For the past few weeks I’ve been grading the choices I made during my recent John Muir Trail thru-hike. Thus far I’ve scored a “D” for my sleeping bag, a “B” for my sleeping pad, and an “A” for my stove. Next item: my tent.
Before I tell you about the tent, I should make a couple of relevant points.
First, I slept inside only six of fifteen nights. The other nights I only spread out my footprint, sleeping pad and sleeping bag.
This was my first trip where I spent the majority of nights under the stars, and I enjoyed it immensely.
(I actually got to the point that I could tell the time by glancing up at the stars. I started early on the trail each morning, and I knew it was time for me to get out of my sleeping bag when the Pleiades were directly overhead.)
Second, on two of the six nights I did erect the tent, I needed it badly. Near Wright Creek I experienced a deafening thunderstorm that dumped tons of rain all around me. At Guitar Lake the rain wasn’t quite as heavy, but I also got several hours of on-and-off, pea-sized, hail. My tent performed marvelously in both. One of my favorite memories of the hike was that last night, cooking in my tent, in the middle of a hailstorm, and feeling quite warm and snug.
The tent I carried this time around was the same tent I used during my 2009 thru-hike: a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1. This is a free-standing tent with a bathtub floor, an attached bug-net suspended from three poles (which all tie into a central hub), and a rain fly which covers the bug net. It is a single-person tent, with a smallish vestibule.
I’m six-foot-three and well over two hundred pounds, and I fit into it comfortably. On rainy nights I was able to easily accommodate my body, my clothes, and my gear (except the backpack and bear canister).
It weighs about three pounds, with a separate footprint sold by Big Agnes.
But is it the right tent for someone who is going to use it less than half the nights on the trail?
My answer is, “It’s not bad, but you can probably do better.”
The Seedhouse SL1 has a lot going for it: it’s easy to pitch, it’s roomy, and it’s less than three pounds. Most importantly, it will keep you warm and dry in some pretty nasty situations, even if you pitch it imperfectly (which is the only way I do it). For me, at least, the advantages of a double-walled tent and reliable, simple shelter, when the weather turns against you, are worth the extra weight.
That said, I might retire my Seedhouse SL1, permanently. I’m considering the same type of tent, made of different materials. This Lightheart Solo comes in at under two pounds, as does this Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 Platinum, if you leave the stuff sack at home and upgrade the stakes.
The other approach that is increasingly popular on the John Muir Trail is the tarp. I saw lots of tarps at campsites, and all of them shared three characteristics that keep me from taking the plunge into tarp-land. They need to be pitched with considerable precision, they are made of very fragile material, and they are either drafty and cold (if you pitch them above ground) or subject to serious condensation (if you pitch them low). Someday I may feel differently and look askance at those with “regular” tents, but, for now, I’m satisfied. I just want to shed a few more ounces.
Grade for my choice this trip: B.
Good hiking, Ray