Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head…When You Need A Better Tent

21 10 2009

It always rains on tents.  Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds, for the opportunity to rain on a tent.

— Dave Barry

While I don’t know if there is really some gravitational pull between tents and rainstorms (actually, I do know — there’s not), it does seem to rain at least sometimes on the very nights one chooses to pitch a tent.  Unless you enjoy getting dripped on while you sleep, or worse, sleeping on wet ground, it’s important to have a good tent that will keep you dry.

I have a little two-person tent that I got for free by collecting points in a promotion years ago.  I did no research on the brand (Wenzel); I was a poor student planning a lengthy road trip on the cheap and there was nothing cheaper than “free.”  Here is my tent:


That’s at Grant Village in Yellowstone National Park, by the way…but we’ll talk about that another time.  Since I had done no research on tents, I was a little apprehensive about how waterproof this free tent would be.  I found out the night that photo was taken.  It poured.  I mean, it rained cats and dogs and buffalo and small dinosaurs.  Inside my tent, however, I stayed completely dry.  When I crawled out of the tent the next morning, the guy who was cooking bacon outside of the RV across the way said, “Hey!  There’s a person in there!  We were wondering if you got washed away!”  I thanked him for his concern and ate a piece of his bacon.

But I digress.  Mooching yummy breakfast meats from fellow campers is not today’s topic.

So, Her Side, you may ask, how do I find the right tent?  Well, I’ll tell you.  You find the right tent by asking yourself the following questions:

What is the right size tent for me?  There are one-person tents on the market, and some solo camper/hikers prefer these ultralight, ultrasmall shelters:


It’s cool looking, right?  The major drawbacks of these teeny tents is that, while the descriptions may claim you can change your clothes inside, I think that would be a feat of contortionism.  Also, I’m a little claustrophobic, and so I would feel uncomfortable in such a tiny space.  So it’s not for me.

A standard two-person tent is nice because it’s a little roomier, but still small and lightweight.  For serious backpackers, the extra weight might be a dealbreaker, but for casual campers, this isn’t usually an issue.

What kind of footprint should I use?  (And what’s a “footprint?”)  A footprint is a separate piece of material that goes between the tent floor and the ground.  It’s important for a couple of reasons.  First, it will keep you drier and more comfortable.  You know how when you sit on the ground in the morning, your pants get wet?  The same thing will happen to the floor of your tent while you sleep.  Sleeping in a puddle is not fun.  The footprint adds an extra layer of protection between you and the wet ground.

Second, a footprint protects the wear and tear on your tent floor.  The footprint will take the abuse from the ground and keep the grit away from the tent floor, protecting it from punctures and the like.  Because a footprint is a separate item — and usually sold separately — it’s easier to replace than the tent floor (which you replace by throwing away your tent and buying a new one).

One important thing to remember is that the footprint should be slightly smaller than the tent.  Many tents have recommended footprints or companion footprints.  I use a tarp, and fold it to slightly smaller than the tent itself — it’s even more durable, and multipurpose, and since I’m not carrying it on a backpack, the extra weight isnt a problem.  Why slightly smaller?  Well, if it extends beyond the floor of the tent, and it rains, guess where that water is going to run?  If you guessed, “between the footprint and the tent floor and pooling under me while I sleep,” then you win.  There’s no prize, but feel free to gloat.

What features should I look for?  I’m assuming that, like me, you’re casual camping during the warmer months.  For winter camping and more extreme conditions, you should speak with your local camping supply store clerk.  For standard late spring/summer/early fall camping, the following should suffice:

  • Lightweight, alluminum collapsible tent poles that are easy to distinguish from one another (the ones connected by a bungee practically set themselves up)
  • Mesh areas for venthilation and allowing relief from summer heat
  • A rainfly that extends enough beyond the mesh areas to protect from the rain but allows for air flow
  • Reinforced, durable material where the tent poles attach (loops, corners, etc.)
  • The ability to stake your tent.  I like freestanding tents for ease of set up, but sometimes you have to stake it down.

Thanks, Her Side.  I found the perfect tent.  Now, how do I take care it? 

  • Before any camping trip, particularly if I haven’t used my tent in a while, I set it up at home.  This is important for three reasons: 1) to make sure it’s in good shape, no tears or issues to deal with; 2) to make sure I have all the pieces and nothing is missing; 3) to remind myself how to set it up and break it down with minimum fuss.
  • Use a footprint to protect the tent floor from wear and tear, as discussed above.
  • Clear the ground of rocks/sticks/debris before you set up the tent, to minimize risk of puncture.
  • Take off your shoes before getting into the tent.  This helps protect the tent floor from internal abuse, and it also keeps the grit and dirt outside (it’s a pain to clean the inside of the tent).
  • Be careful with sharp objects inside/around the tent, to avoid punctures.
  • Sweep/shake out the tent when breaking it down.
  • Don’t pack the tent while it’s wet.  Sometimes this is unavoidable, but if you must pack the tent wet, try to set it up again as soon as is practical to let it air out and dry.

That’s about it.  Now, I’m going to go look into this whole “tents attract rain” theory…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

The Best Part of Waking Up

14 10 2009

3343279270_015d40d9a2No, it isn’t Folger’s in your cup.  Admit it, that’s what you were thinking — or rather, singing — in your head when you saw that title, right?  Right?? That slogan, popular when I was growing up, perhaps because it was popular when I was growing up, is one of those that was permanently embedded in my brain, just like it is embedded in the brains of every member of my generation.  (That and “Mama’s got the magic of Clorox bleach.”  But this blog isn’t about that.)  Okay, that paragraph went in a direction I didn’t expect.  Let’s start again.


We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog so far talking about solo hiking.  Suggested hikes, rules for safety, musings, benefits, and so on.  That means it’s time to talk a little about solo camping.  When I decided to write this, I asked myself, what do I like best about camping?

The answer: waking up in the morning.

Some background as to why this is important (and a revelation to me):  I hate waking up in the morning. No matter how much sleep I have gotten, no matter what exciting thing I have in store for me on that day (okay, maybe with the exception of Disney World), when the alarm goes off in the morning, the first thing I want to do is go back to sleep.  I could blame it on the fact that I don’t usually go to bed early enough.  I could blame it on my bed, which is very, very comfortable.  I could blame it on the knowledge that, once I do wake up, there are too many things demanding my attention.

When camping, however, I wake early.  Some pessimists may point out that it’s because sleeping on the ground is not as comfortable as sleeping in a bed, and so it is less appealing to stay asleep while camping.  This is certainly true.  But there are other factors that contribute to waking early while camping:

  • You to go to sleep early.  For one, that’s because there’s not as much to do while solo camping once it gets dark except to read.  (Someday, I’ll tell you a story illustrating why you should never, never, ever read a scary book about murderers right before going to sleep while solo camping.)  For another, because you were probably up early the day before, and spent the day hiking or engaged in some other physically draining activity, so you’re actually tired enough to want to sleep early while camping.
  • You tend to eat better when camping and hiking — or perhaps eat more efficiently — and drink more water.  Say what you will, but I have seen firsthand that change in diet and hydration alters sleeping habits for the better.  I/you sleep better, so I/you wake more easily.
  • You are less stressed.  Once again, this effects quality of sleep.  You’re less likely to toss and turn worried about the next day’s deadlines while out in the woods, and therefore have a better night’s sleep.  (Except after having read a scary book about murderers while solo camping.)
  • The light wakes you up.  I don’t know about you, but at home, my room stays fairly dim in the morning until I open the shades.  The tent does not block light — it’s not really designed to.  That means that you’re more likely to realize early on that it’s morning.
  • Fresh air wakes you up.  I find that fresh air, particularly if it’s a little cool and damp out, delivers a zing to your senses.  And since, while camping, you’re surrounded by fresh air, you wake up more easily.

So while camping, in the early morning, I’ll open my eyes and see that it’s day (or at least dawn).  I’ll get a breath of fresh air.  I’ll feel rested.  I’ll get excited about another day of hiking or other fun activity.  And I’ll sit up and stretch.  Then I’ll open the tent flap and poke my head out, and that’s when there’s a full-on rush, better than any caffeine, from greeting the day and the outdoors at the same time.

Sunrise by joanarc4

Sunrise by joanarc4

What’s your favorite part of camping?

Isn’t It Dangerous?

9 09 2009


So let’s get this out of the way. The number one question anyone has about camping and hiking as a solo female is:

“Isn’t it dangerous?”

The simple answer is yes. Solo camping and hiking is always dangerous, whether you’re a man or a woman. Some people think it’s crazy to hike alone and should never be done. Solo travel of any kind has its risks — solo travelers, women in particular, are targets for thieves, con artists, and other unsavory characters — but when hiking the uncertainties of nature must be factored into the equation.

What can happen while solo camping and hiking? Anything that can happen while camping and hiking with others — except that there’s no one around to help. If you fall and hurt yourself, you could be stuck until someone comes along and finds you. If you get bitten by a snake, or encounter a wild animal, you’re on your own. And, of course, there are always stories like this to strike fear in the hearts of anyone — male or female — wanting to hike alone.

If it’s so dangerous, then, why take that risk? Why do it at all?

That’s a question you have to answer for yourself. For me, being on my own while hiking is serene, giving me time — time I don’t often make for myself — to think. Being on my own while camping makes me feel capable and accomplished. See? I can pitch a tent. I can cook a meal outside. I can fend for myself and take care of myself. It’s invigorating.

Despite the risks, solo camping and hiking can be done safely, if you know the risks and take preparations and precautions. That brings us to Rule Number One…

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Carpe Diem

8 09 2009


Buffy 2Willow: Carpe Diem.  You told me that once.

Buffy: Fish of the Day?

Willow: Not carp!   Carpe!  It means “Seize the Day.”

— Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Surprise”


During the summer of 2004, I received a letter that changed my life. Having recently graduated from law school, I was studying for the bar when the engagement letter from the firm I would be joining arrived. “We are excited to welcome you on Friday, October 15th, 2004,” it said. October 15th! I was scheduled to take the bar exam at the end of July. I would have over two months free before I had to start working.

Immediately, I started to think about traveling.

The idea that floated through my mind first was to take The Road Trip. You know, the one that a bunch of my guy friends had taken at one time or another, sometimes solo and sometimes in groups, driving cross country to “find themselves.” Since I love hiking and camping and the outdoors in general, and had lived my whole life in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, seeing the rest of the country was very tempting. But I dismissed the idea.

First of all, I had no one to go with. My friends all had jobs and other obligations and didn’t have such a lengthy span of free time. I had never traveled alone, and the idea frankly scared me, less because of safety and more because I was worried I would be lonely or bored without anyone to share the experience with.

Second of all, I was a woman. Sure, my guy friends had packed up their cars and driven around the country, camping and hiking and meeting people, but surely I couldn’t do that. I liked to think of myself as independent, but that independence included not being dependent on the approval of others for self-worth, and being able to make decisions about my life without needing someone to confirm the wisdom of those decisions. It fell short of knowing how to build a fire, or lift heavy objects, or get myself out of sticky situations. That’s when I called friends and family — or a boyfriend — for help. Right?

Ironically enough, it was my then-boyfriend who convinced me that those two reasons were bad reasons for not taking The Road Trip. He had done it a few years before and said it was one of the most important experiences of his life. “Look, you’re smart, you can handle yourself,” he said. “You have friends all over the country. I promise you won’t be bored, not with everything there is to see and do. When are you ever going to have this chance again?”

I decided he was right. I decided that being a woman, and having to travel alone, was no reason not to do it. I took a deep breath, plotted my route, packed up my car, and drove west. Over the course of six weeks, I drove through twenty-six states, visited fourteen National Parks, and saw and did so much that I’m still in awe of that time in my life.

Of course, it wasn’t really that simple. There were a lot of preparations and precautions to be taken before and during the trip. There were bad moments along with the good. There were mistakes I made, and also some very good decisions.

And that’s what this blog is about. Because camping and hiking as a solo female can be safe, and it can be one of the most incredible experiences a woman can ever have. I still do it, and it still affects me the same way as it did during those six weeks. If it’s something you want to do, then Seize the Day…or Fish the Day, if you must…but don’t hold back out of fear or uncertainty.

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.