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  1. #1
    Senior Member mattbicycle's Avatar
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    Supermarket tents - good, bad or ugly?

    Hi all,

    I'm sure the best advice on tents would be to buy the best available to suit the conditions being travelled to. However, if money, circumstances etc meant that this wasn't an option, I'm wondering how others have found the less-than-fifty dollar Walmart/Carrefour/Tesco supermarket tents?

    The pictures on the cover always show happy, attractive people enjoying their outdoor experience. I doubt this very much! I'm wondering if anyone has a good (or bad) experience with one of these creatures. And perhaps some common faults/quick repair methods (i.e. carry X with you for anticipated failure of Y).

    It will be summer when next do a three week tour. I'm thinking about buying one at my destination to save weight and space on the plane (China) and don't plan to use if that much since the weather will be pleasant. If it proved itself, I'd take it home. If not, I haven't lost much.

    Quality outdoor stores are rare in China but Chinese-made tents are common in the big city supermarkets. If I picked one up for around $25 and threw it away if it was beyond repair on the last day I'd settle for that.

    Stories of horror or pleasant surprise would be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Matt

  2. #2
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Considering that many high quality tents are made in China I'll bet with a bit of searching and asking around you can find one.

  3. #3
    Aging Gearhead
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    I like your plan but be sure to bring a bottle of seam sealer. Then again, I bet you could find a pretty good tent at a pretty good price there, too. One that you'd be happy bringing home.

  4. #4
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    Never had a Walmart tent **EVER** fail me yet and I've camped through almost every condition including snow. The only one I would avoid is the 6x5 small $17 model in the hot summer because it lacks good ventilation. All the rest work well.

    With any tent, you have to seal the seems on it using a sealer, which cost around 3 bucks.

    The one downside I can think of is that Walmart tents are generally bigger and heavier than what a much more expensive tent would cost. If weight and volume are a concern, go to a sporting goods store like Dick's or Bass Pro Shops where they will have more of a selection... with of course, more of a price.

  5. #5
    Senior Member foamy's Avatar
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    I've had an orange, single wall, two person, el cheapo tent for years. Someone gave it to me and it has been out in all kinds of rain from drenching downpours to four solid days of rain and amazingly enough—it's always worked well (unless water pools underneath of it). Go figure. I'd of never believed it, but it's proved itself time and again. I think in the bargain line-up, a simpler (less complicated poles/configuration, etc.) tent has less to go wrong with it. Never used seam sealer on it either, but I would recommend a ground cloth of some sort. I'm given to understand that Tyvek works well. Happy camping.
    None.

  6. #6
    Senior Member xilios's Avatar
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    I used a 25+yo Hillery tent (that was bought from Sears) on my tour from Holland to Greece in 2005.
    It kept me dry in the rain, and the huge window (with mosquito netting) in the back was great in the warmer climate of Italy.
    We still use it on long weekend tours around our neighbourhood.
    Can't remember what was paid though, (maybe 30/40$) and if they still make them that good
    Last edited by xilios; 02-22-08 at 08:01 AM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Speedo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gpsblake View Post
    With any tent, you have to seal the seems on it using a sealer, which cost around 3 bucks.
    Unless the seams come sealed. That seems to be getting more common.

    Speedo

  8. #8
    The Site Administrator: Currently at home recovering from a couple of strokes,please contact my assistnt admins for forum issues Tom Stormcrowe's Avatar
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    I use a Walmart tent, the bigger 3 man and it does me well. Stood in high winds in Michigan, very well and I slept dry. It's a bit heavy, but is built like a brick house, so ti speak
    on light duty due to illness; please contact my assistants for forum issues. They are Siu Blue Wind, or CbadRider or the other 3 star folk. I am currently at home recovering from a couple of strokes. I am making good progress, happily.


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  9. #9
    Senior Member foamy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xilios View Post
    I used a 25+yo Hillery tent (that was bought from Sears) on my tour from Holland to Greece in 2005.
    It kept me dry in the rain, and the huge window (with mosquito netting) in the back was great in the warmer climate of Italy.
    We still use it on long weekend tours around our neighbourhood.
    Can't remember what was paid though, (maybe 30/40$) and if they still make them that good
    I had a 6 person Hillary, bought in the early nineties on sale. I don't recall what I paid for it but it was just two digits. That tent was money well spent. Tiny, little umbrella fly, unremarkable nylon construction. Again, was never wet in it, it had been blown almost flat and it was indestructible. Still going strong from what I hear.
    None.

  10. #10
    Senior Mumbler m5nardi's Avatar
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    We had a 3-man tent from Aldi for several years that held up nicely. I bought the tent for $15 and used a little spray waterproofing on the rain fly and lower body of the tent, and sealed the seams, maybe another $4 worth of those products. I cut a piece of Tyvek housewrap to use inside as a rug to help keep the floor clean and protected. It was a solid little tent, roomy for two adults or three kids (mostly used by my kids), and I was very happy with it. I'd still have it if someone hadn't stolen it out of our basement and busted it to bits.

    We used it pretty extensively, and had two pole failures. They were fiberglass and pretty brittle, one break came after almost two straight days of heavy wind and rain, and the other broke while setting up after the tent spent some time bouncing around the back of an ATV under the cooler. Luckily universal replacement poles fit well and came as a pair. I don't remember making any other repairs, but there were a few small snag holes in the mesh by the end.

  11. #11
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    For cheap tents I like the dome type, they seem to stand up to some harsh weather. I have seen some where the fly only covers the very top of the tent, I would stay away from those. Make sure it has a decent fly. A nice feature is a tent with 2 doors, so if one zipper fails you can still use the other door.

  12. #12
    Senior Member xiaodidi's Avatar
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    The items made in China for export are very different from those made for local consumption. It is akin to the difference in a Walmart bike and something from your LBS.

    Good luck unearthing anything beyond badminton rackets and footballs in any Chinese Walmart or Carrefour. Good outdoors equipment will cost you the same, if not more, in China than in the real world... and good luck returning it if is defective.

    You can find good tents for under $100 and 5 lbs in a local sporting goods store. A bit more than the supermarket tents, but they will last for years and pack nicely.

  13. #13
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I'm very picky about my tents. On a bike tour it will be your home, and your shelter from the storm. You'll also have to lug it over all the hills and mountain passes on your route.

    My criteria are:
    • It must be absolutely waterproof, even in a downpour with heavy winds ("sideways rain")
    • It must be long enough for me to stretch out in (I'm 6'4") but just barely. Any extra length is extra weight.
    • It must be as light as humanly possible, while still meeting criteria #1 and #2.
    • It should have good ventilation for those warm days when I have to hide out from swarms of mosquitoes. I don't want to hide out in a sauna!


    Low price is not one of my criteria. Sure, I like to save money, but having an unsuitable tent because I saved a few bucks is not a wise choice, in my opinion.

    On my first major tour I had a Eureka Timberline 2XL. It's the 2 person model they used to make with an extra large floor - 5' x 8'. It was plenty comfortable and I could stretch out and have room for my panniers beside me. It was waterproof (after I seam-sealed it.) But it was heavy! It weighed over 10 lbs. I broke a bunch of spokes on that tour, which ended up spoiling it for me. I vowed to get lighter stuff for my next tour.

    My next tent was a Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight. It's much lighter - about 5 lbs. I'm kind of cramped in it. When I lay on my back to read my head pushes on the door. It has lousy ventilation so when I lay in it during the afternoon to escape mosquitoes, I sweat like a pig. But it's light. It made a big difference in how hard I had to work climbing hills, and I didn't break any spokes with it. Unfortunately, last summer in the Cascades I was in an all-night torrential rainstorm. When I awoke my feet were soaked. The rainfly doesn't completely cover the end of the tent. It drips on the tent, and soaked through.

    I started looking for a new tent. I wanted a Big Agnes Seedhouse for its lightness and its ventilation. It also looked like it wouldn't leak. However, it looked a little too short for me. It can be a drag being tall! I finally settled on a Backcountry 1 from Eureka. I've had good luck with my Eureka Tetragon 9 in the rain, although that line of tents is certainly not lightweight. The Backcountry 1 weighs the same as my Clip Flashlight, but is roomier (mostly in length), the ventilation looks good, and the rainfly covers the feet. I haven't tried it out yet. I'll post the results here. There's a storm blowing in this weekend. I'm thinking about setting it up in the backyard and giving it a try.

    Oh, and the Backcountry 1 was only $119 from Campmor. That's a heck of a lot less than a Seedhouse, and probably not that much more than a Walmart tent.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Newspaperguy's Avatar
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    I used cheap tents until a few years ago. I used a $25 tent which was small and light and provided me with shelter at night. But it was not well built and after a few years, it developed numerous leaks. When I used that tent for touring, I'd watch the sky each day and if I thought rain was coming, I'd look for a motel. In dry areas, the cheap tents are okay but for potentially rainy areas, get something better.
    Life is good.

  15. #15
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by foamy View Post
    I've had an orange, single wall, two person, el cheapo tent for years. Someone gave it to me and it has been out in all kinds of rain from drenching downpours to four solid days of rain and amazingly enough—it's always worked well (unless water pools underneath of it). Go figure. I'd of never believed it, but it's proved itself time and again. I think in the bargain line-up, a simpler (less complicated poles/configuration, etc.) tent has less to go wrong with it. Never used seam sealer on it either, but I would recommend a ground cloth of some sort. I'm given to understand that Tyvek works well. Happy camping.
    If it is the same "orange tent" from my youth then I know those tents well. Years ago, you could pick one up at Clabbers for about $15. Well I knew better and never bought one. I had to do a backpack trip as a part of a leadership course in the Scouts. I did not have the money to buy a tent with a fly so I borrowed one of our troops old canvas pup tents. Now I weighed about 90 lbs at the time so that pup tent probably put be over the limit of the weight I was supposed to carry. But I lugged that thing down the trail and up a very steep hill to set up camp. That night it started to rain cats and dogs. The next morning there too people dry on that hillside. Me and the rich kid with the expensive tent and fly. The rest had the cheap orange tents and they were all soaking wet. I was really glad I lugged that tent to the top of that hill.
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  16. #16
    Senior Member mattbicycle's Avatar
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    Thanks for the comments and stories so far. #12, I agree completely. I have lived in Shanghai for a couple of years and can report that finding a high quality tent is actually very difficult. In Europe and the U.S. a lot of companies may outsource production to China but those products almost never end-up on the local Chinese market. In fact, aside from an odd North Face shop and a couple of other brands like it, there is no market for these products in China. Xiaodidi - love the user name. Wish I'd thought of it .

    I am encouraged to hear that with sheer luck of a striking a reasonable product and reasonable weather I could risk picking something up when I arrive in Hong Kong / Shenzhen and wait for my Chinese visa. They (cheap tents) are very easy to find in the Shanghai Carrefour shops anyway.

    gpsblake, thanks for the weight advice. I will travel very lightly due to posting anything unnecessary for the trip ahead to Shanghai from a post office in Shenzhen, so a bit of extra weight won't matter.

    toodman, thank you for the sealer advice. I appreciate it - very helpful.

    Matt

  17. #17
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Years ago when I was backpacking more than cycling, my shelter consisted of nothing more than a large sheet of 6mil poly (visqueen) I used an old gadget called a Visklamp, dogbone shaped piece of stiff wire and a small rubber ball. Work in all but the most horrendous of weather. Best tent I have ever owned was the 4 man Eureka Timberline, bit on the heavy side but if the weight was split between 2-3 people well worth it.

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  18. #18
    Senior Member sykerocker's Avatar
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    I've used a $39.95 WalMart tent for seven years of motorcycle touring/camping, and it's still my favorite. Yeah, a little small (I sleep diagonally), but it works, and has gotten me through some really nasty storms, a couple of which I got the tent erected with about 2 minutes to spare. I haven't used the tent on a bicycle trip because it's too big/heavy - at present I motel when cycling, although I'm starting to look for something that'll work well . . . . . . . and hopefully be as cheap as that WalMart dome.
    Syke

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  19. #19
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    You want to look mostly at the material. The cut is amazing these days. Sams has this deal on two huge tents, and chairs and furniture, for 180, and just the tent would have been 1000 back around 1980 when that was a lot. The floor needs to be waterproof, and the fly really should be also. The walls should be a breathable nylon, and normally the fly overlaps the "bathtub" floor so no water can get in. To test whether the material is waterproof, grab a mouthfull and try to breath through it. If it doesn't passes air, like a plastic bag, it is waterproof.

    Another thing to look at are the poles, they should be lightweight aluminum, with internal ferules.

    I had one of those small orange tents, and they worked great as long as only one person used the 2 person tent, in the rain. Everything got soaked in the rain if two people were squeezed out towards the walls since they passed water if touched.

    Good tents are so cheap today, one really wonders how much cheaper they need to be. Pic your point of view on the trade deficit, but I would buy one while they are still willing to pay for you to do it. As I said the standard VE 24 type dome tent (4 poles) was nearly 800 bucks when they first came out, possibly only 500 in the US. Is 300 for the real thing (execution wise), 25 years later, too much? 175 for a lightweight tent, by an excellent brand? The tents I bought on staff discounts in the mid 80s are still in use. I would personally go for buying right, once.

  20. #20
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    One of my favorite tents of all time cost around $35. However - the poles broke the third night and I had to stop at a camping store to get new poles. The only ones they had that fit were North Face, so I paid $50 for the poles. Still - $85 for a great little tent isn't bad!
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  21. #21
    J3L 2404 gbcb's Avatar
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    mattbicycle — I can't comment on cheap tents, but there's a pretty decent outdoors shop called Wild Rampage on the south bank of Suzhou Creek that might be worth looking into. I don't know for sure if they have tents, though and unfortunately their Web site (http://www.wildrampage.com/) doesn't seem to be working right now.

    It's in a converted industrial building called something like the Warehouse (not sure of the Chinese name).
    Address: 1415 4F Nan Suzhou Lu
    Phone: 6215 2991

  22. #22
    I'm made of earth! becnal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xilios View Post
    I used a 25+yo Hillery tent on my tour from Holland to Greece in 2005.
    The photo there is my idea of heaven!
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  23. #23
    The Wheel is Turning The Figment's Avatar
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    This is an easy Choice......

    http://domsoutdoor.com/product.asp?pn=1-009317



    For $99 Bucks ya just can't go wrong!!! Plus it has a "Stealth" Rating around Eleventy Billion!

  24. #24
    Cycled on all continents JohnyW's Avatar
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    Hi Matt,

    never was in China so far but I think you don't find tents in supermarkets like in Europe or North America.

    A cheap tent also is also suitable. The expensive ones are better designed (ventilation, lighter) and use better material (dry faster, better in storms). The questions is will you pay for that?

    I always bring my belongings with me. Because I want to make cycle tour not shopping tour

    Thomas

  25. #25
    Senior Member
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    I really like the $99 Eureka. Been using one like it for several years, and it has been great.

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