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The Best Tent & What Makes It The Best!

Selecting A Great Tent.


The Most Important Part Of A Tent!

During a fishing trip to Montana a few years ago we plunked down three tents on the edge of a cliff overlooking a beautiful and narrow section of the Blackfoot River. The day had been a trip to remember but had slipped away quickly. Not noticing the storm clouds or paying attention to the weather forecast we enjoyed the campfire and hit the sack. Around 3 in the morning the winds started to bend the nylon and aluminum poles like fingers of a beast pressing down on a giant balloon. Moments later a rush of water more fierce than any experienced pounded us for nearly 30 minutes.

“When the rain begins to bend the nylon; most people instinctively pull the edges of my sleeping bag away from the sides of the tent and up off the floor. and it’s nice to know that you have a sleeping pad that is thick enough to make this an option.”


After The Storm

Come morning, when I stepped out of my tent I discovered a range of results: One large 6 person tent (from a box store) with a rain-fly that descended only about three-quarters of the way down the sides and had housed three people earlier in the night was still upright but full of water. The three that had been inside huddled in one of the vehicles, wet and cold. Next, to it, a nearly $500 brand name tent had not fared much better and the top of the rain-fly, between the aluminum framing, was pooled at least four gallons of water. It looked like a mini lake Baikal rising up in the air and we all were sure it would soon collapse the tent under the weight. The occupant of this tent was also quite wet.

“…And then there was the one I had slept in…a borrowed tent from one of the others that had decided to spend the night in the back of his Tacoma.”


And there our tent stood, as it had the night before when we set it up. And to everyone’s amazement, only a bit of the floor in the corner appeared wet (and when I say “a bit”, it was almost indiscernible). We had a good laugh but immediately I asked my friend who made this tent! He said it was Walrus.

On Return To Minneapolis

When I returned back to Minneapolis, Minnesota I went to our local outdoor store and asked about it and to my surprise (not confirmed) the sales person told me that REI purchased the company and was using their designs for their brand name tents. I was a little skeptical and checked out their three person tent (which is really a 2 person tent) and the framing and design was almost exactly the same configuration of the tent we had used.

In the end of my search, I purchased it and still have it to this day. It has been fantastic, from Alaska to the great North Shore of Minnesota, it has not leaked!

Why I Am Writing This Article

There are many aspects of a tent that make one or the other better and more expensive, to include; brand, size, and construction (three or four seasons). However, the what most people want from their tent is a good night sleep, even when it storms outside.


The Rain-Fly Makes All The Difference.

A Full-Length Fly — What covers your tent will make the difference between sitting around the campfire eating bacon and eggs or running lines to dry out your sleeping bag and pajamas. Simply make sure the rain-fly (this is the outside sheet that lays over the tent once assembled) drops all the way down to the ground on all sides and can be staked out away from the tent with lines and/or base-loop stakes. A good rain fly will provide a wonderful shell as well as a decent sized vestibule (the area that juts out near the entrance zippers for placing boots and shoes so they are still covered). If the rain fly does not go all the way to the ground, you will get water. Either it will blow under or it will drip from the fly onto the thin nylon sides and then into the edges of your tent and across the floor.

If you don’t want to spend the money, There is a Rustic Rain-Fly Option — If you are looking for an inexpensive tent that will serve the purpose, it will typically have a short rain-fly. (In fact, sometimes I still use a cheap box-store tent because I don’t like to throw things out and with a more expensive tent not every location and situation is best for it, especially when you think it could be ruined). In these situations simply make sure to purchase a tarp big enough to cover the entire tent when placed over it (Typically a 10’ x 12’ will do the trick for a three-person tent. Go larger for a family tent). In the summer it will heat up the tent considerably but if you can suspend it from a rope between nearby trees and hold it up off the tent by a foot or so it is even a better guarantee against getting wet than most rain-flies, and in the winter if adds some insulation. It does add a little more to carry and does not look as polished as some might desire, but everyone should try a little bit of jerry-rigging when on an adventure. It’s a lot of fun. (Just keep in mind not to buy the bright orange one for the sake of everyone involved – that would not be rustic… that would be redneck (smile)


Additional Notes To Consider When It Rains

Size — If you are looking for a two person tent buy a three-person tent. If a tent for the Family is what you need, consider the footprint size and step it off, but beware, with the added size most of these have very poorly designed rain-flies that do not run all the way to the ground on all sides or cover the entire footprint. We have some good options listed on the side that has taken good design into account and included a quality rain-fly (and are not much more expensive than some of the box store cabin tents), but if you already have one or prefer purchasing a cheaper one, make sure to have a correctly sized tarp and rope, or a dry space at the ready.

Sleeping Pads — Self inflating sleeping pads are nice but the type that allows you to blow them up and create 3 or 4 inches of space from the floor really help to protect against roots and small branches and rocks on the ground, as well as a bit of extra protection against any water leaks. Hiking and Camping stores have some fantastic options for this that roll up to almost nothing and often are made of tear-resistant material. I have two that have worked for me for years.

Footprints — Always add a footprint to your tent. I’ve always purchased a cheap tarp and cut it to the size of the tent floor, taking in a little bit more so it does not hang out collect any rain, but either way, sotre purchased or handmade, it is important to have ground protection between your nice tent floor and the dirt and rocks below.

Keep A Great Attitude — From experience, if just one person has a bad attitude during the trip, it can be dangerous if winter camping and ruin the rest of the trip no matter which season. Pick your group carefully and always take what comes. In the end, you will have a great story, and the more unexpected the trip becomes the better the story is in the end.

There are quite a few other characteristics to consider when purchasing a tent if you want to really get into the gear and watch some videos, but these are the big ones if you simply want to get a decent night sleep and have some fun no matter what the weather conditions those Great Lakes throw at you.



written by: C. J. Bartels
About the author: Chris has picked up red-striped golf balls at 4:30 am, flown helicopters over the sands of Iraq, and lifted cutbows from pristine waters of Montana with friends that are still friends. Currently, he spends much of his time looking down at the ground and turning over rocks, trying to find the next great story. Check out one of his books at