Sometimes the Best Tent is a Decade-old Tent

Here at Adventure Journal Gear HQ, my garage runneth over with all manner of, well, gear. The best and the brightest, the shiniest and the lightest. Cook sets, water filters, shoes, boots, jackets, sleeping bags, you name, it’s in there, in many colors, sizes, made by pretty much every brand you’ve heard of and many you probably haven’t.

But this weekend, on a three-day trip up in Northern California’s Trinity Alps, I’ll be carting along a 10-year-old, nearly five-pound tent, weathered, discolored, a veteran of countless backcountry assaults. It does not have LED lights ringing the roof. It does not boast sil nylon anywhere. The stakes are cheap and heavy. There is a weird stain on one of the sidewalls. One of the poles is bent.

Why am I bringing this battered dinosaur when I have plenty of tents that weigh half as much, with more pockets, bigger vestibules, better head room, or simply fewer stains?

Because it’s my favorite tent, that’s why. The happy feelings this tent generates are well worth the two-pound weight penalty.

It’s an REI Half Dome 2, the old school version without the extra pole across the roof, that as best as I can tell, has been replaced by the Passage 2. I think we paid about $200 for it. With only two poles, permanently joined at the hub at the top, it’s still the easiest tent I’ve ever set up—my wife and I have timed ourselves setting it up in under a minute—and it’s plenty robust for everything up to serious snow camping. It laughs at heavy rain, shrugs off hail, and has plenty of room for two adults well over six feet to lounge in comfortably, with all kinds of vestibule space.

That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of tents out there that offer all of this and way, way more. There are. It’s not close to the best tent I’ve ever used, but it’s my favorite tent of all time.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about why that is, and I think it’s this—the moments I’ve experienced in the tent have added a certain, let’s say, experiential patina that simply can’t be replicated in a new tent. It’s a worn-in baseball glove. An well-trodden-in shoe. A comfortable old pickup. I think too, that there’s something unique about shelter that creates a more lasting bond. I’ll upgrade every other part of my backcountry kit before I part with my favorite tent. It’s literally been my shelter in a storm. Many storms, actually. I know it works, it’s dependable as hell, and sure, it’s an inanimate object, but it’s worked real hard for its place on the first-string team. It has grit.

Of all the gear I’ve used in recent years it’s the only piece that’s withstood the temptation to upgrade with fancier, newer, and lighter.

That’s the point of well-made stuff after all. We love to celebrate well-built, quality craftsmanship, but then we seem eager to replace things with next year’s iterative change. But what’s the point in valuing high quality gear if we always have our eye on what’s next?

So, sure, I’ll be tearing the tags off new test pieces of gear this weekend at the trailhead, but somewhere in the (brand new) pack I’ll be toting, there’ll be a faded relic of a tent nestled lovingly, ready for another go-round, and, hopefully, another decade of flawless service.



Four issues, free shipping, evergreen content…