Pity the poor spouse of a lifelong backpacker. My wife grew up car camping. Her family (led by a penny-pinching dad), being devotees of waterskiing, spent almost every summer weekend out on Colorado’s Eastern Plains, on the shores of various Arkansas River Valley reservoirs, hanging out in tents the size of the Taj Mahal, purchased not at high-end gear shops but, rather, at Kmart.
Judging from old grainy Polaroid photos, their camps bore little resemblance to anything portrayed in the “Leave No Trace” propaganda pamphlets. Coolers were strewn hither and yon. Numerous grills dotted the landscape. Hot dog and hamburger smoke wafted skyward. Cushy air mattresses and lawn chairs provided comfortable opportunities for rest and relaxation. Empty soft drink and beer cans were piled in a Mount Everest-sized homage to refreshment.
This is how the missus was introduced to the concept of bedding down and dining in the great outdoors.
Then she inexplicably attached herself to me, a man whose considerable interactions with the boondocks were all centered around a backpack — a camping reality that translates not to hot dogs and hamburgers, but, rather, to meticulously rationed grams of peanut butter; not to cans of beer, but to Everclear mixed with tepid Tang; not to lawn chairs, but to sap-covered stumps.
Which is all well and good — as long as justified concerns about weight defined the comfort context.
Thing is, much to my wife’s befuddlement, when we camped close to the car, we still drank Everclear and tepid Tang and dined upon meticulously rationed grams of peanut butter.
My wife began to put her foot down, so, slowly, we began to accumulate such once-inconceivable items as a two-burner Coleman stove, camp chairs, a cooler big enough to hold a hindquarter of beef, thicker Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads and one of those giant double-wide flannel sleeping bags that has pictures of elk embedded into the fuzzy fabric, weighs 200 pounds and rolls up into a cylinder the size of a 55-gallon drum.
The one car-camping essential that we never did get was a sizeable tent. I guess that’s where I drew the conceptual line. So, even while we enjoyed the rewards of cold beer instead of tepid Everclear, we still, at the end of each day, crawled on hands and knees into and out of a Sierra Designs Clip-3 backpacking tent, an ingress/egress reality that was not getting any easier with age.
A couple of years ago, we finally bit the gear-acquisition bullet and ponied up for a bonafide car-camping Taj Mahal. Given that I have a pro deal with Steamboat Springs-based Big Agnes, one of the preeminent gear manufacturers in the world, I decided to forego comparison-based shopping. I ordered a six-person Big House. Set it up in my living room and decided it was imply too much. So I returned it and got a Big House 4.
The Big House 4 is, of course, more difficult to set up than its backpacking cousins. Takes maybe 15 minutes with two mostly sober people pitching in. It is bigger, heavier and bulkier than other tents I have owned. But, with full standing headroom, it makes it a lot easier to change clothes. No more crawling through the mud when nature beckons in the middle of the night. And, with 56 square feet of interior space, if the weather turns bad or if the bugs become intolerable, it can accommodate a table and chairs.
Weird thing about bigger tents — they cost relatively less than their miniscule counterparts. The Big Agnes Big House 4 can be had for around $250. (My other Big Agnes tent, an ultralight Fly Creek UL 2, cost almost $400.)
It’s bright orange, so, if you’re trying to remain innocuous in case any of your backpacking buds happen by, well, good luck. Blame your comfort on your wife. Then pop a cold beer from your well-stocked cooler.