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Select-a-Tent-art - 10/31/09


"Selecting A Tent For SCA Camping: Tarp-Mender's Tales #3" by Amr ibn Majid al-Bakri al-Amra.


NOTE: See also the files: tent-transprt-msg, pavilions-msg, p-tents-msg, p-tents-art, Pavilions-101-art, tent-fabrics-msg, tent-sources-msg, tents-weather-msg.





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Selecting A Tent For SCA Camping: Tarp-Mender's Tales #3

by Amr ibn Majid al-Bakri al-Amra


> 1. How much room is enough room for 2 people & their stuff?


> Note, hubbie will probably do a lot of sleeping (which he does on

> vacation) in the tent. It won't be just a storage space while I'm off

> gadding about.

> Amie Sparrow


(Gee, I began writing a column on camping years and years ago. Looks like it is time to update, extend, and re-issue...one piece at a time.


Like the other pieces in this irregular series, I will no doubt ask more questions than I answer...)


Tarp-Mender's Tales #3: Tentage, Storage, and Related "Fun"


A great deal of comfort while camping in the SCA can be improved by good choices in tentage. This is ultimately also a matter of safety and sanity.


For most purposes, a mundane tent rated for 4 or 5 adults will barely be sufficient for two SCA adults with a "normal" weekend array of costuming, sleeping arrangements, and gear. However, floor space is not the only measure of usability or comfort. How much of the internal space is sufficiently separated from the walls? How much is made unusable by internal poles or other parts of the structure? How tall are the expected inhabitants, and very importantly what types of costuming are they normally wearing? (a simple chiton or tunic & tights can be changed into or out of in much greater comfort in far smaller area than full Elizabethans / Italian Renn) What type of bed / bedding?


Is the most important function of the tent in your setup for sleeping, storage, hosting others, or something else?


Another increasingly important consideration: what are the ages of the campers expecting to use the tent being considered? What are their limitations upon movement, or requirements for a sleeping surface?


With all of that in mind, here's Amra's Rule of Thumb for Selecting Tent Size: look at the sleeping area of your regular bedroom, adjust for your expected bed in camping conditions, and add 15%-plus -- and a separate fly / pavilion for cooking & other functions.


Additionally, fully roping / pegging / staking the erected tent makes a major difference in maintaining the separation of the tent walls from the contents AND survivability in inclement weather. (Tent wall or roof touching contents of tent = eventual leak, with any breathable material.)


(NOTE WELL: if you are this far along, m'lady [or m'lord], you probably realize that *total* footprint and usable internal footprint are not the same. Not everyone does, however, so I mention same explicitly. Allow at least five additional feet of clearance on all sides for ropes & stakes.)


"Basic" Design: in more traditional tents, the marquis, double bell, "Viking" A-frame, ger ("yurt"), and walled pavilion are all common sights which I can recommend for consideration. A major choice in many traditional tents will be whether or not the roof and the walls will be sewn together. While there are strong advantages to both designs, the relatively casual camper is probably best served by attaching walls and roof in those designs which allow you to do so. With larger tents -- anything over roughly 16ftx18ft -- I would advise you to reconsider, however, due to the total weight of canvas involved.


A huge consideration in the selection of a design is how you intend to transport and store it, followed closely by where and when you expect to use it most often. As most of us don't travel with the cargo capacity of a longship at our disposal, the Viking A-frame is not the best of designs for urban apartment dwellers (unless they have some serious storage available elsewhere, plus access to a cargo vehicle large enough to do the cartage...) Similarly, a small, simple marquis is not usually appropriate for a growing household intending to host a hafla anytime soon. OR anyone planning to do more than an occasional camping event in heavy weather.


My personal preference, my mundane surname and admission that I have not personally owned one not withstanding, is a modification of the modern design known as a "Baker tent". Instead of the relatively shallow "depth" of the Baker design, this form is roughly ten or twelve feet in width and fifteen to twenty or more in length with hangings / panels attaching to the side poles and spanning bars or lines between side poles in order to create internal rooms. This can visually appear similar to tents of the Bedouin with very little effort, and has the advantage of being expanded even further with very little effort. In multiples of up to eight or so, it also can make for a striking household camp IF one can find a large enough area. (By overlapping the front flys, and perhaps adding a central pavilion, a sheltered common area can be easily created with minimum added material or equipment...


Individual tents can be closed off by extra tarpaulins, or by dropping the front fly into place and tying / pegging / other fastening. By leaving one or more "spokes" empty or covered by open pavilion[s], this can be a very inviting arrangement as well.)


"Advanced" Design: extra amenities or features may require rigid or at least semi-rigid framing. Consider the advantages of the "yurt" roof frame of hub & spokes in combination with a relatively few number of solid perimeter posts or poles and flexible resistance of the woven lath or branch walls. Extra storage is readily available through suspension from the ceiling or the wall lattice that is not advisable with canvas roofs or walls that have not been carefully prepared in advance for such purposes. However, practically any traditional tent can have appropriately-sized netting added *inside* from which similar hanging storage is easily accomplished.


The "spanning bars" mentioned above are often omitted from traditional tents only intended for short-duration camping or other usage. They can make a huge difference in the long-term campsite.


Modern tents with external frames, such as were popular before the dome tent with flexible segmented fiberglass poles became popular, may make a useful visual reference here. In addition to the ridgepole, such externally-framed tents have what amount to secondary ridges which define the walls of the tent AND make the whole possible without guy ropes at every corner (and commonly at every side pole as well) needed in earlier designs.


"Better" traditional design for long-term occupancy adds bars between corner and / or side poles as part of the internal framing of the tent. (If it helps, consider the difference in strength and durability between a door with the hinges simply fastened to a wall and a door installed with a complete frame...) While avoiding too much extra weight, or any large number of extra components, at least consider such an extra bar between each pair of outside corner poles plus one between the two poles flanking the primary entrance of the tent. If your design includes raising the walls to allow air circulation, these bars also provide something other than the roof canvas that can be attached to when opening things up.


Material: the canopy and walls should be constructed of a good- to high- quality canvas treated to "Sunforger" or an equivalent standard of fire retardant and water resistance (if not better). Modern materials, such as the ubiquitous nylon used for most "dome" tents, may be far lighter but in most circumstances it is far less resistant to fire than properly treated canvas of a decent weight. There are some situations that may call for the use of more than just canvas, however, and reinforcing wear points with heavy nylon webbing may be a good modern alternative to metal of leather. In general, metal grommets are far easier to repair or replace "in the field" than the plastic or nylon equivalents. For serious long-term tenting, learning how to make a sailmaker's grommet, or even a gasket, with rope, fabric, thread, and the appropriate tools will serve well for several maintenance needs.


Always clean and dry the tent fabric before storing. If you must pack wet, or even damp, brush off all possible debris and dirt before packing AND unpack and dry out as soon as possible. Clean any dirt you can by brushing off before hosing down the remaining. Mudflaps / groundflaps and a separate flooring system will generally be far more flexible / last longer than any sewn-in floor (or any fabric floor, for that matter). DETACHABLE / replaceable mudflaps (think of lacing them onto the tent walls using grommets) are even better!


Traditional cordage can work better than rope made of modern materials for most tenting requirements: the natural fibers behave differently, and are less likely to be antagonistic to other materials used in putting the tent together. Modern rope has the advantage of retaining strength even after being wet for days at a time. Which you choose for *your* camp will depend upon multiple factors. In general, for camping purposes I prefer hemp over sisal when it comes to rope due to fewer "splinters". (While I have made some rope in my lifetime, for most applications commercially-available rope is a better investment in time and resources. I wouldn't mind laying my hands on some linen rope if anyone can recommend a decent source...)


ALWAYS take the time to properly prepare the ends of your rope before use -- it will last much longer, and be far safer. "Whip" using thread or twine if you can't end-splice or eye-splice, or spend a little time with a good knot-tying handbook to investigate other options. At a minimum, put a tight overhand knot into the line as close to the end of the piece as you can. Dipping the result in some paint or varnish can make for a touch of color, but will weaken the knot you just tied in the long run.


Frame, Poles, Staking: invest in the highest-quality metal stakes that you can see your way clear to. Include butt-spikes / caps / "stake-frames" for the main upright poles if possible. Use as heavy a material as you can handle for the primary poles, and to the extent possible make them single-piece construction. If you must use segmented poles, the sockets / threading or other connections should extend far enough to make a complete, strong joint. Among the best designs I have seen for segmented wooden ridge poles are those with a welded metal sleeve surrounding two tapered ends that overlap. For uprights, I have seen the least breakage of the pole segments with a fully-sleeved flat-butt arrangement. Generally, do not rely only on guy ropes to hold the walls of a tent where you want them, particularly during any amount of rain or wind.


Storage: Inside one's sleeping tent is not the most useful space for storage, or at least not all of your storage. A "structured" storage compartment that can be accessed without entering one's tent is far more flexible in the long run than adding size to the main sleeping tent. It is ALSO far easier to make water-resistant over the long term than most equivalent fabric enclosures short of non-breathable options (oilcloth or rubberized fabrics, or plastics / heavily-coated fibers).


By creating a compartmented box for the tent and accouterments designed with an eye toward multiple functions, the whole system can also act as long-term storage of your camping "kit". Further, ridge poles or solid uprights can be used as carrying poles for the box if you travel with a few husky young squires. With a bit of extra work, the box system can also be given multi-use wheels: solid "ox-cart" wheels can re-mount as tables or even be used as part of a tent flooring system, any axles as ridgepoles / uprights for the cooking / dining fly while stowing flat in a trailer, large van cargo area, or truck bed. A number of similar smaller designs are available for "chuck boxes" through Scouting sources [http://comp.uark.edu/~rohughes, http://www.troop168.net/forms/patrolboxa.htm]; the tent-box system I describe here is something I've seen executed only a few times and don't currently have a specific diagram for.


I have probably left something out, for which I apologize in advance. I welcome your comments, and will try to include the best / most important in any future revision of this installment of the column.


Amra "Tarp-Mender"




Note this as well: my exposure to any specific tent models from Panther or other manufacturers is currently out of date. Also, I have to admit one essential bit: I have never attended or camped at anything quite as large as Pennsic. Consider the rules and limits that exist for many larger events: you probably have an upper limit a little higher than the average camper, but each large event should also have a handicapped services liaison who should be contacted as far in advance of the event as possible. (Information from this or past years may not be accurate for future events!)


My primary suggestion [for anyone shopping for a tent] would be to try and attend a LARGE camping event and look over what you see there. Talk to people about what they like AND don't like about their tents -- especially any other wheelies you may see. Closely inspect the various types of floors in use, and consider the types of door zipper / fastenings / thresholds. Consider alternatives and requirements for transporting the whole rig, and how that fits with your overall plans / schedule. Also: pick at least one weekend event in advance of any larger commitment and test the setup "in the field". (The closer you can match the conditions of the longer events you are looking to attend the better.)


As an approximation, given [the querent's] other factors, 12x16 may be enough for a sleeping / multipurpose tent. A center-pole design typically loses a significant amount of storage UNLESS some serious campcraft can be applied, and for the best safety & stability you still need poles at the side walls. If you expect to deal with significant winds, a ridgepole design will normally be more likely to survive in at least partially usable condition (stress on those centerpoles is brutal, and the higher profile of the design invites more risk of failure in windy conditions).


I would strongly encourage an external area with at least one windscreen-wall and a roof / overhead fly (either within any space allotment, or as part of common area) for cooking &c.


For the Pennsic time frame, as long as you can remain reasonably dry you should be able to remain reasonably warm unless you have particular difficulty with maintaining body temperature. (Standard Pennsic advice, also applies to Steppes Warlord and Lilies: be prepared for everything from 50 to 100 degrees, dust to mud, rain to cloudless. Lower temperatures are certainly possible at Estrella or Gulf Wars...) Unless you are familiar with use of heaters in tents already, I strongly encourage you to do serious research in advance. Unless a tent is designed for venting, and appropriate precautions are in place, for most casual camping I get a lot more mileage out of better / more bedding. [The querent] mentions a pair of twin beds: remember that most air beds will be colder to sleep on than fabric & fill mattresses, and warmer still is to reduce the amount of air flow under the sleeping surface by either a closed box platform or placing it all the way on the ground (with appropriate moisture barriers).


[Specific to handicapped users]


Before going any further, consider this: will you be traveling with a crew willing and able to put up any of the tent that [the tent's occupants] can't handle by yourselves? Others may be willing to give occasional assistance, but don't count on their help when you most need it during set-up or take-down.


In "modern" tents, with fully attached floors, navigating the door with any type of wheelchair (or stroller) can be the largest challenge in regular use. Even with Panther or other models with either detached/detachable flooring, there remains a number of challenges with fastening or unfastening a tent door. Are you able to self-transfer, or even stand for a minute or so, without assistance? Are you confident in being able to modify a Panther or other tent by yourself, or with assistance from others? These factors are critical to safely navigating and using the door.


A "garage tent" for the electric wheels is one of those areas where storage outside the main sleeping top works really well *if* it is an option. Among other advantages, it means that dirt and mud from the wheels doesn't track inside. It also allows you to keep your recharging station set up without consuming tent space (and for Pennsic I know that access to electrical power is at a serious premium -- make certain that you have your arrangements for recharging in place before you reach site!)


The biggest drawback that I know to wheelchair vs. most modern tents -- other than military surplus or some commercial canopies not specifically intended for recreational camping -- is still the zippered door on models with integrated floors. Not impossible to overcome, but certainly something to consider. Those with single continuous zippers, even with double pulls, are probably the most difficult. Far better / easier for the chairbound in *my* experience are the T-zipper screen doors (vertical long zipper, separate zippers for each side at the bottom) combined with a tied / toggled outer fabric door, and even then adding pull strings (loops) to the zipper tabs and having a cane or grab-it will make it much easier to manipulate if you are unable to bend over very far. This can be especially important for overall tent stability: for many designs, the tent will handle wind and water MUCH better if the stakes immediately to either side of the door are properly planted, which makes it difficult/impossible to pull the zipper area up where it can be manipulated by hand from the seat of the chair.


"Traditional" tents, with only the ties & toggles, may actually have an advantage in the door ease-of-use department.


Hmmm, another adaptation: depending upon [...] upper-body strength / physical capacity, using extra-long stakes could allow [handicapped campers] to safely help with more of the tent set-up. Say three foot lengths of prepared rebar or pipe / rod. If you have access to someone who welds, angle-cutting the bottom end and adding loops to which cordage can be tied will improve ease-of-use.


Hope I have not rambled too much, and have at least given you something useful for your planning.



Copyright 2006, 2008 by Mike C. Baker, <kihebard at hotmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org