I am, as a backpacker, somewhat of a gear hog. One of the few exceptions is cooking. I carry a little MSR stove, a can of fuel for it and a titanium pot, and that’s it. All I do with the stove is boil water.
To be fair, I am not a foody at all, and this allows me simple meals on the trail. And once you grasp that name-brand freezer bags will accept boiling water without melting, these meals become easy to prep in advance. I have oatmeal for breakfast, and maybe ramen, or some commercial boil-in-a-bag product. That’s it. That’s all the work I put into meals.
In town, my day job has me living – and often eating – out of my car. In Phoenix, this means a real cooler, or real disappointment. There is no middle ground.
In the video clips below I discuss my Canyon Cooler Scout, which lives in my car and allows me to eat lunch even in the summer heat, and my MSR SuperFly stove, which allows me to boil water on the trail.
[This is a thing we do here from time to time. Unless noted, you can assume I bought the item in question.]
Several years ago (2013) prior to what would become the Last Family Camping Trip, my wife and I, once we realized we did not have the finances to pull off any level of RV trailer, decided the consolation prize would be a really good tent. Our teenage kids, by his point, preferred their own tents, the dogs were not coming, and our giant, two room tent seemed actually too large. Also, it had leaks and failing zippers and other maladies that beset aging tents.
After some shopping about, we settled upon the Eureka Copper Canyon 6. What sold us was the steep walls and high ceiling which maximized 10’x10’ living space within the tent. The tent tops out at 7’, but even better, the walls are at least 6’, and nearly vertical. That means normal adults can stand up anywhere in that 10’x10’ space. We were old enough that we did not want getting dressed to be an Olympic event anymore, and having space, not on the air mattress, to do that was what sold us.
Being able to sit in camp chairs inside a tent mitigates a lot of otherwise miserable circumstances at a campsite. Like riding out rainstorms. Or putting on socks.
Eureka touts the zippered port for an extension cord as some sort of big selling point. In my world-view that would be just another means for vermin to sneak in and/or another zipper to fail. People who value that sort of thing are really just biding time until they get an RV.
That said, I think we made use of it at a KOA in Oregon, so that the kids would have a dry spot to charge their phones besides the car. But the adults to not go out into the woods to stare at screens.
Make no mistake: this is a campground tent – not a wilderness expedition tent. It weighs about 30 pounds, and packs as thick as a sleeping bag and slightly longer. The zippers and the floor are all family camp grade. If you’re looking at heavy use, you will want some sort of ground-cloth, and a better grade of tent stakes than the ones that come with the tent. Mine had no leaks or zipper failures as of September 2018, but that’s really less than 20 use nights.
The three-season rating is somewhat aspirational. It will take some wind and rain, as all tents should, but the design is more about privacy in summer than resisting inclement weather in early spring or late fall.
To get vertical walls, they had to include plastic sleeves to provide rigid corners. That works well, but setting the poles into those sleeves will take strong hands, and it is a LOT easier with two people. That said, I can set it up and take it down by myself in the same 20 minutes Eureka says is normal, but I’m pretty good at this sort of thing.
You could not leave this to junior high children and expect success.
Minor nuisances in setting up: the upper tent poles, the wide ones, are longer than you think, and must go through sleeves at the top. Sleeves always aggravate me, and you will struggle to keep the extended end out of the dirt. Making the vertical poles will take strong hands. The rain fly is several orders of magnitude easier with two people, but that would be the case with any tent of this size.
Eureka did mark one corner for reference (this matters) and there are pockets in the rain-fly to stow the guy-lines, which saves a treasure hunt for yet another nylon sack.
Unlike Eureka’s backpacking tents, the carry bag is actually generously sized. You do not have to refold the thing to within a millimeter of factory spec to get it back inside the bag. I fold it ends to center and one more time over, but the tent is square – it really doesn’t matter which end you fold from. Four folds will leave the tent no wider than the bag of poles. Plop that bag on one end, roll to the other, and shove it in the bag.
I do not bring this thing when I camp alone – I have a hammock. But recently I had occasion to camp in a campground with a guest. Hammocks do not work well with campgrounds, or guests.
In the video below, I set it up in my backyard because I hadn’t used it in a while, and I wanted to make sure it was still complete and intact. The rest is from the above mentioned campground, namely Hualapai Mountain Regional Park near Kingman AZ.
I remember paying nearly $600 for this tent in 2013, because it was the new whiz-bang thing, and we had lost our window to shop around for price. Eureka now lists it at $259.95. That’s worth the money, if you need to duplicate your bedroom at the campsite.
Sleeping on the ground is a part of nature that no one really wants to go back to. One of the central drives behind building civilizations in the first place was an effort to avoid this. And here you are, staring at a campsite where the ground is invariably some combination of hard, wet, rocky or uneven. Tents and pads, for all their developments do not really solve this problem; they just make it less miserable. For the same kind of time and money, perhaps less, you could rise above it all.
You could spend the night in a hammock.
You’re thinking hammocks are great for napping, and you’re right, but spend the night? Yes. Seriously. There is a whole sub-culture that does this regularly, and their willingness to spend time and money on this approach has greatly improved the quality and variety of hammocks in recent decades.
But before we go any further, you should know that swinging in a hammock all through the night is not for everyone. You can stop reading now if any of the below applies:
You have specific back issues, particularly if you have to lie flat on a hard surface. You’ll never get there in a hammock. You can get flat – and we’ll get to that – but you will never get to hard surface. That’s kinda the point of hammocks to begin with.
You are claustrophobic. By the time you weather-proof and bug proof a hammock, something is going to be suspended a few feet from your face – all night.
You are particularly modest. You will only try changing clothes inside the hammock once. After that, your neighbors are going to see you in your skivvies for a moment at least.
Are we still good? Ok.
You do not need an expedition grade hammock. You just want one (features, convenience, durability, the envy of others). What you need is a comfortable hammock, bug netting, a rain-fly or tarp, and a sleeping pad. Start cheap until you know you want to swing every night.
Good hammocks with mosquito netting start at around $50 and go upwards to ten times that amount for expedition grade all weather “habitats”. You can buy one with a fitted tarp (these start at around $100) or you can buy the tarp separately (and cheaply). The tarp or rain fly needs to be wide enough to cover the entire length of the hammock and should have the means to be staked down.
Hanging a hammock is all about location. You’ll need two trees or branches thick enough (you want at 8” in diameter of live wood). A Y consisting of two large branches is ideal. The real trick is finding two trees the right distance apart (most need 10-12 feet). If you want to use math, the formula is the length of your hammock and then add half that. There’s some fudge in that depending on what you use to wrap the trees. This might take a few tries. Cut a piece of string to the length of your span, so you can try out trees without dragging your hammock through the dirt. (I leave that string in place and hang clothes and other convenience items from it.)
If you can tie your shoes, you have sufficient engineering acumen to hang a hammock.
As long as you wrap all the way around the tree at least once, the choke or wrap is self-constricting; the more weight you put on it, the tighter it gets. You don’t need fancy hardware. Especially, do not screw hardware into the tree. I use two 6’ straps from old tie-down ratchets with loops tied in each end. Six feet is about the shortest you can consistently make work. The longer the straps, the more your options. Some published experts recommend at least 12 feet.
Wrap the tree, and hook both ends of the strap to the hammock (carabiners work great for this). If you need the extra length, you can pass one loop through the other and choke the tree that way – just make sure the through loop is tight against the tree .Normally, if I wrap the tree just above my head, this will put the carabiner (or whatever you use) right about at eye level – which is ideal. This will put the middle of the hammock at about seat level, which is where you want it. As you sit in the hammock, you feet should just touch the ground.
Make sure you test it with your full weight. You want to know sooner rather than later if those wraps will hold.
If your hammock came with a rain-fly then it also came with instructions, so follow those. If, like me, you use an aftermarket rain-fly, as it were, the ideal size has the corner grommets clipping into your carabiners while the tarp is taught. Stake the other two corners to the ground, leaving enough of an angle to get in and out of the hammock.
You won’t need a sleeping pad for comfort, but you might need it for warmth as it will provide a barrier between you and the wind blowing beneath the hammock. On a warm night, you can leave it out.
One last tip: set your hammock up while you’re still sober. That’s good advice from direct experience.
Spending the night in a hammock takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it (sorry), you’ll find that you do not miss that mean old ground at all.