In Tents

Well, it’s been a while.  Hi there.  I’m still kickin’.  I bought a house, had jury duty, moved, was in a car accident, sold a house, and my dad died since I posted last.  So, yeah, I’ve been a little busy.

But it’s camping season!  Yay!  And I’m camping next weekend at Fort Ross, which is where a piece of my heart lives.  Even better, I’m doing it for work.  I love it when that happens.

It’s going to be tricky, though.  Despite my having neatly arranged my camping gear in my new, bigger garage, I can’t get to it.  It was so pretty, lined up there on the shelves.  I could see everything, and no crawling under a spider infested pool table would be necessary.  Sigh.  Now it has new windows piled up in front of it.  Starting next week, the garage will contain new bathroom and kitchen cabinets as well.  I wish I had a boat hook, so I could fish for it across all of that stuff.  Oh, well.  I’ll figure something out.

Anyway, tents!  I’ve had a few.  Before the move I had six.  Now I’m down to two.  And one’s out on loan at the moment.

My first tent was one my family bought for car camping when I was a teenager.  I appropriated it for Faire in 1989.  It was an early incarnation of a dome tent designed for four people, which engendered the cry “I have a four man tent!  I need four men!”  Thankfully, that never quite worked out.  Anyway, the tent…  It was a beast.  It took two people to set up and had a bajillion very long poles.  They went together like modern poles, but they were much heavier.  The poles went through sleeves all the way from side to side, then slid into pockets.  It took forever to get them through the sleeves, and they always came apart while inside.  It didn’t take me long to ditch that one, as I didn’t need that much space or irritation.

Tent number two was a cheapy from a big box sporting good store.  I think I bought sneakers on that same trip.  It was a square, supposedly two man tent, around 6’x6′.  The bag it came in was crap, and the tent never fit in it again after the first use.  I paid around $40- for it sometime around 1990 and used it until I replaced it in 2004.  Those were years when I camped a lot.  During the heavy Faire years I camped between 30 and 48 nights a year, and I did that for ten years.

It was too small for anyone but me to sleep anyway but at an angle.  Again, early dome tent, heavy for its size, poles went entirely through sleeves.  Not much mesh for ventilation, and the rain fly fitted right against the tent.  It was a sauna almost as soon as the sun came up, but if I took the rain fly off there was no privacy.  My sleeping pad at the time was a piece of egg crate foam that I cut to fit the floor and made a cover for out of cheap sheets.  Condensation inside was EPIC.  I once used it in a sudden, heavy downpour and the “bathtub” floor held water nicely.  EVERYTHING inside got wet.  But, still.  I only had it rain that once, and I used that tent until it disintegrated.  By the end it was decorated like a kid’s pair of hand-me-down jeans from the 1970s, with red patches cut into hearts and stars on the green tent.  It was cute, but totally shot.  I think I gave up when the poles split.

I camped more in that $40- crappy tent than I probably ever will in anything else.  I got more tent-nights out of it than I have with all of my other tents combined.  By the end the tent cost less than a penny a night.

In 1992 my soon-to-be husband and I built a Viking A-frame tent for using at Society for Creative Anachronism events.  He built the wooden bits, and I sewed the cover.  Never, never, never again.  I don’t make cloaks, and I don’t make tents.  The cutting and sewing had to be done on a living room floor cleared of furniture, with me on my knees because of the sheer size.  It was fun to camp in, but awkward to load, transport, set up, and get in and out of.  We used it less than half a dozen times.  I think my sweetie got rid of it earlier this year when we moved.  At least he told me he did, but I think I saw some of the poles in the new garage.  Hmm.  He might have just ditched the cover.

2004 rolled around, and I got my first job with State Parks.  I needed a tent, since work was 2 hours away and I could camp at work.  Off we went to Dom’s in Livermore.  They had a good selection of Eureka tents.  I wanted a two man, but the husband reasoned that a larger one would be better for the two of us.  We went with a 7×7′ tent.  I don’t remember the cost, but it was around $80-.  A steal!

Ah, Eureka tents, how I love thee.  Good cross ventilation, pockets where you want them, easy set-up, bags the tent actually fits in.  This was my first real, modern tent and was almost perfect.  The poles were lighter, and didn’t need to go through much sleeve.  There were hooks on the outside of the tent for part of the way.  The rainfly sat on top of the poles, providing ventilation and keeping the tent actually dry.  It was still heavy, but could be set up by one person.

The downside to this tent was that I was setting it up in 40 mile an hour winds on the coast by myself.  A tent in wind like that is pretty much a kite.  I was generally in uniform when I did this, and campers would set up chairs to watch the ranger lady set up her tent.  It was high entertainment.  I really wished for a smaller tent, but used what I had.  It was truly bigger than I needed.

In late July my husband asked what I wanted to do for our 11th anniversary.  I said I wanted to go camping!  Now that might seem obvious, but in ’04 not so much.  See, I camped so much between 1988 and 2000 that I was kind of over it for a while.  Aside from Faire and SCA events, we had only gone camping together for the heck of it once, when we first started dating.  We went to China Camp, and the new tent was perfect for that.

The following year I went back to Dom’s for a two man tent.  Again, I bought a Eureka one.  Easy to set up, good ventilation, plenty of interior pockets.  I used that one until it wore out, too.  In ten years I used the heck out of it, for work and for fun.  Nothing like the Faire years, but still a lot.  It even made a couple of backpacking trips, but at 8 pounds plus it was a beast.

When I got rid of it a few months ago, it was still useable in dry conditions.  The elastic on the interior pockets was shot.  On a trip last year I failed to fold and tuck the ground cover neatly, and an unexpected rain shower funneled water inside.  That was it for me, as I’d been stalking a lighter, newer two man for about five years.

As a part of my tent stalking and desire to backpack, Sonya handed over a backpacking tent whose poles needed the elastic replaced.  I bought elastic, but never got around to it.  Never even took the tent out of the bag.  Ah, well.

In 2013 I decided I wanted to go to Burning Man.  At first I planned on going alone, but my sweetie was excited about going and I agreed he could tag along.  (Heh.  He built some great stuff and made it much more fun!)  No way was I going to spend eight nights in a 7×7′ tent with another human being, even one I adore.  So, back to Dom’s for another Eureka tent.   This time we got a 9×9′.  It’s amazing how much difference in size that is.  For the burn I covered the mesh on the top with fabric to keep the dust out, and made use of the windows for ventilation.  The tent was great, but the ground cover was a complete piece of crap and didn’t survive set up once.  I threw it away when we got home.  It was similar thickness to a Ziplock freezer bag, but less sturdy.  We’ve used this one or two camping trips since, and it’s as easy to set up as the smaller tent and doesn’t weigh a whole lot more.

Two years ago the stalwart and astonishingly patient Bob and I went backpacking on Angel Island.  I need to do a write up of that trip for hilarity’s sake.  Bob saved my bacon, which seems to be a theme with our trips.  Anyway, I didn’t want to carry the unwieldy Eureka two man, so I rented an REI Half Dome 2.  Luckily I put it together in the house before we went, which frightened then amused the cats.  It was tricky, but when we were out there I knew how it went, so it only took a few minutes to put up.

The Half Dome is lightweight, easy to set up once you know how, has an integrated ground cover, pockets in the right places, and great ventilation.  Last November I was looking at backpacking tents again, as my birthday drew near.  I checked the REI site, and it was on sale for around $140-.  I had a coupon and store credit, and walked out with it for around $100-.  Wow!  A quality, lightweight tent for a great price.  I scored, I think.

I’ve only used it once, at Big Sur in November.  It rained off and on for the two nights, and I stayed perfectly dry.  There’s a vestibule created by the rain fly, so I could leave my shoes outside and they stayed dry.  The size of the tent is perfect for just me, but I’m sure it would be snug with the man along.

So, as of the beginning of April 2015 I owned:

  • A Viking A-frame
  • A Eureka 7×7′
  • A Eureka 9×9′
  • A Eureka 2-man
  • A 2-man tent of undetermined manufacture with worn-out poles
  • An REI Half-Dome

The 7×7′, old 2-man, and Sonya’s 2-man all went to a family that loves to camp, has a bunch of kids, and was short on tents.  Not sure about the A-frame.  I’m down to two very useable tents.  Whew!

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