03 March 2010

GEAR: light shelters

When I talk about outdoor activities I usually mean more than a few hours away from the comforts of home.
If I venture into areas not overrun with people and buildings chances are that it takes more than a day to get there and consequently I need to camp.
Camping brings an elevated sense of adventure to my outings.
While most outdoor pursuits might end at sundown (or way before) when I camp I extend my recreation.
Sleeping outside away from the mundane predictability and security of 4 walls is something that I cherished since very young.
Unfortunately my parents were not that keen on camping. Spending summer holidays in a caravan was not what I call camping either.
Good camping in my book is something that is usually found away from buildings, vehicles, fences and signs; a location that is not man made.
Reaching those places however involves walking, skiing or kayaking and therefore my gear selection is compact and light.
No other item symbolises camping more than a compact tent even though not always essential, in my outing (more on that later).
I love venturing to locations that are off the beaten track, literally.
My ideal campsite would be where there is no sign of previous human visitation.
That often involves remote locations that are regarded not "ideal" places to camp.
You will find me looking for a spot for the night on top of mountain ridges where my goal is having the endless view.
When I am kayaking I search for an elevated spot along the shore so I can spend the evening hours just taking in the distant scenery.
Those spots are often exposed and occasionally windy. Having a decent shelter is sometimes essential.
Looking rather stormy (c)
campsite below Mt Twynam, Mt Kosciusko National Park
My tents are always selected on two major factors: sturdy and light.
I dislike a tent that is going to keep me up at night if the wind picks up.
I want the peace of mind knowing that it will stand up in high winds.
Large tents usually don't offer that; they are just too big and act like a sail where the wind can easily push them to the ground or rip them apart.
Strong tents, if inexpensive, unfortunately are heavy.
After years of being a devoted user of Macpac tents for extreme conditions I finally found a better tent that is also lighter: Hilleberg.
Designed in Sweden, manufactured in Estonia a tent from Hilleberg will deliver better performance than any other tent I have owned (I lost count how many) and still be the lightest around.
The tent pictured below weights a mere 900gr.!
Snowgum camp (c)
Being a modular system I can leave the inner part behind and use only the poles and fly. In conditions where bugs are not too thick it is the ultimate shelter for windy places. The complete tent weights just 1.9 Kg. (4 lbs 3 oz)!
Not being a freestanding tent it does not mean it can not be pitched on a slab of rock. I use a couple of little boulders to string out the ends.
Hilleberg on Mallee Ridge (C)

Make no mistake: light is not always good, especially if cheap.
A badly designed tent will flap in the wind and occasionally let go. Cheap poles will snap leaving the occupant a bit panicky :-)
Windy camp
this little tent not coping well with the wind
My trips don't always take me to cold and windy places. I often camp in areas where my main concern is having a haven from biting insects or pouring rain in tropical conditions. On those trips I choose my 3 person tent that consists of a body made from mosquito mesh and a waterproof fly.
While it will stand up to decent winds it won't hold a candle to the Hilleberg in 80 Km/h winds.
In the REI Quarter Dome T3 I have enough space for 2 and plenty of wiggle room. There is no need for a small tent in tropical conditions; staying cool is more of a worry than staying warm.
I use a lightweight tarp over the tent to keep the rain out; it offers outstanding ventilation at the same time.

If the conditions are windy then the tent fly will keep me more comfortable.
At 2.2 Kg is one of the lightest summer tents that I can find that offers that much room, and substantially cheaper than the Hilleberg offerings.

REI Quarter Dome T3
When the buggy conditions are not present I select a tent that is just a bit more than a shaped tarp: the Black Diamond Megamid.
Circus at sunset (c)
campsite at 11.000 ft in the High Sierra (USA) using Black Diamond Megalight
At 1.05 Kg this is probably the lightest shelter solution for 4 that can take the weather. If buggy conditions are predicted an inner mosquito net is available however it adds a fair bit of weight.
I have modified mine and added just a "skirt" of no-see-ums netting at the base and one entrance panel. While it doesn't have a floor (separate extra) it can still keep the bighties at bay and I added only 120 gr to my tepee.
When I plan to camp in areas of low wind and when bugs a re not a threat I simply use a siliconized nylon tarp.
Two of us have happily slept in heavy downpours under that tarp.
Girraween APR10_snowgum camp (c)
Nothing beats 365 gr for a tarp of generous dimensions (290cmx320cm).
On trips where weight counts (backpacking) the tarp can make a real difference on your shoulders.
I can configure that tarp to make it into a tepee as well and shelter myself from adverse elements (rain).
It does take a bit of ingenuity and a bit longer set up but a tarp is still my preferred shelter when conditions allow it (no bugs).

1Lt Nalgene bottle, the silnylon tarp and the REI Quarter Dome T3 tent
Last but not least is the "commando" shelter: none.
I have slept a few night outside despite having a tent in my pack.
Nothing beats that feeling of being very close to nature where literally there is nothing between you and the night, just your sleeping bag.

winter camping in the Australian Alps

1 comment:

  1. I am with you on Hilleberg. I've got the Allak, and it is for sure the best tent I ever had. Perfect for paddeling. Fully self supporting, very well ventilated, but it can also be fully zipped up and can take a punch. Love it.
    I don't like inner tents made completely by mesh. Camping on a beach and stong wind results in a sandstorm inside. Had that with a Hubba Hubba twice. If Hubba Hubba, HP is the go. Good tent though.


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