Roger Caffin's bushwalking FAQ
The logic behind this appears irrefutable, but I do not agree. Many of us are in the position of having more time than money. An unlucky few have neither, and for the people in that category, I'm sorry but I cannot help.
If you choose your cheap tent with care, and are prepared to put time into modifying it, until it really works, you can end up with a tent superior to the exotic and costly models. It will burden your pack slightly more, but any superlight sacrifices strength, and I would rather have the strength, thank you. Sooner or later, it will blow, and snow. If I had to carry even a superlight camping gear assembly on my back, I would have given up camping years ago, or stayed within a short walk of the car. I use a light wheelbarrow/sledge all year round, which means my back never carries more than a couple of hefty sleeping bags, plus a snack, water and a cheap anorak.
In these days of a widening gap between rich and poor, the latter are getting understandably discontented with the situation. If you choose to camp in a piece of costume jewellery, set off with titanium accessories, in my no doubt unfair judgement, you are conspicuously displaying wealth. I couldn't care less, but others may be tempted to level the social score. A well-used, modified plain-jane tent is to any other eye a piece of rubbish. Unless it looks bad enough for Rangers to invoke the Litter Act, it is unlikely to go walking while you are not around.
I have used a variety of tents, modified and original, and would until recently have packed, for example, a ridge tent with an extended fly, if I expected a good soaking. My now ancient Bergans Ignell (which did cost!) would be carried for high winds and snow. Over the past eighteen months I have finally got One Cheap Tent modified sufficiently that it now goes with me everywhere, winter and summer, and the rest just take up space.
On a fine night, I don't even bother with the fly, or pegging the tent down, since it is not going anywhere with all the gear on the groundsheet. Watching shooting-stars through the top mesh is a good feeling. If bad weather threatens, or the first drops of rain wake me up, the fly is thrown over and pegged down. After that the humidity soars inside, and the condensation starts. This is fixable too.
Rain not only brings condensation, but the fly leaks as well. Costly tents are seam-sealed. Seam-sealing is easy enough to do, but takes time.
In high winds, the inadequately-rigid tent really does bounce around. The modified flysheet deals with any reasonable wind, and I will cover a set of storm guys for the unreasonable variety.
The only really good thing about the unmodified tent is what it does in heavy snowstorms. Just when the snow load gets to danger levels, it collapses gracefully, without damage, and wakes you up. Out you go once more, to dig it out with the snow-shovel. If two feet of snow overnight looks likely, the tent can be returned to the unmodified state, ready for the onslaught. Snow caves? - you must be joking.
Just because your pole set comes with elastic down the middle, it does not mean this is the best way of doing things. You will need a roll of red insulating tape, and a roll of yellow. Assemble one of your elastic-cored pole sets, and put a yellow band of tape on each fibreglass tube length. Put two bands on the tube lengths at the ends of the set. Pull the set apart so the elastic is visible, cut it, and throw the wretched stuff away. Repeat with the other pole set, and the red tape. I had 14 tubes when I had finished, half red-banded, and half yellow. I count them each time I pack or unpack.
The two ends of any pole set are always in the same place, of course, but with loose poles, the rest are never in the same place twice. Assuming the top of the arch is the point of maximum stress, this means all poles take the worst load once in a while, rather than it falling on the same pole each time.
Fibreglass poles are different. A few of the most strained glass fibres break first, and the process is more gradual, until the pole section loses strength, and finally breaks. Any pole, in which a few fibres have failed, can be identified by holding the pole close to the ear, and flexing it gently in a quiet room. You can hear the broken fibres rubbing. I was sold a defective set once, and it was most obvious. Since the poles can be checked one by one, I take a minute or two to test them, ready for the next trip. You cannot do this with an elastic-cored set. Pre-testing is sufficient advantage not to bother with aluminium poles.
The two doors in the end of the tent have loops on them so they can be pegged-down. Make up an adjustable guy-rope from thin nylon braid, and attach this by the 'end through loop' method, to the loop on the door you do not intend to use as an exit. I am assuming the weather looks bad, and the flysheet is on. Zip the door up from outside the tent, then peg out the new guy rope. When the guy is tightened the doors lift up and away from the tent, and the door loops are about eight inches above the ground. You can now unzip the door, get inside, and zip up again. You have greatly increased ventilation under the door, and with the mesh inside uncovered, the airflow though the tent increases without draughts.
This arrangement can be used in the pouring rain without trouble, and keeps internal condensation under control. Since the door inner is no longer in contact with the mesh, any condensation runs down onto the ground rather than migrating onto the mesh, and dripping into the tent. This simple mod will make a wedge dome habitable in rain. In light or moderate snowfall, the snow that slips off the tent will take much longer to fill in the widened air-gap. The unmodified tent will only ventilate for a few minutes, before snow blocks the airspace under the door.
To really boost ventilation, and stiffen the whole tent, the second stage is required. Sew triangular guy rope attachment points, half-way along the bottom edge of the remaining three sides of the fly. Fit similar guy ropes to the one now mounted on the door, to these three points. You can now use a single tent peg at each corner to peg down the groundsheet and the fly. Now peg out and adjust the three new guys plus the one you fitted to the door. The fly changes shape, the tent goes rigid, and you have large ventilators at ground level, under all four sides of the tent fly.
Classic storm guys connect to sewn-on points on the external fly. If the wind is really wild, you are likely to be inside your tent, rather than strolling or skiing around. A buffeted tent is being slowly abraded, from cloth friction, and if it is not raining or snowing as well, less damage goes on if you can keep the fly off the tent. My modified storm guys can be used with or without the fly, and require no fastening points on the tent.