www.AlgonquinAdventures.comBackcountry Camping  -  Shelterwww.AlgonquinAdventures.com

"Shelter ... from the rain ... from the cold ... from the sun ... from the bugs!"

The issue of camping shelters has two opposing concerns.

The first is to take along a large and weather-tight shelter for your leisure and sleeping comfort.

The second concern is to keep your packed shelter as small and light as possible for your carrying comfort. Somewhere between these two concerns is the practical compromise.

Left: The confines of your tent are opened up by the presence of a sheltering tarp's "front porch".

Shelter is not just your tent. It includes the area where you greet the morning, stretch out your legs, struggle to get your boots on, keep your lifejacket dry, store your firewood, sit-out the rain, fire-up your stove for coffee. This is your tent's front porch ... your tarp.

Increasingly, Algonquin's interior campers are relying on tarps to keep rain off their tents and to provide extra shelter.

Right: Without the additional shelter of the tarp, this economical one-person tent would have become a confining, rain-soaked and cold experience.

Typically, a tarp is tied to surrounding trees and roots, extends a foot and a half beyond the rear and sides of the tent ... and projects infront of the tent's front wall as much as it does behind it.

The first step in the selection process is deciding what size of tent you'll need ...

  • How many people? Don't take a tent manufacturer's indicators literally. A "3 person" tent is probably best for a couple, especially if one is a restless sleeper.

  • Are you a 5' 6" or 6' 4" couple? Check out the tent's length. A 6' 6" square floor translates to 6' square, since the walls angle over toward the center thereby reducing the actual useful dimensions. However, that same 6' square clear floor area is fine for a 6' 4" solo camper sleeping diagonally corner-to-corner.

  • A couple of pals may opt for two single tents facing each other under one large covering tarp.

The next step is deciding the type of tent you want.

  • The tourist tent you may have from previous drive-in campground experiences will most likely prove to be too bulky and heavy to transport by canoe, portage or trail.

  • If you intend to limit your camping to forested areas (as is the case in 99.9% of Algonquin's interior sites) with a covering tarp, a moderately priced three season tent should surfice.

  • If you will be also using the tent in non-forested settings that preclude the use of a tarp, you'll need a four season tent with a vestibule and full length heavy-duty rain fly. These are made to high standards, usually priced accordingly and slightly heavier.

Left: This economical summer tent was purchased back in 1993 and continued to serve for many years. A square of vapour barrier groundsheet kept run-off away from its worn floor.

Rain has probably spoiled more camping trips than any other thing. The trouble is not so much rain getting through a tent's roof. If the tent has a quality full-length rain fly or a properly hung tarp, that shouldn't happen. Rather, the problem is usually water getting up through a tent's ageing floor in the form of rain run-off.

The old practice of digging diversion ditches in the forest floor around one's tent site is a definitely BAD practice. It starts off the destructive process of soil erosion.

Rather, the careful laying down of a waterproof groundsheet under a tent is the best method to divert rain run-off. When choosing your tent-site, you should note the direction that surface run-off will go. Before laying down the tent, you first lay down the groundsheet (about 3 inches smaller than the tent's footprint).

On the uphill sides, you introduce a loose ridge of forest floor debri under the groundsheet's leading edges. When the tent's floor is staked down, this ridge of debri is in the exposed position to receive rain run-off. The porous ridge directs water under the ground sheet and/or around to the similarly equipped sides.

Right: In this case, an extra tarp was put to good use by being strung-up high over the fire-pit, allowing the fire to be enjoyed during a rainy spell.

Once the run-off completes its journey under and/or around the ground-sheet, whatever hasn't soaked into the ground is on its way downhill away from the tent-site.

When putting up a tarp, its slopes should be positioned to keep run-off away from the uphill sides of the tent-site. If tarp runoff overloads the debri/groundsheet system, it will wash out and be ineffective. When you break camp, it takes only a moment to redistribute the debri. If you're staying at a site for another day and a second storm threatens, you'd be prudent to repair any washed-out ridges under the groundsheet.

The final step is to consider what size and type of tarp to get. You're basically choosing between ...

  • Minimum tarp size extending 18" beyond the tent's rear and sides ... and beyond the front wall as much as behind it.

  • Or ... a larger tarp size providing a greater sheltered area.

  • A somewhat bulky, economical plasticized and woven polyester tarp.

  • Or ... a compact, long-life water-proofed nylon tarp to compliment a top-end tent.

And, of course you'll need a half dozen 20 foot ropes for securing the tarp. Narrow diameter high-strength nylon is the best choice ... with bulky, easily-kinked polyester being the cheaper option.

          November 5, 2021