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I'm shopping for a new tent and considering a model that comes in two different colors-- bright orange and dark green.

Purely-aesthetic preferences aside (ie, like orange more than green), are there any functional or practical differences between a brightly-colored tent and a natural-colored tent?

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Fun fact: red and purple dyes is the heaviest, while yellow is the lightest. You learn that when you work in a paper store and cart around reams of paper. I don't know if the amount of dye in a tent is comparable to the dye in a box of paper, but... you never know! – corsiKa Mar 7 at 19:06
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@corsiKa I wouldn't say you never know, you could just weigh them! – Jason C Mar 7 at 23:58
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@JasonC Out of here with your rational exercises to put bogus statements to bed. Skeptics is that way!! – corsiKa Mar 8 at 4:58
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When I was a kid one of our tents was yellow. One of the times when we returned it's color changed to black, as it was completely covered by some tiny flies. I have seen a few other times that these insects were very attracted to bright yellow and, to a lesser degree, to white. – tsuma534 Mar 8 at 14:19
up vote 32 down vote accepted

If you want to reduce your visual impact on the environment, choose a tent with colors that match the landscape you're going to camp in. Green in forest or other vegetated areas, brown for the desert, white for winter camping.

However, if you are in trouble and want to be found, it helps to have a very bright tent that stands out. A tent you can see from kilometers away. A tent that is going to annoy that other backpacker who was just having the illusion to be alone in the world, and now he or she isn't. Such a tent might save your life if rescue agencies are looking for you.

So, to reduce visual impact: choose camouflage. To quicken rescue in emergency: choose anything BUT camouflage.

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"If you want to reduce your impact on the environment, choose a tent with colors that match the landscape you're going to camp in" -- Can you elaborate on this a bit more? I'm sure you have something in mind but I can't think of any environmental harms caused by poor color coordination. – Russell Steen Mar 7 at 17:44
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@RussellSteen I mean visual impact only. I doubt it makes much difference for the ecosystem, but who knows? – gerrit Mar 7 at 18:33
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Not just for emergencies - bright tents help when returning to your campsite as well. – Superbest Mar 7 at 19:24
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It doesn't have significant impact on the eco system. Most animals can't even see the difference between red and green, so although it may appear slightly lighter to them, the orange tent will likely blend in almost as well as the green one, this is also why brown and orange animals (tigers, foxes), are almost invisible to other animals, even though we can see them clearly against a green background. Predatory birds and insects do see a wider range of colors. But I don't think the birds have a big hunting area anyway, and the bugs are attracted to specific patterns. – GolezTrol Mar 7 at 22:47
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Because xe is non-standard and I don't like singular they. – gerrit Mar 9 at 9:31

If you are stealth camping, it helps to have a tent that blends in. If you are camping where there is hunting, it helps to have a tent with bright, high contrast so that you can be sure you are seen.

Also (thanks to Ben Crowell for the comment) you may want tents that blend in for high traffic areas to disturb the scenery less. High contrast tents can be useful in the backcountry to make it easier to spot your tent.

That being said, I've never considered color in tent purchases.

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Me either, but I realize now that my tents only came in one color. – Chris Mendez Mar 7 at 15:10
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If you're camping in summer in a backcountry area that gets a lot of visitors, it can be nice if people have green or brown tents, so that the beauty of the landscape isn't polluted so much. If you're mountaineering or going into a remote backcountry area, it may be advantageous for your tent to be a highly visible color; it could be helpful, for instance, if members of your party get lost and are having trouble finding camp. – Ben Crowell Mar 7 at 16:10

I have a Marmot tent and those were my color choices. I chose the brighter one as I thought it would be useful if I were lost and needed visibility, either lost from my own campsite or in need of rescue, and because orange seemed more cheerful.

I discovered that the light gray and orange fabrics let through more morning light than olive drab tents I have seen to compare to (not exactly the same tent however). This may be useful in waking up early and/or seeing to get dressed, but it can also cut short my sleep as with a more opaque fly I could sleep until the tent started warming up. Now I know I need to bring a sleep blindfold if I intend to sleep in.

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Perhaps it makes a difference for temperatures, too. – gerrit Mar 8 at 15:58

The hue of the tent colour can also affect whether insects and flies are attracted to the tent.

In some cases certain flies like certain gaudy colours.

However more commonly it will be flies that shelter in darker hollows and under grass and leaves that will like the dark tent, while a lighter shade may make those flies swarm above their normal dark foliage (this is with a 'green' tent).

In Scotland this can be the case for midges which can ruin an otherwise wonderful campsite when the air is still and the sky is overcast. The (biting female who desire a blood meal for mating) midges will congregate in the lee of the tent, and if it's quite dark may even crawl over the tent outer. This can be bad when entering and exiting the tent as they brush onto you, the victim...

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From my experience, other than emergency situations and getting lost, there are three differences the colour of your tent can make:

  • A darker colour will get hotter in the sun than a lighter one (usually)
  • If you're at a busy campsite, many people will have a green tent, but grey and orange are less common colour choices. This will make it easier to spot your tent from across the campsite.
  • Brighter colours will attract more insects, which in slightly annoying.

Depending on where you camp most often you may want a different colour

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