Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Choosing your Kayak Camping Tent

Veteran LIGHTWEIGHT backpackers/kayak campers, feel free to weigh in with your positive thoughts, knowledge in the comment section!

(2010 Cape Lookout Trip)

Points this review Ponders for Kayak Camping Tents:

1. Who is going to use it? You and someone else or just you?
2. Free standing vs. not free standing?
3. What to look for:
  Quality, Rain Worthiness, Weight
4. What kind of weather will you be using it in most of the time?

"Shelter is one of those things you only truly appreciate when you need it." Excerpt from Hiking and Backpacking by Karen Berger

I totally agree with Karen, there is nothing more cozy than relaxing in your tent on a rainy night while you remain dry and comfortable. On the flip side, there is nothing more miserable than trying to sleep in an ill-made tent that leaks not only from the ceiling onto your face, but water seeps (or courses) into your tent floor. Choosing a good tent is essential to not be in the latter circumstance!

1. Who is going to use the tent?
A one person tent is great when backpacking, however, when kayak camping we do have the advantage of carrying a little more weight than a backpacker. My personal feeling (and from polling many a lightweight camper whether backpacking or kayak camping) is that when kayak camping, a very lightweight, well-made two person tent is the way to go. Reasoning behind this? With a two person, you can easily fit your gear sans food of course, inside, keeping it dry and with you for convenience. Also, in the event of an emergency (one of your camp mates' tent is leaking like crazy) you can share if you have to, it will be a bit "snug" with two inside, but there is room. My two person lightweight tent has two "vestibules", one on each side which is very nice in the event I have to share. My tent mate doesn't have to crawl over me or vice versa to get out, we each have our own entrances, and the vestibule provides the perfect place to place our shoes, outside the tent. (But not in freezing weather)

2. Free standing gets my vote every time. Let me list the reasons. 
1.You can tent anywhere, even when the ground is so hard you cannot drive a stake into the ground (this occurs a lot in campgrounds where RV's pack down the gravel so hard.....by the way take extra tent stakes for all the ones you bend trying to get them into the ground). You can also pitch your tent on platforms common in swampy paddling environments with no problems. It's always good to stake your tent if you can, especially of course the rain fly. Speaking of the rain fly, you probably have found this out already but always stake your fly tightly away from the body of the tent, this is what keeps the rain flowing off the tent and condensation from forming inside the tent.
2.You can move your tent once it's pitched, just pick it up and move it.
3. When it's time to take it down, take the rain fly off and shake it upside down to get the debris out, saving you the backbreaking work of sweeping it with that maddening little broom and dustpan.
4. With freestanding tents you can share the weight with another person by splitting up the tent, stakes, poles, fly, etc.

3. What to look for:
    Quality, Rain Worthiness, Weight: The cheap tent from Wal-Mart is not going to keep you dry if you get anything more than a gentle sprinkle. When you are tempted to scrimp on a tent, imagine yourself inside your tent, late at night, exhausted, ready to sleep, when a howling wind comes up with pounding rain....your tent starts leaking and there is a river flowing through the bottom of it. Your sleeping bag is wet, your clothes are wet, YOU are wet, cold, miserable, and a bit angry! Is it worth it to buy a cheap tent? No it's not! Remember the Three Little Pigs Story? Don't be the cold, wet, homeless little pig that has to go around camp begging someone to let you inside their tent! LOL. Really, a cheap tent is about $40. A solid lighweight tent found on sale can be gotten at a "steal" for $120. I know, I got one! That's $80 of smartness on your part. A note about your footprint (ground cover), make sure if it doesn't come with your tent (usually does not), if they make one for your tent and it's a reasonable price, buy it! If you decide to make your own ground cover using a tarp or whatever, make sure you cut it to fit approximately one inch SMALLER than your tent base footprint...if it is wider/longer, even a few inches, it acts like a water conductor and will make a virtual river inside your tent because all the water will gather and flow like a channel on your ground cover. A groundcover/footprint is a must but it needs to be the right size. One advantage of buying the one that is made for your tent is that it has stake holes so you can stake it securely in place.

As far as weight, backpackers typcally look for tents in the 3-4 pound range. Yes, the entire tent, weighs that. We can be a little more flexible in weight. My two person lightweight tent weighs 5lbs. 8oz. and has been great for kayak camping. The equivilant to my two person tent in the one person version is 3lbs. 7oz. My rule of thumb for kayak camping tents is this, if it says one person, that means your body without most of your gear, if it says two person, it means one with your gear or two without gear, three person, means two people with gear etc.

4. What kind of weather will you mostly be using your tent most of the time? If you are in the southeast and camp mostly in the southeast and you only camp in spring, summer, fall IN LOWER ELEVATIONS, you are fine with a three season tent. They keep the bugs off of you, provide 10degrees warmth more than the outside temp (lovely in winter, not so lovely in summer), and are a good shelter. If you plan to camp in colder temps OR IN HIGHER ELEVATIONS in cooler climates (higher elevations have volatile and unpredictable weather), you will want a four season tent.

A few more points to ponder:

* As soon as you buy your tent, take it home and put it together completely to familiarize yourself with the set up process. The last thing you want to do is try to figure out your new tent when in the woods, in the dark, hungry and frustrated. Before a trip, repeat this process. You'll be glad you did.

*Never keep food in your tent. One word: CRITTERS. Okay, another word: BEARS. Never cook in your tent either, even if it's really cold. Another word: FIRE.

*Shake a wet tent before packing it. Air it out AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

*Avoid leaving a tent set up in direct sunlight as this weakens the fabric and waterproofing

*Never store your tent without air drying it first. Mildew is not your friend.

*When kayak camping, if you are part of a large group, know that you may not always be able to tent solo due to space. Space in the campground or camping area (lots of areas limit the number of tents per campsite), space in the vehicle if everyone is riding together, space in the boats if everyone is helping to carry items such as the communal kitchen, food, etc. Part of camping is being as positive as possible, and being willing to sacrifice from time to time for the betterment of the group. That said, if you ALWAYS plan to kayak camp with your spouse, BFF, or significant other, you may want to purchase a multiple person tent that you stay in together (2-3 person) to save space. Also, if you have camping friends and don't want to purchase a solo tent PLUS a multiple person tent for specific occasions, ask them if you can borrow theirs. But be sure to handle it with care and return it totally dry, clean and in great shape. If you absolutely MUST tent solo at all times,(not sure what situation this would be, I mean most of us SNORE like crazy and we are all flatulent at times, you really need to get over it! We are pooping in the woods people and not bathing for days on end.....if you snore THAT BADLY use Breath Rites and earplugs and if you poot that badly take some GAS-X), BUT if there is some condition that you absolutely cannot share a tent, then you may want to spend extra for a super lightweight solo tent so you are taking up less space.

I hope this helps you in your quest for a good kayak camping tent! Happy Hunting!
Jo Proia
"Kay-Yoga Jo"

 *Note, some information gleaned from Karen Berger's excellent book: "A Trailside Series, Hiking and Backpacking"


  1. A tip on screen material, get dacron which is finer and keeps the no-see-ums out.

  2. Good informative article. Not long ago I had to endure severe storms all night on Shackleford Banks with high winds and hail. I found that a 3 pole standalone tent stood up to those conditions much better than 2 pole tents. Consider the additional pole for extra durability.

  3. Yes,very educative.I got informed.thanks

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  7. what tent do you use or recommend?

  8. The new Sierra Designs tents are worth a look. I recently bought the Lightning UL which is only 3 pounds, has a huge front window with an awning I can leave open while raining. It also has the rain fly stitched into the tent so you can set it up really fast in the rain and it will stay dry. The vestibules are also on the side, so you can get to your outside gear within the tent without blocking the door. The only a couple of minor things I can say is the lower half over your legs is single layer so it tends to sweat a little in high humidity conditions, but it hasn't dripped. It is also not as long as other tents for a 6 foot 4 inch guy like me, but it doesn't really bother me.

  9. Great post, you can also do kayak in the Philippines. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post.

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  22. Amazing article i aslo saw a post about Selecting a Canopy
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