Thursday, August 2, 2012

GEAR - tents, tarps and shelters; review and overnighter!

Well, because I promissed my daughter we'd have a night out and our previous attempt failed, we set out to find an alternative. There is a spot, about 500 meters from home, which would be suitable. It is were an outdooractivitycentre had it's basecamp, so there is plenty of flat ground, a fireplace, is easily reached and when things go wrong, we're home in no time. So off we went and checked the place out. We caught 3 ticks in 5 minutes..... Game over..... I couldn't get anyone to stay there and I wasn't to happy either.
Now what??
Well..... there's always the backyard..... Flat, right nextdoor, no ticks, few flying insects... We agreed on that! So I started to take out some overnightgear. Man, you do need a lot for a family of 5! While I was busy unpacking I got a bit carried away.... And put up all the shelters, tents and tarps I have. Nice way to take an inventory and easy to compare the things with one another.
So I ended up with a complete camp. The only thing I did not bring out was the castiron cookingset and the tripod.... I settled for the barbecue instead.... saves the lawn... And I have a gearreview with an overnighter, good food AND a few beers... I don't do the camping - messing around with sharps -and drinking-thing.
I'll start off with the tents. First off are 2 Quechua 2-seconds-tents, bought at a Decathlonstore in Holland. They showed a commercial back then of someone throwing the tent up into the air and it came down as a tent... Guess what i did.... And it worked too!! Sort off.... I just had to put the tents the right way up and we were ready to go. Indeed with 2 seconds. Packing is a bit of a different story, but once you get the hang of it, it is done within seconds, too. The tents are roomy, yet somewhat short. We have the 1- and 2-personversions. The 1-personversion is large enough to accomodate an adult with gear. The 2-personversion is wide enough to give room for two, but without gear. If you're over 1,80m then your head or feet are bound to touch the inside of the tent. There are some more downsides to these tents. One of them is their packingsize. You end up with a large discshaped package. These tents are ideal for carcamping or for camping with kids.

Then there is the German 2-mantent. It's shelterhalves have to be buttoned together in the same way as the US shelterhalves. It actually is very similar to the US-tent, apart from the fact that the german shelterhalves can be used as a poncho, too. Still haven't figured out how, but it should be possible.
The tent looks quite small and I have learned from people who actually used this tent in the field, that it actually is..... and that it is not waterproof.... It is also quite heavy..... Too bad. Liked the camo.

Next there is my tarp. It is an 12x18 feet (not inch. Thanks for pointing it out, Matt) tarp, which I bought really dirtcheap on ebay. It was about €15 incl. shipping from the UK. I used it previously in rather strong winds and it stood up well. It does make that irritating fluttering sound cheap tarps have, but it is light weight, packs down relatively small and if something goes wrong you will not have wasted €40+ on a high classbrandtarp, for it just does the same thing; keep you dry when it rains. Unfortunately one of the eyelets has been torn out now, but that is because of my own stupidity. I wanted to have the tarp as tight as possible and used way to much force, when forcing the stickpole upwards pushing the tarp up. But by adding the torn out eyelet to the top of the stick I was stil able to get the required shape and it held out well! I will definitely get me another one and maybe one in a smaller size too.

The great thing about the pattern on the tarp is that it is printed on a greencoloured sheet. This way it doesn't light up like a christmastree, when the sun hits it, but the colours remain subdued.
in the full light of the sun

a Dutch army poncho in halfshade for comparison
And than there's my trusted old Dutch army shelter half, the socalled puptent. I carry one half with me whenever I go out. Yes, it is heavy and yes, it is cotton and yes, oldschool too. Maybe that's why I love it. The fact that I have fond memories of one just like it from my armydays might have something to do with it, too.
It is slightly bigger than the German one and if I am informed correctly it is an exact copy from the US version, which would mean that they are interchangeable. 2 of these buttoned together provide room for 2 adults + gear, albeit that it does get a bit cramped in there than. A single one can be used as an open shelter as shown here.... and in many of my older posts. Only this time I was going to use it again.... after many, many years..... finally!
I actually have a few of these....
After basecamp had been setup, it was time to start a fire and prepare the table. Whenever I use the barbecue I use clean birchwood to burn down and form coals. I never use a bag of storebought coals. We have plenty of wood here and I keep the scraps and leftover pieces from when we cut firewood for the winter. This way I do not throw away anything and I know that it is clean wood I am preparing my food over.

doing this while hiking is highly impractical and logistically challenging
After dinner I played around with several of my ponchos. I have an older ex-German army poncho; the rubberised version, and recently I was able to add a few Dutch Marine ones or so I was told, since I never saw these befor. They have the similar pattern and are plain green, luckily. They do fit together by simply snapping them to gether. In theory you could extend them for as long as you would have ponchos, but using three does the trick too.

Here are some views of my bunk for that night; to my left...

and to my right...

As you can see the 2-personversion is quite roomy. At least for an adult and a child...

And the single personversion easily holds 2 kids

And finally I was able to try out my homemade bedroll! The smoke is from the dying fire in the barbecue...

However it was a short night. I went to "bed" at 23:00, was still awake at 00:30, because I kept being attacked and buzzed about by mosquitos! Should have known better than to ly down without a net. The insectrepellent I used was not nearly enough. So I got up again and rethought my options. The rest was sound asleep by now, so I just could not give up and stay inside..... Than it hit me; last week my son had received a mosquitonet to hang over his bed from some of our Dutch friends. Maybe.....
And yes, it did work! It fitted over my shelterhalf. Just, but it was enough. It held out untill 03:30, when my black cat decided it would be a nice gesture to came and say "hi"... tearing down have the net in the proces. So I had to get out again in order to fix it, by now wide awake, because our youngest one had to go to the bathroom. Afterwards I tried to go to sleep again, but it wouldn't quite work. I tossed and turned and this transformed the previously nicely comfortable bedroll turned into a restrainingdevice from hell. The hood kept creeping over my face and somehow the buttons from the blanket ended up underneath me, poking into my kidneys, but the liner and outershell remained in their original position. I only used one blanket this time..... thank God! Being a side/belly sleeper, trying to sleep on his back didn't do much good either.

my bunk at 06:30 in the morning....

I gave up at 04:30..... forcing things wouldn't make it any better, so I might as well just have some tea and enjoy the sunrise and the morningchoir of the birds. Too bad the weatherpredictions were incorrect..... again... And I faced a heavily overcast, cold and drizzly world. Everyting was grey, quite and wet... So much for a SUNday..... Well at least I had a few quite hours to myself, befor the rest of my platoon woke up.

This gave me time to summarize the lessons learned so far;
1) going out camping with a family takes a lot of planning AND logistics! We would never be able to carry it all by ourselves, simply because of the sheer volume. Only the sleeping bags and - mats filled up one large duffelbag! Expensive hightechgear and kids don't mix, unless you want to see yourself filing for bankruptcy within weeks.... so that means sturdy sleepingbags. I'd need at least a packing mule just to carry the foodsupplies and spareclothing. Kids + water = mess. Add the outdoorfactor with all it's variables and you'll get the picture.

2) The tents worked great. No mosquitos or moisture in them. They do make a lot of noice, which to me, is quite annoying; the rustling of the fabric, the sound of long zippers. Quite noisy at night, too. So I'll stick to cotton and wool. Nice and quite.
The tents do have trouble keeping upright and have a strong tendency to sag really deep, when a fully grown cat jumps right on top of them.
Guess which cat and at what time of night........ I'll give you a hint....

3) While the tents do provide enough room for us all I think it is a wise thing to bring an extra tarp, so you can keep the entrances of the tents out of the rain AND you have a place to store your gear dry and out of the tents. Makes things a lot more comfortable and manageble.

4) My bedroll works great, as long as I can sleep peacefully. This means I do need to add a few items to my kit. A mosquitonet being one of them. I already added a waterproof underlayer, which kept my bum dry by preventing moisture rising up from the ground. A sleepingmat would've been nice, too. I definetely need something like a comfortable pillow! A pile of cloths or a towel just will not do. To low and to hard. In the woods that wood mean a frame of trees and a thick layer of spruceboughs.
Temperatures were about 10 degrees C and with 1 blanket it was actually a bit warm. In this setup I'll be warm in the single digittemperatures, which leaves me with one extra blanket, a set of long underwear, socks and a hat for the freezingtemperatures.

5) sleeping in the Scandinavian woods without biting-and-sucking-bugs-protection is either a silly mistake or a serious underestimation of the critter's desire for your blood and it's determination! It will find a gap in your defenses, unless they are bugtight. And it'll bring plenty of friends, too...

6) Sleepdeprivation makes you far less effective and productive. I'll not mention the mood one might be in... Bring enough coffee and food with high nutritional value. This way you can compensate the lack of energy and keep up good spirits.

Later that morning the sun did show itself briefly, so the sleepingbags were hung out and the tents and tarps could dry in the pale sun. After that everything was neatly packed away in about an hour without rushing. Just a matter of folding, rolling and strapping.

We did have a great weekend after all, as it was fun for me to play around with my stuff, build my camp and compare it all. The kids could run around and play as much as they wanted, the barbecue was very good and so was the beer afterwards at our "campfire". We did have an overnighter, albeit not quite as planned, but everyone was able to join in, making it fun for everyone. I did not hear anyone complain, but there were some questions afterwards. Questions like :"Can we do this again?" and "when?" or "Can we have a real camp with a real fire soon, too?"

Sounds pretty good to me.....


  1. Great write up, I enjoyed reading that. Excellent collection of shelters too!

  2. Thanks!
    It's always good to see someone actually enjoying my ramblings.
    It was fun to do this for a change and I learned a lot, too.

  3. Nice "tent city"! ;) I think I might be moving in soon, hehehe.

    Sorry to hear of the mishaps, but it sounds like you figured out a lot of things, which is great.

    By the way, I give you a lot of credit for having a 12 x 18 inch tarp. I think that'd probably be too small for me. ;)

  4. Thanks for pointing out the error!
    Just fixed it....

    I am not a large dude, but in inches.... that would even be cramped for me...