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Camping in a One-Man Tent Like a Pro

September 30, 2020

Camping in a One-Man Tent Like a Pro

by Joshua Stevenson

Summer is winding to a close, and with the warmer weather slowly sinking into a chill, I’ve had some time to reflect on my various summer outdoor adventures, which are a routine staple of my rural life. Many of these occurred during solo trips in the middle of Colorado’s vast National Forests and Wilderness Areas. (I previously wrote about one of these little adventures, which you can read here.) Plenty of lasting memories were made up there among the needle-peaked mountains and deep forests. I ate more freeze-dried Mountain House meals than I can count and probably drank enough cups of black coffee to send a small horse into a perpetual coma. But one thing’s for certain: I couldn’t have done any of it without my trusty one-man tent.

Some sort of shelter is absolutely essential when out in the wild. For some, it’s a waterproof hammock or bivy sack. (Although I’ve never tried a bivy, it’s on my bucket list.) But for most solo adventurers the world over—myself included—a cozy one-man tent is the go-to solution for wilderness shelter. To say it’s an essential on my checklist is definitely an understatement.

Through my experiences camping out in the wild, I’ve learned a whole lot about the best practices and techniques for sheltering-up in a one-man, and I thought I’d share some of those tips and tricks in this blog for any interested adventurers looking to hit the wild. While I’m certainly no “expert,” I hope these tips and tricks are helpful and, perhaps, inspire the adventurer within you!

Choosing the Right Tent

As with most popular products, there’s no shortage of tent brands out there, which means there’s no limit on the bad tents you can buy for a few measly bucks. But if I could give one piece of advice for those looking to purchase a high-quality one-man tent, it’s this: don’t skimp! It’s not worth it to buy a piece of junk just because of the lower price tag. A high-quality tent will be relatively expensive, but this is actually a good sign, showing that the product will do its job: providing shelter. After all, your tent will be the one layer of protection you’ll have against the elements!

If you can, choose a tent that is free-standing, meaning that it doesn’t have to be staked down to stand up on its own. The tent’s poles are arranged in such a way as to provide internal stability, allowing the tent to hold its shape. Many tents will simply fall over when you aren’t holding them up, which can make it very difficult to set them up if you’re going solo. A free-standing tent will also likely be larger on the inside than a non-free-standing tent, allowing you more room to move around. More than this, it’s nice to be able to shake any debris, like sticks or pebbles, out of your tent when you break camp (believe me, they’ll get in there). The best way I’ve found to do this is to shake the entire tent out (with the door open) over my head. You can’t do this if the tent won’t hold its shape on its own.

Beyond its free-standing feature, you should also choose a tent that is rated for the type of weather you expect to encounter. For instance, a four-season tent will protect you during all four seasons, holding up excellently to rain and snow. Other tents, such as two-season tents, aren’t rated for this level of weather exposure, but will often protect you for short periods of time in a pinch.

Another thing to consider is your vestibule. A vestibule is the space outside your actual tent where you can store items out of the elements. In many cases, if you have a vestibule, it also means that your tent has a completely separate rain fly. The rain fly is the waterproof “tarp” that lays over your actual tent and keeps rain or snow from soaking you. If your rain fly is separate from your tent, you will likely be able to stake it out some distance, providing you with a dry space where you can set items on the ground.

I’ve personally seen many one-man tents that incorporate the rain fly into the tent itself, which does not allow you any room to store items outside of your actual tent but also out of the elements. One of my friends realized the annoyance of this design when an unexpected snow hit during a camping trip. He had nowhere to store his boots. His only options were to cover them with a plastic bag or bring the muddy things into his tent with him. Of course, neither of these are good options!

Personally, I chose an Alps Mountaineering one-man tent called the Lynx 1. While there are nicer products out there, this tent combined cost effectiveness with a free-standing feature and a separate rain fly. It’s served me well.

Tips and Tricks

Camping in a one-man tent might seem daunting to some people, particularly if going solo, but the reality is that, with the right knowledge of proper practices, it can be a breeze. Here I’ll lay out some practical tips and tricks related to camping in a one-man tent that I’ve learned during my various outdoor adventures.

  • If possible, bring a small shovel to level out a spot for your tent. Obviously, when backpacking, you’ll want to make sure your pack is as light as possible, which means cutting as much unnecessary weight as you can. But a small shovel is often worth having despite the weight. The last thing you want, which I’ve experienced a few times, is to have a bulging root or rock under your tent. It doesn’t make for easy sleeping! There are many collapsible, lightweight shovels on the backpacking market. For instance, I bought a small aluminum shovel from Walmart that fits in the palm of my hand.
  • Consider investing in an inflatable sleeping pad. Remember that rock or root I mentioned that can turn your peaceful night in the woods into a fiasco filled with backaches? Another way to avoid it is to purchase an inflatable sleeping pad. Like a tiny air mattress, an inflatable pad, although not essential, can save you a world of hurt!
  • Consider purchasing a pillow. Again, while a pillow isn’t an essential, it can be a worthwhile purchase. Especially when you’re backpacking, a pillow—whether inflatable or traditional—can keep your neck from getting stiff.
  • Keep your rain fly off during good weather! One reason I love having a separate rain fly is that I can throw it off during good weather and sleep under the stars. This simply isn’t possible if your tent has a built-in rain fly.
  • Bring an extra small tarp if you expect heavy rain or snow. If you have a four-season tent, this shouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but I’ve found that bringing a small, lightweight tarp along with me is a great idea when I know weather will be rolling in. The tarp can be spread out under your tent to keep excess moisture away from it or tied up over your tent to prevent excessive rain or snow from dowsing your tent.
  • You always have the option of stuffing your tent and rain fly into your tent bag if you’re on the move each day. When on extended backpacking trips, I’ve always picked up camp every day and moved to a new locale, so it was extremely important that I could pack up quickly and get going. A great way to make the pack-up process easier and faster is to stuff your one-man tent. (Keep in mind that stuffing is not good for your tent long term. You should always roll up your tent properly when storing for longer periods of time.)

While there are certainly other tips and tricks out there, these are some of the most crucial ones I’ve identified during my backpack travels. Like I mentioned above, many adventure seekers choose to use bivy sacks or even hammocks instead of tents. I have not had personal experience with these, but they are on my list, and I will likely write a follow-up to this piece once I’ve tried them out.

When it comes to getting away from the crazy bustle of everyday life, my trusty one-man tent is my way of escape. It has allowed me to experience more of the wild than I ever thought possible, but I’m just getting started. In my view, getting out into the wilderness, particularly solo, forms part of the bedrock of what it means to have a “rural spirit,” a spirit that always seeks out adventure in remote places. In other words, even if one lives in a city, a truly rural spirit desires those wild open spaces that traffic and flashing lights have never touched. No matter where a spirit like this finds itself, it yearns to escape to the wild.

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