The Art of picking the right tent for your Himalayan trek
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
Ever pondered over the importance of a tent on a trek in the Himalayas? Not just do they provide protection from wind, rain and snow, they also impart a sense of safety by providing a roof over your head when sleeping in the wild, as is often the case with most trekking experiences.
Tents are available in a mind boggling variety in the adventure market and choosing one can be a daunting task. Let us help you pick the best options for every usage and budget.
4Play aims to create awareness about the best practices, specific to the Indian outdoors. And enable you to step out with confidence. By making accessible an ocean of empirical knowledge gathered by the Indian Bear Grylls – Pranav Rawat himself.
Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Pranav feels that various factors dictate the choices made in choosing tents.
This is the most important criterion to consider when plonking your money on a tent. It is important to understand that at low altitudes, in warm and moist conditions (Ex. trekking in the Sahyadris or Western Ghats), you might not need a tent at all. If there are chances of the ground flooding or if the ground itself is uneven or riddled with insects, a hammock works best.
While trekking in the Indian Himalayas, your needs will change significantly. If the tent is to be utilized in spring or early summer on a hilly region, a two season tent will suffice. However bear in mind that these cannot be used for fall and winter as they cannot resist harsh rain, snow or high speed winds.
Pranav says, “If you intend to use the tent until fall on a Himalayan trek, the best trekking tent would be a three season. These have a better ability to withstand downpours and the occasional light snow.” They have panels of fabric that can be zipped over mesh parts to keep out snow while not compromising ventilation.
Next is a 3 season+ tent which is more usable for winters, albeit light, when used with good quality gear like down jackets, gloves and lowers. These, Pranav feels, usually suffice for most moderate Indian Himalayan treks which are not very high in altitude and mildly cold.
Lastly, there are 4 season tents available which are apt for winters and high altitude treks when extreme cold conditions are likely to be encountered. These are the best trekking tents for unforgiving weather and can withstand substantial snowfall and fierce winds because of their stronger supporting poles which are often made of aircraft grade aluminium or, carbon fibre and boast vastly superior fabric quality. Needless to say Quechua’s entry level tents don’t stand a chance here.
Shape and Size
Another categorization of tents could be on the basis of their shape and size and could be an important factor in decision making while choosing a tent for trekking in India.
‘A’ shaped tents are quite bulky but offer enormous space. “These are conventional, old designs and are aerodynamically inferior and hence cannot withstand high speed Himalayan winds or blizzards,” warns Pranav.
Dome shaped tents have better aerodynamic properties and vastly superior wind resistance. Pyramid or conical tents is another popular shape and they offer excellent stability through wind resistance, given their peculiar shape. However, they have poor usability as the headroom available is pretty low, which can be bothersome. Examples include Black Diamond’s Mega Light and Hyperlight’s pyramid tent.
Pranav also suggests a few options for minimalist campers and trekkers out on short treks. They can use tarps and bivy tents which are much lighter and less sophisticated. Bivy sacks are basically a kind of personalized shelter and can be a wonderful alternative to tents when weight reduction is an important need. Tarp shelters are basically an ultralight rain fly that protect against rain and snow but not against bug and ground dampness. These are also a very light weight alternative to tents. Hammock tents include a rainfly made of tarp and netting against insects and could be a good weight saving option too.
“However do keep in mind that none of the above three offer the roominess or protection against harsh environmental elements as do full blown tents,” cautions Pranav. They are best for short hikes, moderate temperature and low altitude treks.
Features and ruggedness
Remember that the best trekking tent is the one which suits your need best. One can choose from a variety of tents depending on what features you are looking for. Two way tents allow for entry and exit separately for both occupants and is a sought after feature, although this adds a miniscule amount of weight to the tent (remember, on multi day high altitude alpine style trek, every gram counts).
You may choose tents offering stowage spaces for knick knacks, like zippers, pockets or sheltered areas for boots. Other features include sufficient mesh windows, vents and panels must be present in the tent for ventilation, as it is common knowledge that we breathe out moisture while sleeping on a trek.
Next we come to ruggedness and utility. Trekking the Indian Himalayas can be accomplished in various formats and would require different kinds of tents. Pranav’s experience suggest that base camp and expedition style tents fare better at ruggedness and are much heavier because they would see a lot more abuse throughout their lives than regular tents. Obviously then, they utilize stronger, bulkier materials and aren’t recommended for alpine style treks.They are designed to withstand rough usage and increased wear and tear, and offer great ventilation through their large vents. They can defy blizzards and heavy snow and if you are supposed to be using them that way, go for expedition style or base camp type tents manufactured by Mountain Hardwear or North Face.
When heading to advance camps during grueling high altitude treks, the trekker is burdened with the responsibility of managing greater loads on one hand and faster speeds on the other. Here, one may choose Alpine tents. These are single layer type tents which are very light but not very robust and can’t survive extreme conditions for long. They are far less spacious, less comfortable and trekkers can’t cook inside them but are very light weight and portable.
Therefore fixed camp tents and lightweight backpacking tents both serve a different purpose and work in different ways. So choose yours wisely.
How to take care of your tent
Longevity of tents can be guaranteed if they are properly taken care of. And an essential aspect to that is protecting them for UV rays. If camping during the day, setup your tent in a shaded area or you could use a cover to save them from harsh UV rays.
Care must also be taken while packing tents. “They must be completely dried as moisture destroys the tent fabric and you could use drying powder to remove dampness before packing. After returning from your trek, make sure to thoroughly clean the tent. This is necessary to not just remove grime but also bacteria which may have accumulated over the course of the trek and could cause infections on the next usage,” warns Pranav.
As goes a common proverb, a stitch in time saves nine. So lastly, if you notice a cut on the fabric of your tent, immediately get it repaired before it gets worse. Care must also be taken to ensure that the poles aren’t damaged after a trek.
Options available in India
Pranav’s picks include a variety of tents for various applications and you may choose any of these, if they align with your intended usage.
- Notch and Cloud Burst from Tarptent. While Notch is a light, double wall personal shelter, Cloud Burst is a group tent offering both front and rear openings for easy ingress and egress.
- Black Diamond’s range is brilliant too with several models like Mega Light (a lightweight floorless 4 person tent), First light (compact two person lightweight tent) and Elderado, which can accommodate taller trekkers and their luggage.
- Rab too manufactures some good tents including the Latok Summit (a two person waterproof bivy style tent).
- Mountain Hardwear’s Direkt 2 is a brilliant ultra light-weight alpine tents but is on the expensive side.
- For those on a strict budget, cheap options are available at Decathlon stores but their poles must be replaced with aluminium poles. Gipfel tents are pretty decent too but more expensive than Decathlon. From beginner to advanced, you can find a wide variety at both these brands but it is noteworthy that they are heavier than the ones by International brands.
- A reasonably priced Chinese tent brand, Jaquana sold by Pashupati enterprise in India can also be considered for buyers on a shoestring budget.
It is worth noting that despite our advice on choosing tents, you must not forget that feeling warm in a tent on a cold, high altitude Himalayan trek is a function of your sleeping system and not the tent. The shelter system, does not keep you warm and investing in good quality sleeping mattresses and sleeping bags cannot be stressed upon more.
Besides these, while trekking in India, staying warm in your tent can be achieved by keeping a hot water bottle at your feet, munching slow digesting, calorie dense snacks before hitting the sack and avoiding condensation build up in the tent.
We would love to know your experiences with using tents on Himalayan treks in the section below.
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Author: Pranav Manocha
Pranav is a Nepal earthquake survivor with a flair for marketing. Beginning with a Quote T-Shirt business with a school friend after grade 12, he did his graduation in Literature from the University of Delhi. In his free time he loves reading Camus, trail riding and skinny dipping in rivulets around Manali.