Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Camping is an experience.

Camping with children is an adventure.

And camping with children with lousy gear?  That's just crazy.

We tent camp.  It's been an evolution of sorts but for all the years we have done it in tents.  As our family size and needs changed, so did our choice of tents.

Cabela's Alaskan Guide Tent system was our very first tent purchase.  We looked far and wide for a way to get 2 adults and 7 children into tents without having to be strung out over many campsites.  

Our first camping trip.
September 2003

Now, it looks like only the 8-man dome is available but, when we ordered, we got the 8-man (on the left) and the 6-man (on the right) as well as the joining vestibule.  We called them our "Turtle Tents" because they looked like two huge sea turtles standing head to head.

The Man & I and the infant at the time took the 6-man tent and the rest of the children took the larger tent.  As you can see, they are quite tall in the center.  Jason could nearly stand in them. Talking between the tents was just like talking through a hollow core door.  We even got a lantern with a remote so I could turn on the light in the kids' tent without having to get up myself.

The drawback of this system was footprint and weight.

Seven of our eight children on that first camping trip.

At a standard size campsite, we were so close to the fire ring that we couldn't safely use it during our stay.

This variety of tent is also very heavy.  All the poles are aluminum and, thought that's a light material, there's just a LOT of material and gear to get these buggers up off the ground.  We got tired of lugging them in and out of campsites and the time it took to get them really going.

It was a good set for us for that season of our lives, but eventually we needed more smaller tents for ground space and weight reasons.

The Kelty Villa tents were our next try.  (For some reason, I can't find any photos of us using these tents.  Must have been a dry spell in my photo-taking-mom years.  I've had several of those actually.)

We got the 4-man and the 6-man version of these tents and they were really a sweet deal!  Light weight and fairly simple to put up, these semi-dome style tents were really handy.  The rain fly was complete (covers the whole tent) which is a must in the way we camp.  We'll be there in the driving rain if it looks like it will clear up in a day or two.

These were pretty easy to put up for adults that understand simple leverage concepts.  Well made like nearly all Kelty brand things we've ever purchased.

But, unfortunately for the Keltys, we also ordered the Eureka Assault Outfitter 4 tent at the same time.  

Lake Itasca
This 4-man tent is mostly dome style in my opinion.  Not quite a true domed tent, it uses only 3 poles and 9 stakes to be up and ready for most weather. Add the storm tie-downs and you have a real three-season tent.  The ventilation is quite good.  Construction quality is great.  AND (the best part for us now) it can be put up by three children under the age of eleven.

This summer we have been camping with six of them:

One for Dad & Mom
Two for Girls
Three for Boys

Editor's note:  Since we've purchased our Eureka Assault tents, we have also entered the adventure called "Ultralight Backpacking".  Here we discovered Ray Jardine and the Ray-Way Tarp kit.  Now THAT's a light weight, simple tenting system right there.  And we really like it.  But that's another blog post.


  1. In general, how do you set up your site footprint? What's the setup for meals?

    1. Our position in a campsite usually depends on the campsite. Our tenting so far has been either State Park campground or back yards.

      Back yards is pretty easy. You want nearly level, flat ground directly under the tent. Then you look at the surrounding area. If it's sure to be dry, drainage of the ground near you isn't so important. BUT, if there may be rain or heavy dew, you'll want to check with that in mind. Where is the water going to go if it runs even just a little bit? How will it accumulate when it runs off the top of the tent? Wet puddles aren't fun.

      State Park campsites are as different one from another as the State Parks themselves. Generally in the campground there will be a fire ring, a picnic table, a parking space and a tent spot or two. In the photo of our Turtle Tents above, we were set up in a campsite with a generous tent spot... and it was still too small for our huge tents to really be comfy. But comfy isn't always all you are looking for and we adapted really quite well from the start. Just skip the fire, go to bed when it's dark, and enjoy the quiet evening that way!

      I should do a whole post about meal setup, tools and the like. There's a lot of things we have tried. Some are really great ideas and some were really not so good. I'll share some experience and hopefully save someone some hassles. Thanks for the idea!

  2. we're just looking into tents, and they must be simple and fast. THANKS!

    what do you sleep on, if anything?

    1. Glad to help!

      When we first started camping, The Man and I slept on some mats and the kids slept on layers of bed comforters. You can even see the comforters in the stack on the table in the first photo where we were breaking camp to go home.

      Now we have a combination of sleeping mats. I'll put links for these at the end of my comment here but I should really make a quick post about these tools as well.

      The oldest mats we have and the ones we bought first were self-inflating types we got from Cabela's. The link below shows what they carry now but, when we bought them, we purchased two full length ones for The Man and I to join together and then torso length ones for the children.

      The other variety of sleeping pad we use is the cheapo foam ones that are available at almost any store with an "outdoors" department. They are close cell foam, not super thick and are sold rolled up. We've made some adaptations to our to make them pack flat but we are gradually converting to this style because they are inexpensive, suit the need, and will work for our ultralight backpacking trips as well.



    2. You'll have to copy & paste those links. It should give you an idea about what we have but I do intend to give it its own post with some photos.