Tent for kayak trips and bicycle touring

My wife and I are looking for a tent to use for kayak trips and bicycle touring. Trips are likely to be a 2-4 days long, around the southeastern US, in mild weather. We would like a tent that pitches as-one (inner tent and fly pitched together), and is free-standing. Probably 3-person capacity, just for roominess. Two vestibules and two doors are preferable, but not essential. Lighter weight is of course always good, but is less of a priority, given our relatively short trips.

So far, we think the Marmot Nusku 3P, Vaude Space II, and Vaude Mark II seem promising, though we have not seen any in-person. All are 3-person tents, go up as-one, are freestanding, with 2 doors and 2 vestibules. We would appreciate comments and suggestions for other tents as well.

Thanks for your help!

You might also…
…check out Exped tents. I’ve never seen one in the wild but they look pretty interesting. And I second your idea of the attached rain fly.

I use a Hilleberg tent with an attached fly and have set it up in the rain with very good results. It’s a single and Hilleberg does offer doubles & triples but they probably don’t vent well enough for your application. Mine gets very warm in the summer.

exactly my thought
If price is not an issue, I agree with the Exped recommendation. I got a Venus II for a trip to Greenland last year. Fastest, easiest set up ever and I’ve got lots of experience pitching tents. Only issue, I was very cold at night because the fabric seemed light for the temps we experienced. If you’re not going to be camping in near freezing temps then this is the perfect tent. I’m not bringing it back to Greenland but I’m not selling it either, it’s a fantastic tent.

One note, it is a minimally freestanding tent…it stands up as needed while pitching the tent but really needs to be staked out with at least 4 stakes for a perfectly calm night but there are enough tie down points to make you feel secure in a hurricane. There are a few very informative videos on You Tube.


I don’t know about light weight tents
but on canoe trips in cold windy weather I have been very happy with Mountain Hardware Trango 3.1. It is NOT a warm weather tent (three season meaning winter, fall and spring only) and it is pretty heavy. But it is extremely well made, durable and solid in heavy wind. I have used in in the arctic and there have been times when I knew it was the only thing keeping me alive and I was very thankful for the excellent design and construction of the thing. Its probably not what you are looking for.

But in any tent one of the things I look for is a tent that is configured so that in a vertical rain you can leave a door open - or close to open - and not get wet. It just make for a much more pleasant experience in my experience. Many tents will not do this.

I have the Unna. It does pitch as one unit (fly and tent body). But I agree that it’s not the best hot-weather tent because the body is solid material, not the mostly-mesh so-called 3-season tents that you can find all over the place. I consider those to be summer tents with some late spring and early fall possible, depending on location.

Hillebergs are also not superlight, for the same reason. Warm, yes. But I’d choose something meshier for the southeastern U.S.

Questions; comments; suggestions
First, a couple of questions.

What exactly do you mean by “mild”? What temperature range? What months? Which states? Even the Northeast had temperatures in the 80s by March this year.

Why is setting up the tent as one unit important to you? To save time? Simplicity? There are many regular double-walled tents that go up in less than 3 minutes. Some have only two poles and a couple of stake-out points for simplicity.

Concerned about setting up in the rain? Difficult when you’re alone. Much easier with two people. In my opinion, there are other features that are more important than ease of setting up in the rain. And in several decades of camping I’ve only had to set up in the rain a couple of times.

The best experts (fanatics) on tents are found in the gear forum at Backpacker Magazine. See them at http://forums.backpacker.com/cgi-bin/forums/ikonboard.cgi?act=SF;f=832107219 They will be glad to help you.

For kayak camping, a roomy 3-person tent is the REI Taj 3: 50 sq ft, 7 lbs. 2 doors, 2 vestibules, lots of mesh for ventilation. Split between two kayaks, the weight and bulk would work.

More 3-person lightweight tents at REI: http://www.rei.com/search?cat=4500001_Tents+and+Shelters&jxSleeping+capacity=3-person&hist=cat%2C4500001_Tents+and+Shelters%3ATents+and+Shelters%5EjxSleeping+capacity%2C3-person

In my mind, a biking tent would be smaller than a kayaking tent.

I think European-style tents are made for cool, wet weather. They tend to be heavy and to have quite a bit less mesh than American tents. Sometimes the thickness of the waterproof coating on the fly and floor are overkill by American standards (like 5-10,000 instead of our 1500-3000).

What I notice about the Marmot Nusku 3:

–It is heavy, at 8 lbs

–The poles go through sleeves–more laborious than clipping the tent to the poles, and especially difficult to dismantle.

–A review gives the setup time as 5 minutes, which is actually longer than most regular tents

–The pole for the vestibule would take longer to set up than staking out the vestibule with 1 stake. Plus that pole adds unnecessarily to the tent’s weight. Also it would prevent you from wrapping the right side of the vestibule up over the tent on the many nights when you don’t need it and want easier entry and better ventilation.

–Photos and videos don’t show just the inner, so it’s hard to tell how much mesh it has.

–No reviews??

The Vaude Space II is also heavy at 8 lbs, but the vestibule staking is simpler. The Mark II is 8.4 lbs.

Your 3 choices all have 2 doors, but they’re located at opposite ends of the tent. Usually when we look for 2 doors, we mean side entry, so that people don’t have to disturb each other to exit. If you’re sleeping with your heads at the same end of the tent, having a door at each end doesn’t add much advantage, except ventilation.

It seems to me that wanting a tent with attached fly and body is bringing other problems into the equation. This is a purely American way of looking at at—Europeans don’t like American tents. But the climate of the Southeastern U.S. is very different from Europe. In the Southeastern U.S. there will be many nights when don’t need or want the fly, when the fly will only cause excessive heat. On those nights you would need to detach the fly from the tent. Seems like too much trouble.

Boy, have you been lucky…
…" And in several decades of camping I’ve only had to set up in the rain a couple of times."

I’ve not done that much camping but I’ve had to set up in all kinds of conditions and would only consider either a well-vented single wall or one with the attached fly.

I spent an extremely wet 24 hour period in my Hilleberg Soulo and it performed great. Had good luck with a couple of The North Face tents too but their expedition tent was a total pain to set up.

My Soulo has some nice tent-style duct tape which cover the claw holes made by the bear that wanted to try it out. That happened on the tent’s second day of use (and no, there was no food or any scented anything in it).

And I managed to lose a North Face tent on a river in the Yukon. I was setting it up and one heck of a blast came down from a ridge and the tent took off to never be seen again… stuff happens:)

Anyhow, hope you continue your good run with Mother Nature.

why that style?
I’m really curious as to why you want a pitch-as-one tent for your use? I’ve owned 11 different lightweight tents including two integral fly models. I would rate set up time roughly the same on both types, with the quickest setup time actually being the two piece tent I use now.

The sole advantage of the integral fly models was warmth plus wind and snow load shedding for winter camping which do not appear to be factors for your usage. The major drawbacks to the integrals has always been weight, bulk, less ventilation and difficulty drying the materials – all of these would appear (to me) to be downsides for Southeast regions bike touring and kayaking.

With a one piece tent you always have one large bulky component that can’t be split into two or more smaller packages, either to split amongst carriers or to stash in panniers or hatches handily. And the complex structure of those tents makes completely drying them difficult.

My experience camping in the Southeast (as recently as last month, in heavy rains in the Everglades) leads me to prefer a mesh roofed and walled tent with separate fly due to it’s superior ventilation and low condensation, not to mention extremely low weight and compact packing size and very quick drying.

I’m sure you have valid reasons for your preferences, but I am just throwing out my extensive experience with both types of tent.

REI and Big Agnus
brands are popular with paddlers. Both have lots of mesh which seems crucial for the hot and buggy southeast.

Separate fly sheets are nice for when you just need a bug shelter.

seperate & together
Some tents (like my Exped) allow you to pitch as a one piece or pitch the fly, then get inside and hang the body. This is a great option in the rain.

Revised priorities for tent
Thank you for your very helpful comments.

I had favored a tent that pitches as-one as this seemed simplest to set up, and would keep the inner tent dry if we encountered an unexpected rainstorm when making camp. Admittedly, the latter is probably not terribly likely, and I had not fully appreciated the price to be paid in weight and decreased ventilation. We plan to use the tent mainly in late spring, summer, and fall, when temperatures may be in the high 70’s, 80’s, or higher, and I’m sure we will need a well-ventilated, bug-proof tent.

I’m still would like to be able to pitch a dry tent even in a rainstorm, but perhaps the more practical solution would be a tent that can be set up fly-and-footprint first, followed by attaching the inner tent. I’ve been given to understand that many inner-first tents can be pitched this way, if necessary. I’ll pay a visit to REI to try this out.

Revised tent wish list:

3-person capacity

Capable of fly-first or inner-first pitching

Good ventilation, plenty of bug-proof mesh


Two side-entry doors

Two vestibules

Lighter weight

I’ll look into the REI and Big Agnes tents already mentioned, but more recommendations and ideas will be very welcome. The Mountain Hardwear Drifter 3 was also suggested. Any comments, or experience using it?

Thanks again for your helpful advice.

Mini-Bus 3
I have a North Face Mini-bus 3 that looks like a good fit for you. Easy to pitch, never set it up rain-fly first but it is possible. It comes with it’s own compression storage bag, with the tent in the bag it easily fits through an oval Valley hatch.


MSR Mutha Hubba…
Free-standing, great ventilation, strong, light…

Don’t get tent I mentioned above
Mountain Hardware Trango 3.1 is a terrific tent but NOT what you are looking for.

my 2 cents worth…
…your on the right track! 3-person tent= room for 2 ppl plus gear. the"vestibules" on some tents are a joke though, that means a place outside the tent for shoes so the spiders have someplace warm to sleep at night. Freestanding tents are a plus, you can pitch those on bare rock. 2 entrances isn’t gonna hurt either. Look for a full coverage rainfly instead of those 1/2’s or 3/4’s on some tents. the following link is offered for comparison reasons among tents. Google up " best backpacking tents" or a similar search phrase. there’s so many different tents out there it’s hard to pick one.Don’t forget a ground cloth or tarp either.


What is your budget?
Glad you’ve seen the light about the European-style tents. They really weren’t designed for the climate where you’re going to camp.

What is your budget for this tent?

Do you still feel that you want one tent for both biking and kayak camping? If so, you will need to focus on the bike tent, because it will need to be smaller and lighter than the luxury that kayak camping permits. I’m guessing that many kayaks can carry about 5 times the capacity of bike panniers. If you were doing these sports often it would be worth having 2 tents.

So, you need a backpacking tent. A 2P would work, but of course a 3P would be better.

The two deciding factors for the bike are weight and bulk. In a 3P backpacking tent, 7 lbs is good, 6 lbs is great, 8 lbs is heavy. Bulk means packed size, which includes the diameter of the bagged tent plus the length of the longest pole. Most tents of this size have poles at least 21" long. Some are up to 24". A typical diamter is about 6"-8".

SIZE: A typical 2P tent has 30 sq ft.—very cramped for 2. So you will be looking for 35-50 sq ft. Also check the height. 42" and over is fairly easy to enter and exit.


Weights below are “minimum” weights, which means body + fly + poles. Doesn’t include stakes and stuff sack, which usually add another half lb (called “packed weight”).

An award-winning 3P tent that is reliable and relatively cheap is the KELTY GUNNISON 3. 5lbs 14 oz 48 sq ft. $240. Biggest drawback: the 8x28 packed size. If you order directly from Kelty you can request a 20% discount (they offered me that yesterday when I called).

MARMOT LIMELIGHT 3P: 5 lbs 15 oz, 42.6 sq ft,packed size 8x22, $279 at REI (-20% coupon right now). 2011 $200 at Backcountry Edge. Note window in fly.

Here’s a large 2P to consider: the KELTY VISTA 2. 6 lbs 1 oz, 37 sq ft. It has a lot of headroom due to the steep sides and the poles across the top. You pay for that with 1 extra lb of weight compared to most 2P’s. There’s a Vista 3P, but it weighs 7 lbs 9 oz.

Another larger-than-average 2P is the REI HALF DOME 2 PLUS: 5 lbs 8 oz, 38 sq ft, packed size 7 x 21, $219.

Mesh vs Fabric body
In the South you need lots of mesh, for sure. But mesh has its drawbacks:

  1. Lack of privacy if you’re not using the fly

  2. It’s weaker than fabric

  3. It lets in wind-blown sand and dust

  4. It’s colder

    Personally I prefer about 50/50 mesh and fabric for those reasons. I like to have mesh at the bottom near my head for fresh air if possible.

I read the weather report :slight_smile:
I find you can usually outwait most rain and put up your tent when it stops. I’ve taken down a tent in the rain many times though.

Black Diamond Ahwahnee is perfect for what you’re looking for. Single wall so no fly, light weight, very open, but also strong 4 season tent. I spent a month kayaking the SE coast of Newfoundland and was super happy while my friends had much more trouble with NF tents.

A single-wall tent for the U.S. South?
No way. Maybe Newfoundland.