Kate Matthews, who authors the Living the Scout Life blog, shares some camping advice from the Scout Shop, the official retailer of the Boy Scouts of America, in this installment of “Scout Shop Tips.”

Let’s be honest here: finding the perfect tent can be a bit overwhelming. I remember looking on website after website and wondering how I was supposed to know what to buy, and was ridiculously intimidated by all of the options. Even more, I got to wondering if there was a balance that I could find between value and price tag.

That’s when I decided to get with our in-house camping expert (think years of Scouting and camping experience, along with being in charge of finding the best camping gear for us to stock at Scout Shops) and snag some key advice around how to pick the tent that works best for you, and a few suggestions to get you started and that outdoor adventure party rolling.

Car Camping and Weekend Warrior

This is a great place to start with your camping adventures. What you are looking for here is more along the lines of camp comfort over extreme minimalism. If this is your arena, you’re in the right place.

When selecting a tent, I suggest starting with a larger-than-necessary size. If a tent is labeled as a three-person tent, it means that three mats or three sleeping bags can fit with minimal to no space between them. So, my basic rule of thumb is to take however many people you are traveling with and add at least two to that number.

As a family of three, we actually use a six-person tent. I find so much value in having extra room for activities and gear, because our almost 4-year-old is a ball of constant energy and cannot be still. Or contained. Ever. We currently have the Coleman 6-Person and love it.

Another reason I suggest going larger is so you can sleep on something with a little more room and padding than just a sleeping bag or mat. Sleeping mats are awesome, and you should probably work up to that if you ever have any discomfort sleeping (back, neck, hips, etc.) instead of just jumping right to that sleep set-up.

Another great thing about car camping is that you have a little more flexibility around how heavy your tent can be since you won’t have to haul your little home away from home around in your pack. So, this is basically a non-issue.

Being new to camping, some things that I never even knew about before I ventured into sleeping outside:

  • There are all kinds of tech-y additions available to make everything easier.

I know you’re thinking, one of the best things about getting away for the weekend is detoxing from technology, but my husband has sleep apnea, and whenever we find camping spots that have power, we make sure to take advantage so we can plug his machine in for uninterrupted (and much quieter!) sleep. Nowadays, lots of tents have openings built in so you can run in a power cord.

Another technical addition to tents to check out are built-in sleep systems. Ideally, you should pitch your tent on perfectly flat ground, but how often does that happen? Sometimes no matter where you look, there is a slight incline. Some tents have built in systems that allow you to hook mats and sleeping bags into place so they stay right where they are supposed to all night (and the whole family doesn’t end up rolled-up together at the bottom of the tent like that one scene in Wall-E). The Eureka Sunrise 8-Person is packed with sweet features like that.

  • There are different tents for different kinds of weather.

Most of the tents we carry are three-season, meaning they are great for summer, spring and fall. Three-season tents are highly breathable with great ventilation. They are also lighter than four-season tents. Four-season tents are more durable, and the components that comprise them are heavier. They are better-made to withstand heavy snowfall.

Also related to weather, be sure that you are using a domed tent (as opposed to a cabin tent that has “walls” instead of a continuous slope) if you are heading to somewhere that wind may be a factor.

Backpack Camping

Now, this is where things can get more technical. If you are planning on carrying everything you need for a few days in your pack, every inch of space and ounce of weight counts. I suggest going for the smallest tent you can (obviously). These smaller and lower-profile tents tend to be able to withstand windier climates. They are made to be lower to the ground, just on principle of staying small and reducing size, but again, be sure to grab the best tent for the climate you are visiting.

I love our new BSA Basecamp series that has both one- and three-person options available. They are super lightweight, compact, and easy to pitch and breakdown. I also love the two vestibules that are available for storing your pack and gear.

If you are a backpack camper, chances are that a little weather doesn’t scare you. Be sure to plan for some inclement weather and waterproof your gear! One of the lightest and easiest options is to store gear in plastic baggies. I also love a full pack cover (if your pack didn’t already come with one built in) – they are added protection, whether you are going to get fully rained on, or need something because the ground is wet from previous rainfall. If you are looking for a cheaper option, garbage bags work in a pinch, too.

There are also plenty of lightweight (that pack down to tiny!) mats available to pair with your tent to keep things comfortable at night as well. I am partial to the Kelty blow-up pad – if you are camping someplace where the temps drop at night, the Insulated Static V is great, and if you are hunkering down in warmer climates, the regular Static V works perfectly. To save on space, they also make inflatable pillows that can be blown up quickly (and without draining your oxygen supply, ha!) and take up virtually no space in your pack.

One last pro-tip: once you have that tent, practice pitching and breaking it down before you head out on the first big adventure. Take it out for a spin in the backyard.

As always, we love to see your pictures of how you are #LivingTheScoutLife! Be sure to post them and tag us using #ScoutShopBSA for a chance to be shared on our social channels and website. Happy camping!

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