The desire for adequate shelter is damned near primordial, a holdover from the cave days, when warm, dry, and secure lodging was up there with food and fire on the priority list. On a paddling trip, a dependable, functional, and even luxurious tent ranks alongside a sweet boat and good company.
When a tent-door zipper blows out or the roof leaks, what seeps in, besides the elements, is a tendency toward desolation, a temptation to call the whole thing off, an instant sense of naked vulnerability. By the same token, shelter that stands up to a two-day downpour, shrugs off 40-mph gusts, and keeps no-see-ums where they belong is as reassuring as a really good cave must have been for the Neanderthals.
Paddlers need protection from the elements, sometimes for days at a stretch. A tent that is roomy, cheerful, and thoughtfully accessorized, while providing daylight and a view, is key.
While weight is an important consideration, your boat carries the load most of the time. Choosing a tent that adds a few ounces in return for “livability characteristics” is, in this case, a good bargain.
Each of the tents in this review fits the bill. A couple of them are a bit untraditional, and we cover the spectrum from beefy, expedition-style models to lightweight desert tents, but all of them offer solid protection, careful design, and strong overall quality.
MY CRITERIA (5-star rating system):
Ease of Setup: It’s best when one person can efficiently set up the tent alone. When conditions turn crappy, a tent that goes up quickly and without confusion is critical.
Stormworthiness: A carefully situated and properly secured tent worth its ripstop will withstand wind squalls, downpours, all-day drizzle, and the occasional howling blizzard without leaking, collapsing, or otherwise unraveling.
Livability: Being stormbound is much, much nicer in a tent that has adequate space, headroom, some daylight, a window to peer out of, storage/cooking vestibules, and easy entry.
Worthwhile Accessories: Some bells and whistles are just that, window dressing that only adds to the price tag. Some, however, truly make a tent sing when it comes to function. Mesh storage pockets, for example, or clothes-drying cords, glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls, sensible guy points, and stabilizing Velcro closures to secure the fly.
Durability: When you sink this kind of money into a piece of gear, you want it to last. More important, you want a tent that hangs in for the duration, not a shelter that gives out two weeks into a five-week expedition. Let’s scrutinize materials, zipper construction, stress points, and pole components, with an eye for weak spots.