The evolution of the art – tents

MyCivil war tent life with family, USA 1861 wife and I just got back from a camping trip in Death Valley National Park a few weeks ago.  During this trip, for the first time we used a new “Family Sized” doom tent.  The tent sleeps 6 people, is tall enough for me to stand up, came with a rain fly and outside vestibule.  The new tent certainly had it all, which also caused me to think back to all the tents I have used and known.

Pup Tents – The earliest and oldest tent I have used was a 1950’s era pup tent my father used in the Boy Scouts during the late 1950’s.  The tent was nothing more than a piece of green canvas, two polls, wooden stakes and some string.  The tent had no floors and no doors at either end.  I used this tent once when I was about 9 years old, in my back yard.  My dad helped me set it up in our backyard.  From what I remember, it took about  10 hours to set.  Most of this was watching my confused dad trying to remember how it was supposed to work.  As I recall several of the wooden stakes split in the touch enriched soil of our backyard lawn.   Once erected, and musty and the smell of mildew filled the air, but after a few hours it was aired out enough to crawl underneath.  There was only enough room for my sleeping bag, and the tent was just tall enough that I could crawl underneath looking much like a WW2 G.I. going underneath the barbed wire.

That night, I slept under the “stars” in Los Angeles, CA.  It was a mild fall evening as I recall, yet somehow my dads old pup tent managed to make it colder.  Now having any doors meant that our cat could wander in during the night and scare me, which he did.  I woke up early in the morning, went inside the house and finally got some sleep. I do not know whatever happened to this tent.  It was better than nothing, but just barely.

Family Tents –  During the late 70’s my family went camping a lot with my cousins.  I don’t recall the true “owner” of tent, but the group had a family style tent.  This thing was huge and seemed perfectly suited to host a sultan and his harem.  Anyways, this thing was a beast and required a troop of 6 to move it into place.  I know for a fact that when it was collapsed from the previous trip my mom and/or aunt would spend a hour sweeping out all the dust,dirt and grime brought in by four boys,  It always confused me that each time we setup the tent again, we unfolded it to a cloud of dust and it was dirty inside.

These were great tents if weight was no object, but I suspect that these tents would not do well in a breeze yet alone a windy night.  There was a complex exoskeleton of polls which could never be assembled unless you had a masters in engineering.  There was one large door, and a floor, which is a much needed feature over my dads pup tent.  I don’t remember any windows, but I do recall that unlike my dads pup tent which “cooled the air”, this tent always ran HOT.

Modern Pup Tent – Prior to a spot horse packing trip in the early 1980’s.  Dome tents had yet to come into their own.  My folks purchased two pup tents for the trip.  The modern version of the pup tent was constructed with rip stop nylon and did include a floor, short side walls, a closed off back along with a door and screen door.  The tent did not include any sort of rain fly, so my folks made one witch attach using a three inch standoff my dad built on his lathe.  This proved very important as during the trip we were deluged with rain.

Dome Tents – Dome tents have dominated the market since they were introduced to the market.  They range in size from small two man models to large family sized.  They may contain multiple rooms, vestibules and some have a small door to access an ice chest to gain access to a much needed beverage.  All in all they are the best of the best, strong, flexible and lightweight.

Many years ago I was camping with a boy scouts at the annual desert caravan, which was a large camp out with scouts from around southern CA.  There were probably 800 campers there that weekend.  The previous year high winds buffeted our campsite, and learning from the previous year I came prepared.  During the day I erected my dome tent which was about six feet tall.  Knowing the winds were coming, I ran a guy wire from each of the polls out 50 feet.  Whenever possible, I would tie it down to a sage bush.  So, I effectively had my tent anchored to the earth in a 50 foot radius all around.  A few of my friends made fun of me for my setup.

And then the winds came….

Throughout the night, the winds howled.  It was far, far worse than any previous year.  It was difficult to sleep with the sound of the wind buffeting the tent.  After a long and sleepless night, I emerged from my tent to discover the damage done by the winds that night.  It wipe out the camp, the entire dessert caravan.  Outhouses were lifted and thrown 100 feet, and broke car windshields.  Worst of all, every tent was broken, torn and shattered by the wind.  Tent poles were split, bowed and broken.  Every tent was wiped out…. except mine.