Tent time! Take the latest, greatest and most affordable tents

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Whether you’re backpacking or family campers, in the backcountry or car-camping with your troop, your tent is your home away from home (so called best family tent). But a flimsy, leaky, sauna-hot tent isn’t much of a home. is it? That’s why Gear Guy is here to help you pick just the right tent for the kind of camping you want to do.

BACKPACKING TENTS

REI PASSAGE 2 ($159) At just under 5 pounds with two side doors and vestibules, along with lightweight aluminum poles, the Passage is a great two-man backpacking option. It’s freestanding with lots of ceiling mesh for ventilation, and color-coded poles and clips make it super easy to pitch. 4 lbs. 14 oz./ 33.75 sq. ft.

KELTY SALIBA 2 ($159) This is the most well-rounded backpacking tent here. It’s a simple freestanding, classic dome design with tons of mesh, and a single door and vestibule. Although it has slightly less interior space than the other two-man tents, the Salida weighs in at less than 4 pounds! 3 lbs. 12 oz. / 30.5 sq. ft.

BSA MOUNTAINEER ($139) New from our pals at Scoutstuff.org, the Mountaineer has the most living space of the two-man tents here. It comes with lightweight aluminum poles, organizer pockets and a gear loft inside. It has a single door and a vestibule that’s roomy enough for two packs and two pairs of boots. 5 lbs. 7oz. / 36.25 sq. ft.

GROUP OR BEST FAMILY TENTS

SLUMBERJACK TRAIL TENT 2 ($79) This simple two-man free-standing dome is the most affordable option here–we even saw it online for $66! It’s heavier than others, and has just a single door and vestibule, but the price makes it worth a took. 5 lbs. 9 oz. / 33.3 sq. ft.

REI CAMP DOME 4 ($219) Ideal for car-camping outings, this freestanding dome tent has ample space for you and three buddies, with two doors so you won’t have to crawl over everyone else to get outside. It’s easy to pitch with just two aluminum poles and easy clips. There are no vestibules, so you’ll have to store your packs and boots inside. 9 lbs. 7 oz. / 62.5 sq. ft.

L.L. BEAN MICROLIGHT FS TENT NO. 1 ($169) The lightest tent here, this freestanding solo tent, is perfect for summer backpacking trips because it’s made almost entirely of mesh. Includes lightweight aluminum poles, a big side door, full-coverage fly and small vestibule. 2 lbs. 11 oz./19 sq. ft.

COLEMAN 6 MAN TENT (INSTANT TENT 6) ($219) While some tents can be a bear to pitch, the poles of this six-man tent are preattached so it takes only around 60 seconds to set up. There’s room for four cots or two big airbeds inside, but six big guys might be a little cramped. The tent is highly water-resistant, so there’s no rainfly, but for heavy rains you’ll probably still want to string out a tarp above it or buy the rainfly for $35. We’ve seen this tent priced as low as $147 online. 24.6 lbs. / 90 sq. ft.

EUREKA COPPER CANYON 8 ($399) By far the most spacious tent here, you might be able to pack your entire patrol inside this thing. Its walls are nearly vertical, so there s lots of floor room for cots and air mattresses. Plus it comes with a pair of gear lofts, several organizer pockets and a drop-down wall that’ll give you two rooms. This tent does come with a small rainfly, but as with the Coleman, you may want to string up a tarp for heavy rains. 34 lbs. 2 oz. / 130 sq. ft.

Horse sense 2

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Horse Sense 1

Riding Tips

If familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, it can at least cut the tension. That’s why it’s wise to visit a riding stable a few times before a major horse-camping trip. You might even consider taking a lesson or two. While you’re there, you can break in those new boots and jeans, too – once you hit camp it’s way too late. Learning to ride a horse is no more difficult than mastering a bicycle. Practice these tips for safety and to smooth your first riding experience:

* Wear hard-soled shoes or boots with a pronounced heel for a better “bite” in the stirrups.

* Approach the horse from its side – where it can see you – and speak the horse’s name in a calm, low voice.

* Mount from the animal’s left side in an open area (standing on an incline the first couple of times may help). Position your foot in the stirrup so the weight is across the ball of your foot. Then, grasping the mane in your left hand, mount in one smooth motion.

* Remember that the reins are used for steering. Hold them in your left hand and keep your right hand free and loose. Because the horse’s mouth is sensitive to the bit, jerking the reins can make the animal rear up, and you could be thrown. Don’t allow the reins to droop over the horse’s head either – your mount could step on them and injure itself. Find a position for your hands that is relaxed but allows you to easily apply pressure when you need to.

* Ride with the balls of your feet in the stirrup and lift your weight slightly, allowing your knees to act as shock absorbers.

* Most horses test their riders at some point, and even the most placid animal can be easily spooked in unfamiliar surroundings. Continually check the horse’s ears and eyes for signs of fear or mischief. When the ears prick up or the eyes roll, revealing their whites, something is going on – anticipate the unexpected.

* Remember gun safety: Never carry a chambered load when riding, and always place a scope down (not up) in the scabbard.

Packing Tips

Pack animals often make poor riding mounts. Consider the mule: This donkey/horse hybrid so valued for its endurance and surefootedness can haul inanimate loads in excess of 200 pounds, but it loses all sense of cooperation with a live rider on its back. Most horses, depending on their size, can carry 100 to 200 pounds, but the load must be evenly distributed. If in doubt about how much total weight you have, suspend a spring scale over a tree limb and weigh each article. To assure even distribution of weight, no-stirrup sawbuck saddles with wooden cross braces work best.

Over the years I’ve seen many innovative containers used for packing. Rectangular Rubbermaid garbage cans, for example, can be roped together and slung over the saddle. In camp, laying a board or two across the containers turns them into tables.

A grub box can be easily made of plywood. One outfitter I know builds his to be 9 by 18 by 32 inches, with a hinged top for easy access. The top features a heavy-duty clasp and a rope handle for attaching to a sawbuck saddle brace. Cans in the bottom of the food box are separated from bread and soft goods, held in place by an inside frame of 1 by 2s. The plank also serves as a cutting board; the box itself doubles as a seat or small table. Besides food, fragile gear like lanterns and stoves should also be packed in wooden boxes.

Mail-order houses sell panniers and other specialty horsepacking gear, or you can have the containers made to order by a local tent and awning company. Canvas tarps, called mantas, are ideal for wrapping together bulky items like coolers and stoves, which are then secured with hitches. Any book of knots will explain how to tie the basket, barrel, and diamond hitch that the professional packers use. But like the horse hitch (see above) – a special knot that tethers the animal but allows for quick release in the event of emergency – they are more easily learned through demonstration by a wrangler.

Use foam sleeping pads and empty grain sacks to cushion breakable items and to quiet rattling cookware. Rucksacks, like the Duluth pack designed for canoe camping, are great because the fabric assumes almost any shape needed. Duffel bags are fine too. Be sure to protect fishing rods in plastic tube containers.

Outfitters and veteran wranglers pack the string with care, separating fuel from food and carefully sheathing the cutting tools like axes and saws – they go aboard the lead animal, by the way, for trail clearing. The mess tent and cooking gear should also be at or near the head, followed by sleeping tents and personal gear. The tack tent and horse supplies bring up the rear.

Because there is a pecking order among horses, expect one or two rowdies in the string. Separating the bullies as much as possible is the best way to avoid a rodeo on the trail. No one knows his horses like the head wrangler. If he offers to let you lead a pack animal or two, do it, because it’s actually fun. Carry the packhorse halter in your right hand or loop it once around your saddle horn. Never tie it tightly because you may need to let go if a horse stumbles or grows troublesome. Sometimes packers tie the halter to the tail of the animal in front, and a few use baling twine at the end for a quick breakaway in a brouhaha or emergency.

I doubt if I’ll ever have a love affair with horses the way I have with bird dogs. But horses often are the only way to reach a camp, and even I have to admit that the view from the saddle is one everyone should experience.

Horse sense 1

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A camping trip in the high country is always a stirring experience, and even more so when you’re on horseback.

Maybe it’s the extremes that provide the allure of the high country. At 10,000 feet the midday sun can quickly burn the skin, yet nights demand a down-filled sleeping bag; winds violently shake the aspens, only to suddenly stop and allow sound to carry for hundreds of yards; fog-mantled peaks blunted in the opaque gray of early morning pierce an untouched sky of infinite blue by afternoon.

A camping trip amid such magnificent landscape is indeed a stirring experience, even more so when you camp by horseback. Granted, horse-pack camping may not be for everyone, but don’t mark yourself a nonparticipant simply because you’re uncomfortable around the animals.

Horse riding

Take me, for instance. I don’t like horses and am respectfully fearful of them. Naturally, they are not afraid of me. I suppose this is intuition. After all, how can an 1,800-pound animal with a brain the size of your fist reason? Common sense tells me to listen carefully to the advice of wranglers, swallow the lump in my throat – and some pride – and ask for the gentlest nag available.

The tactic works. So far on half a dozen camping trips to Montana, Nevada, and Colorado, I have yet to be thrown, bitten, kicked, or stepped on by a horse. On my most recent trip, a mule deer and elk pack-in to the Little Belt Mountains in Montana, four uneventful hours riding to the pleasant accompaniment of creaking leather lowered my guard. I grew a tad slack in the stirrups. That’s when Blue, the Appaloosa mare I was riding, bolted when a rabbit crossed the forested trail. I managed to stay upright as Blue thundered down the path, leaping a small creek and charging up the opposite bank. Then, crisis past, Blue settled down just as quickly and fell back into line as though nothing had happened. Horses are indeed strange creatures. Wrangler Roy Olsen, who owns Yellow Water Outfitters out of Grass Range, Mont., just shook his head and laughed as he said, “We’ll make a cowboy out of you yet, Huggler.”

Read Horse Sense 2

Backyard camping

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Let’s take a vacation and close up our workshops. We need a change to fit us for school in the fall. Vacation suggests good times outdoors, and camping is one of the best of good times. We generally think of camping as sleeping in a tent in the woods or on the banks of a lake or stream or motor camping with Daddy. But not all of us can go away this summer, so I shall tell how to camp out in the backyard or in a vacant lot nearby, a plan anyone can follow. Make sure to get permission first.

Of course, backyard camping keeps you close to home. But when you awaken in the dead of night, it does not require a great deal of imagination to fancy that you are in deep woods a thousand miles away. Camping at home is packs of fun, and you probably will want to sleep out all summer, once you have become accustomed to it.
The backyard camp is a good training camp in which to learn the knack of pitching and striking a tent, building a cooking fire, and cooking food fit to eat. And it is an advantage to the tenderfoot to have home near at hand in case things go wrong, in case the tent leaks like a sieve or blows away, the eats don’t fill the hungry spot, or the mosquito repellent fails to work properly.

backyard tent

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the way I would organize my backyard camp. Almost any type of tent will do, but the small pup tent, or shelter tent, is quite the thing for the backyard camp because it requires little space. It is an inexpensive tent, too. When you become a Scout, you will use it frequently on overnight hikes. The illustration shows a tent made of a tarpaulin, or several widths of eight-ounce cotton duck fabric sewed together, with a triangular piece to enclose the rear, and a similar piece to protect the front. If you will support one end of the ridgepole upon the fence rail, as shown, only one upright pole will be necessary. Drive stakes at the sides to fasten the tent to. Keep the tent taut in dry weather, but slacken it before a storm to prevent its ripping when rained upon.

To keep surface water from flooding the tent, dig a narrow trench around it, with an outlet at one side for a drain. Spread an old rug, piece of carpet, or burlap upon the ground, and place a poncho or raincoat upon it before making your bed. Ask Mother to sew up a mattress sack of unbleached muslin, three feet wide and five feet long, with one end left open. Straw is the best filling, but dried grass will do. After filling the sack, fasten the open end with safety pins.

The backyard campfire is used only for cooking; therefore, it is small, and not dangerous. But scrape away the grass from the spot on which the fire is to be built, or place a piece of sheet iron upon the grass. Gather dry tree branches or shrubbery cuttings for starting your cooking fire, and allow yourself only two matches for lighting, which are twice as many as should be necessary. With your knife make a small pile of whittlings. Then enclose the pile with short pieces of branches placed wigwam fashion, and all will be laid for lighting. Light a match, shield it from the wind with one hand, and when the match stick is burning brightly, slip it between the sticks and ignite the small shavings. Shield the windward side of the wood with hand or hat until the fire has got a good start, and then feed with other pieces of branches and heavier wood.

Figure 2

A second-class Scout is required to know how to cook meat and potatoes without cooking utensils. Figure 2 shows the stick method of supporting a wienie over the fire. Select a green stick with forked end, and whittle sharp points upon the fork.

Build a fireplace, like that shown in Figure 1, for the support of cooking utensils. Dig up pieces of grass and sod to form a fire pit four inches wide at one end and twelve inches wide at the other end, and place the sod pieces, dirt side up, at the sides of the pit. The narrow end of this fireplace will support a frying pan. Iron bars or lengths of pipe may be placed across the wide end to support pots and kettles, or a crane, shown in the illustration, may be used. Make the crane uprights forked, and place a broom handle or curtain pole in the forks for the supporting pole. Then bend S-shaped hooks out of heavy wire, and interlock them, as shown in Figure 1, to support the kettle at the desired distance above the fire.

Figure 3

A flashlight is handy in camp, but you must have a lantern for continuous lighting. The candle lantern shown in Figure 6 is made of a tin can with a hole punched out of the side. Use a nail and hammer, as shown in Figure 7. Then insert a candle and attach a wire handle.

The illustration shows how to set up a camp table, cupboard, and box seats. Other ideas will occur to you–try them out!

Camping out

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TRUTH BY THE LAKE Camping Out centers around a canoe trip taken by two women in the Vermont woods. They’re old friends; that is, they knew each other a long time ago at Radcliffe, but even then their relationship was strained. Marilyn’s prickly nature, her lesbianism, and her success at what Dennie considers “phony poetry” imposed distance between them. They haven’t seen each other for years, except for one chance encounter at a mutual friend’s when Dennie, otherwise sexually conventional (as far as we know anyway), was suddenly intensely attracted to Marilyn. She kept it to herself but is still somewhat disturbed by it. The two haven’t met since.

Dennie has been living with her diplomat husband and her son in Italy. She has come back to the States for her mother’s funeral. Marilyn, having read the obituary, shows up at the funeral and suggests Dennie visit her in Vermont–this leads to the camping trip. From the beginning, the trip seems perilous–Marilyn packs knives, an ax, and an anti-rape weapon made of a tampon with stout needles stuck into it. And we’re given to know, before they set out, that something horrible will happen. There are hints of the violent death of Marilyn’s dog, Corky, and of some other, sexual, violence aimed at Marilyn and Dennie. Eventually the source of this danger shows up, in the form of a charming, well-read, tin-flute playing, but still undeniably sinister escaped convict named Fred.

All these intriguing details come out through a letter Dennie writes Marilyn after the camping trip is long over, so we know from the outset that both women survive. Suspense on its simplest level is not what clark is after; by using the letter she shifts her emphasis from the story itself to what Dennie, looking back, makes of it. The events of the trip, horrifying though they are, are less important than what Dennie reveals about herself in them.

To hear her tell it, there’s truth to the belief that at moments of crisis your life flashes before your eyes. The camping trip as she recalls it was a series of such moments, each of which trigger long-submerged yet minutely detailed memories of her childhood. For the reader, the experience is initially disconcentrating. We lurch from a violent Vermont deluge to tableaux from an Italian fortresss, the Rocca, where Dennie spent several years as a child. The Signorina, the little old lady miser who owned the place, naturally comes to mind, but so do such particulars as “three small amateur paintings on the wall, framed: of trees, cows by a barn, a bowl of fruit,” and a hand-embroidered set of priestly vestments all done in bees and roses.

It may seem unlikely that, lying face down and half-frozen at lake’s edge, Dennie would call up her memories with such coherence and intricacy. And we’re thrown too, at first, by the tendency of the narrative to veer off almost imperceptibly, from the first person of Dennie’s letter to some unspecified third. Is Marilyn’s voice taking over, we wonder, and how does she know what was in Dennie’s mind? Such literal-minded hesitations clue us in to what Clark is up to, and they focus attention on who is telling the story, and how, and what tricks of mind the telling reveals.

Clark leads us to feel that there’s no clear demarcation in the human mind between past and present, between what’s happened and what effect it’s had, between what’s happened and what we feel must, almost in consequence, happen. Dennie is stirred, for example, by the New England mountains and trees to recall childhood camping trips with her grandfather and her twin brother, Rick. She remembers them singing “The Road to Mandalay” by the campfire, and realizes that Rick, who’s off saving boat people, must now be somewhere in the vicinity of Mandalay. When she thinks of him, though, some lurking guilt surfaces, some disturbing occurrence that came between thosecamping trips and this one; she pushes him from her mind. But later, by a similar campfire, she finds herself drawn to the sinister stranger, who does after all smell comfortingly like Rick–and the longing and unease that color her relationship with her brother are overlaid on her current mixed feelings. “Memory. And desire,” she murmurs to herself at one point. The two, in her mind and Clark’s novel, are inextricably linked.

Dennie’s stories, told with numerous compulsively honest qualifiers and then-agains, form a picture of a mind attempting to weave together the scattered facts of its existence. And calling up the past, Clark shows us, both illuminates and affects the present. The way the two women appraoch memory is neatly revelatory of their characters and of the multilayered tension between them.

Still puzzled by her coldness at yesterday’s funeral, Dennie pours out, at Marilyn’s request, what she can recall of her mother and her childhood at the Rocca. Her listener is eager to record this vivid remembrance and apply her critical chic literary theories to it. Triangles (verbal constructs, and shades of gray (“the only significant color”) are all that matter to Marilyn’s mind, and Dennie tries to be accommodating. “The well-trained diplomat’s wife,” she kept her intimate and compulsive memories to herself, fed out what she knew was wanted in the way of geometry and female subjugation, with stress on the piquant and the ludicrous. Only toward the end, in a fit of perversity, outrageously, she had burst out in another vein, to suit herself…. Faces, voices, moments, for the cassette and its owner to choke on. Dennie’s combativeness at this stage, surprising to herself if not to her audience, had been across the board, and they both knew it, although it was only after the tableau of the mother mourning a dead daughter that Marilyn turned off the tape and uttered the monosyllable “Shit.”

Part of what makes the pull of memory so strong for Dennie is her longing for the remembered sense of family so prevalent at the Rocca. In defiance of Marilyn, and to fulfill her own needs, she chooses to emphasize, by implication, “the man-woman-child triangle that had no place in the listener’s mathematics.” Marilyn, as a woman and as a would-be critically correct storyteller, has no use for Dennie’s brand of memorializing.

The Rocca story leads Dennie and Marilyn to “a point of definite hostility,” and when danger, human and meteorological, begins to show itself, Dennie curses herself for her perversity. Solidarity between the two women, whether emotional or philosophical, might have altered what happens.

For we mustn’t forget Fred, who in offering a “choice of scenarios” for his appearance himself contributes to Clark’s commentary on storytelling. There’s nothing abstract about Fred, though; his presence is too vivid. Stepping ashore at their campsite all courtesy and charm, he instantly wins Marilyn by reciting her poetry to her, flashes his glinting smile, steals their canoe paddle, and departs across the lake. From then on he comes and goes, dazzles the women with his electric energy, and then drops dangerous hints of impending violence. Before long, they’re more than hints. One minute he’s suggesting they venture off to Italy together, the next he’s shouting his plans to eradicate the world. “‘Erase! Get it? Wipe out; eliminate!” With the edge of one of his shoes he made a mark in the dirt and as quickly ground it away. ‘Like that. Every living thing.'”

The astounding quickness of his transformations make them doubly frightening–to us at any rate. In retrospect Dennie wonders how much she and Marilyn played along, or at least deliberately ignored signs of what was to come. The accuracy with which these reversals and evasions of mind are revealed is stunning. Lucidly and with a certain wry toughness, Clark detailes all the nuances of the women’s complicated motivations, the intricate ways in which memory–and desire–make a horrifying turn of events seem inevitable.

Family camping trip prompts woman to write children’s book

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It should have been just a family camping weekend at the Brown County State Park, the largest state park in Indiana. But despite the beautiful trees and wildlife, places to fish and to play, Beth Starr, her husband and their three children could not get past the garbage left behind by campers and hikers.

BROWN COUNTY STATE PARK

“At first my husband and I were like, “OK, just leave it,’ but then it got to be, throughout the rest of the weekend, where the kids had started to notice more and more [trash] on the trails, Starr said. “So instead of discouraging them from picking it up, we just started to go with it.

One night, Starr told her children about Rascal and Shady, two raccoons that engaged the forest’s habitants into collecting the material people left behind.

The children went to bed after the story their mother told them and when they woke up in the morning they were ready to start collecting the garbage left in the park. “That kind of got the kids more eager to pick up trash because they had been thinking Rascal and Shady were really happy for them to do that, Starr said.

After the family came back home from the weekend, Starr said the children continued picking up trash when they encountered it, and they continued to talk about how they were helping Rascal and Shady keep their environment free of garbage.

Along with their memories from the trip, the family had brought home ideas for a book that would encourage children to take a closer look at reuse and recycling.

“I got home and I thought: If this is sticking and my kids are noticing weeks after [the story] that there is stuff we can do in our community, I think other kids would, Starr said.

Starr, also an elementary school teacher, realized that if her children were getting into the idea of reducing, recycling and reusing, other kids their age would as well. And in January 2010, “Rascal & Shady Reuse and Recycle was published.

After that trip to the park the couple realized not only that their children had changed their attitude toward what was getting thrown away, but also that they had started to hold their parents responsible for what the family was trashing.

“They held us accountable, which is really funny, Starr said. “That was when I realized this had such a huge impact. They will catch us if they think that something should be recycled but isn’t there, said Starr, referring to the place where the family deposits its recyclables.

“It is really funny, said Starr about the couple’s children. “They are always watching what they are doing.

Starr also said the children have been paying even more attention on what they can do with the recyclable material. She said her oldest daughter constantly finds creative and crafty ways to use the material she takes out of the recycling bin.

“Her mind is always thinking of ways to create something else out of what you would think is already there to be recycled or to be throw away, Starr said. “She looks forward to doing something different with it.

The author said many times adults forget to teach their children about recycling and end up not explaining the importance of depositing garbage in the right place or why the children should do it. Starr said she plans to visit schools and read “Rascal and Shady Reuse and Recycle to other kids. She also has prepared a puppet show with the characters to interact with the children.

“Kids are more interested when you make it relevant and simple, Starr said. “That’s when I see the kids are more interested, when you tie it to a character or characters that are something they enjoy and they relate to. It makes it more fun, and it is a better way for them to remember what to do next time they see a recycling can and trash outside in the street or on the curb.