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There is no one perfect tent. I have a tent for climbing, one for backpacking, one for backpacking with the family, and one for car camping. Although, it is possible one tent can serve multiple activities. Recently, I have been car camping with the same tent as my family backpacking tent. Likewise, whenever possible, I carry my lighter backpacking tent on climbing trips vs. my heaver 4-season climbing tent.
Years ago, I had all these tents. Most were old rentals I got free and repaired into shape.
Required Features or Basic tips the retailer may not tell you:
- The rain fly must be full length, around the entire tent and preferably be able to stake out so the rain fly doesn’t touch the tent
- A three-season tent is just fine for winter camping if you are below tree line, out of the wind and are willing
to get out of your tent during heavy snowfalls to clear off the snow.
- Tent poles must be aluminum, never fiberglass.
doors is a beautiful thing, not saying it’s a must have…just nice.
- Almost everyone who buys a non-freestanding tent (one that
requires stakes to keep it upright) regrets it. They are great for a solo hiker who doesn’t spend much time in a tent.
Backpacking Tent: REI Half Dome 2 HC Tent
I’ve been using the Half Dome for a decade now while backpacking solo or with one companion. It’s basic but has all the required features above including good head room and light weight. I’ll even take it on most climbing trips unless I’m on a glacier or planning on ridge top camping. It’s just large enough for one other person and most of your gear will probably be outside under the vestibules.
Family Backpacking Tent: REI Half Dome 4 HC Tent
I use a now discontinued REI Taj which is a pound lighter than the Half Dome 4 but definitely not as roomy. It’s great for 2 adults and 2 small children. The Half Dome 4 can fit 4 adults because it is a true rectangle. This would be a better choice for 2 adults and 2 growing children. I also use this tent while car camping with the kids. Although bringing a huge family tent would be fun, it would take up more space in my car as well as limit my options if I decided to backpack to a camp instead of stay at the car.
The North Face VE-25
This is the tent I used on Mt. McKinley and Aconcagua. This tents performance was exceptional and was recommended to us by previous Denali climbers. Even after 2 expeditions, it was still in new condition. It is a heavy sucker so after I retired from the big mountains, I did sell it for the same “employee price” I bought it for.
Playing Chess inside the North Face VE-25 during a blizzard high on Denali