. You really need mostly mesh in that climate. I camp mostly in the spring and fall, with nighttime temperatures around 25 to 30. At that temperature I find a mesh tent with a correctly rated 20-degree down sleeping bag and insulated mattress wholly adequate.

I switched to using hammocks about 2 years ago. Unlikely to return to tents anytime soon. I’ve stayed out in my hammock with a tarp in temps well below freezing and so there should be no problem making this work with any weather you’d be out paddling in. Best part is you don’t need level ground.

I agree with Kayamedic -
My feeling is that if you are paddling only in the warm summer months a so called “three season” tent is fine. But if you are paddling/camping in the spring, fall or winter, a so called “winter tent” is best. Basically my feeling is that winter tents should really be thought of as three season tents (fall spring and winter) and the more common mesh wall tents should be thought of as “summer” tents. My perspective is based on the fact that I do my tripping in the North - mostly Maine and Canada. Mesh tents are way too cold for my taste except in the heat of summer and I rarely trip in the heat of summer.

6-degree difference
This reviewer found that a mesh tent raised the interior temperature by 6 degrees while a solid-fabric tent raised it 12 degrees:

So you’re gaining 6 extra degrees by transporting a heavier tent with inferior ventilation. I think a sleeping bag would do a better job of providing those 6 extra degrees of warmth if you need it.

Don’t forget that solid winter tents are made for dry conditions. In the other three seasons you need good condensation management.

“Spring” and “fall” don’t mean much by themselves. What’s important is the nighttime temperature and the ratings of your sleeping bag and mattress. In my experience a tent that is about 3/4 mesh is plenty adequate down to the temperatures that lake and river paddlers in the continental US are likely to paddle at, meaning about 25F.

If you can’t afford a separate winter tent for the few days of the year when you’re in winter temperatures, you should have no fear of using a three-season mesh tent.

There is a discontinued Alps Mountaineering tent, the Jagged Peak, that has zippable solid panels on the doors and end vents, providing adequate mesh in the summer and closing up completely in cold weather. You do pay a weight and bulk penalty for such a tent.

That has been my experience in northern New England from early April (as soon as the lakes thaw) through the middle of November. Ideal setup for kayak camping:

–Kelty Trail Ridge 2 or 3

–LL Bean rectangular 20F down sleeping bag

–Exped Synmat 7

–Helinox Cot One

Ahhhhhh…warm and comfortable.


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Since you aren't carrying it on your back I agree with the idea of going bigger. Two person if you're solo, three if there are two of you. You'll appreciate the extra room, especially on a rainy day.

For a two or more person tent I like double doors so you don't have to crawl over each other to get out. Double vestibiles are a bonus. Side entry is also easier to get in and out of than entries at the head.

REI makes some pretty good tents for the money. The Half Dome is a good choice.

And don't rule out hammocks. I bought a Warbonnet Blackbird 3 years ago and haven't spent a night in a tent since. So easy to set up, so comfortable. I've never slept better outdoors.

Mesh and Wind

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That's well and good, but when there's a good breeze, there's really no warmth at all provided by a mesh tent, so the temperature-difference comparison becomes greater. Also, even adding a candle lantern or two will boost the warmth factor of a closed tent, but won't do a thing with a mesh tent. Sure, your sleeping bag can make up the difference, but I find that to save bulk I'm often near the bottom end of my bag's comfort range as it is, so not having the cold night air constantly streaming through the tent helps a lot. And it's so nice to have a cozy environment within the tent itself when you go in there for various reasons besides sleeping, and when changing clothes.

I've never had a condensation problem in solid-wall tents. In those situations that encourage condensation, a tiny bit of venting is all it ever took to control it.

I have a mesh tent that I love in summer, but it's been a huge mistake sometimes to use it on river sandbars. If the wind blows, the inside of the tent will get pretty messy with blown sand, and in that situation the vents of a solid-wall tent are more than adequate.

As with everything else, no comparison that can be summed up in a few words closes the argument for all situations.


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"But I've camped close to zero in a mostly mesh tent (the Kelty Trail Ridge 2). I rely entirely on the sleeping bag and mattress for warmth. Even a mostly mesh tent does a good job of protecting you from the wind in the winter. The temperature inside the tent in the winter is about 10 degrees warmer than the outside."

I agree with this. I have slept in a Eureka Spitfire 1 in the teens and was in a Cabela's 8-man Alaskan Guide series tent on Wyoming hunting trip during a blizzard where outside temps went to -5*F. It's all about the sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and base layering.

I am a huge fan of Eureka tents and we just got a Taron 3 for kayak camping. As with all my tents, I use a lightweight poly tarp cut to the dimension's of the tent floor to protect the tent floor from the rough ground.

A tent for base camp and a kayak trip? That’s a pretty tall order. I use a canoe and Duluth packs so tent size and weight is not as big a deal as with a kayak. Yes, for one person use a 2 man and for 2 people a 3 man and 3 people a 4 man. I used a Eureka Apex 3 man and Eureka Mountain Pass 4 man for years. For a kayak I would assume that you need to consider the packed size of the tent more than the weight since I doubt you will be portaging. You can certainly get a nice tent for under $300 from the major manufactures. Pick out a model you like and can afford then check for sales online or at stores. I just picked up a 3 man Marmot Marmot Tungston ($249) for 30% off. For base camp I would also get r a small tarp to increase your living and storage space.

the fly

is a Kelty mesh tent’s solid wall…and a solid wall breathing with ventilation options unthinkable around a true solid wall tent esp. an A shaped wall tent.

So when you think mesh, think fly wall.

I have a year+ into a mesh Gunnison needing minor repairs to nylon and mesh. Nylon repair patching glued with Weldwood Red. No zipper damage with lubricated and toothbrush cleaned zippers. Repairing mesh lay mesh on nylon red coated strio, roll then roll out 2nd strip on your side n roll on. Repaired mesh no problem.

On the bag…bag ratings are known unknowns. 2 @$150 synthetic semimummy bags I’m using at 20 and 0 are not warm for an hour…or more. BUT ! adding a Campmor synthetic camp blanket liner…instant warmth. A super blankie for all seasons esp. the GNE.

The rainfly on a mesh tent provides considerable protection from wind, hence conserves warmth. The fly on many tents reaches to within a couple of inches of the ground. Clearly an all-mesh tent is warmer than no tent at all, proving that the fly provides warmth. In the summer the mesh itself keeps heat in (when you don’t want it) and the fly can be unbearably hot.

Hubba Hubba
Great tents