Tents are one of the most important pieces of gear you need if you take extended treks into the national parks' backcountry. They truly can make a life-and-death difference in extreme conditions. While they also used to be one of the more expensive pieces of gear, there is a trend to make quality backpacking tents more affordable.
REI long has been known for making relatively low-cost, quality knockoffs of tents from such manufacturers as Northface and Sierra Designs. And while REI's tents are indeed well-made and stand up to harsh conditions -- I've endured both thunderstorms and snowstorms in mine -- come spring the co-op will find some competition from Mountain Hardwear, one of the big names in the outdoor business.
A tent that definitely hews to price point is Mountain Hardwear's Drifter 2, which is expected to carry an MSRP of $165. Similar in design to REI's Half Dome tent, which retails for four dollars more, $169, this three-season, two-person tent weighs in at a scant 5 pounds, 5 ounces packed, or you can strip down to 3 pounds, 7 ounces if you opt to carry just the rainfly and footprint (which, of course, is sold separately...). Having endured testing in a "rain room" that dumped the equivalent of 1,200 inches of rain during a 24-hour period, the Drifter 2 likely will stand up to any rainstorm you encounter...as long as you erect it properly.
Do without the fly on nights when you know it's going to be dry and the mesh canopy improves airflow, though studying the stars will be kinda hazy due to the mesh. The Drifter 2 also comes with a gear loft for stashing those little things like glasses, hats, deck of cards, etc, that you want to keep out of the way while you're sleeping. Floor size? A cozy 32 square feet. Use the rainfly and you increase your floor space, as the two vestibules are ready to provide weather protection for boots, packs, water bottles and any other items you want nearby. This domicile also offers doors on both sides of the tent, meaning no clambering over your companion when you need to make that midnight run to nature...or if a bear is coming in the other door.
As is the trend out there in the tent industry, the Drifter 2 also comes with color-coded poles and marked grommet tabs for relative ease in pitching when you arrive in camp later, and darker, than you intended.
Technical fine print: Fabrics: Canopy: 68D Polyester Ripstop DWR (100% polyester); 20D Nylon Knit Mesh (100% nylon); Fly: 75D Polyester Taffeta 1500mm PU (100% polyester); Tent Floor: 70D Nylon Taffeta 3000mm PU (100% nylon) Poles: 1 7001 PF pole Details: Capacity - 2; Minimum Weight - 4 lbs. 12 oz.(2.15 kg); Packed Weight - 5 lbs. 5 oz.(2.40 kg); Pitch Light Weight - 3 lbs. 7 oz.(1.57 kg); $165.00
For trios on the trail, Mountain Hardwear makes the Drifter 3, which is slightly larger, offering a 43-square-foot floor.
Another backpacking option that's not quite $100 more than the Drifter 2 is Mountain Hardwear's Raven 2, which weighs 5 ounces less than the Drifter 2. It's somewhat roomier, too, thanks to the more vertical pitch of the sidewalls. Also billed as a three-season tent, the Raven 2's rainfly is beefier and can handle snow.
For high-altitude treks, Eureka! offers the High Camp, a rugged, five-pole rectangular shelter that buttons down tightly against the elements. Two vestibules -- a small one out back, a larger one in front -- provide an additional 17.6 square feet of covered space for miscellaneous gear storage and offer openings on either side for ease of entry and exit. Poles that prop up the vestibules makes it easier, and a bit drier, to get into the tent. While the low profile is designed to hold up to winds -- and the guyouts help keep this shelter taut and anchored -- it limits your head space to 3 feet, 8 inches in the center. Floor-wise, you have a bit more than 43 square feet.
Naturally, you'll pay for the beefiness of this tent, both in weight -- 9 pounds, 8 ounces -- and price, as it retails for an MSRP of $530. A gear loft is $14 extra.
Technical fine print: Fabrics: Wall: 70D 190T nylon taffeta, uncoated; Fly: 75D 190T polyester ripstop, 1800 mm coated; Floor 70D 190T nylon taffeta, 5000 mm coated; Mesh 40D nylon no-see-um. Poles: 9 & 9.5 mm DAC aluminum; Capacity -- 2; Minimum weight -- 9 pounds, 8 ounces.