There are 3 categories of hikers. People who want to hike, people who want to camp, and people who want an even mix. I consider myself to be in the first group. I want to be on my feet. I want to be moving. I want to be seeing everything there is to see (and maybe swimming or chatting or whatever). At the end of the day however I need some place to sleep and it needs to be safe and comfortable. For others they want to stay in a palace and have all the comforts of home and in between camp might walk around a little. You must determine what your goals and philosophy are to appropriately chose the right shelter. I will obviously be writing from my perspective but if you differ from me then there are many other options.
As I said safety (from the elements) is the primary goal of your shelter. Really at the end of the day what that means is it will keep you dry in a worst case scenario. Warmth comes from other means and no thin layer of nylon is going to offer a great deal of warmth. A shelter can be anything from a small tarp to a large tent. A friend recently told me a story of his brother sleeping in falling snow in the mountains of Colorado by simply fashioning a lean-to and making a bed of pine needles. That being said the term ‘shelter’ is clearly very personal and very subjective.
Many ultralight backpackers will go with this simple tarp and the most utilitarian of the group will make use of of their poncho as a tarp. This is because the goal of the trip is to walk and sleeping is just a necessary activity and a tarp (the current rage is cuben fiber) can weigh as little as a just a few ounces. This obviously has limitations in a driving rain and choosing a camp site requires a great deal of planning to avoid water running under you. Also in the Midwest (and most places in the US really) bugs can be quite a nuisance so the tarp only concept (particularly for my wife) was not an option. You can of course add a bug net and increase the size of your tarp but at the end of the day you end up (in my opinion) not saving enough weight to lose the convenience of a tent.
The next step from here is a closed shelter, ie tent. There are about 1 million tent options so first and foremost I determined that weight would help me eliminate a huge percentage of them. I wanted something that could fit two people comfortably (which really means you need one rated for 3 people). I wanted a two piece tent (where the rain fly can be removed) since we often have hot, rain free evenings in the summer and the ability to allow for airflow was worth a slight weight penalty. I also really wanted two entries (so no one would have to climb over the other person to get out). Finally, I wanted large vestibules. A vestibule is the part of the tent that is outside of the sleeping space of the tent but under the ‘overhang’ this is useful for keeping things out of the tent that you want dry but not necessary in the tent with you (boots, backpacks, even dogs). Large is a subjective term but something I wanted to look at when choosing.
Without going into details of every tent I looked at (there were several good options) I will just fill you in on the one I chose. I found another cottage shop (as I did with my backpack I previously wrote about) called TarpTents. I prefer the work done by these sort of companies as they are niche in nature so usually looking to provide for a specific user/function rather then a one size fits all approach but also because of the craftsmanship and attention to detail. I am certainly no zealot about it but also chose to shop purchase American made products.
I decided to go with the Stratospire2. This tent had absolutely everything I was looking for in a tent (plus more). As for the weight it came in at just 40 ounces. I would have preferred it under 32 (just to say it was less then 2 pounds) but I am very comfortable with a 2.5 pound tent that can accommodate for 2-4 people!
It is dual entry with 2 very generous vestibules. It is a two piece design and the rain fly is of the highest quality. With the fly only (since it is a separate piece in itself) you could accommodate up to 4 people! The tent body is completely mesh so on nice evenings (with no threat of rain) the fly can be removed allowing for 100% air flow and 360 degree views, this is a feature I absolutely love.
This tent is designed to be a very roomy 2 person tent but with a quick modification the tub floor (which is a thick wall that comes up around 3 inches protecting from water coming in) can be lowered allowing for 3 people to sleep completely enclosed under the fly and in the tent. This was another great feature to me as I could see my entire family (2 small children) sleeping in this if we decided to deviate from the 16 pound large Kelty tent we normally car camp out of. The floor length is 86 inches which is fantastic in this weight class and being that I am 73 inches tall is ample for me and even my bag at/under my feet.
TarpTents states that it can be set up in under 2 minutes which is a high estimation as I could probably set it up in less than 60 seconds and while I have yet to need to set it up quickly that is a great option when hiking in inclement weather and needing to seek shelter quickly in a downpour. The design is frame-less so there are no poles for a frame. It is designed to be set up with trekking poles but I went ahead and purchased the poles that go with it since I am not sure I will always want to be out with trekking poles.
The negative side of this tent is it’s price (very competitive for the market but by far more then I ever expected to pay for a tent). In a turn of events that should surprise no one that knows me I have actually started to look into hammock camping (more to come on that) and am going to be leaving the tent at home this Spring. That said this tent is amazing and I highly recommend it. I have considered selling it if my hammock experiment goes well but it’s nice to have a good tent in my gear closet and while I am confident I will enjoy the hammock I am not so sure my kids will.
Rain Fly Removed and Floor Tub Lowered
Floor Tub Lowered
Rain Fly Only
Rain Fly Completely Closed