Tent and Sleeping Bag Guide
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1. Choosing the right style of tent: There are two basic categories of tents: ‘family’ and ‘backpacking’. The main difference between the two is that backpacking tents are smaller, lighter, and much more expensive, as they’re designed to be carried long distances, and set up in more extreme conditions than family tents. Family tents are normally bulkier and larger, and less expensive. This does not mean that family tents are not as good as backpacking tents; they’re just intended for different things. At the Cub Scout level, most people are doing family camping, but if you want to spend the extra money on a nice backpacking tent, you can use that too. Family tents are usually in the $40-$140 range, and weigh 7 to 20 pounds depending on the size. Backpacking tents are usually well over $100, and weigh less than 6 pounds. There are also different types of tents you can choose from, too: dome tents are the most popular, but there are A-frame (pup-tent) and tee-pee styles too. It comes down to personal preference on what style you choose. Note well: as with any purchase, you normally get what you pay for! Don’t expect a $40 tent purchased at a local sporting goods store to work as well, or last as long, as a better tent.
2. Choosing the right size tent and features: This is going to depend on how many people you want to have sleep in it. Remember that you’re normally going to want to store extra stuff in the tent, so if you’re going to have two people, a three-person tent works well. Features you can look into are ‘bathtub’ floors, aluminum poles instead of fiberglass, double doors, high-quality zippers, integrated bug-screening in the doors & doors, and storage pockets/bags inside the tent. Some tents have extension cord holes, or even 12V power connections inside the tent for nightlights, etc. Another thing to keep in mind is that the fewer poles the tent has, the better! If you’re going to be camping a lot, it might make sense to get a really good one you can depend on. I’m partial to Eureka tents, but there are a ton of good choices out there – check the reviews on Amazon, Campmor, and REI.
3. Choosing the right stakes: Not all tent stakes are made the same! The stakes that come with most family tents have a tendency to swivel at the worst time (during a storm), so I recommend buying some of the plastic stakes you can get at any sporting-goods store. For the ultimate in high-quality stakes, the MSR Groundhogs can’t be beat – they’re around $2/stake, but will never fail you.
4. Choosing the right supplies and accessories: There are some other things you’ll need: a ground-cloth that is slightly smaller than your tent (this is a MUST), a hammer or mallet to drive your stakes in, a camping broom and dustpan, a good flashlight for setting up camp at night, and some extra rope. A knife or multi-tool can come in handy sometimes too.
5. Setup your tent in your backyard, and check for leaks and problems: Before you go camping, familiarize yourself with how the tent is assembled, and check the zippers, poles, etc. It’s better to find out about any defects or missing parts before you’re at the camp site. Very important: spray it down well with a hose and check for leaks.
6. Waterproof that thing: Nothing has ruined more camping trips than rain on poorly sealed tents! I can’t stress this enough: seal your seams, even if the tent is ‘factory-tape-sealed’ – especially if you’ve identified a leak in your pre-camp setup. I seal my seams every couple of years. This might be considered overkill, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Coleman Seam Sealer does a good job.
7. Choosing the right tent site: Try to choose a high, shaded, flat area in the clear to set up your tent. Try not to be directly under trees if you can help it: they’ll drip rain-water at night and sap during the day. Avoid setting up on too much of a slope.
8. Prepare the tent site: Remove rocks and twigs that will create annoying bumps that you’ll feel all night. Do your best to level it out and pay attention to tree roots. Obviously, pick up any trash (bottle-caps, etc.) that will be both uncomfortable and potentially damage your equipment.
9. Lay down your ground-cloth: This is an essential part of setting up a tent – don’t overlook its importance! The ground-cloth not only protects the bottom of your tent from rocks and twigs, but keeps water from the ground getting your tent (and, later on, the things in the tent) wet. Your ground-cloth should be slightly smaller than your tent. If it’s too big, fold the excess under the tent; otherwise, the rain will collect on it where it overhangs, and you’ll end up with a wet tent, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid! Some tent makers sell ground-cloths designed for particular tents, but any good water-proof and suitably-sized tarp will do.
10. Setup your tent, including the rain fly: It doesn’t really matter which direction you face the door – some folks like facing East to catch the rising sun, others like to have it face the latrine/rest-rooms. I prefer to have the opening face downhill. If you’re on a small slope, I suggest setting up your sleeping bags so your head is at the highest point. Even if it looks like nice weather with no wind or rain, I recommend staking down the tent well – you don’t want your tent taking off with a good gust of wind. Also, angle your stakes away from the tent (technically, perpendicular to the line tension), instead of pointing them straight up: you’ll be less likely to have the stake work itself loose or have one of the guy-lines become unattached. Air mattresses or sleeping mats can help to make your night more comfortable (warmth as well as hard ground), but are not mandatory. If you’re absolutely sure it won’t rain, you can go without the rain fly, but note that it also helps to keep you warm.
11. Breaking down and storing your tent: The big thing to pay attention to here is not putting your tent away damp or dirty. If you’re breaking down after a rain, make sure to dry everything out completely before storing it; otherwise, mold could form and that will damage your tent. If you take care of your tent, it’ll last you a long time!
1. Choosing the right style of sleeping bag: As with tents, there are different sizes and styles to choose from. The main categories for sleeping bags are ‘family-camping’ and ‘backpacking’. Camping sleeping bags are built for comfort, and are usually rectangular, thicker, wider, and less expensive than backpacking sleeping bags. They can also have some nice features such as built-in pillows (see the next section). Camping sleeping bags are normally meant to be stored and transported “rolled-up”. Backpacking bags, on the other hand, are usually MUCH more expensive and lighter than camping bags, and are normally “mummy-style” to cut down on size and weight. They are also normally transported while “stuffed” into a stuff sack or compression bag to make it as small as possible. Due to their intent, backpacking bags are normally made with ultralight insulation materials like down or synthetic down. My recommendation: go with a camping sleeping bag for the type of camping you’ll be doing at the Cub Scout level. Invest in a backpacking sleeping bag if and when you need it – I don’t recommend the use of a backpacking sleeping bag, when a camping bag would suffice. You’ll spend too much money, and sacrifice comfort.
2. Choosing the right options for your sleeping bag: There are three main factors here to consider in choosing your new sleeping bag: temperature rating, size, and features. Temperature is normally pretty easy – figure out how low the temperature might get when you’re camping, and get a backpack with a lower rating than that. In other words, if you might camp in barely freezing (30 degree) weather, go with a sleeping bag rated for 20 degrees. You can always open your bag if it’s too hot, but sleeping in a too-thin sleeping bag on a cold night is no one’s idea of a good time. For size, this is going to depend on how big and tall you are, but think about getting a wider and longer bag than you might actually need, because it’s nice to be able to move around (and even change your clothes!) inside your warm sleeping bag. Features will include high-quality zippers, built-in pillows, water-resistant surfaces, accessory bags (for kids) that can hold portable games & MP3 players, and zippers that can turn two sleeping bags into one mammoth-sized one. It all comes down to personal preference but, as with tents, you usually get what you pay for! There are a lots of good choices out there – check the reviews on Amazon, Campmor, and REI. Coleman, Wenzel, and Eureka sleeping bags are normally good brands.
3. Choosing the right sleeping pad or mattress: For both comfort and warmth reasons, you want something between your sleeping bag and your tent’s floor. Mattresses are more comfortable, but are more difficult to set up (how many times have you lost power in your pump?), heavier & bulkier to carry, and more prone to issues like leaks & deflating. Additionally the larger air space inside a mattress will tend to convect head away from you – if it looks like being a cold night a pad will provide more insulation. Pads are much lighter, normally less expensive, and easier to transport. Some folks choose to sleep without any pad or mattress, which is fine if your back can take it, but note that the temperature ratings for sleeping bags normally assume a pad.
- A really nice two-person family tent: The Eureka Timberline 2 Adventure Two-Person tent
- The best camping stakes: MSR Groundhog Tent Stakes
- A great kid’s sleeping bag: Eureka 30 degree Grasshopper
Camping Supplies List
- Ground cloth
- Extra rope
- Mallet (for banging in stakes)
- Dust pan & broom for cleaning up
- Extra tarps
- Sleeping pad or air mattress (optional but highly recommended)
- Sleeping bags appropriate for the weather, pillows, etc.