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If you are going tent camping, you will need to bring a tent.  In good weather, almost any tent will do, although some tents are better than others in the rain (meaning some leak, some don’t).  You shouldn’t need to spend $500 on a tent for you and your kids, but the cheapest one you find at the discount store may leave you disappointed with its setup and performance.  If you already own a tent and are happy with its size and performance, then you need not continue reading.  For those needing a new tent, consider the following:

  1. Tents are often described as 3 season and 4 season tents.  The 1 season difference there is winter, and they don’t mean Texas winter.  Unless you are planning on taking this tent into heavy snow, a 3 season tent is fine for Texas camping.
  2. Tent size is normally described in the number of people who can sleep in a tent.  A tent labeled as 2-person is meant for two people to share.  However, the people in charge of this labeling system got their start in sardine can packing.  A two person tent means two people can fit, but nothing else, and you’re shoulder-to-shoulder.  If your kid tends to wiggle around, you’re gonna get kicked.  Advice:  If there are 2 of you, get a 3 or 4 person tent.  You’ll also want a little room in the tent for a bag of clothes.
  3. Some stores and sites, like REI, specialize in this stuff.  You tend to pay a little more, but you are paying for expertise and quality.  You can buy a good tent at a discount store, but you can also buy a real piece of junk at a discount store.  Few decent tents cost less than $50, and most good ones are over $100.
  4. Many tents are sold with a matching “footprint”.  This is a ground cover specifically sized for your tent.  If a footprint is not available, get a plain old plastic tarp to lay down first.  This keeps most of the mud off the bottom of your tent, and also helps protect the flooring from rips.
  5. The ground is hard, and tents have no padding on the floor.  You need something to sleep on in the tent.  Options are a foam pad (eggshell), a self-inflating pad (Thermarest), or a regular inflatable air mattress.  As most of our tent camping sites have electricity, inflating an air mattress is no big deal.  Just make sure it will fit in your tent.  If you are going to use a cot, be sure the legs and feet are covered or padded on the bottom, as you don’t want a sharp edge with your weight to rip a hole in the floor of your tent.
  6. One of the other dads in your tribe may have an extra tent.  Ask around.
  7. Make sure you know how to set up your tent before you take it camping.  Set it up at home, in the back yard, in the garage, or in the living room.  Set it up, take it down, then repeat the process.  Be sure you know how to pack the tent back into its bag.  You don’t want to be at the campsite and then realize you don’t know what you’re doing or worse, find out that you’re missing important pieces.