Chances are, that if you’ve ever gone camping your home-away-from-home was a tent. I’m no historian, but if I had to guess tents–in one form or another–have been around for at least 10 million years. Give or take. Since the time they were invented by an abnormally smart caveman, tents have taken countless forms, been constructed from a wide array of materials and have been carried to all ends of the earth. Technology, brainstorm sessions, design meetings, rigorous testing and passion have all culminated into a progression of the sophisticated solution for the portable shelter.
Tents will continue to morph, but the blessing that comes with a well-designed tent will persist. It will continue to be a place of refuge: from the wet, the hot, the dark, the cold, the wind, the unknown, the bugs and the noise.
I recently went on a week-long trip with my wife and four boys. It was a mix of a campground in Joshua Tree National Park, backpacking and dispersed camping. As I look back, the role that our tents played on our trip was slightly different each night.
The first night we arrived late and found ourselves assembling the new Big Agnes Titan 4 mtnGLO® for the first time, in the dark and with a stiff wind. Despite its unique design that includes setting up the rainfly to an external frame before clipping the tent to the inside of the fly, we were able to do so quickly and without any issues. This turned out to be a good thing because in addition to the high winds, we were soon after hit with an unexpected downpour. Plus, it’s nice to have easy setup on tents because it makes it so much easier for the kids to help setup camp. I woke up a few times during the night, once (or twice) to heavy rain, and again to whipping winds. Our four boys are getting bigger, so we spend many of our trips in two separate tents. It’s a huge comfort knowing that we had solid shelters to make a stormy night with little ones completely worry free. The kids slept right through it all. In the morning, we found some of our neighbors weren’t so lucky.
The second night of our trip, the Titan served as a gathering place and venue as the six of us gathered for card games. We’ve been playing games at home lately–once the kids are done with homework–but after a few games it’s usually a rush to get the kids to bed so Mom and Dad can have some quiet time. The funny thing is, spending that time in the tent playing, you’re naturally a little less concerned about how late it is. Gotta take that mentality home with us. Those freaks could play Uno all night!
On our third night in Joshua Tree, we found our spot a few miles into unfamiliar territory and set up as the sky grew dark. With no fire to anchor our temporary digs, it was corralled between our two glowing tents and the gritty rocks that we circled our chairs around for dinner. A beaver-tail cactus served as our centerpiece. It’s these nights I love the most: The ones where you’re completely away from it all, even the car.
I’ve always had a craving for the solitude and peace I feel in the wild with no one around. I spent my summers as a teenager fly fishing alone in the random, quite areas of Utah’s mountains and desert streams. I love sharing similar moments with my kids. Even more, I love giving them the chance to, hopefully, feel that same awesome feeling of stillness when they’re out and away from it all. The world is increasingly full of noise–especially for young people. My hope is that the roots are set deep enough to survive through all the distractions in the years to come. I hope they feel just at home in a tent, in the wild, as they do in their own bed.
It’s funny to me that a few pounds of synthetic material and aluminum poles can give the sense of homeyness–but it does. It could be returning to camp after a long day of fishing a high mountain lake, or while spending days (or weeks) in the middle of nowhere, or at a campground after a noisy drive with a car full of kids; If you stop to think about some of the time you’ve spent in the tent I think you’ll come to realize this sense of homeyness that you may have never noticed. Contrast that experience the mind just conjured with the same experience, but this time sleeping out in the open, or in a natural shelter of some sort. The tent gives the phrase, “I’m heading back to camp”–a real sense of heading home. Even if it is a temporary home that you stuff into a small bag.
It’s no wonder there’s often a sense of nostalgia associated with these vital pieces of gear. After all, it can either be just another piece of gear in your bag, or it can be a treasured portable home where hard work and innovation can make our outdoor experiences that much easier/safer/enjoyable. So, next time you’re lying in your sleeping bag looking up at the ceiling of your tent before your day’s adventures start, take a moment to appreciate your home-away-from-home.