Sunday, August 30, 2009

Desert Tidbits: Tents

As mentioned in our Desert Buddhists post, I reserve the right to toss in tidbits about the desert from time to time. Our topic for today is tents.

Now, for about the past five years, I have been spending more and more time in tents and gers. I enjoy this quite a bit, but there are limitations when it comes to the desert. You try to take an ordinary mountaineering tent out into the arid regions, and you will know what I am talking about.

In an attempt to address those limitations, I started to become interested in "high tech" tenting, and it actually reached the point where I was doing field evaluations for certain manufacturers.

The picture up top is of the first "high tech" tent I ever used, the now-discontinued MSR Wind 2. I had issues with it at the time, but in retrospect, it was actually not a bad tent. They made all sorts of claims for wind resistance with this tent when it was first introduced, rating it up to 90 mph, but above you see how it loads in a 15mph wind. I stayed in this tent in 60mph sustained winds, and it was way too noisy.

So, I started climbing the high-end tent ladder, and my next one was this Hilleberg Keron GT3. This is probably one of the finest tents in the world, but we absolutely killed it during the summer of 2007. We had it parked at altitude in the Mojave for about two months, and the UV radiation took it apart.

I shipped it back to the factory, where they graciously replaced it with a GT4. They told me the fabric engineers had to rethink everything from that point forward, because they had never seen ambient environmentally-caused damage of that severity before.

I liked this tent quite a bit, and I still use the GT4 -- I just don't leave it set up.

If you are going to the North Pole, you can take a Hilleberg with no worries, and many people have (South Pole, too). But, if you are going to the high deserts, you had better take along a large tarp to fly over the tent (either that, or just take it partially down and cover it when you're not inside).

Above is the Stephenson Warmlite tent, which I think might work out to be the best commercial grade desert tents in the business (as distinct from military grade, which is another matter). Hand-sewn in New Hampshire, no less! They have aluminum-coated inner liners, and can be ordered with huge side windows. You can open them up in the fashion of Berber tents, and let the breeze do its work, but at the same time, they are vented to perform in high heat with no wind. As to wind, they are rated to an incredible 160mph.

I also want to mention in passing the availability of new materials, such as Temptrol. I do not know any tenting manufacturer presently using this product for desert tents, but I think it is only a matter of time.

People often ask me about gers in the desert. You cannot count on a ger's outer covers to withstand the UV radiation any better than the space-age fabrics. You have to replace those about every six months, or they just rot off and blow away. Also, you have to distinguish between winter use and summer use. In winter, you want the felt, the heavy water liners, etc., but in summer, you want to be able to roll up the walls for ventilation. Now, when you roll up the walls, you leave plenty of room for the visitors who sound like lawn sprinklers:

Vipers usually don't like to tangle with humans, but every now and then you meet a young, dumb one, with something to prove. There are all sorts of ways to deal with that, but none of them are convenient when it is around dusk and you are taking a nap.

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2 reader comments:

Mama Mojo said...

did you spray the hilleberg with silicone spray? they're beautiful tents. next time we go camping i hope to get one. the tent from new hampsire looks promising. i wonder how it would do in rainy holland....

Editor said...

I wouldn't hesitate to use Hilleberg tents in Holland. Didn't Dr. Dolittle say something very much like that? "In Holland never Hesitate to use Hilleberg." No, I did not use silicone on it and I doubt it would've made much difference. I think this aluminum coating approach that Warmlite uses is the answer to UV damage at arid altitudes (like Ladakh, for example).