Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents

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GEAR TALK: Eight Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents | nwtripfinder.com

Summer is around the corner and I can almost taste the mountain huckleberries. And that means camping season is around the corner, too.

Have you pitched a tent in the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest yet this year? We recently checked in with folks who have — all of them avid explorers of the great outdoors — to ask what tent they’re camping in this summer. Here’s what they had to say.

Want to buy one of these tents? Scroll all the way down for our buyer’s guide.


How to Choose a Camping Tent that will Last


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Craig Romano

Craig is a hiking guidebook author, outdoor writer and runs the website Hike of the Week. Craig’s latest book is Day Hiking: Eastern Washington. He is currently in research mode for the upcoming Day Hiking San Juan and Gulf Islands. You can follow him on Facebook.


Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents | nwtripfinder.com

LB: What tent are you pitching this summer?

Craig Romano: I’m still using my 1992 model The North Face Tadpole. It’s a North Face and they are built to last. What I like about this tent is that it’s very easy to put up and its thin design makes it a good choice for camping in areas where large flat spaces may be tough to find. The tent keeps me warm and dry. I also like that I roll up the tent with the poles — there’s no need to separate them.

LB: I used to have a Tadpole. I loved it. Any negatives about the tent in your experience?

Craig Romano: While it is touted as a 2-person, it’s snug with 2 people and you’ll need to put your gear outside. Also, the tent is low and narrow which makes it great for windy areas and tight spots, but you’ll have a hard time sitting up in it, so you don’t want to use it for extended periods of time if you are trapped in bad weather. The mesh sides are nice for ventilation but not so good for sand and pumice dust in the wind. Once pumice dust ruined my zipper, but North Face guarantees their products and replaced the zipper free of charge even though my tent was nearly 20 years old at the time.

LB: I appreciate gear companies that truly stand behind their products like that. Is the Tadpole your only tent?

Craig Romano: The REI Half Dome is a great tent that I also use when backpacking. It is incredibly spacious for two people and all of their gear. Three people (or two people and a dog) could probably be fairly comfortable in it, too. I like that the tent is fairly light and easy to set up solo. It has a good vestibule space and nice venting. But because the tent is spacious, it can be tough to set up when flat space is at a premium.

LB: The Half Dome is also a really sweet price. Thanks so much for sharing Craig, and I can’t wait to use your new guidebook on hikes this summer!


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Michael Lanza

Michael produces the blog The Big Outside, is author of the National Outdoor Book Award-winning “Before They’re Gone–A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks,” and is Northwest Editor of Backpacker Magazine. He recently wrote about his 25 favorite backcountry campsites, a must-read for backpackers. Follow him on twitter @MichaelALanza.


Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents | nwtripfinder.comLB: What tent are you pitching this summer?

Michael Lanza: A Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 4. It is $600, and weighs 5 lbs. 10 oz. (my older model’s weight; the newest version weighs 5 lbs. 5 oz.).

LB: I want one of those! What kind of camping do you do in it?

Michael Lanza: We primarily backpack with this tent. We have used it car-camping, but I have other tents I use for that–mostly because they’re a little roomier (weight obviously doesn’t matter when car-camping). 

LB: What specific things do you like about this Big Agnes and why would you recommend it?

Michael Lanza: My wife and I do a lot of backpacking with our kids. They’re now 12 and 10 and carry a bit more, but they both started at age six. So we’ve always had to haul most of the family gear and food. Really lightweight gear and packing smartly can make the difference between my pack weighing 50+ pounds or well over 60 pounds. The Copper Spur UL 4 fits my entire family comfortably (two adults, two kids), but weighs only about 1.3 lbs. per person. As our family’s primary beast of burden, I appreciate every ounce saved.

LB: Thanks for sharing!


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Allison Woods

Allison is a stagehand in Seattle and an outdoor writer specializing in hiking, angling and outdoor gear. Her gear reviews can be found on the pages of Backpacker magazine and online at Backpacker.com. She was the Gear Editor for Washington Trails magazine from 2003-2010. Follow her outdoor pursuits at allisonoutside.com and on twitter @AllisonLWoods.


TENT: MSR Hubba Hubba 3-season backpacking tentLB: You know tents better than anyone I know. What is your favorite tent?

Allison: I am a professional gear tester, and to pick a favorite would be like picking a favorite child, so I’ll just hit the high points. My go-to tent is the MSR Hubba Hubba. This 2-door, three-season, 4 lb backpacking tent was one of the first of its class. It was designed by Jim Giblin, an award-winning designer who did tents for MSR, worked for a couple of others, and then came back to do more great design for MSR. I’ve improved on it by lightening it up by as pound or so (see how here). The Hubba Hubba, now at about 3 pounds, is good for shoulder season or any time I need more than bare bones.

LB: That’s my go-to tent as well! What else will you be pitching this summer?

Allison: At just over two pounds, and rocking twin doors and great ventilation, the Tarptent Double Rainbow is a minimalist tent. While it is not free-standing, it takes just a couple of minutes to set up. It’s not huge, but the roomy vestibules make getting dressed easy — both occupants can get dressed at the same time without getting out in the elements (much). At over 11,000 feet elevation in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, the Double Rainbow has provided a cozy-if-small refuge in reliably good weather.

The Sierra Designs Mirage is a car camping palace that was the centerpiece of my basecamping section for BACKPACKER’s 2013 Spring Gear Guide. It is nothing short of a masterful tent in my gear closet. The footprint is 9 x 14 FEET, and it has all kinds of door/window combinations that make it super-versatile without being fussy. The tent body is cleverly suspended from the fly, making it dead simple (six clips) to pull the “nest” down, making a mondo covered seating area for a blustery night in camp. Another plus: the large clear windows made it feel more open, it that’s possible.

LB: Thanks, Allison! The Sierra Designs Mirage might just be my dream car camping tent.


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Lace Thornberg

Lace is a writer, avid hiker and rock climber. She gets out of town and into the great outdoors every chance she gets. By day she is a project manager at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and director of outreach and development at Pacific Biodiversity Institute. See her curation in action at Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities June 12 – October 27 2013 at the Burke.


GEAR TALK: Eight Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents | nwtripfinder.comLB: You inspire me, Lace! You spend as much time outside in the summer as you can. So what tent are you sleeping in this summer?

Lace: I can tell you with certainly that the next tent I buy will be a Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultra Light. I’ve used this tent several times. This is a backpacker’s dream tent. It’s SOOOO light! It’s not like a terribly cramped little thing; it’s the perfect size for 2 people sacking out at the end of a long day. And, yeah, yeah, all the other technical details check out just fine. The important thing is: it’s SOOO light!

LB: Thanks, Lace! See you on the trail!


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Claudia Laroye

Claudia lives in Vancouver, BC where she writes about family travel. Her blog is The Travelling Mom – the modern mom’s guide to travel sanity with your family. If you ever want advice on camping around Vancouver Island, ask Claudia! Follow her on twitter @travelling_mom.

LB: What tent are you pitching this summer?

GEAR TALK: Eight Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents | nwtripfinder.comClaudia: We have a Hilleberg tent, made and purchased in Sweden 20 years ago. It’s only a two-person tent (purchased pre-kids!) and we bought it due to its high-quality, lightweight construction (less than 5 lbs), for backpacking and back country hiking/camping. It’s a low profile, gorgeous little green tent. However, as we’ve been a family of four for some years now, sad to report that we don’t use it much anymore. I would recommend Hilleberg tents absolutely, though their price point is in the higher range.

For the past few years, we’ve camped exclusively in our 1991 Westfalia VW Vanagon. I adore camping in the Westy – it’s comfortable, cosy and fits all four of us with ease, rain or shine. It’s obviously car camping, but in style, I like to think. Everyone should own one!

LB: I couldn’t agree more! I’ve been on the hunt for an affordable Westy for a few years now. And I envy your vintage Hilleberg. Those huge vestibules!


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Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer is a writer focusing on family hiking and the outdoors. If ever you need inspiration for getting kids on the trail, just look to Jennifer. She writes at The Hiker Mama and pens family hiking features for ParentMap magazine. See her favorite hikes for children, and follow her adventures on Facebook.


LB: What tent is your family pitching this summer?

GEAR TALK: Eight Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents | nwtripfinder.comJennifer: We just got a Big Agnes King Creek 4. It’s a family car camping tent. We’ve only used it twice so far, but I love it!

LB: I’ve heard many great things about their tents. Tell me about some of the features on this tent that you like.

Jennifer: It has a giant rain fly that has a big vestibule out front. We can put our gear under there at night or during rain showers. Dad and Mom can sit in chairs underneath at night so the kids feel like we’re close, even if we’re not ready for bed. If it rains, we can hang out under the vestibule until the weather clears.

The rain fly covers the whole body of the tent, unlike our previous bargain-basement no-name tent, which leaked. The first outing we had it, it did rain a bit, and the water just beaded right off. It dried out quickly once we got it home again.

It fits 4 people with plenty of room to spare. It has gear pockets along 2 sides of it for stashing eye glasses and flashlights. It’s really easy to put up and take down – I did it the first time with just me and the kids. The ties for the fly make it nice and taut and are easy to use. They are also reflective. I believe that you can set it up with just the fly, but I haven’t tried that yet. I like that the bag for the tent has pockets to stuff the tent body and fly into, instead of having to roll it up really tight and try to cram it into a narrow sleeve. The poles and stakes store in their own dedicated pockets. The tent poles are high quality. 

Can you tell I love this tent? We have yet to test it under adverse conditions, but it feels really well made to me.

LB: Thanks for sharing. It sounds like a great car camping tent for families!


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Barefoot Jake Morrison

Barefoot Jake is an ultralight enthusiast, and writes about his outdoor adventures near and far at his blog, Barefoot Jake; his trip reports of daily outdoor adventures are a joy to read when you’re stuck inside and need some vicarious hiking. Jake knows the Olympics like the back of his hand (or in his case, the top of his feet). Follow him on twitter @BarefootJake.


GEAR TALK: Eight Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents | nwtripfinder.com

LB: What tent are you pitching this summer?

Barefoot Jake: I currently use the Locus Gear Khufu Sil made by a small cottage company in Japan.

LB: What do you like about it? Why would you recommend it?

Barefoot Jake: The biggest reason I use this shelter is the weight to protection ratio. I can select a campsite in the alpine and not worry about a storm moving in and ruining my night. It offers four wall protection at just over 1 lb in my backpack.

The pyramid design is very easy to pitch: 4 stakes, a pole in the middle and you’re done. In fair weather, both doors can be opened, which removes one of the walls from blocking your views. I love to look at the mountains when nodding off for the night. Not having to stare at a tent wall also heightens my wilderness experience.

LB: That is most definitely the lightest shelter I’ve ever heard of. I hope if readers are interested in ultralight trekking they will check out your blog!


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Lora Shinn

Lora Shinn is a (recovering) children’s librarian, and freelance journalist. She writes travel-focused pieces for a variety of publications, and is the author of the book Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver. Her blog, Cascadia Kids, focuses on family travel and is loaded with city guides, tips, and yes, camping advice.


LB: What tent are you pitching this summer?

Lora: We have a six-person North Face Trailhead 6 tent, which isn’t being made anymore. We bought it on clearance. It’s probably most like the North Face Bedrock 6.

I like the combination of roominess along with three-season use. It’s not too chilly in October and has lots of room to set up two queen mattresses, plus walking space. It’s not quite as spacious as the text seems to indicate (sleeping quarters plus a common living room) — everything just barely fits. The only thing that would make it even more deluxe is a “tent carpet” which apparently they sell in Britain. On the lookout!

LB: What kind of camping do you do with your kids?

Lora: We go car camping — I like my comforts! So we pack a cooler full of good food, eat fancy s’mores and sleep on double-thick air mattress, sheets and comforters.

My next tent will be a cute retro RV or trailer, most likely.

LB: I hear ya! I love tent camping, but a camper would be swell.


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Tent Buyers Guide

Interested in one of these expert’s tents? Here are the best prices we tracked down for them.

GEAR TALK: Eight Outdoor Experts Share their Favorite Tents | nwtripfinder.comThe North Face Tadpole is $245 at Amazon.com.

REI Half Dome tent is $189 at REI.com.

Big Agnes Copper Spur UL4 is $479 at Amazon.com.

MSR Hubba Hubba is $389 at REI.com.

Tarptent Double Rainbow is $275 at Tarptent.com.

Sierra Designs Mirage is $699 at Amazon.com.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 is $273 at Amazon.com.

See Hilleberg tents at hilleberg.com.

Big Agnes King Creek 4 is discontinued, but the similar Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6 is $469 at REI.

Locus Gear Khufu Sil is available at locusgear.com.

The North Face Bedrock 6 is $343 at Backcountry.com.


What about YOU? What tent do you use and why do you love it?


If you’re in the market for a new camping tent, be sure to read our helpful tips on choosing the perfect tent that will last you years.
Some of the links in the tent buyers guide above are affiliate links, meaning that if you click on the link and buy the product, we will receive a very small commission of the sale. This is of no additional cost to you whatsoever. Affiliate commissions help pay for our website hosting costs. See our complete disclosure notice here.


Lauren Braden’s new book, 52 Ways to Nature, Washington: Your Seasonal Guide to a Wilder Year, is now available for pre-order
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