Let's Go Camping! In Tense Times You Need Tents

Tents in Iceland
credit: Tents in Iceland/ Lloyd Alter

My tent is in that photo, I think on the far right at the rear in the Icelandic fog on the Laugavegurinn trail. I had carried my little MEC tent on my backpack for the previous ten hours and almost got blown away setting it up (the stuff bag it came in did blow away, never to be seen again). Tents may be among the most minimal shelters one can have, but they are very sophisticated and provide a lot of protection.

credit: Waldseilgarten

But you don't have to suffer on the cold ground, you don't have to be alone, and you don't even have to own it. You can stay in a hanging portaledge tent in resorts like the Waldseilgarten, where you can hang out over the edge of a cliff or, if you are a little bit nervous about sleeping with a mile of air under you, there are trees.

credit: Caccoon

I tend to define a tent as a portable structure that can be put up and taken down as needed, but others think of it as any structure made out of tensile materials, held up with cables and poles. So under that definition, this Caccoon would be a tent. It does share some attributes with tents:

This 6-kilogram (13-pound) tree tent can be packed flat, but holds its shape thanks to its rust-proof aluminum ring. In any case, it's one of the least material-intensive tree tents we've seen thus far. The smallest Cacoon holds up to 220 pounds, the largest size can carry up to 440 pounds, and can be hung from a tree or from a tripod.
credit: Hanging Tent Company

In fact, our design writer Kim has shown a lot of hanging tents, like this one from the logically named Hanging Tent Company. It started as a thesis in design school as the Roomoon.

The Roomoon's strong and durable stainless steel frame is held rigid with push pins, and can collapse into an car-sized package for easy transport to wherever you need to camp. The handmade canvas cover protects the inhabitants, but has zippered openings that allow the Roomoon to become a cozy vantage point to watch the landscape.
credit: Sparks Architects

Here again, the question of what is a tent and what isn't comes up. I consider this to be a house with a tensile roof of the kind popularized by German engineer Frei Otto. But Kim writes about this building:

Tents have been a form of portable housing since nomadic humans figured out how to build, assemble and disassemble them, carrying these lightweight structures as a home-on-the-move, following their animals during seasonal migrations from pasture to pasture. No matter how settled we are, many of us still find delight in the freedom and lightness that the occasional tent-camping trip offers.
credit: Autonomous Tents

Here is another that is called a tent but that I think is pushing the envelope. This is a semi-permanent structure designed for "glamping."

Autonomous Tents are customizable and can come in two sizes: the 500- to 700-square-foot Cocoon and the 1,000-square-foot Tipi. Sadly, neither one is cheap -- a lot of the cost will apparently go to building the raised deck that these tents sit on. The Cocoon will cost around a hefty $100,000 USD, while the Tipi will ring in at $200,000.

credit: The TentLab Moonlight Tent

I'm sorry, THIS is a tent. But it is also unusual in that it is one of the few tents on the market not treated with flame retardants. Mike Cecot-Scherer of the TentLab pitched his tent to us recently, writing that his Moonlight tents were pretty much free of fire retardants -- no PBDEs and no fluorinated water repellency treatments (no PFOAs). PDBEs are endocrine disruptors and impair thyroid function. Mike tells us that these chemicals are not necessary.

Like all tents made with lightweight materials, the MoonLights are already quite fire safe. For starters (*ahem*), they're actually hard to set fire to in the first place. There are no fabric edges to light and if you do hold a flame against it until it burns, it self extinguishes almost the instant you take the flame away. There’s just not much fuel in lightweight fabrics. So the vast majority of backpacking tents made pose no fire danger to speak of AND NEVER HAVE.
credit: Thermo Tent

Another idea that I like is the Thermo Tent. I wrote about the idea:

Thousands of years ago, Mongolian sheep herders insulated their gers (AKA yurts) with felt made from sheeps' wool. Others were insulated with horsehair. People who actually lived in tents knew that if you want any kind of comfort, you want insulation. But tents today are just thin layers of high tech fabric that may keep the rain out and the bugs at a distance, and are freezing in cold weather and boiling in hot.

Derek O'Sullivan solves that problem, noting, "Although I loved to camp, something used to really annoy me about my various tents. Once the temperature dropped outside they immediately became like ice boxes inside. The opposite was also true." So he developed the Thermo Tent. You won't be backpacking with it at 108 pounds, but you will be warm as toast.

credit: Tentsile

On a lighter note, there is the four-person, 19-pound Tentsile tent that you set up among the trees.

Originally conceived as "treehouses that you can take anywhere," Tentsile's "tree tents" are an easy-to-deploy camping shelter that are far and above the coolest way to spend the night in the woods. These suspended tents are like conventional hammock tents on steroids, and if you've ever spent the night in one of those, you know that while they may be a convenient and lightweight option for sleeping among the trees, they're not exactly built for comfort.
credit: Hemiplanet

Tents are getting more and more sophisticated; this one from Heimplanet in Germany is inflatable and can be set up in a minute.

This polyester-nylon tent makes roughing it not so rough for up to three people (or 6 sitting) with a highly innovative pump system. This pump system means the tent pitches in less than a minute flat -- roll out, inflate, finished. The frame, inner tent, and flysheet are all included in that minute. Air is filled in five independent chambers

They show it in some pretty rough environments but I think I prefer poles.

credit: Sibling Nation

We have shown a lot of crazy tents over the years on TreeHugger; this is perhaps one of the strangest, from Australian architects Sibling Nation. they actually pull out of a pair of shoes. Not much of a tent, but not much weight to carry either.

The Walking-Shelter is a human shelter stored within a pair of sneakers. Stored compactly in integrated net pockets within the shoe, the shelter expands out and around the body to form an enclosure that relies on the human frame as a supporting structure. Walking Shelter by Sibling

Then there is my favorite, the multi-person party dress, which becomes "a music pavilion worn exclusively by five women seamlessly injecting architecture into fashion by using the body as space. Step inside the dress, taste a sweet cupcake, and enjoy an evening of chamber music."