Buyer’s Guide: Tents

Like with a new house, one of the key variables to buying a tent is understanding what you really need. If you always camp with your car nearby, go palatial. Backpacking over long distances? Pay more for less weight. For year-round use, get a four-season tough-guy. Once you know what kind of tent you want, follow these simple rules for shopping around:

1. Unless every gram counts, buy a tent one-person-bigger than you typical camp with. A little extra elbow-room won’t cramp your back when you’re carrying it, but a little less probably will when you’re waiting out a storm.

2. Two doors and two vestibules increase the livable space dramatically, especially in wet or snowy places.

3. Set up a few tents in-store. With complicated hub and pole designs, they may not be intuitive the first time, but they should feel like they will get easier quickly.

4. Climb in and test-out the doors, elbow room and head height. Vertical walls and lots of headroom are valuable.

5. Finally, little things count: reflective bits are a lifesaver in the dark; interior pockets are handy; door-storage extends the life of zippers; a light-coloured exterior creates brighter spaces.

Buyer’s Guide: Sleeping Bags

A good sleeping bag should go unnoticed. A bad one will leave you cursing. The challenge is differentiate the two in-store — no easy task. Here’s how to do it:

1. Start with temperature. Aim for five degrees Celsius below the coldest night you expect. Sleep cold? Give yourself another five. For summer camping, out of the mountains and Northern Territories, a 0° to 10° Celsius bag should do. For three-season sleeping, opt for a -15° to 0° Celsius-rated bag; maybe a little warmer for the mountains. For a four-season and/or high alpine bag, you’ll want at least -20° Celsius.

2. Consider what’s inside. We used to recommend synthetic for wet environments, since down insulation was useless when wet. But by adding a nano-polymer to down feathers, manufacturers have created water-resistant down, levelling the playing field. Down, water-resistant or not, remains the best choice for weight and packability, while synthetics are less expensive and hypoallergenic.

3. Back, front or side sleeper? Finally understanding different body types and sleeping positions, bags now come with bump-outs for hips and knees, stretch in key places and have roomier cuts. Find the model that fits your sleep habits.

4. Key features: we like full-length zips for ventilation, draft collars along the zipper and hood for extra warmth, pockets for keeping essentials handy and we choose weight and packability over price.

5. Try them out — pull a few options off the shelf and climb inside. Check the zipper function — snags are inevitable but they shouldn’t be chronic — pretend to sleep and climb in and out. Is this going to be the bag that goes unnoticed?
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