A Tent For All Seasons

In the seventies, deciding what gear to buy was easy. Choices were limited and the tent we bought often served all our needs. Remember the venerable The North Face VE-24? It was the tent on everyone's wish list. It was big and heavy, but we didn't care. We used it for everything, from cold, windswept alpine environments to hot, dry desert climes.

In the eighties, advances in technology and improvements in equipment design demanded we re-think our equipment needs. While we could lug that bomber 10 lb. expedition tent backpacking in the Sierras, it wasn't necessary. A lightweight three-season backpacking tent would better suit our needs, and maybe a four-season mountaineering tent for those trips above the tree-line. But for our general adventuring needs, wouldn't it be nice to have just one tent is lightweight, and flexible enough to be used in all conditions?

The nineties have spawned yet another breed of tents - the convertible. A convertible tent is essentially a three-season tent on steroids. What's great about them is that you don't have to carry more tent than you need. They usually have removable fabric panels that can be zipped-in for protection when the weather gets really nasty, or left at home to reduce weight and increase ventilation when traveling to balmier climes. Some have optional poles incorporated into their design. These tents are going to weigh a little more than a comparable three-season hoop design that you have to peg out. This is because they are also built for winter conditions - they are free-standing, for ease of setup, and have increased strength and headroom for sitting in on stormy, tent bound days. They offer more freedom on where you would like to set up camp, like that site high on that windswept ridge where the views just won't quit, so its worthwhile considering one of these tents even if you never plan on camping out in the winter. Take a look at some of the offerings from these Northern California tent manufacturers.

Sierra Designs probably developed the first true convertible tent about 8 years ago, and they've been active in developing this genre of tents. This innovative company has a number of convertibles and you would be spoiled for choice. Take a look at their Omega CD, with a 36 sq. ft rectangular floor, a high 44 1/2" ceiling and a weight of 7lbs 4ozs. The large panel on the roof unzips for ventilation and the third pole can be shortened to just a brow pole(with some included attachments) for some weight savings.

The North Face has a reputation for building some of the world's strongest tents, and for sticking with what works. The Nebula uses 3 full length poles that cross over the top and pole sleeves for more strength. However, threading the poles through the sleeves is a bit more of a hassle than using clips, and condensation can be more of a problem. The fly is attached by inserting the pole ends into grommets, lighter than, but more of a hassle than just clipping into plastic buckles. The large door almost opens up the entire side of the tent. The fly extends almost to ground level making it a sturdy, drum tight shelter. The floor is a rectangular 38 sq. ft and it weighs 7lb 12oz.

The Night View by Mountain Hardwear is a tent that you could take for the weekend rock-climbing in Joshua Tree but would not look out of place at Everest Base Camp. It is a 4-pole design that looks more like a scaled down 4-season tent than a beefed up 3-season one. Strip off the removable panels on roof and door to reveal, surprise, clear windows on the fly to the outside world! Paul Kramer, one of the founders of this new but already proven company, says that Mountain Hardwear developed this unique clear fabric and it is tough enough to outlast the life of the fly. The floor is a generous 40 sq. ft and weighs 7 lb. 8oz. The 4th pole and fabric panels can be left at home to reduce some weight, and the fly can be pitched with only the footprint (available separately) for a superlight shelter.

The next time you need a new tent, think about investing in one of these versatile shelters. It could be the last tent you buy.

About the Author

Kenneth Koh (hangten@pacific.net.sg is an airline pilot based in Singapore. He bikes, hikes and climbs. He writes and take photos in his free time, somet