Montana Outdoors

April 15, 2007

Tent camping

Filed under: Camping, Humor, Montana, Nature, Outdoors — montucky @ 9:38 am

I’m pretty sure there are other things in life besides fishing and hunting and spending all available time outdoors doing a host of other things, but as much as I sit back, scratch my head and try to remember, I can’t think of what they are. I’ve finally reached the state of nirvana.

Now while nirvana to the sequestered monk may be a state of complete and ultimate perfection, to the sportsman it takes on an ever-so-slightly different cast, making it more livable and so much more interesting. There are minute imperfections in his state of nirvana that have been introduced by Mother Nature, some illustrating Her immense sense of humor and others serving as a reminder of exactly Who is ultimately in control of the outdoor world.

To the outdoorsman who spends three hundred and sixty four days each year out traipsing through the valleys, streams, hillsides, ridges and up and over all the peaks within a hundred mile radius of home base in all types of weather conditions, there are certain pieces of equipment that are absolutely essential, to cite as just one example, a good tent.

(Incidentally, the other day of the year is well spent explaining to the Chief Financial Officer exactly why all this time outdoors is completely unavoidable, and putting together the equipment budget for the next three hundred and sixty four days, the success of the budget, of course, depending on the believability of the previously mentioned explanation. That‘s why all outdoorsmen are noted for being very creative individuals.)

Statistically, most of the residents of the US own tents, although the numbers are skewed more than slightly by those of us who happen to own a dozen or so in various states of disrepair (such as California, Montana and Massachusetts), and most of them have misconceptions about the nature of the tent itself. Now is as good a time as any to correct some of those misunderstandings. Because I have a certain amount of consideration for the physical capacity of internet servers to contain information I will limit myself to addressing just two for the moment.

Tents keep out the rain.

This misconception is often cited as one of the main motivations for making the sporting goods manufacturers and retailers happy with their profit numbers but in fact, no statement could possibly be further from the truth.

If you calculate the actual fabric area of an average tent (not including the floor, if any), you would find it to be somewhere around 20,000 square inches. That’s for a pyramid-shaped tent approximately seven feet high and ten feet on each side. Now every one of those square inches is capable of stopping rain water from passing on to the inside. Except for one tiny spot of, say 1/1000 of a square inch, which is always strategically located directly over your sleeping bag (due to Mother Nature’s reminder about who is in control as noted in paragraph two). As I have carefully documented over many years, this .00000005 of the tent area actually has the capability of introducing approximately two gallons per second of rain water into the tent and onto your sleeping bag during a medium rain storm. During a heavy rain, it’s a good policy to keep the door fully open to let the water which came in through this tiny opening back out. It also gives you additional space which can be used for wringing out your sleeping bag.

Tents stop the wind.

This misconception illustrates Mother Nature’s incredible sense of humor and also her commitment to enforcing a strict exercise policy for sportsmen and campers. If the Council for Truth in Advertising were to have an outdoor person among its membership, this would be more properly stated as “Tents collect the wind.”

Camping in western Montana is usually done in the mountains. In eastern Montana it is done on the plains. Both cases involve a tremendous amount of cardiovascular exercise, and mountain camping also includes the addition of an agility test.

As any woodsman worth his salt could tell you (after a lifetime squandered, er, spent outdoors I still don’t understand why our worth is measured in salt), when camping in the mountains the proper placement for a tent is near the head of a small ravine around fifty yards from the crest of a ridge. In that particular location a small area completely devoid of vegetation can always be found, and there is a good reason for that.

While during the daytime hours it is normally very tranquil with only the trace of a slight breeze, sometime between setting up the tent and successfully getting a good night’s sleep in it, a severe wind always starts up and ravages up the ravine to the bare spot upon which the tent has been placed, forming at that precise location a diabolical vortex of fury which explains why that spot was bare in the first place. The tent, along with any vegetation that was overlooked during previous storms is uprooted and re-deposited over the top of the ridge into a patch of dense timber complete with fallen trees and big boulders which were also deposited there in storms past. This tent migration is always accompanied by or immediately followed by the previous residents of the tent, necessitating the cardiovascular effort.

The campers will pass the agility test if they are able to successfully sprint up to and over the ridge in the darkness of the night, dodging trees and boulders while weaving in and out between the bears who have gathered to witness the spectacle, and recapture the renegade tent moments before it violates Canadian air space.

Most tent camping east of the divide occurs during antelope season, the opening of which normally occurs three days after the daytime temperature drops from the seventies to the thirties and the nighttime temperature sinks down into the teens. At the same time the average IQ of the antelope hunter also sinks into the teens as illustrated by his choice of a tent for his principal place of residence during the hunt.

As in camping in the mountains, the tranquility of the daytime lulls the camper into a pseudo-state of nirvana, which state lasts exactly until the campfire is out and the sleeping bag inside the tent starts feeling very, very good.

Although meteorologists have successfully measured and documented the speed of winds in hurricanes and an occasional tornado, so far not a single one of them has even dared to attempt to test the wind speed at night on the plains of eastern Montana, especially during antelope season.

I’ve heard experts attest that an antelope can approach a speed of fifty miles per hour and I can personally attest to passing a herd of antelope which was cruising at their top speed while I was chasing down my only means of shelter in the middle of a cold night east of the Divide, leaving them in the huge cloud of dust raised by a fleeing tent which was dragging its tent stakes and a couple of the slower-reacting hunters.

Of these two camping conditions, I much prefer camping in the rain because a tent full of water is much easier to catch and sleeping in a wet suit can be pretty darn comfortable once you get used to it.


  1. we went tent camping in New Braunfels when my son was 2. we should have left the tent door open, because we were soaked after a heavy rain storm that night. it was absoulutely miserable. not to mention we were dumb enough to camp on the river w/ tons of “river rats” the week of July 4th. They were all drunk and we were soaked! there was no laundry facility there so we packed up all our wet stuff and moved to a KOA so we could wash and dry our stuff and get away from the drunks!

    we have had a couple of other rain storms while camping but nothing like that.

    and in S. TX, tent camping in summer is like sitting in a sauna!


    Comment by skouba — April 16, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

  2. We used to camp a lot. In Arizona we could camp in the low desert during the winter and the high country in the summer to get away from the heat. Since we moved back to Montana we really don’t camp because we live right in the middle of where we want to be anyway. Just about everything is within a very short drive away.

    I do camp for a few days in October east of the Divide. That’s cold camping, temps in the teens there’s always a strong wind there that doesn’t even stop at night.

    This summer though, I’ll spend quite a few nights in my backpack tent up in the high country, but I’ll try to avoid the rain if possible.


    Comment by montucky — April 16, 2007 @ 9:32 pm

  3. It may seem like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not: every time my family has gone camping for the last several years, it has rained. Without exception. Makes me want to buy a motor home, although I detest the things.
    This was a good read, montucky. Made me chuckle.


    Comment by wolf — April 17, 2007 @ 9:34 am

  4. I guess rain is one of the reasons for using a tent, but it seems like it doesn’t always do the job.

    I feel the same way as you do about motor homes. For one thing, you usually can’t take the darn things into the area you want.

    Thanks for the visit!


    Comment by montucky — April 17, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  5. I never had an introduction to a tent until I was in my middle thirties. Before that it simply was a sleeping bag on the ground – not that this method is better mind you. I recall when I was about ten waking up at 3 am because a good six slugs made a nest in my hair in the night. I’m sure someone has a homopathy way of removing slugs out of ones hair – but my mothers method was simply cutting it off. I have to agree whole heartly about your summary of tent camping – I ask my husband everytime we go camping why we bring one at all. (I think personally, he likes to avoid the completely soping wet feeling in the morning caused by dew – but as you pointed out that little hole in the tent does a fine job on its own.)


    Comment by aullori — April 19, 2007 @ 10:46 am

  6. When I was a kid, we didn’t have a tent either. We had a couple of old mattresses that we would roll up and stuffinto the back seat of the car, plenty of wool blankets and an old tarp we would spread over the top. Nothing is better than that!

    I do have a tent I really like though. It’s a small backpack tent that I bought in 1964 and it’s still in perfect condition. It has kept me warm and dry more nights than I can count, and I’ll be using it again this summer for a couple of trips I have planned. Somehow that particular model was made without the hole in the top!


    Comment by montucky — April 19, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

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