Life in the Dog House: A Survey of the One-Person Tent, With History

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Life in the Dog House: A Survey of the One-Person Tent, With History

Viewing 19 posts - 1 through 19 (of 19 total)
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  • #3693898
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Some observations on cheap one-person shelters, including on their design, proliferation, and history, and comparison between some shelters.

    Dan Durston
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    Great article :)

    Sam Farrington
    BPL Member


    Locale: Chocorua NH, USA

    “Feeling penurious and with a genuine aesthetic revulsion toward domes, …”

    If you were going to do an article about solo tents in general, you might have included self-supporting tents.

    Disclosure:  I’m not a fan of trekking pole tents, but it has little to do with aesthetics.  It has to do with function, especially in the worst weather.  IMO, guy-outs being equal, the best self supported solo tents will withstand far worse weather than one supported by one or two trekking poles, for a number of reasons:

    There is much less tension on the stakes, so less likelihood of stake failure.  More power to those with young backs who can lift boulders.

    A self supporting solo tent can be designed with zero pole obstacles within or without.

    There is less likelihood of pole failure, with no vertical poles to knock against or slip out of place.   A flexible pole can be designed to be locked in place, at both ends and along its length; such as with R. Caffin’s tunnels.  If the flexible poles reinforce each other by being crossed more than once, and are elbowed at the peaks, and not bent into full hoops as is most common, then lighter carbon poles can withstand extreme weather.

    With its lower peaks and curved outer surfaces, a self supporting tent with flexible poles can be designed to present less wind resistance and be more aerodynamic.

    Because of its curved outer surfaces, a self supporting solo tent can also be designed to be more spacious inside than trekking pole tents.  So can hoop tents, but with few of the above advantages.

    The biggest idea behind trekking pole tents is that they save weight, since the poles are dual use, and would be carried anyway.  However, many of us carry only one trekking pole; because that is all we need, or the other hand must hold a leash, or we are content with sticks lying on the ground, or trekking poles are just not used by seasoned hikers such as R. Caffin.  Where I hike, folks leave their hiking sticks at the trail heads for others to use.  Disclaimer:  The above does not apply to Willem Lange, moderator of NHPBS’ Windows to the Wild, who has earned his two hiking poles many times over.

    Strong flexible poles made from filament wound carbon tube weighing less than 1/4 oz per running foot are currently available.  Thus 24 feet of tube can weigh less than 6 oz; so trekking pole tents do not have as much weight advantage as is often thought.

    As far as aesthetics are concerned, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’

    XX top

    Granted, the devil is always in the details, and the above is just a prototype canopy.

    Monte Masterson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Changes Often

    Glad to see someone else acknowledge 3F UL Gear tents. They’re hardly mentioned here on BPL, but they’re popular in Europe. I’ve never owned one, however, most reviews are very good. They’re praised for their solid construction and high HH materials. I started a thread on the latest 2021 Lanshan 1 last week, but it garnered little interest and mostly got shade thrown at it. Not surprising really, yet the backpacking masses worldwide like the idea of a solid tent for half the price of competitors. Yes, the Durston X-Mid and SMD are similar in price and quality to 3F tents. The rest however are much pricier and probably not as waterproof or durable as 3f shelters (Big Agnes, MSR, etc).

    Yun Swanson
    BPL Member


    Nice to see some of the old design of tents. Thank you so much for sharing the idea, good gears don’t need to be pricy. FYI, CangQiong (苍穹) means endless sky in Chinese. What a name!

    Jon Solomon
    BPL Member


    Locale: Lyon/Taipei

    Thanks to Yun for filling in the meaning of the name, Cangqiong. A little more background about it might also make its appeal clearer. The term was alluded to in a wildly popular documentary about pollution in Chinese cities from 2015, titled Under the Dome in English and 穹顶之下 (qiongding zhi xia) in Chinese. In today’s China, where air pollution is a serious issue attracting attention from both the government and industry, the name Cangqiong isn’t just a poetic image of wide open space but also evokes very strong green, environmentalist associations.

    Barry W
    BPL Member


    Good to see articles like this.  Having walked the length of the North Island of New Zealand on the Te Araroa trail (1700km) with my wife and lived almost continuously in the LanShan 2 for 3 months (,searchweb201602_,searchweb201603_), which we paid US$100 for on Aliexpress, we had no complaints whatsoever.

    Superb construction. Totally waterproof. 1.2kg.  For that price, we were prepared to give it a go in lieu of spending a fortune on other brands.


    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    Love the title, “Life in the Dog House”. Sometimes during a long rain it sure feels like a dog house. Thanks for this interesting article.

    My Solo Tents: 1.) TT Contrail 2.) TT Moment 3. TT Moment DW  4.) TT Notch Li

    So yeah, there is a theme here – Tarptent. Like the designs, quality and customer service.

    The Contrail was the roomiest and the Notch Li the most confining. “Progress”? Only in less weight but not in livability.

    Yun Swanson
    BPL Member


    Hi Jon,

    I agree with you. Still remember those days in high school 20 years ago in Beijing, the dust storm was so bad, dust got into windows although they are closed tightly. We got used to it so nobody were wearing masks or anything, elderly people were and still wearing masks these days regardless of covid. If one walk through area around Beijing Steel Factory, the collar would be very dirty after the walk. Before 2008 Olympic, federal government asked the factory and many more pollution-causer to stop manufacturing so the air would be better during the game. Some of them moved to other towns for good. The air is getting better and better although it will take very long to make up for decades of damage. At least there is hope!

    Sorry for the long reply. Thank you!!!!!

    Rog Tallbloke
    BPL Member


    Locale: DON'T LOOK DOWN!!

    UK design 1912

    Rog Tallbloke
    BPL Member


    Locale: DON'T LOOK DOWN!!

    Here’s an Itisa tent belonging to Bryan Miller, on display in Newark, England in 2015.


    P G
    BPL Member


    The 3F UL CangQiong is probably a copy of the Big Sky Wisp tent which has been discussed on this site but the link between both tents is often overlooked.

    Eugene Hollingsworth
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Minnesota

    Well written, John.  Informative, entertaining, and even expanding my vocabulary a bit.

    Thank you.



    BPL Member


    This aditorial content seems weird to me; Is it an article on the history of one person tents or a review/spotlight on a single tent manufacturer?

    Based on my research different styles of cowboy/ ‘bivouac’  camping were popular before the world wars dating back to the renascence at least. It seems that Europeans exported the concepts to America (I’m not a historian!).

    Apparently Napoleon said, “Tents are not healthy; it is better for the soldier to bivouac next to the fire.”

    Before nylon fabrics were invented in the 1930s, tents were made from heavy waxed cotton or virgin lanolin-rich wool. They were durable shelters intended to be carried by pack animals and used to build camps that would stand multiple nights, if not a whole season. The simplest/smallest tents from before WWI that I have found are square tarps which date back at least hundreds of years (A frame and diamond pitch). Cutting large branches or logs to erect such tents would be common whenever traveling near trees to avoid carrying them.  Hence, most historical one person shelters being bivy like solutions. When alone and dealing with waxed cotton or wool it could be simpler and warmer to wrap oneself rather than pitch it over themselves.


    Chris R
    BPL Member


    Before nylon there was “balloon silk”, not silk but very tight weave lightweight cotton. I have an original edition of Kephart’s book and it has some great tent and tarp descriptions. Unfortunately quality lightweight cotton has pretty much disappeared from the market now, the best I have found is still 4.5oz per yard, adding any proofing quickly increases the weight.

    John Seward
    BPL Member


    Thank you for all comments!

    In 1971 I purchased from REI a cotton “two-person” backpacking tent with a coated nylon floor. REI discontinued cotton tents very soon after this purchase.

    A few years earlier, at a summer youth camp that emphasized backpacking, very small cotton tents, floorless and without insect netting, were standard issue.

    But any slight advantages offered by a cotton tent (breathability and comparatively low susceptibility to fire) today seem obviously outweighed by other factors. Thomas H. Holding’s 12-ounce tents, circa 1900, were made of silk — another textile that is doubtless obsolete for tentage.


    Cameron M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Los Angeles

    Let’s not leave out olfactory histories; I still recoil when I smell anything resembling the oiled and mildewed cotton tents from my scouting days.

    Michael B
    BPL Member


    Let’s not leave out olfactory histories; I still recoil when I smell anything resembling the oiled and mildewed cotton tents from my scouting days.


    My family had a cotton tent, I remember fondly the smell, oddly. It wasn’t mildewy, or at the least, I wasn’t repulsed by it if it was.

    I wish I could fit in the 3FUL tents. Being 6’1″ and liking to use Big Agnes pads (3.5″ thick), I have not even risked it based on the reviews. I do often wish I was a shorter person (think of the weight savings! :D).

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Locale: California

    “But any slight advantages offered by a cotton tent (breathability and comparatively low susceptibility to fire [italics added]) today seem obviously outweighed by other factors.”

    The CPAI-84 standard and state laws that virtually require most backpacking tents sold in the U.S. to be treated with toxic fire-retardant chemicals were a reaction to cotton canvas tents catching fire and killing people. Too often, cotton tents were soaked in wax (or similar) to repel rain, literally adding fuel to the fire. CPAI stands for Canvas Products Association International.

    OTOH, it’s very difficult to find reliably-sourced stories of people dying, or even getting seriously injured, in synthetic (nylon, polyester) backpacking-style tent fires. Even without treatment, these tents don’t catch fire or sustain flames very well – especially with ultralight fabrics.

    Synthetics laminated to waterproof-breathable fabrics like GoreTex are almost impossible to light and sustain a flame, but won’t pass CPAI-84. Hmmm, wonder why a standard developed by cotton fabric makers is so hard on synthetic fabrics?

    In the EU, virtually no tent maker uses fabrics treated with fire retardants, in large part because of the toxicity issues. And European backpackers are not going up in flames – unless they are drummers in second-class rock and roll bands:

    YouTube video

    When it comes to fire susceptibility, I am far more comfortable in a lightweight synthetic tent than cotton. Each fabric has other advantages and disadvantages.

    And don’t be stupid – keep flames away from all tent fabrics.

    — Rex, stepping off soapbox – for now

    But more here:

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