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Beginner's Corner

Hey! It isn't as Wet in Here!

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No, it's not skinning bucks............ Developed and maintained by JP Finn

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Hey! It's Not as Wet in Here!


Phil Jose


Tents are handy things:

The tents we're going to cover here all have one thing in common. They're all made out of honest-to-Pete cotton canvas. That's going to make it easy, since it narrows the field, right? Well…

There's all sorts of choices to make. The first of these is whether or not to look for canvas that has already been treated with waterproofing. I suggest making sure that it has been pretreated. You can take untreated canvas and treat it with a water seal, but they can do a better job of it at the factory.

Most tent makers offer two different thicknesses of canvas, the lighter at about ten ounce, the heavier around thirteen ounce. If you think you're going to eventually do a lot of winter events, go with the heavier of the two—it's that much more between you and Mean Mamma Nature. If you're going to hibernate from fall 'til spring, stay with the lighter, since it's cheaper and lighter to tote around.

Lastly, there's the choice of whether or not to have the canvas treated with flame retardant. Note well that I said flame retardant—there's no such a thing as a flame proof canvas. If given the chance, all tents will burn. You still treat open fires around, or wood stove inside, your tent with the utmost respect.

As you daytrip your next event, take a look at all the different styles of tents set up. You'll see there's a lot to choose from. What's going to determine the style that's right for you? I hope you've just mumbled the word "persona."

The timespan that these articles cover included the development of various tents. What's going to be perfectly acceptable for the Western Fur Trade Era will not be for F&I. (In fact, at events limited to F&I, the later styles won't be allowed to set up.) If your persona is of a humble station in life, an elaborate tent and camp is inappropriate. That being said, let's look at the different eras and their proper tentage:

F&I and RevWar:

The simplest and cheapest tent for these two eras is the wedge tent. These are the ones that look like an "A" frame. They set up easily with only three tent poles: Two uprights, and a "ridgepole," which defines the roof. The smaller ones can be raised by one person. (You'll need a hand with the larger ones requiring longer ridgepoles, since they're awkward and you can snap a pole if you're at the opposite end when an upright decides to fall.)

You have an option with wedge tents, and that is whether or not you want a "bell" on the back. It's an extension to the tent, shaped like half a cone. It's handy for storage, but if you opt for it, you won't have a back door.

The drawback to the wedge tent is that you have to buy a pretty large one to comfortably sleep more than two. It's something to think about if the whole family's getting started in reenacting.

If you want to get real fancy real fast, an appropriate tent for these eras is the marquee tent. You'll see large versions of this one on Trader's Row. They're the ones that resemble a rectangular or oval circus tent. They're really roomy and you can make a real home-away-from-home out of one. Just keep in mind that you'll be dragging a lot more poles with you, and that setting one up is way more complicated than a wedge. You're going to need help putting one up.

Western Fur Trade Era:

If your persona is going to live in the Western Fur Trade Era, you're going to have more choices. As you're deciding, remember that the wedge and marquee are also at home in this era as well as the earlier ones.

First, let's look at the wall tent. These are the ones you see that resemble the shape of a house, with an external frame of poles running down each side. They can be nice and roomy, and comfortable to live in for the weekend. You'll probably need help setting one up, though.

For all you lone wolf mountain men, there's the pyramid tent, also known as a "one poler." Putting one up is simple: Stake it down at the corners and raise a single center pole inside, or walk a pair of external poles up the sides. (The very first time I put one up took five minutes.) The two big drawbacks are that the pyramid shape means you don't have much headroom inside, and if you opt for the center pole, it cuts the room down even more.

There's a couple of "lean-to" shelters to look into: The Baker and the Whelan. These are the little shelters with three or four curtain-like walls attached to a framework of poles. While they make a nice shelter and are accepted at 'vous, be aware that these shelters haven't been sufficiently authenticated to the era.

Now let's talk about tipis. There are several companies that make fine tipis, and I know how breathtaking they look in camp. But right now, consider this an item to work or trade up to. A big tipi and the lodgepoles to go with it can set you back a couple of grand, and that doesn't include a vehicle and trailer to transport it. Make sure you're in this hobby to stay and that your persona is going to stay in the Western Fur Trade Era before you consider buying one.

All wimpdoggies are kindly asked to skip this paragraph. Good. Now that they're gone, here's a couple of ideas for the heartier of souls: There's a shelter called a diamond that is a single piece of canvas which can be set up as many ways as your imagination will allow. Likewise with using a simple rectangle of canvas. (I often use a 10ft. by 10ft. piece of canvas as a lean-to.) These should be welcome at any event that these articles cover. Just keep in mind that the shelter value of these is pretty minimal!

There's a couple of extras to consider for any for any kind of tent that you buy. First is the sod cloth. This is an extra length of canvas about eight or tem inches wide, added to the inside bottom of the tent. It's used along with the ground cloth (a large piece of canvas you use as a tent floor,) to keep rain runoff out of your tent. When you put down the ground cloth, make sure that it covers the sod cloth.

Another option is a back door. They're a good idea if you plan to attend warm-weather events. Having a door at either end of your tent will let any kind of breeze blowing your way to circulate inside. (Believe me, canvas tents can get mighty warm.)

Let's also remember tent stakes. While they're not by any means an option, they are an additional item. What you are looking for are the iron kind, about a foot long, pointed on one end with a curve on the other. How many you'll need will depend on the type and size tent you buy. (However, even small ones will easily take a dozen.) Do your darndest to find these on Traders' Row, rather than going through mail order—shipping charges for all that iron will eat you alive.

If you've been daytripping any events, you've probably noticed folks sitting around outside, under an open piece of canvas extending from the front of their tent. This is a dining fly. They're good not only for sitting under at suppertime, but they're also a source of shade for the rest of the day. (Trust me, even way south of the timberline, there are events held at some of the most treeless locales you've ever seen.) It's not a "must have" item for starting out, but you'll probably want to add one fairly soon.

The size tent you'll need is going to vary depending not only on the number of people it needs to hold, but also by the style of tent you choose. Remember that with tents that have pretty severe angles to the walls, such as the wedge or pyramid, you lose a lot of headroom and storage area. The quick rule of thumb is "When in doubt, go a little bigger." (Don't worry, and spare room disappears the longer you stay in this hobby. It's amazing what you'll collect for your camp over time.)

Let's look at where you can find your tent. Normally, my battle cry is "Look at every event you go to," and that still goes. If someone's trying to sell what you're looking for, you're going to come away with a little extra loot in your possibles bag, no shipping and handling charges, etc. But notice I said if. You may get incredibly lucky and find just what you're looking for the next event you go to. More likely, though, it's going to take a while to find the style and size you want used.

Buying a tent mail order is a fairly painless process. Normally what you'll see in the catalogs are the different style tents offered, different sizes, canvas, options, etc. Basically you're going to get exactly what you want, because they custom make it to your order. There's a couple different companies that make fine tents:

Panther Primitives PO Box 32, Normantown, WV 25267, 1-800-487-2684 (orders), 1-304-462-7718 (information).

R K Lodges 210 Highway 212 W., Hector, MN 55342, 1-320-848-2767

Something you'll see if you go with mail order are sets of tent poles for sale. Given the price and shipping cost, you're way better off to go to the local lumberyard and pick up what you need yourself. (The tent should come with the information that you need.) It doesn't take many tools, or much skill or time to make your own set.

Well, I've given you just enough information to make you dangerous when picking out your pretty white home-away-from-home. That first setup is going to be both memorable and momentous, it always is. It's also a quantum leap towards the day when you can say to your rapt audience, "Yep, I remember this one time when we had ankle deep water inside our tent."

And on that day, we teach you the secret handshake.


Copyright 1999, Philip Jose.


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