Choosing a tent is getting difficult. For the Kenneth Watrous family, Las Vegas weather is not as big a factor as you might think. We always go out into the mountains or head North to Utah. Because we spend so much time outdoors, a good tent is an important part of our equipment.
Back in the day you really only had some different sizes of the standard green canvas army style tent. These were often cramped but generally warm. The other downside is that they were hard to keep dry if you didn’t have a lot of tree cover. They were also fairly heavy. On the plus side they were also really durable and could be used for years in rough terrain without being much of a problem. Even if they did break or rip the repairs were easy to do by stitching a patch of material over the area or just using a needle and thread to repair the seam outright. These are still good tents to pick up for children. A sharp stick and a bit of roughhousing will not end in a destroyed tent. But they aren’t much fun and they don’t breathe well if you are camping in the summer and in the desert.
The nylon and poly-whatever tents that are offered these days are certainly lighter, and better at keeping water off because they dry faster and the water tarps do a great job of whisking water to the sides. Coleman in particular has a huge assortment of different shapes, sizes, occupancies and so on. These tents tend to get damaged easily because the material is lightweight and not as resistant to cutting and tearing as a heavy canvas material would be. They are designed to keep out wind and weather and do a pretty good job of trapping heat. They also are built with panels that can usually be zipped in and out to let in more air but not bugs and can breathe that way. The material for the bottoms or floors is usually durable enough not to get destroyed by a few loose rocks but a root or sampling remnant will poke through after a day or two of use, so it is important to check the ground carefully before setting one up.
The sticks and bow frames can be difficult to put together and can also break if too much strain is placed on them, but they are reasonably good at holding the tension they are supposed to hold. They really only break when there is a lot of wind or when you try to put the thing together and get impatient and start forcing things. Probably the largest structural weakness in a Coleman tent is the loops that the frame is supposed to be threaded through. These can get clogged and snagged and when you have to maneuver through them they can tear off or get poked through. A little more give on those would make the tent shake a bit more, but would probably reduce the number of problems I see.
The bigger benefits of some of the larger tents is the idea of rooms. These start not only getting big enough to fully stand up in, but the different panels and rooms give the impression of a full on house. Setting up tents like this and putting the children toward the back is a good way to make sure they aren’t sneaking out but can be a problem for cleaning up and dealing with ‘accidents’. One of the things I like the most is a tent with a solid porch. These can be great for hanging outside of the tent and a campground and being able to interact with other campers but still have some shade and a sense of privacy.
On that note, a tent you can stand fully up in is great for doing some changing in the outdoors. Lying down and trying to get your pants on in a short tent is one of the most awkward things to do in the great outdoors.
When picking a tent, the bottom line is to find something that is going to give you enough space for your purposes. If you intend to do a lot of camping a pricey and more durable product is worth while. If you have children that want their own tents some of the cheaper units that can be replaced is a better way to go. The patching kits for the Coleman products are so-so in their usefulness and can cost as much as a whole cheap tent anyway. I’m usually more for conserving and reusing, but there is a point with kids that you just learn to know when to expect a problem instead of trying so hard to prevent the inevitable.