If you haven’t bought a tent in awhile, prepare to be more than a little shocked the next time you shop for one. The tent makers have thought of just about everything these days.
Let me back up: My last tent purchase was probably 13 years ago. That’s about when Sarah swore she’d never camp with me if I forced to sleep in my old dome tent by The North Face. It wasn’t a problem with the tent – it was a problem of a decade-plus of BO, flatus, moisture and poor tent care combining to leave my poor tent uninhabitable to everyone but … well, me.
So I bought a new The North Face Rock 22, a fine 2-person tent that sheltered us from Arizona to Iceland, even to above the Arctic Circle in Norway. It did a fine job. We can put it up in seconds, it has a tiny footprint and its snug yet comfortable for two people plus gear.
But with Anneka as part of our new camping crew, the little Rock 22 can no longer be our front-line, go-to, first-choice tent. We decided to get a family-sized tent when REI mailed its dividends and had its “20 percent off one regularly priced item” sale. (By the way, the one-time fee for an REI membership is the best money any outdoorsy person would ever spend – I still can’t fathom why the numbskulls at Barnes & Noble don’t mirror their membership program after REI.)
I had some good talks with sales people at two different REI locations, and the REI-branded Kingdom 4 tent rose to the top. It looks like a portable Quonset hut, and even allows all 6’2 of me to stand upright inside! There’s a zippered door on both sides, a room divider, a plentitude of pockets and lots of places to hang gear. You can pitch the Kingdom 4 without the fly for a nice look at the stars, or pull the fly on when you expect some whether. You can roll the fly up to enjoy the night sky, too. The fly also has a good-sized vestibule.
I tested the Kingdom 4 out on the upper floor of my local REI; the staff was nice enough to let me pitch it right on the sales floor. Singlehandedly, in tight space, for the first time, I had that bad boy up in less than 10 minutes. I whittled that down singlehandedly with Sarah’s help.
We headed out into the Mogollon Rim country of Arizona, hoping to find a spot at the campground near Horton Creek Trail. We struck out there since all the campsites were full. We executed Plan B, which is usually my Plan A: Go find a dispersed area away from the rest of everyone. It took about an extra 30 minutes of off-road driving, but we found a nice spot complete with the remains of a fire pit. I collected firewood, got the fire pit up to spec and commenced camping.
What did the little person think? She thought the room divider was the coolest thing ever, and she batted the flap about while cooing and squawking for about 10 minutes. When it was bedtime, I used a yoga mat and some blankets to build her a little baby nest. We put a stocking cap on her, bundled her up from the Mogollon Rim chill and left her to sleep. I think she only woke once that night. Not bad for a 5-month-old on her first camping trip!
I think it’s possible to do some short-range backpacking with the Kingdom 4. If you go that route, you can either distribute the parts among several people … or have one person carry the Kingdom 4, and distribute their gear among the rest of you.
The in-store regular price is about $399. Our dividend took a big chunk out, as did the 20 percent off sale. Even at regular price, that’s a good amount of tent per person. And REI-branded gear often hits above its price for quality, and the Kingdom 4 seems to follow that theme.
If the Kingdom 4 isn’t big enough, there is a 6 and even 8 model (I’m trying hard to resist any bad humor here). Some friends of ours have the Kingdom 6 for their family of 4, which includes two boys 6 and younger. It is a huge hit with them; they’ve also added the Connect Tech Garage.
We’re planning to head further north toward Flagstaff … and we can expect rain on this one. So we’ll see how the Kingdom 4 handles some weather. For now, our impressions are very good. Stand by, and I‘ll update this post with more info.