The major issue that tent designers have to deal with is letting one type of moisture out of the tent while preventing another type from coming in. The moisture that we don't want to come in is rain - the moisture that we want to get rid of is vapour from breathing and perspiration. The way that tents accomplish this feat is by using a two-layer system. The actual roof of most tents is a breathable material which lets out vapour from the inside of the tent. This roof system is covered by a waterproof fly which is stretched over the tent to shed rain.

When we are shopping for a tent we have to keep in mind that manufacturers are often very optimistic about the number of people who can comfortably sleep inside their tents. The little diagrams on the tent box which show the silhouettes of people laying comfortably side-by-side do not show the flashlights, day packs, spare clothes and Ziploc bags of toilet paper which invariably end up scattered around the tent. These capacity ratings should be taken with a grain of salt. If we need a two-person tent, we should probably buy one rated for three people. If we want to comfortably sleep three people, we should buy a four-person tent.

The most common configurations are dome and A-frame. Both types can be light and pack down to a compact bundle. The A-frame is sometimes a little easier to anchor down and therefore more stable in high winds, but either type will do the trick.

Modern tents are usually self-supporting, using a system of shock-corded poles which either slide through pockets in the tent fabric, or fastened to the tent with plastic clips. Aluminum poles are almost as light as fiberglass poles, but much stronger. Tents with aluminum poles are more expensive, though.

We should think twice about purchasing any tent which is not self-supporting. The thin soils and rocky terrain of much of Ontario means that it could be difficult to anchor a tent which relies on pegs to hold it up. We can replace suspension systems that rely on pegs with ropes tied to rocks, logs and trees.

When we select a tent, we are looking at trade-offs between size and weight. Obviously the bigger the tent we carry, the more weight we will be hauling along the portage trails, but we don't have to over-compensate for this. There may be days that we are camp-bound due to bad weather, and being crammed into a tiny tent too low to sit up in is a miserable way to spend such a day. We are paddlers not backpackers, and for the most part our tents are sitting in the bottom of a canoe or set up on the campsite. A few extra pounds to lug across a portage is not an unbearable hardship if it means that we will be comfortable in our tent.

What do we look for in a canoeing tent?

  • The fly should completely cover the tent. Some cheap tents have a partial fly which only covers the top of the structure. Whatever is not covered with a fly will eventually drip on us while we sleep. If there is one part of the tent that we're going to rub against as we toss and turn, it's the bottom part of the walls, and this is exactly the part that isn't protected by a fly on the less-expensive tents.
  • We should examine the location of the door and window and how the fly fits around them. Will the fly divert water from these openings during a downpour? A screened door or window isn't going to do much for us if we can't take advantage of a breeze without water pouring in.
  • How substantial are the anchor points for guy lines and tent stakes? These loops take all of the strain exerted by the wind. If they look like they may tear or pull off, they probably will.
  • What is the floor construction like? In contrast to the tent walls, the floor should be made of waterproof material. The "tub" floor, which extends part way up the wall of the tent will do the best job of keeping out water which may be running along the ground.


Prices for tents vary considerably, from $100 to $500. As with any piece of equipment, we get what we pay for. It is best to buy the highest quality we can afford, but we should never allow budget to prevent us from hitting the lakes and rivers in our canoe. I have sat out some severe storms in tents which cost only $100 and they worked like a charm.