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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 '16 at 19:06
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    @corsiKa I wouldn't say you never know, you could just weigh them! – Jason C Mar 7 '16 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 '16 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 '16 at 14:19
  • We had a blue tent for a long time, and it was (a) not garish in the landscape, which was studded with lakes and (b) easy to spot from a distance. – ab2 Jun 26 '16 at 23:59

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If you want to reduce your visual impact on the other people in the area, 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 '16 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 '16 at 18:33
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    Not just for emergencies - bright tents help when returning to your campsite as well. – Superbest Mar 7 '16 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 '16 at 22:47
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    When backpacking, having a bright tent not only helps you be found in case of emergency or when returning to camp, it makes your campsite more visible to others backpackers. Part of why people go into the wilderness is to be alone, imagine returning to camp only to discover that someone has set up camp right next door because they couldn't see your tent well or vice versa – DLS3141 Mar 8 '16 at 13:16
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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 '16 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 '16 at 16:10
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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.

  • Perhaps it makes a difference for temperatures, too. – gerrit Mar 8 '16 at 15:58
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    Great combination: Outer tent green, inner fly orange. It definitely feels warm and welcoming in the morning (I am terrible at getting up). – imsodin Sep 17 '17 at 8:48
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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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In addition to the advantages of being easily spotted or easily hidden, and to elaborate on previous answers - specific colours can attract specific insects which may be relevant to where you're camping.

For example, the Tsetse fly is attracted to a mixture of black and dark blue colours. So if you're planning to camp where they are endemic then consider other choices - bearing in mind the other fauna that alternative colours may attract.

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Just to sum up other answers and add something that was missing:

  • As mentioned choose surrounding nature color if you want to blend in (e.g. while wild camping where it is not legal). Green, brown, grey or white depending on the place you camp.
  • Choose bright color for emergency (valid reason) or ease of finding your own camp (not so valid, don't be so careless to lose sight of your camp). Orange works best.
  • Insects. While most animals won't be bothered by any color, some colors tend to attract insects. E.g. yellow Nemo Hornet Elite can be a nightmare with some type of insects.
  • Temperature. Dark can get hot in midday, bright is nice early in the morning (though might have only psychological element if camping in cold areas).
  • Light hue. If you're spending more time inside the tent not sleeping (e.g. caught in heavy rain), orange hue (Big agnes copper spur) is not the best if you are trying to read a book/kindle. MSR Hubba Hubba tents with grey is best for reading, very bright and natural light. Dark colors (dark green) is only suitable for sleeping, light green (any Nemo tent with birch green color) is ok to spend time inside as it tends to have little hue to the light.
  • Depression/Melancholy. I forgot about this at all when posting first as it doesn't affect me, but there is actual people who reported emotional problems during prolonged stays in the green tents. Solution for depressed ones is lightweight MSR tents with euro green fly which is dark olive color. This particular color doesn't create any green hue, furthermore fabric is thin, therefore it is only dark from outside and bright inside.

I personally like to blend in well and usually hike in grassy areas, so I prefer greenish tone tent with orange footprint (in case of emergency). Light grey is close second for that bright and natural feeling inside.

  • I like your summary, except for your commentary "not so valid" on one of my points. One never intends to get lost, etc. I once had a tent blow away when a strong wind came up mid day in a hard area with few good rocks to tie to. I didn't intend that either, but bright colors were useful. – Mr.Wizard Sep 17 '17 at 15:41
  • Thanks for acknowledging the emotional state, such as depression, which many people, including me, can be affected by. It can keep us from even going on a trip sometimes, so a tip for how to help that is of great importance. – Sue Sep 17 '17 at 16:54
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Personally I want to be as unobtrusive in the wilderness as possible. There seems to be a lot of focus on, even fanatical devotion to, leave no trace. While bright colors aren't technically leaving a trace once you take the tent down, you are unnecessarily polluting the view of anyone else that happens to be there. It's kindof like jumping up and down shouting "Here I am, here I am.".

Most of the time, being unobtrusive is merely being polite to others, but there can be times it really matters. One obvious case is stealth camping. In places where the land is tightly controlled, like New England, it's not always easy to find a clearly legal place to camp. Sometimes the best alternative is to go a few 100 feet into a patch of woods, be as unobtrusive as possible, and of course have as little impact as possible.

Theft or other illegal activity is another, although admittedly minor, issue. One time I was swimming with some friends in a lake by the side of the trail. We put our packs down by the edge of the water. When we got back, one of my friends' pack was gone, and another one had been rifled thru. Mine was completely untouched only about 2 meters away. The only difference appeared to be that mine was olive gray-green, and the others were bright colors. It seems the thieves simply didn't notice my pack.

I'm currently looking to replace a small backpacking tent that got lost in airplane luggage last summer. I'm very dismayed by the many options that only come in bright obtrusive colors. Those are non-starters for me. Fortunately some companies get it and either offer a color choice or a single more muted color.

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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 is slightly annoying.

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

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Yes. Yum Yum yellow is used as the tent on life rafts as it is easy to see at sea. Red midcolor holds heat in the cold but reflects heat in the summer. Dull colors blend in better if you do not want seen. White is cool in the summer. Black heats best in winter. So use of tent.

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    "Red midcolor holds heat in the cold but reflects heat in the summer." Do you have a reference for that? – Mr.Wizard Sep 17 '17 at 15:27
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Light colours don't heat up as much during the day, nor cool off as much at night. Light colours allow more light in the tent. If I'm stormbound I'd much rather be in a white/light beige tent than in either red or green.

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