Someone new to the world of camping will probably be confronted by myriad decisions and choices when it comes to gear selection.
While there are many items to consider in developing your own arsenal of camping equipment, consider the most critical piece of gear first -- the tent; the shelter that will your home outdoors.
A "tent" can be anything from the smallest bivy sack-type of sleeping envelope, to a massive, multi-roomed nylon structure. Typically, they are marketed by the number of campers that can sleep on the floor space provided. That's usually a conservative number that rarely allows much wiggle room. If you can afford the cost, size, and sometimes weight, of a larger tent, it's usually smart to select a tent that will accommodate one more camper than you anticipate.
Tent Prices Vary
The classic tent styles are still available and still made out of canvas (typically large, hunting camp tents). Most others are made out of a variety of nylon with futuristic frameworks and designs. As far as quality goes, a $50 discount special will probably not last as long as high-end models. Less expensive tents, however, are usually fine for casual weekend or occasional extended camping.
Specialty tents for mountain climbing or long-term encampments in extreme environments tend to have more durable fabric, stouter supports, etc., which can add to the cost. A better-made tent, regardless of cost, should have multiple stitching, stout zippers, reliable framing, and connectors. And good tent maintenance is important to making any tent last longer.
Other factors that will be make your tent stay much more comfortable are good bug screens on windows, cross/upper ventilation openings, a good tent fly (an outer shell over the actual tent), quality material that won't wear quickly, and a "tub" floor where the heavier, waterproof flooring material comes up the sides of the tent for a few inches to seal the bottom walls, too.
Some cheaper tents come with guylines that are too thin or weak to last very long. Since these support lines will take a lot of stress, make sure the tent you select has good quality material that is adequately attached to the tent -- and that the attachment point has been reinforced, too.
Some Prefer A High-Ceiling
Some people prefer high ceiling tents that allow its inhabitants to stand up inside. That's a lot of extra air to warm up when you are down on the floor sleeping. Consider a good tent, with a fly, that is high enough to sit and raise your arms for dressing and comfort. Think about a dining tarp or rain tarp in addition to your tent for shelter during the day or for activities out of the elements.
A vestibule on a tent is a very handy extension, particularly in wet regions. Consider it the tent's "porch." You can leave muddy boots outside, but they are still protected. Extra gear also can be stored there, and if you are a primitive camper, you can even cook meals in the vestibule using a small stove -- protected from the weather, but more or less outside your tent.
Today's choices include many freestanding tents, most with exterior frames for support. There are even some on the market that inflate -- long air tubes provide the structural support for the tent -- some with just the push of a button! Now, that's some easy camping!
Shop The Sportsman's Guide for a great selection of Tents!
Tom Watson is an award-winning writer who lived in Alaska for 16 years, 12 of which were on Kodiak Island. He is a frequent contributor to "Camping Life," "Canoe & Kayak" magazines, author of three books:" Sixty Hikes within Sixty Miles of Minneapolis," "Best Tent Camping-Minnesota," both by Menasha Ridge Press, and "How to Think Like a Survivor," by Creative Publishing International. He's also an avid kayaker, camper, naturalist, writer, and photographer residing in western Minnesota. He will write a weekly column on camping tips for sportsmansguide.com.