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I am going to be relocating to the Colorado desert for a long-term research project and need a portable shelter. The only one I've found so far that will conform to my needs in the turtle tuff shelter found here: http://turtletuffshelters.net/

Being 6' tall, I'm a little worried about getting claustrophobic in the 16' model, but the 24' model seems a little.... huge. I go camping regularly and if I'm going to drop thousands of dollars on a tent, I would like to be able to use it after my project is done (edit: per the comments I should clarify that I usually go camping 3-4 weeks out of the year for 1-2 week periods at a time. I'm not looking for something for weekend trips). However, I've never camped in a tent this large and I'm not sure if something this size would be allowed, or would even fit in most campsites. Does anyone have any experience camping in a tent this large? Or can someone recommend another tent that would give me a little more head space, but would still meet my needs (listed below)?

Needs:

  • Must be sufficient for 1.5 to 2 years desert living

  • Must be (reasonably) sand proof and able to withstand high winds

  • Must be at least 200 sqft with at least 100 sqft I can stand in (I'm going to be spending a lot of time in this tent)

  • Must have some sort of insulation/ventilation system or the ability to keep electronics and people reasonably cool (I'm going to have some solar panels with a swamp cooler or other form of air-conditioning to help with the heat, but my budget is pretty limited so passive methods of climate control need to be used wherever possible).

  • (I know I'm going to catch a lot of flack on this one) Must be a secure shelter for a domestic cat (Edit: I think I should also clarify that I'm not looking to take my cat on recreational camping trips. I can find a sitter for those. But, I need a way to care for her during the 1+ years I'm gone). I know it isn't a good idea to take a cat camping, but I have a cat with some medical conditions and special needs and I haven't found anyone I would trust to take care of her who is actually willing to put the necessary time and effort into caring for her. Due to the extended time period of my trip, I don't see many options short of dropping her at a shelter or putting her down. My definition of "secure" is that I can leave the cat alone in the tent for a few hours during the day and not have to worry about her baking alive, tearing through the siding and escaping, or other animals getting into the tent and eating her. Obviously no shelter is 100% safe, but (to give an example) I believe the turtle tuff would meet these needs as it has very strong siding which would prevent the cat from getting out, and would most likely prevent any other animals from getting in. Worst case scenario, the height and strong frame would allow me to hang a high platform the cat could escape to if a coyote or something did manage to break into the tent. Any other suggested shelters would have to give me the same level of comfort about the safety of my pet.

Thank you very much for reading this, and any advice you can provide.

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It seems like you have contradictory requirements. A tent that you'd be comfortable living in for 2 years is not going to be a tent that you'd take on a weekend car-camping trip. –  Ben Crowell Mar 2 at 0:31
    
The Turtle Tuff Shelter doesn't sound like something I'd ever use on a weekend... 220 lbs and 8 man-hours setup time? Eek. –  Dan Wolfgang Mar 3 at 1:25
    
I agree with Ben. Not to mention 2 years of UV exposure is going to really hurt any lightweight tent that you'd use for a weekend trip. Have you looked at yurts? Might be better suited to such a long-term requirement, and maintaining your sanity. –  manoftheson Mar 3 at 3:14
    
Sorry, I'm updating my post to clarify that for recreational camping I usually go on longer-term trips (at least a week at a time, sometimes two). I usually plan trips around my work vacation. Yurts seem great but rather pricey (the $4000+ for the turtle tuff is even a bit steep). Also, I agree that the set-up time sucks. –  user1105224 Mar 3 at 21:08
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Why do you want to use a tent? Wouldn't a trailer work better? –  sixtyfootersdude Mar 5 at 17:24
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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Large tents are generally not an issue in campgrounds, although finding a large enough flat piece of ground may be. The more likely problem you'll face is maximum stay restrictions. Be sure that you check the requirements before making your decision, because having to move your camp every couple of weeks will dramatically change the setup you want. I recommend calling the USFS, BLM, and applicable State agencies where you plan to go in order to find out what options are available. In some locations you can camp anywhere you want, whereas others are restricted to improved campsites.

As for the tent, one of the most important considerations for long term tent living is the entryway. Think of it as a screen porch and mudroom combined. It needs to be spacious enough for you and all of your outside gear, and weather resistant enough to be where that gear is kept. Having a separate entry keeps all of the dirt, dust, brush, grass, mud, water, and/or whatever else you don't want in your tent out.

Other requirements to consider are:

  • Wind resistance (extra stakes and tie-downs and durable seems)
  • Water/Sun resistance (dense fabric with UV/Waterproof coatings to prevent rot and deteriorating)
  • Ventilation
  • Fire resistance

A common setup is to have one tent with a vestibule as the sleeping, changing, relaxing tent, and another tent that serves as the cooking, eating, working tent. The latter often has large screen panels that can be exposed, with the dining surface also serving as the kitchen prep area and desk.

The main categories I would research are:

  • Yurts (not really a tent, which is why they're so great)
  • Outfitter/Guide tents (designed for long term use)
  • Expedition tents (much lighter weight, usable for short term camping)

Fabric selection is a trade off between weight, weatherproofness, durability, and livability. Treated canvas is often considered a good selection when the stay is longer than two weeks. It has excellent livability, good durability, moderate weatherproofness, and poor weight (it's very heavy). Nylon is excellent for everything but livability, so long as it's kept away from hot or sharp objects. Polyester is decent but not great, with the lower cost being the main draw.

Cabela's is a good place to shop for larger tents. The Alaknak Tent would be a good starting point, and if I were making the decision myself it would be between that and a canvas wall tent.

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Lots of great, specific information. Thank you. A canvas wall tent seems like it might be a great option for me. I don't know why I didn't look at that before. I'm going to look into the Alaknak as well. I would upvote, but I need 15 reputation :(. –  user1105224 Mar 3 at 21:26
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I would at least look into multiple smaller tents instead of a single large tent to handle all. Other than the cat thing (I really don't know how to respond to that), I'd probably have one tent for sleeping, and another for the "office". A third thing that isn't really a full tent but more just a canopy for cooking, eating, and other things that can be done outside but that keeps direct sun and rain off sounds useful.

Since this is a long term installation, anchor everything with extra guy ropes, even if not so intended by the manufacturer.

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You could talk to the guys at Panther Primitives. They make high-quality canvas wall tents for the historical reenactment community, and they spend a sizeable amount of time camping in them.

However, I really think your answer is a yurt (or ger). They are round, so that helps with high winds. They are big enough to walk around in. They have accordian-wood slate walls covered with canvas, so you can hang things from the walls and even add extra cloth for insulation (Mongolian herders used felt). They have doors that can be secured. In the middle of the roof is a hole with a removable cover so you could install a heating stove with chimney, or just use for ventilation. Add a wood floor, and you are pretty much protected from the elements.

Only thing is you would probably need a skilled person to put it up for you. It's kind of tricky and not something you can just read the instructions for and go out and do.

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