Advice for a novice

8:19 a.m. on June 6, 2006 (EDT)
7 reviewer rep
11 forum posts

I'm relatively new to the backcountry camping experience.I am wanting to purchase a tent, pack, and all the rest. As for the tent, I seem to be having the most trouble. I keep flip flopping between the MSR Fusion 2 and Sierra Designs Reverse Combi(though a couple North Face tents keep sneaking in ie, the Tadpole23, and Heron 23.) What I want, ideally, is a go-anywhere, do-everything all season convertible with the capability of pitching the fly with a footprint, and lightweight to boot! I've looked and the MSR seems the best aside from the fly pitching. Am I looking for too much in my home away from home? Does anyone have any pointers?

8:52 a.m. on June 6, 2006 (EDT)
7 reviewer rep
11 forum posts
Another note or two

I forgot to mention I need enough room for my fiancee and myself. We're both kind of short. She's 5'3 or 4 and I'm 5'8 or 9.

10:46 a.m. on June 6, 2006 (EDT)
2,329 reviewer rep
5,282 forum posts

hip said:
"...What I want, ideally, is a go-anywhere, do-everything all season convertible with the capability of pitching the fly with a footprint, and lightweight to boot! I've looked and the MSR seems the best aside from the fly pitching. Am I looking for too much in my home away from home?..."

Short answer - yes, you are demanding too much in a single tent. It's sort of like my ideal car - carrying capacity of an 18-wheeler, handling and speed of a Ferrari F-1, economy of a Prius, outside dimensions of a Mini (original, not the German imitation version), off-road capability of a Mog combined with one of the Baja-1000 or Dakar cars. Well, maybe not that extreme.

Best thing as a newbie is to decide what you are going to do in the next 2 years. It's likely to be more 3-season stuff. After getting a couple years experience (preferably fairly intensive, not just a couple overnighters here and there), decide in what direction you want to go. Do you want to add something for full-on winter conditions, high altitude, expedition-level mountaineering? Are you more inclined to explore desert areas (say, Baja), or someplace like the Smokies in summer, or the off-shore islands along the Gulf Coast? Or maybe through-hiking the AT, JMT, PCT? A tent for through-hiking should be very light and can provide minimal space, while one for expeditions should stand up to major blizzards and snow load and provide enough room to spend a week in waiting out storms (been both places and done that).

Some people (lots) will differ with me, but I do not think convertible tents are very satisfactory. Do-everything tools, tents, packs tend to do nothing well. Convertible tents are generally pretty heavy for their size and I have observed them not doing well in heavy thunderstorms and miserably in blizzards (I say "observed" because I haven't owned one, just watched other people suffering). They seem fine in good weather, but they are way too heavy for that compared to other tents of the same size. However, some people seem to love them, including some I have seen suffering in a heavy, gusty downpour.

You also should decide whether you want self-supporting or a tent that has to be pegged. But note - even "self-supporting" tents (domes, ones in your list, etc) must be staked and guyed. In fact, such tents if not staked fly extremely well in fairly light winds, sometimes even when you have your pack and you in them. All tents must be staked if there is any sort of breeze at all. You might consider Stephenson and Hilleberg tents for light weight, roominess, and a fairly wide range of seasons. Integral Designs does very high quality tents that are light as well and work well for a wide range of seasons.

Sierra Designs has a large selection of tents (too many choices, actually, but their website allows narrowing down) that are light for their purpose, fairly inexpensive for the quality level (but quality costs), and quite durable. I have a Clip Flashlight and had a Sleeve Flashlight for 10 years or so, both of which I used in everything from Death Valley in summer to some mild winter backpacking (they do let blowing snow in, but do well in storms). Lightweight, big enough for 2 friendly people. I also have their Meteor Light and Stretch Dome. The Stretch Dome is a 3-person expedition tent, good for full-on winter conditions, but a bit heavy for summer backpacking unless you have 3 people.

Tarp tents like Black Diamond's Megamid actually work quite well in most seasons. I have used mine in winter and summer - 3.5 pounds plus a ground cloth (just use a 3-mil plastic drop cloth). The one problem is that in bug season, the bugs get in. The solution is you can get a mesh liner that adds a couple pounds, which is still lighter than most light-weight 2-person tents. The Megamid (and similar tents from other manufacturers) can take 4 people comfortably and stands up well to storms - and remember, that's at 3.5 pounds.

Main thing is, think about what you really will be doing for the first couple years. You will almost definitely buy a second tent with different characteristics at that point anyway, so make the first one more suited to that early learning period.

11:07 a.m. on June 6, 2006 (EDT)

I have the original Tadpole. I think it's slightly smaller than the current Tadpole 23. Mine is definitely tight for two adults. It's really more of a 'skinny guy & his dog' kind of tent than it is a 2-person.

Aside from the possible lack of size, I *really* like my Tadpole. It is easy to setup/breakdown, offers a good combination of weather resistance/ventilation and is able to withstand incredible winds without collapsing.

Have you checked out the TarpTent? They look pretty sweet...

5:40 p.m. on June 7, 2006 (EDT)

Hello Hip. I think the tent you might be looking could be the Marmot Swallow or the Sierra Designs Omega. They have everything that you are looking for, but have a downside. They are heavy, but I know the SD Omega is a proven tent for bad conditions. Both will be about 2.0-3.0lbs heavier than the Reverse Combi or the North Face Heron and Tadpole. Like Bill S said, you are asking for too much. Most experienced people will have more than 1 tent if they go camping in different places. You still forgot to mention what kind of camping you will be doing. Dry areas like the Southwest, humid ones like in the South or rainy and wet like the Pacific Northwest?

August 27, 2014
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