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How to Choose a Climbing Tent

What factors to consider before shelling out for that oh-so-sweet portable shelter.

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Weight

Many climbers never leave the roadside camping areas, simply pitching their tents in a Park Service campground and heading off to the crag to recreate. In this case, weight is not a real concern. Choose a sturdy, roomy tent for your base camp/barista. If your aspirations include long approaches or mountain slogs, then weight is an issue. Determine what you need in regards to the other categories and then choose the lightest shelter that fulfills those needs. Above all, be honest with yourself—don’t over or underestimate your needs.

View tent weight with an eye of suspicion. One tent’s weight might include stakes, guylines and a ground tarp, while another model’s weight might be for the stripped down version. No one is being dishonest here, rather since there is no industry standard for measuring weight, companies are left to devise their individual systems.

Dimensions

This is probably the most important factor to consider when choosing a shelter. Most climbers don’t need a super-light, super-tight, state-of-the-art tent. Consider your primary objectives. If you mainly car camp, get a roomy tent. If you hit the trail for long approaches or sometimes tackle objectives that require packing a tent, then consider a trimmer, svelte model that will conserve weight. If you’re a mountaineer bent on alpine-style ascents of mega-peaks in Alaska, South America and/or Asia, then pick a light, compact model you can pitch on narrow platforms carved out of ridges or slopes.

In all cases, check the head clearance. Some tents are not as suitable for tall people. Shorter shelters might stand up better to whistling alpine winds, but there is nothing more torturous than waiting out a multi-day storm in a shelter in which you can’t sit up.

Vestibule

The vestibule, basically an extension of the rainfly or a floorless extension of the tent itself, acts as a combination mud-room and kitchen. Multi-person tents should have correspondingly larger vestibules.

3 or 4 Season

A four-season tent should be beefy enough to shed high winds and stand up under loads of snow. If you plan on camping in winter in the mountains, purchase a substantial four-season shelter. Conversely, hot climates require a more breathable tent, fitted generously with mosquito netting, both to keep the bugs out and to allow ventilation. Watch out for tents that are overly gauzy and insubstantial, however, and make sure your shelter is waterproof. Many warm areas—Mexico, Thailand, India, Southern U.S.—also sport summer and spring deluges that can soak the ground and blow through puny seams.

Single Wall

The main benefit of single wall tents is the simplicity of design. These tents are easier and faster to set up, aren’t as noisy in the wind, and are generally lighter than double wall tents. They are also bomber and make great winter shelters. On the downside, these puppies are more expensive than many double wall designs, and typically don’t breathe as well.

Double Wall

These tents offer removable flies that allow you to control temperature in fair weather, which is a boon for camping in hot climates. They are generally cheaper than single wall designs, but often heavier and take longer to pitch.


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