The Tribe

PLAYA TENTS

Real campers use tents... not those poseur RVs ;) At least that's what we keep telling ourselves. In reality, us fiscally challenged campers use tents.

First, a little background: Back in 1997, three of us shared a "5 person" tent. I'm pretty sure the tent was designed for Snow White's friends, because 5 full sized adults would have to be really friendly to fit in there together. Never again. In the years following, I used the 5 person tent for just myself. It was OK, but far from a good solution.

Here are a few words of caution:

  1. Don't borrow a a friend's tent unless the friend is fully aware that the tent will never be the same again.
  2. Don't plan on being able to remove all the playa dust from your tent no matter how many times you wash it. It's a lost cause. Be one with the dust. Embrace it.
  3. Don't get a tent with mesh sides - you may as well sleep out on the playa!
  4. If using a tall tent, make sure to use extra guy wires/tethers. Try and tether your tent to your car (or better yet, between cars)
 
twin dome tent

My setup:

In 2005 I started using a multi-dome tent, (Ozark trails - $90 at Wally world) and have used it since then with virtually no changes. The package is a triple dome tent setup, with interconnecting tunnels. There is a larger middle tent with two identical smaller tents on either side. I only use 2 domes - the larger one is my living/store room, and the smaller one is my "bedroom".

You could do the same with two tents, but the joined tents allows me to enter though my large tent, strip off my dusty clothes and shoes, do a quick wetwipe bath to get the top layer of dust off, and then climb through the tunnel into bed.

I use a radiant barrier material as insulation between my rainfly and the tent, and on the East side of my tent (protects against the morning sun), as this significantly reduces the heat inside the tent. The insulation allows me to sleep as late as I wish in the mornings (usually around 11am), without any serious discomfort. Since the mornings tend to be dust free, I usually open up my bedroom windows and the door to allow for airflow. I always set up my tent with the door facing towards the west (away from the morning sun) so that I don't get burned to a crisp as the sun comes through my door. People who are sensitive to sound and light should consider bringing ear plugs and sleep masks. Bring spares as you'll likely lose at least one pair.

I anchor my tent to the playa using 3' long rebar stakes at the main corners and one in the middle. I have found that this, along with the weight of my stuff inside the tents, to be more than enough to secure my tent in the playa wind storms. More on rebar below...

 

bedroomOnce I am done with sleep, my "bedroom" tent is sealed off for the day. I zip closed the outer door, windows, and the tunnel door. This keeps the bedroom relatively dust free. I still use a "cover sheet" over my bedding - a large sheet that I use to cover all my bedding and sleepwear - and this is the last thing I do before I close up for the morning. No matter how well you seal your tent, a fine layer of dust will sneak in, and this cover sheet protects your bedding. At night, I carefully fold this sheet over on itself and move it to the side - for re-use the next day.

Some people I know go one step further and seal off all mesh vents with a nonporous material and a hot-glue gun. This is very helpful if you are using a summer tent that has large vents. My tent only has a small skylight vent under the rainfly, so I prefer trade off the fine powder like dust that gets onto my cover sheet, in exchange for some ventilation. Something about running a catalytic heater in a sealed tent just doesn't sound right :)

My bedroom tent holds a full-sized air mattress with a memoryfoam mattress topper. Not only does the topper make the mattress infinitely more comfortable, it also serves as great insulation in case the nights are really cold. The air in the mattresses tend to get cold and suck the warmth out of my body. I use a fitted sheet and a couple of pillows, with a sleeping bag as a comforter. Next year I will take a lighter bed sheet because there are times when the comforter is too warm, but I am too cold to sleep without any cover.

NOTE: Click on any image to enlarge...

 
Store room
Store Room - with food and clothing in plastic bins - this tent gets dusty
Store room
Store Room from a different angle
bedroom
View from store room to bedroom (note: Coleman catalytic tent heater in tunnel blowing into the bedroom
tunnel
Trash bag in tunnel area
Power
12 volt car charger with cigarette lighter socket. I use this to power my air pump, charge camera batteries, 12volt fan, etc.
Pump
12 volt high speed air pump for my mattress
Rebar with covers
Straight 3' rebar stakes at all four corners, capped with pool noodles to protect people walking by. Light them at night with solar garden lights or glowsticks.
Rebar puller
Removing rebar is easy with a vice grip. Simply rotate as you gently pull the rebar out. (see video below)

Other options
Outer tent
Dave uses a large outer "shade/store room" tent...
Inner tent
...with an inner "bedroom" tent
Home made RV
Kenny built a wood "room" onto a flatbed trailer that is pretty well sealed, and even has a real (lockable) door...
RV with AC
...and air conditioning!
 
Modifying a tent that has a lot of mesh vents
Tent with vents
Matt's tent had a lot of mesh that would have made it a dust bowl at BM so...
Clip nylon over vents
Use clips to secure an fairly precisely cut nylon sheet over vented areas
Hot-glue gun
Use a hot-glue gun and apply glue to the inside - to stick the nylon sheet to the vents
press to seal
Press the mesh to the nylon to secure the bond and seal the openings.
Sealed tent
And you have a dust resistant BM ready tent!
 

Emergency BlanketMore info on Insulation/Radiant Barrier Materials - Basically you want to use some material that insulates your tent from the heat of the sun. Your bedroom tent needs material on top, and on the East side to protect you from the morning sun. Your utility tent needs it on top... and possibly to protect any heat sensitive materials like coolers... so perhaps on the North and West sides.

  • Some people use the emergency blanket material but IMHO it is too thin, and your tent sounds like you are in a potato chip bag when the wind kicks up. However this is the cheapest solution since the e-blankets are about $2 for a 6'x3' piece of mylar. If you hot-glue it to the insides of your tent it would be Garage Door Insulationless noisy and you could make a fun-house/hall of mirrors out of the tent... which may end up being a problem if you inadvertently or otherwise consume some magic mushrooms... but I digress.
  • I get my insulation from a burner named B-Rad in N. Phoenix - he recommends the garage door insulation material to be the best for the playa. Ask for the burner discount. The sheet is 4ft tall by 34 ft wide - so share it with someone.
 

Pulling out rebar is easy!

 

Click on any image to enlarge

 

Other help pages

 

Version 1 - updated July 26, 2010
Copyright None - But drop me a note if you find this to be helpful or have any suggestions
Email: ruvi (at) burningtribe (dot) com
Member of The Tribe