Choosing the Best Tent for Your Needs

If you’re trying to survive on your own resources for more than a few hours, your first priority is most likely going to be shelter. That’s especially true as the days shorten and cold weather approaches. You can last days without water and weeks without food but, in much of the northern hemisphere in winter, if you don’t have some protection from the climate your chances of making it until dawn aren’t looking that great.

The most obvious way to make sure you have shelter when you need it is to carry a tent – but it’s not the only solution by a long way. Soldiers and ultralight backpackers have been using one alternative for decades – a poncho and some string or bungee cords. The appearance of Gore-Tex bivi bags in the 1980s offered an even more minimalist alternative. You could just crawl inside that in your sleeping bag and it would give you excellent protection from the wind, and pretty good shelter from rain as well.

So, what’s wrong with tents? Nothing really. They used to be much heavier than they are now, so a poncho could save you a lot of weight but modern fabric and alloy poles have cut the difference substantially. A tent gives you more shelter, too. Zip it up and it’s almost completely windproof, while an improvized poncho shelter tends to have lots of big gaps for the weather to get in. The obvious solution – and the one now usually used by the military – is to combine a poncho and bivi bag. That makes the most of their strengths; the bag will give you a snug little cocoon of warm air to sleep in while the poncho keeps the rain off. A Gore-Tex bag is pretty waterproof, but after you’ve spent a night in one with a heavy downpour battering it you’ll probably decide that isn’t quite good enough.

Bivy TentThe problem is that once you’ve packed a poncho and bivy, plus some paracord, half a dozen bungees and a few pegs, you’re pretty much at the same weight as a one-man tent. So, are there any advantages in going that route? Yes there are. The biggest one is flexibility. If you need to spend the night in a dense forest it’s not going to be easy to get your tent set up. A poncho can be set very low – eighteen inches of space under it will give you enough space to sleep. You can use almost anything as a support – fences, trees, your pack – and it can be easily adapted to confined spaces where your tent just won’t fit.

You’ll also have much better situational awareness in a poncho shelter, because the sides are open and you can see what’s going on around you. That can be vital; as well as the obvious military benefits, they make great temporary hunting shelters. If you’re lying up in the rain there’s no need to get soaked, because you can just string it between a couple of trees and lie underneath. That doesn’t work so well with a tent.

At the end of the day, the right shelter for you depends on what you need it for. There’s no doubt that a good one-man tent, with its spacious and completely enclosed living area, is more comfortable and gives better protection for about the same weight. If you want somewhere to sleep on hiking trips and don’t plan on sleeping in the undergrowth, it’s probably your best option. But if you need adaptability, a view and the ability to get out in a hurry, then an improvised shelter could suit you better.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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