Beginner's Guide to Tents - Part 2 - Components
Posted by Neil | June 06, 2011
In Part 1 of our guide we concentrated on the seasons and structures of tents. In Part 2 of our guide we'll talk about the components most tents share, and explain a little about each. Of course, there are a vast amount of tents on the market, so this is by no means and exhaustive list, but hopefully it'll provide some use for those new to the terms.
Most tents comprise three main structural features; the Inner, the Flysheet and the Poles. These all work together to give the tent its shape and strength, and generally speaking, each cost roughly a third the cost of the tent (in case you need your tent repaired!). How these components interact depends on the structure (see Part 1), and the pitching style (coming in Part 3), but that interaction is a large factor in overall strength, space and weight.
The Flysheet, or fly, is usually the outer most layer of a tent and is primarily designed to provide water- and wind-proofing, and give the tent strength via either tensioning the guy-lines, compressing the poles (on inner-first pitches) or both.
A flysheet needs to be strong enough to resist tearing when tensioned, but also needs to be lightweight, as even on a small tent it can be a lot of fabric. What you will usually find is that flysheets scale with the intended use of the tent.
- A cheaper summer tent, like the Vango Alpha 250 will often have a heavy flysheet as it keeps the cost down and you'll generally use it at camp-sites when car transport is available, so weight is not usually a paramount concern.
- An ultralight tent like the Laser Ultra 1 with have a very lightweight fly sheet, which is often very expensive due to the fabrics used. They must be very light (obviously) but still have enough tensile strength to resist tearing when tensioned. Even though most ultralight tents are a lot stronger than they look, care should taken to avoid catching them on brambles or thorns.
- 3 Season tents, like the Vaude Taurus I usually use a combination of the above two points, blending a light enough flysheet to be easily carried, with enough fabric strength for use across a wide variety of conditions.
- 4 Season tents like the Terra Nova Quasar come full spectrum and usually have a heavier fabric than lightweight or 3 season tents. This is to give the tent extra strength and basically to help provide extra strength (via compression & tensioning) to resist even the worst mountain winds. The weight of a 4 season flysheet is still usually less than that of a cheap tent, but the material is of course, extra tough, which serves to make it cost more.
Most flysheets are sold as waterproof, and unlike jackets they often have a very low HH (hydrostatic head, which is the measure of waterproofing), with figures of 1,000-2,000HH being the usual. When compared to a waterproof jacket
(usually 7,000-30,000HH) this seems quite low, but it's sufficient because there should be no pressure on top of tent to force water through. Like waterproofs, tents also have a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment to help water bead and run off.
Because of the low HH rating it is advisable to keep the tent flysheet clean and treat it occasionally to restore the DWR. (We recommend cleaning in Nikwax Tech Wash and reproofing with Nikwax Tent & Gear Proof although alternatives are available!)
It's also worth giving the fly a tap every once in a while in heavy rain should pools start to form anywhere. >> Seam-Sealed
Flysheets generally have a fair bit of stitching around seams and reinforcement points, like guy-line loops. Most tents come with the seams factory sealed to prevent water from entering through the stitching. Some lightweight tents, especially those with ultra lightweight silicone type flysheets may not be pre-sealed. You will want to check this out when you get your tent. There are several types of seam sealer
available and most do a similar job, but if in doubt see which brand your tent manufacturer recommends.>> Vent Panels
Some flysheets will include vent panels to help airflow through the inside, which is ideal for keeping condensation to a minimum and providing some airflow in hot conditions. Quite often the more serious 3- or 4- season tents do not include this feature because it allows water and wind another entry point, and incurs more stitching, which can lower the overall strength of the fly.>> Guy-Lines
Guy-lines are essential for tensioning the flysheet, which is a major contributor to strength. Most tents
come with guy-lines attached. Always try to use as many guy-lines as possible when pitching, especially in foul weather. Guy-lines also have the very real danger of being a tripping hazard at night, pay attention and be aware of them when around tents.>> Porches
The porch, or vestibule, is usually integral to the fly and provides space for storage, cooking (makes sure it's ventilated and there's no fire risk!) and a general dry area to take off wet clothes or footwear. Most tents have one or two porches. One porch tents are usually lighter, but two porch tents offer more storage space and, should the wind change, an alternative entrance.
Large family tents often have the sleeping compartments open on to a very large porch, with a lot of headroom, which makes them ideal for living purposes.
Some porches have an extra pole which extends them, giving extra