Choosing a Tent
By Annette Stout
A tent is my home away from home. How well it fits me and my needs for each motorcycle trip will color my memories and greatly impact my enjoyment of the trip. I’ve learned that a bad night in a tent easily turns into a bad day on the bike, and a bad day on the bike can quickly turn into an unsafe one. Choosing the right tent, sleeping bag, and pad allows me to start the day refreshed, alert, and capable of riding safely that day.
The best advice I have for finding the right tent is to attend a large camping rally and walk around interviewing people. I do this all the time, and appreciate the tribal wisdom bikers freely share. I want to know why they chose the gear they’re using, and if they would choose it again. What do they like about it and most importantly; why? (Their needs and preferences may be very different from mine.) What size and shape does it compact down to for travel? (I shoot for a 25” width on all packed gear as this will easily fit in the dry bag I attach to my rear seat, and 27” is my limit.) When camping on a bike, I may have to pitch the tent and take it down in the rain. This is a HUGE factor in my choice of tent and how I stow it. Just because I can crush a tent into a ziplock baggie doesn’t mean I want to. I usually stow tents in aftermarket bags that are bigger and easier to use. I can compress them with straps after they’re on the bike, so I don’t mess with getting them into a tight bag like a backpacker might.
How much does it weigh? This is still an important factor because weight distribution is crucial on a bike. My sleeping bag can match the size of my tent, but the weight is different and has to balance out. I want the heavier items low and close to the center of my bike for better balance. I adjust my pre-load and will often inflate my rear tire up a pound or two if I’m hauling heavy.
Does the tent have a full or partial fly? A fly keeps rain out and manages the air flow and moisture evaporation that can become a problem in single sided tents. Sleeping bags that retain body moisture or absorb tent wall dew drops won’t insulate you from the cold, and are hard to dry.
Is there a single or double opening in the tent and fly? In a tight tent, crawling over someone and doing the zipper dance gets old really quickly. Vestibule space is the covered area outside of your tent made by the fly that allows you to store gear under cover but not inside. I keep my big dry bag with my boots and armored pants and jacket there. Some tents’ fly create a vestibule on one side that you cannot exit from… good to know if you’re not camping solo.
What size is it compared to you, your sleeping pad and bag? In general, a tent for two is a single person tent with a little space inside for your clothes. You can sardine two people in who have the 20” wide, regular length sleeping pads, but this is geared toward hikers who need ultra-light, compact equipment. A three-person tent typically fits two people comfortably.
Can you sit or stand in it? Changing clothes is a big issue when the weather is hot, cold, or wet. This is the kind of challenge that can wear your attitude down fast, especially if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep or are dealing with rain.
I’m tall and my support member is 6’6”, so we use the large (25”x 77” v 20”x72”) sleeping pads, and use an LL Bean Mountain Light three-person tent. We can both fit in my Marmot Ajax 2, but there isn’t an inch to spare and all gear must remain outside. I prefer my Ajax 2 tent for solo camping, but have never used a one-person tent. If I’m going that route, I use a hammock with a bivy sack.
See page 18 for the complete article…