If you are interested in sheep-hunting or high country backpacking, then your tent may be the most important item you will ever own. Suffer through bad weather and your attention will quickly be drawn to the difference between low and high quality tents. Over the years, I’ve seen and heard about a number of tents badly damaged or destroyed by a sudden onset of Yukon weather in the alpine. Sometimes it’s because they simply weren’t set up properly, but lower quality to start with is the usual culprit.
A lower quality tent is fine for mild camping, but it simply cannot take the stress and strain of high country weather. The poles might flex and break or the seams may split. Either of these results will leave you in a true survival situation.
When shopping for a tent, decide the size and purpose of your ideal tent and then investigate them. Study the catalogues, go online to dealers and review specific tents and comments from owners. Speak to tent owners who have tents similar to what you are considering – everybody is happy to talk about their equipment.
Usually a 3-person backpackers’ tent is tight for three, but good for two. Increased size means increased weight and more money spent usually means less weight, whatever the capacity.
A tent needs to be simple, strong and quick to set up. Anything less is no good in severe weather conditions. Practice setting up your tent so you can do it in the dark because that happens.
Cheaper tents often have a lower number of folds or less stitching at the seams and the zippers and toggles are sometimes metal when they should be nylon or another synthetic material. Poles should be a constant diameter, lightweight, shock-corded aluminum as they are lighter and slip through the pole tubes or clips much more easily than the heavy, brittle, ferrule equipped fibreglass poles that come with lower priced tents.
Once you’ve bought your tent, be prepared to always peg it down. Tie a 10 to 12 inch shock-cord loop onto the peg loops to better allow the tent to work in the wind. Lay medium size rocks on the shock-cord loops to prevent the pegs pulling out and the tent blowing away. I have returned to camp more than once to find the other tent upside down and full of snow or a half-mile away on the alpine meadow.
Vestibules, which are like a covered porch for a tent, are essential for storing back-packs, boots and wet gear storage out of the weather and also out of the sleeping area. Vestibules do bring a slight increase in tent weight. However, when conditions require it, your back-pack stove can cook your simple meals inside the vestibule and some of that welcome heat will come into the tent.
Tents come in all shapes, sizes, prices and a tent selected for high country back-packing is one of the classic examples of, “You only get what you pay for.”