Wuss Tents

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By: Wade Nolan Bowhunting Biologist

Next week I’m leaving for a 7 week trip to Alaska. It is my adventure fix for this year. We have many excursions planned. One aspect of this vacation has me a little concerned. I see that I’m becoming a wuss when it comes to camping. I used to do all of my adventuring out of a tent. Once I slept over 100 consecutive days across one year in a tent, while “seeing” America.

On this trip, some of the time we will be in a cozy cabin in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains. Other times we will be exploring the Kenai Peninsula via 30-foot heated motorhome. It is a new one and its fancier than most homes in the lower 48. It supports a beautiful kitchen with micro and fridge, two queen sized beds, hot shower, lazy boys and a couch plus wheels to travel all over Alaska.

Later on, I rented a lodge out in Prince William Sound and I’m taking 18 of my friends out there on a whale watching, kayaking trip. We will be in a beautiful private lodge. We’ll spend the time exploring fjords and glaciers in my Zodiac and add in some fishing. It is a cushy soft adventure, in a lodge.

At this kayaking lodge we were dry and pampered. A far cry from tenting.

The one thing that this trip doesn’t include is a tent. Tents actually offer the highest level of adventure, especially in Alaska. Tents cause you to always have a campfire. Campfires are a part of the experience. Then, there is the weather. It is either going to rain, raining or it just stopped raining. There is nothing like laying in a tent reading a book as the rain pours down. I love sleeping in a tent in the rain. Tents also usher you into a close relationship with the bears…the big ones.

Bears amp up any tenting experience. Although they don’t routinely drag people from tents and eat them…they can.

Tents offer adventure you miss in a cabin. Last summer my brother-in-law and his son were sleeping in a tent in Alaska when a brown bear tried to get into his truck bed to get some old halibut bait. The truck was 10 yards from the tent. It was exciting. Then there was the dozens of nights on Kodiak when I slept in a tent where there is roughly one brown bear per square mile, exciting.

One of my most memorable nights in the mountains occurred on a Dall sheep bowhunt in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains. We had camped at near 5000 feet just under a narrow pass. We’d found a level spot there and wedged in two tents between the rocks. We were up there with the sheep. That night an amazing storm blew in and the wind laced rain funneled over the pass above us.

The wind reached 72 mph and hit the tents from directly above. The top of the tent was occasionally slamming me in the face. The storm broke two of my tent poles. It was the most violent wind I’ve ever encountered. It sounded like a freight train was going over the pass just 400-feet above us all night long. We loaded the tents with boulders in the dark hoping to weigh them down enough to hold them in place.

Up in the arctic, your shelter is your only life-line. A waterproof tent may be the dividing line between life and death.

I recently kayaked over 300 miles of a river in Alaska’s western arctic. We were above the arctic circle for 16-days paddling a wild river. We had a great tent along and it served us well. As you know, shelter is one of the 4 basics it takes to survive. Food, water and fire are the ones that require planning but for a short time you can live without any of those three. Shelter on the other hand is paramount in the Arctic.

I own 4 tents. Three of them are among the best most reliable tents made. The cheapest one cost me just under $400 and two of them $1000+. Why such an investment in tents. It’s because I go to places with those tents where you next mistake can be your last. A tent that fails in heavy wind is a step closer to death. Other than being sturdy the one thing a tent must provide is protection from wet.

My campfire/camp spot on the farm. Everyone needs a campfire circle to pitch a tent in front of.

They all have rain fly’s waterproofed at the factory. I don’t rely on that waterproofing. I treat all of my tents with Silicone Water-Guard. I treat them every two years – except my cheap red car-camper tent that I treat every three years. This is the year for an updated Silicone Water-Guard treatment. My daughter and I slept out at the campfire on my farm last night and we used the red tent. It was a starry night and we awoke to sunshine. I loved it.

I test the waterproofing by spraying my tents with a spray bottle of water. If they bead you are good. If the water sheets and just coats the fabric it’s time for Silicone Waterguard.

This morning I tested the waterproofing I had applied three years ago with a spray bottle of H2O. It was still working like a champ. I love to see that water beading. That means the fabric is working. The micro-spaces between the beading is where the fabric can breathe. Same goes for your Gortex rain gear. You want to see that beading. Although I updated the tent this morning with Silicone Water-Guard I may not have needed to. I like to err on the side of dry.

It takes about two cans to treat a tent of this size. My big tent required 4 cans, but what a great investment.

Tents; I have a long history with this primitive shelter. Now that I think of it, I had better spend a few nights this summer in a tent, in the rain, with the bears, in Alaska. Otherwise, I’ll turn into one of those motorhome people and miss out on all of the fun. When those big bears are prowling around you just have to remember to zip the door closed really good.

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