How to Set Up a Tent, Or, The Miracle of Inside, Outside: PT 2

PART 2: A HISTORY OF TENTS WITH MODERN EXAMPLES

(for PART 1: An Introduction to Tents click here)

Tents were created, as most things in human history, out of necessity. Early man grew tired of lying exposed on boulders, free to be ravaged by the elements – particularly when the elements at that time included phlogiston1. He sought shelter in caves, but learned quickly that the shame of living like a bear, or their ancient cousins, the saber-toothed bear, was too great.

Lacking the advanced tools and mechanical abilities to hire a sub- contractor, early man then experimented with temporary shelters made from materials around him. Large rocks were effective at keeping out the elements but were also effective at crushing those under them. Piles of bear pelts2. were soft and did not crush but lacked the structural stiffness to make living under them pleasant. Branches solved some of these problems but provided absolutely no shelter and only the dumbest early men lived in a pile of branches.

Finally, a clever ancestor combined the three elements by erecting a branch frame, covering it with a bear pelt, and holding down the corners with rocks. This is a documented fact of history and the birth of the tent.

The modern tent has changed very little from the early tents of yore3. An advanced breathable waterproof nylon fabric is affixed to light carbon fiber or aluminum micro poles to form a stiff, weatherproof structure that is booth easy to maintain and portable. Just like a bear pelt and a branch. Many modern tents also include a ground cloth and fly to further insulate them from inclement weather and to give them a jaunty sporting air.

A good tent can be used in any climate, from the most sweltering jungles, to the coldest mountaintops, to the most temperate temperate zones. There are many good tents on the market and it is worth your time investing in a quality one.

THE TYPES OF TENTS

The A-Frame or ‘Boy Scout’ Tent

This is a classic tent familiar to anyone who has spent Halloween collecting money for UNICEF instead of collecting candy. This tent is in the classic A-frame design, meaning a triangular tent with an opening at one side. It is durable, easy to pack for even a boy, and has plenty of room for a comfortable night in the woods. For the adult outdoorsineer, the defining feature of this tent is that you stole it from a Boy Scout. In fact, the business about the A-Frame and the durability is of secondary importance. What matters is that it was stolen from a young boy, preferably in the woods.

Now, this theft is not as cruel as it sounds. How else will he learn if all that work on merit badges and wilderness survival was worth his time? In fact, some Boy Scout troops, recognizing the obvious benefits, encourage boy tent stealing. If you were a scout yourself, I am sure you recall with a great nostalgia the time a friendly woodsman ‘put you out’ so to speak. I remember well the night I spent clutching my Boy Scout knife and frantically blowing my emergency whistle while the crazed wild man hunted my troop mates one by one, stealing their tents and laughing as they fell, scattering them into the dark. Then came the silence, and the knowledge of being alone in the woods.

I survived three months in that ravine. I collected the survivors into a tribe and we built a new society. The adults were dead and good riddance. After all, they were the ones who had led us to a campsite where crazed a woodsman could attack us. Charlie was the best at knots and he created a series of sleeping platforms in the trees. Just in the nick of time, it turned out, as it were not but hours before the wolves found us.

How they howled trying to get up into our tree platforms.

Eric, who had finished the archery merit badge, brought down a deer. Drop Foot Jimmy field dressed it and we spitted it. That was the night of first meat. Drop Foot Jimmy got that name when Jon Michelson, who had earned the First Aid Merit Badge, cut off his foot and ‘dropped it’ down to the wolves to quite them. He had drawn the shortest straw.

That should be all you need to know about the Boy Scout Tent.

The Dome Tent

Many modern tents are of the Dome variety. Often lighter than A- frames and able to withstand harsher weather, the Dome tent is a structurally sound, safe and functional tent. Of course, it is undeniably girly. Maybe this does not bother you. Maybe you are comfortable in your sexuality. As comfortable as a girly caterpillar (you) in a girly cocoon (a dome tent), ready to turn into a girly butterfly (you again). In my experience, I have punched a whale, surfed a lava flow, and peed on an adult mountain lion to mark it as my own and I would not be caught dead in a Dome tent. Of course, this decision is completely up to you.

Pavilions

The Pavilion is a large tent often reserved for formal occasions. Not to be confused with its very different cousin, the Marquee. The Marquee is also a large tent often used at formal occasions and it could not be more different than the Pavilion. For instance, where the Pavilion tent came to prominence during the renaissance on the European continent the Marquee did too. Unlike the Marquee, which is historically constructed of canvass and held up with long wooden poles, the Pavilion is constructed identically. Also, while you will often see a Marquee adorned with pennants at its pinnacles, Pavilions are often, with similar frequency, adorned the same way. This distinction cannot be emphasized enough as one is a serviceable tent and the other is likewise.

For shelters you can make yourself, see PART 3: Shelters You Can Make Yourself.

  1. Thankfully in the late 18th century A.D. Lavoisier disproved the existence of the fire element by demonstrating mass conversion during combustion. Upon the conclusion of this experiment, all the world’s phlogiston disappeared in what is now known as “the great poof”. []
  2. Then as now bear pelts were very easy to obtain as bears, often forgetting they were not snakes, would kill themselves in an effort to shed their pelts. []
  3. And post-yore []
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