Tent technology has made many significant advances in recent years. The highest end tentmakers have been able to maximize strength and comfort for a given weight, and drop pounds off of older models using new materials and designs. Four season tents are now in the same weight range that three season tents were a few years ago. With the increased use of high-tech fabrics like cuben fiber and spinnaker fabric, the evolution of shelter design will continue to evolve.
For some hunters, a double wall tent is the best choice for the environment. Tents designed for it can handle strong winds and sustained heavy weather above tree line better than any other shelter. They generally vent well, are available in a wide variety of conformations, and offer a sense of security that some users prefer. The following will examine three and four season tent offerings, discuss their range of use, and provide some considerations for choosing a shelter that best matches your hunting style.
Freestanding or Non-Freestanding
Freestanding tents, intuitively, stand alone with the poles in use, not requiring tension to keep the tent from collapsing. They range from offerings that require very little in the way of guying out or staking, to models that stand freely in theory, but are only useful when fully staked and/or guyed out. Freestanding tents are often (but not always) more stable in the wind and generally handle snow loads better than non-freestanding shelters. They also have the advantage of being able to fit onto smaller sites than their counterparts, though compared to single wall shelters they are still quite cumbersome in that regard.
Non-freestanding tents are generally lighter than the above. They gain much of their strength and stability from how they are pitched and guyed out, and therefore can take a few trips to get dialed in for your preferences. The best tunnel designs, like Hilleberg’s Nallo series, can shed wind and snow as well as nearly any freestanding shelter. They do require more space to pitch, which can be a consideration in rough terrain. Lightest designs use just one main pole, often in conjunction with very short end poles or trekking poles.
The tent body is generally rip-stop nylon of a given weight, with varying levels of mesh screen depending on its intended seasons of use. Obviously rip-stop nylon is less air permeable than screen, and can add significant warmth (more information on that below).
The fly is most commonly Kerlon (Hilleberg), silnylon, or polyurethane (PU) coated nylon Cordura. Kerlon is incredibly strong for its weight, and is one of the finest fly materials available. Nylon Cordura is also very strong, capable of handling both abrasion and the forces applied by gusting winds. Silicone impregnated nylon is strong for its weight, very light, and resistant to UV degradation. The standard weight is 1.3 oz./sq. yd, though other weights are available. It has a lower hydrostatic head than other fly and floor fabrics, and can “mist” under heavy precipitation. “Painting” the fly with a solution of one part McNett Silnet and five parts mineral spirits will solve the issue. Whether or not you treat your silnylon fly, the seams will likely need sealed by hand with Silnet.
Tent floors are often either PU coated Cordura or silnylon. Again, silnylon is preferred when weight savings are of the utmost importance and the floor will not have to endure sharp, uneven ground. It is susceptible to leakage from the pressure of kneeling or even sitting on it. It can be “painted” with a treatment of one part McNett Silnet and three parts mineral spirits to remedy the problem for very little weight. Cordura floors are tough enough to be used for years without a footprint if reasonable care is taken when choosing a site. PU coatings can be more susceptible to peeling, particularly those which are poor quality or exposed to a great deal of UV radiation.
Guylines, a few of which are usually included with a tent purchase, can be Spectra (aka Dyneema), a nylon weave, or even high strength fishing line. Climbing accessory cord (2mm or 3mm) from Mammut, Edelweiss, or others makes excellent guyline and can be purchased in most any length. Spectra usually has a stiffer hand than other options, making it a less attractive choice if using friction knots. Note that cord strength is often quoted in kN, which is equivalent to approximately 225 lbs. of force. Knots, bends, and saturation (depending on the material) can decrease cord strength, though it is rare for them to fail at or even slightly above their quoted rating.
The three and four season designation for tents has become a bit obsolete in some respects, but remains a common way to differentiate designs. Clearly there are hunting environments where a four season tent is the only reasonable option at any time of year. Others may find a three season tent or ultralight tarp more than enough to withstand any weather they may face. As four season tents have paired weight and three season tents and tarp shelters have improved, a fair amount of overlap can be found.
Three season tents are often well vented, light weight, and less expensive than four season shelters. There are several two person options available in the three pound range, and comfortable three person tents under four.
Four season tents are more stoutly constructed. They are often wedge shaped to cut high winds and shed snow. Well designed four season tents have venting options, but can hold the interior temperature ten to twenty degrees higher than the outside with two occupants. They may have larger vestibules for cooking and storing the gear required for enduring difficult hunting conditions.
Some tents use a hanging inner tent design where the fly (outer tent) is pitched with the poles, and the tent body is hung from that frame (see Hilleberg Nallo series). Most pitch with the body attached to the pole frame and the fly stretched over the top. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but each can create a different feel to the interior of the tent.
Poles and Stakes
Easton and DAC are the two most prominent tent pole manufacturers. Easton has historically used a more reliable hardening process and better anodizing, while DAC has a well refined extrusion process – both are high quality and unlikely to fail. Aluminum is most common and fairly lightweight, though carbon poles by Easton, Fibraplex and others are sometimes employed. Perhaps the biggest concerns with carbon poles are that they are rarely if ever field repairable, and they are quite expensive.
Carbon fiber stakes cannot be directly hammered; a needle stake is needed to make pilot holes for each. Aluminum stakes from Easton, MSR, and others are still very light and can take a beating. You can make your own stakes quite easily from aluminum arrow shaft stock.
- Putting guylines on all stakeout loops as well as guyout loops gives you a lot of options for securing a tent in high winds. In rocky terrain it allows the use of large rocks instead of stakes by looping the stone and using a friction knot to adjust the tension.
- Two doors and vestibules can be nice for organization and cooking, but of course they come at a weight cost. A single large vestibule can be nearly as beneficial.
- Be aware of manufacturer recommendations about cooking in your tent or vestibule and use your judgment in that regard.
- A footprint is often not a necessary piece of equipment. Choosing a non-abrasive tent site and clearing it before use will save your floor and the extra weight of a footprint. If it doubles as a meat tarp, or other useful item it may be worth it. Tyvek is very light, cheap, and works well as a footprint or ground cover in a floorless shelter.
- It is convenient to have a small pack towel to dry off items before bringing them into the tent, and to wipe condensation from the walls.