Choosing a Tent for the Desert

Thinking of camping in the desert this fall? There are some great climbing, biking, and hiking destinations in the desert.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the desert and our typical Arkansas woods is the absence of moisture. Check the forecast before camping in the desert, and if rain is forecast, check outside for flying pigs. No, just kidding. As  strange as it may sound, more campers die in the high desert from flash floods than from exposure. If rain is in the forecast, the best idea is not to go that weekend. If you must, absolutely do not camp in any arroyo, (aka gully, dry wash, etc). And bring your rain fly!

Usually, rain and ground moisture simply are not an issue. That same lack of moisture means the kinds of plants and critters you’ll encounter are very different. You usually don’t have to worry about bugs, but cactus spines are as painful in real life as in cartoons, and they’ll go right through the walls and floors of a light tent, so watch where you set up.

The desert is open enough that it can be very windy, so you should select a tent with guyout loops. These are stout loops sewn to the outside of your tent, which allow you to attach guy lines to tent stakes for additional support and stability.

Deserts can be hot in the daytime and cold at night, so you need ventilation panels with covers you can close. Blowing sand can also be an issue, and will insinuate itself into the smallest cracks and crevices, so windows and roof panels with zipper-closed covers can be worth the extra cost. Even a small amount of sand in your bag can be incredibly annoying.

The size and weight of your tent should always be chosen on the basis of how you plan to carry it (backpacking vs. car camping), where you usually use it, and your budget, but a storm tent is a better choice than a super lightweight one if you’re thinking mostly about high desert camping.

And here is one final tip for those unfamiliar with the desert, though it has nothing to do with tents. When you take your boots off at night, they are warm and moist inside. This is very attractive to scorpions, so you should always knock your boots out in the morning before you put them on. Just turn each boot toe up to the sky and bang it down sharply once, then turn it upside down and rap smartly on the bottom of the heel. Consider it an important safety habit.

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