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Tents, Pads, and Sleeping Bags

posted Sep 28, 2009, 9:39 PM by cub leader
New campers,

A few people have asked me to recommend a tent. Here are a few examples and pointers. More experienced family campers, feel free to chip in with your own advice, too.

There are basically three kinds of tents: 1) tents that will fit on the wooden platforms at Bert Adams or Woodruff; 2) family (motel)-size tents, and 3) small light-weight backpacking tents. Don’t buy a backpacking tent; save that for when your son is a Boy Scout.

Don’t figure the size using the number of persons that the manufacturer tells you. For example, a 4-person tent will only fit 3 persons with a little bit of space left over for your things. It will fit 2 very comfortably. A 7-person tent is probably very comfortable for 2 adults and 3 kids.

The advantage of using a platform is that they are level with no bumps and there is no danger of rainwater running into your tent. The platforms are about 8 feet by 9 feet. If the tent is any bigger, it won’t fit. Even with an 8x9 foot tent, the poles may hang off the sides. That’s probably okay. That means that you will probably only be able to fit a 4-person tent on a platform. If you’ve been paying attention, that means that you probably shouldn’t plan on fitting two adults, a Scout, and a sibling with any room to spare. Platforms are good for one adult, a Scout, and maybe another sibling. [Experienced platform campers, chime in; the Larsens have never used a platform.]

Here are a couple Wal-Mart tents that are probably pretty good for a platform. (Wal-Mart isn’t the only place to go; you can buy a used one or find one on sale at any another store like Target or Dick’s Sporting Goods. If you just like to spend a lot, go to REI.) Here is an incredibly good buy at $30. There seem to be more complaints about moisture with this brand, but see the comment below. Also, there are no windows, so ventilation might be an issue if it’s warm.


Here is one at Target for $50.


Here is an 8x8 foot Eureka “4-person” tent for $100.


If you are bringing the whole family (which we highly encourage; it is so much fun watching your kids have fun!), you will probably want the motel-size tent. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a ton of money. Wal-Mart sells these two motel-size tents for $69 and $99.



You can stand up in the middle of the tent above if you’re about 6 foot or less. If you have a little more money, you’re tall, and you want to be able to walk around inside the tent, here is a bigger tent for $149:
But, maybe standing up is over-rated. Bring a small plastic stool to sit on while you’re putting your socks on. A rule of thumb is that the more poles a tent has, the longer it will take to set up. The tent above will probably take about 20 minutes to set up, whereas the 4-person tents will go up in 5 or 10 minutes.
Don’t feel that the tents I listed are the specific ones I recommend. They are just examples. Look for sales. Buy used. Look on CraigsList. We bought our mega-tent from Target on sale for about $110. The same tent would sell at Dick’s Sporting Goods for well over $200.
If you read the reviews, a number of people had trouble with water leaking through the seams with some brands. On the other hand, many didn’t, even with the same brand. Here is what one reviewer says about that:
Instructions with the tent recommend sealing the seams, which any smart camper would do anyway, regardless of the tent they buy. I sealed the seams 3 times, and sprayed it down twice with silicone spray before my trip. Just came back from camping with the family...2 days of rain, and constant 15-20 mph winds........We had a good time, but camping was a pain in the rain and wind. The one bright spot was the tent. It handled the wind well, and not a drop inside, which surprised me after reading a lot of reviews, and my own experience with the tent set-up at home prior to the trip, and prior to sealing seams. YOU MUST SEAL THE SEAMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its $4 a bottle, and takes an hour or 2. It’s well worth the effort considering the consequences.
I haven’t done that with our Coleman tent and never had a problem, but it couldn’t hurt, that’s for sure. Another issue is tent stakes. Here is another reviewer comment:
I know the stakes they provide with tents these days are usually puny, but these are incredibly puny. About a third the thickness of the provided stakes with our last tent. I bought plenty of new stakes to keep this puppy staked down.
Again, we have used the stakes that came with our tent. With the poles keeping it taut and all the extra stuff we bring put inside, there was no danger of it moving around. On the other hand, they sell better stakes at Wal-Mart, other sporting good stores, and Home Depot.
Erect your new tent in your back yard before you go camping. It is a lot easier to learn to do it in a friendly environment without feeling rushed (and hopefully in the daytime). You’ll verify you have all the parts you need. You can cut the ground cover to the right size, and you can put the seam sealer on at the same time.
Now a word about pads: Many people go with the blow-up air mattresses. If you use these, you will need an air pump. Make sure it is a battery-powered pump and that it is charged. Your car will be nowhere nearby, so you can’t use the power-point in your car. You will also need a patch kit.
We swear by the foam pads. Thick foam pads are light, don’t leak, and don’t bounce around when someone rolls over or bumps it. Air mattresses can also feel very cold if it is cold out. The foam pads keep the ground cold away. They are sold at Hodges Army Surplus, which is just South of the South Loop on Cobb Parkway. 2 or 3 inches is thick enough for an adult and 1 inch is good for a child. I’d advise getting the single width for tent floor arranging flexibility. These are not as cheap as you might think, but for the extra money they are worth it. They are light enough to carry backpacking, too, so they will serve your boy for many years.
Sleeping bags: I would buy as thin a sleeping bag as you can. It’s easier to get warm using extra old blankets or comforters than it is to get cooler if it is too warm. It’s not good to sweat if it is 50 degrees out and your bag is rated to 20 degrees. Sweating is bad when it is cold. Make sure you bring many extra blankets, though. At least once it has fallen below freezing at night when Pack 565 has camped. That’s a good thing, though. The boys earn the polar bear patch. Shocking to some: The air inside your tent is the same temperature as the air outside your tent. It’s your bag and the blankets that keep you warm.
If you have the right tent, the right pad, and the right sleeping bag and blankets, you’ll sleep well. A good sleep is probably the biggest key to a good time camping.
Finally, read the Camping Info, Rules, and List. It will help you get everything together that you’ll need for a safe comfortable fun and rewarding weekend.
I hope this helps.
See you camping!