Memoirs of Camping and Tents
My earliest memory of a tent was when I was two or three years old. We were in the Rocky Mountains on another beloved family adventure. The fire, smokey and hot, was ringed in by several 10lb pieces of granite. It was wet as I recall, but not wet enough to force us to go home. The soil where we camped was dark and smelled of damp pines. I remember it being all over my hands. There were Coleman lanterns up, one in the tent and one outside over the kitchen panniers. It was getting dark; I was getting cold.
Tents. Tents were always representative of two things in my young mind, FUN and warmth. This night must have started that connection for me, one that would prove to stand the test of time. I was getting cold enough to stop my playing as the fire drew me closer. My mother collected me and told me it was time for my bath. I exclaimed to my mother the wonder at her statement, as there certainly was no bath in the woods. She told me everybody else had already had a bath and it was my turn now. Would I please come into the tent. Through chattering teeth, I obliged my mother's wishes. Our tent was a 4-foot canvas wall tent. I am guessing it was 12 or 14 feet in length .The ropes and stake holes were well worn. My father, a welder by trade, had made us a wood stove, which seemed to be constantly burning.www.robertsonenterprises.net?wref=nfutkqpy This night was no exception. I stepped out of the chilly air into a warm oasis of the glowing lantern. I was assaulted by the smell of 1000 campfires as my mother peeled off my very dirty, wet clothes. She sat me in a number one tub and poured warm water over me, wiping me down with a soapy rag: my first memorable bath in the woods. My teeth quit chattering and my worries melted away as I could hear preparations for s’more‘s being made. All was right in the world in that old tent.
A few years later at the same campground it was wet enough to stop the playing outside. I sat in the tent and listened to the sleet and snow from the late spring storm. It melted onto the hot stove from the hole where the stove pipe exits the tent, making sizzling and rhythmic splashes. A rope had been strung across the tent for drying clothes, however my socks had not merited such a place of honor. They were laid on the wood pile next to the stove. Once my socks started to dry, I could smell the end of their usefulness. Obviously I had put them a little too close to the fire. But, I was warm, and it was fun playing cards in the old tent with my siblings.
On this camping trip I crossed a threshold, the threshold of my being useful in setting up camp. This time I was assigned to take stakes from the bucket to my father and older brother, who were pounding them in the appropriate locations. I quickly got bored and was trying to scurry off into my wooded fairyland. Mother intercepted me, and I was told that I was old enough to stay and help set up camp. It needed to be done first. The work eventually ended, and I was quickly off playing. I came back to camp soaking wet to mothers' dismay. She changed me into dry warm clothes. An hour later I was back again, soaking wet and cold. My dear mother changed me again. After this happened a few times, I had no dry clothes left. Still wet, my older sister and I were drafted to dig a trench around the perimeter of the tent to divert the rainwater from entering. This job turned into an activity more closely related to “muddy puddles” than my mother would have liked. With no more dry clothes to put me in, she reluctantly put me in her own old purple down coat. Oh, I was so warm. Warm enough I could go play in the woods. She quickly found me and banned me from going outside till the following day. Trenching tents is now an art form I study. I was wet enough as a child in the mountains to realize that wet= cold.
Finding poles for wall tents, now this is also an art; I don’t study it though. I remember doing this once. I must have been about 7, but I was blessed with 3 older brothers and an older sister who took the brunt of our task. My Father had made ridge poles specific for that tent but they had been left behind. Finding new ones on the mountain was a little time consuming but the end result was satisfying. I remember feeling proud of our ingenuity.
That same summer we had a family reunion at the homestead. We had a lot of cousins that needed a place to stay. We set up the old reliable wall tent. I begged to sleep out in the tents with all the rest of the children and was granted a bed space there. Late that night a wicked Wyoming wind came up, and so did our tent. The ballooning tent eventually lifted the heavy ridge pole out of its notched posts and nearly laid it back down on my cousin's head. This has happened over the years on a few occasions, which was a catalyst to our new tent frame methodology... enter the brilliant fabricator Brian Robertson of Robertson enterprises. We finally got a new tent, 12x14 with five foot walls. aIt had so much space! It was amazing! Furthermore, Dad made an aluminum tent frame. We could set it up and move it around as much as we wanted before staking it down!!!! You can get placement JUST right. Also, the new tent had some buckles on the door as well as the other door ties. This meant the all-important warm factor of tents could continue in good tradition.
My girlfriends would often come over in the summer and we would go camping near our house. One time they offered to bring their tent,. My sister and I agreed. I was curious how they would work as they looked so cute and easy to set up. It was a family Colman tent. It had 2 rooms and that seemed quite fancy! Long story short, if you're looking for cute and easy, go for it. If you're looking for something durable, warm, roomy and lasting, wall tents are the way to go...and they are fun!
Now that I am older and will take my own children on grand adventures, there are a lot more things that I’m taking into consideration. The durability of the tent and my ability to keep that tent warm are top on my list. I do often consider and reflect on some of the experiences I’ve had with other types of tents. For example, when I was in high school and was able to start elk hunting with my father and brothers, I got to experience the hunting camp tent. It was an old army tent and took a small army to set up. However, our ability to function with the full kitchen and fireplace and cots was remarkable. We did have fully functioning wooden doors with windows. But no matter how comfortable it was, it was difficult to transport and hard to set up, which loses some of the appeal for me. Not to mention I am sure they cost a small fortune. It was however perfect for our large crowd.
I have also spent some time backpacking, so some of the smaller tents which are cute to carry have come into play. I can see the practicality of a cute to carry tent, but I feel like for my general purposes, I must stick with the canvas wall tent. There are many sizes and shapes to consider. There’s the Tipi or the Big Horn wall tent. The Reliable Glacier is a new fun way to go also. I feel like it has a lot to offer a family, with plenty of windows and an easy-to-use zipper door. Furthermore, it also boasts similar square footage as many of the other larger wall tents, yet it doesn’t need an excessively heavy metal frame to withstand the strong winds. I also admire its steep roofs that shed water, snow and ice well. I can set it up myself. I’ve done so on several occasions. My biggest complaint on the Reliable Glacier Tent is that setting up numerous sleeping areas in a pentagon shaped tent with a pole in the middle, can be challenging. I appreciate the waterproof floor, even though I have mastered the art of trenching. Another thing I like is the overhanging eaves to keep the heavy rain from soaking through the tent into whatever may be touching the walls.
Despite my love of a good canvas tent, I also dabble in what my mother calls bivouacking…. I refer to it as “roughing it”. This is the art of building small, impromptu shelters with stuff I have in the truck. There are strategies needed for this though, a lot of which I am still learning. So hopefully in a future post, we can delve into that fun world, so until next time friends….