Active Outdoors: Rain got your trip down? Tipis are great in bad weather
This Kifaru 8-person tipi is more than 25 years old and still going strong. The newer versions are lighter . . . (Tim Jones photo)
My buddy David and I were out for an overnight getaway recently, checking the firewood situation at one of the two “hunting camp” sites we use often in November. This was a quick trip and we were already burdened with saws and axes, so we took two ultralight one-person tents to sleep in. The weather forecast was calling for a clear evening, gradually clouding up overnight, with a “chance of a few sprinkles” well after daylight.
Those “few sprinkles” turned out to be a persistent rain that started just before daybreak and lasted through the day. In the scheme of things, it wasn’t any big deal. It wasn’t cold. Our little tents kept us dry as we slept, woke up, got dressed and even stuffed our sleeping bags and rolled our pads. But no matter what we had for gear, we were going to get wet breaking camp and hiking out. Raingear kept us comfortable and we were going home so we could dry everything out.
But there was one period of time when the rain mattered: breakfast. As we cooked and ate breakfast in the rain, I remarked to David how nice it would have been to have one of my tipis set up. We could then have cooked breakfast on the woodstove in the tipi and sat there inside, warm and dry to eat.
Over the last five decades, I’ve slept out in cold, rainy and/or snowy weather using shelters of almost every description. Just to prove I could do it, for example, I’ve cobbled together shelters of tree branches and leaves, shelters made from two 55gallon garbage bags, tube tents (exactly as it sounds, a long tube of plastic or nylon that can be pitched as an emergency shelter), and tarps either pitched as a tent or lean-to or simply pulled around me as a “burrito wrap.” I’ve also slept in bivvy sacks (tiny shelters not much bigger than a mummy sleeping bag), backpacking tents of every imaginable shape designed to hold from one to six people, nylon tipis with and without woodstoves, canvas tents and tipis with and without woodstoves, various lean-to shelters with three sides and a roof, a number of wilderness cabins with and without woodstoves.
Some of the cabins, like the ones at Merck Forest (merckforest.org) in Vermont, have been extremely cozy and comfortable even in extremely cold, nasty weather, while others will keep you dry but not warm.
In all this adventuring, I’ve found that if you are warm and dry and well fed when you crawl into your temperature-appropriate sleeping bag (more on that another time) at night, and can get dressed and eat breakfast in the morning where it’s warm and dry, it simply doesn’t matter how cold it got overnight. That’s where the tipis shine; the woodstoves don’t hold a fire overnight, but they do heat up the space quickly and effectively – unlike a drafty cabin. In northern Labrador one December, my companions and I sat comfortably in our shirtsleeves in my eightperson tipi when the temperature outside was 35 below zero. No hats, no gloves, no jackets.
These are not cheap tents, and I don’t blame you if you don’t just rush out and buy one. If you are interested in seeing them in action, David and I will be teaching at least one Warm/Cold Camping seminar this winter, which will show off the tipis and compare and contrast the two styles of cold-weather camping. Drop me a note and I’ll be sure to let you know when and where. Then you’ll know why I get so excited when Tipi Season starts.
Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Who makes ’em?
I own and use two extraordinarily functional, lightweight nylon tipis (a six-person and my original eightperson) with woodstoves from Kifaru (kifaru.net). The eight-person (20 pounds with woodstove and stove pipe, sleeps four with gear) is more than 25 years old and still going strong. The sixperson (14 pounds with stove and pipe, sleeps three with gear) is newer and much lighter.
I also have a Titanium Goat (titaniumgoat.com) four-person (sleeps two with gear) that weighs less than seven pounds with stove and pipe). All three of these are easily backpackable.
I’ve found four other companies offering stove-compatible tipis. Rutalocura (rutalocura.com) makes the Pentamid with an aluminized coating on the inside of the fabric, which would make it even warmer in extreme weather. Seek Outside (seekoutside. com) has some very lightweight tipis and titanium stoves. Wyoming Lost and Found (wyominglostandfound. com) makes some very small, lightweight woodstove- enable tipis. TipiTent (tipitent.com) makes some larger woodstove-capable tents, though they seem heavier (25 pounds without stove/pipe) than the others. Again, I haven’t tried any of these and can’t recommend as I can Kifaru and Ti-Goat.
Tipi morning routine
I’ve spent many nights over the past decades sleeping in tipis and I’ve learned to position my sleeping bag within easy reach of the stove. In the morning, I stick one arm out of my sleeping bag, toss a pre-prepared bundle of dry twigs and small sticks into the stove along with a firestarter and a couple of larger sticks, and light the firestarter. Next, I fill the tea kettle with the water that I kept in the foot of my sleeping bag so it wouldn’t freeze, put the tea kettle on top of the stove and pull my arm back into the sleeping bag. Then I doze for a few minutes until the tent is warm. By then the kettle is hot and I can have a steaming cup of tea before I even fully unzip my sleeping bag. Talk about wilderness luxury!
I’ve found three downsides to these lightweight tipis. One, they are quite expensive. Two, you have to be aware and careful using a woodstove inside them. Three, the center-pole and stake-out design is much harder to set up on deep snow than a freestanding dome-style winter tent.
The added comfort, however is worth it!
Headlamp season, too
The press releases from state Fish and Game agencies lately have been chock full of completely unnecessary rescue operations conducted when hikers are overtaken by darkness on the trails.
It gets dark early at this time of year (and will soon be getting darker even earlier). Each person should carry a quality headlamp with spare batteries each and every time they leave the road at this time of year.
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)