My Palace on the Pacific Crest Trail

A huckleberry bush brushes against my tent. Lake Janus, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Fond as I am of my tent from Taiwan, last year I decided to buy a new tent to use on Pacific Crest Trail hikes (I still use my Taiwanese tent for all non-PCT camping). Specifically, I bought a Big Agnes Scout 2. I used it for the first time in the Trinity Alps, and I invited the PCT thru-hiker who was at the campsite to check it out. His comment was “That tent is a palace.” Ever since then, I’ve thought of this tent as being my palace on the Pacific Crest Trail.

This was my final campsite in California. Since this tent was used first in California, maybe I could call it my ‘Californian’ tent (as opposed by my ‘Taiwanese’ tent).

Since UV rays damage my tent’s fabric, it’s not supposed to be in the sun. Since I usually pitched my tent in the evening and packed it in the morning, it was usually easy to keep it out of the sun, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid a little sun. Miners Creek Camp, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

What makes this tent a palace? Space. To keep weight down, most hikers carry small tents, which means it can get cramped inside, especially if they are storing all of their gear in the tent. Some hikers just carry bivy shelters, which are basically tents which only have space for a single sleeping bag.

This is what my tent (in the front) looks like before it is pitched. The other tents in this picture each had 2+ occupants. Unfortunately, I could not get any tree cover, but the condensation was not too bad that night. About two miles from the border of Goat Rocks Wilderness, Southern Washington.

My tent, however, is a two person tent. A REAL two person tent. Officially, my Taiwanese tent is also a ‘two person’ tent, but in reality putting two people in my Taiwanese tent would be very uncomfortable. My palace on the PCT, however, could accommodate two people without having them lie on top of each other. Some hikers assumed that I had a partner simply because they saw how big my tent is. That means that, as a single person, my tent can accommodate me and all of my gear and still have leftover space. Compared to most of the tents used on the Pacific Crest Trail, my tent feels luxurious.

Look at all of that space!!! (I took this photo while I was lying down inside my blue sleeping bag). WELCOME TO MY PALACE!

One hiker told me “It’s great to be one person in a two person tent, but I wouldn’t want to carry the weight.” I then told her that my tent, including stakes, only weighs 1 lb. 9 oz. (710 grams). That’s less weight than nearly all one-person tents (including my Taiwanese tent). By contrast, the two most popular tents on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Big Agnes Copper Spur and the Big Agnes Fly Creek, weigh 2 lb 3 oz. and 1 lb. 11 oz. respectively in their 1-PERSON sizes (and many hikers choose the 2-person sizes even if they are alone because the 1-person versions of those tents are too small).

My tent, with Dewey Lake in the background. William O. Douglass Wilderness, Mount Rainier National Park, Southern Washington.

Even though this is a great tent, it gets very mixed reviews on the internet. In my opinion, the big disadvantage of this tent is that it has a steeper-than-typical learning curve for learning how to use it well, and that most of the complaints which people have about this tent could be fixed by changing the pitching. For example, some people complain about the placement of the trekking poles – it is true that in the beginning I sometimes knocked them down in my sleep, but eventually I trained myself not to do that. It does take practice to learn how to pitch it well so that it will be sufficiently taut, but after using this for over a month, I am very good at pitching this tent, even in non-ideal tent sites. Tip one: if the ground is too hard for staking, use rocks. Tip two: if the tent site is too small for full staking, tie the guylines to whatever is blocking the staking (usually a tree or shrub).

Since this campsite was basically an abandoned gravel road, I could only drive my takes half an inch into the ground, which is not enough. Thus, I used a combination of rocks and tying guylines to bushes. It was not a taut pitch, but since it was not a stormy night, the lack of tautness was okay. One mile away from Stirrup Creek, Central Washington.

One hiker commented that they would not want to use my tent because he did not think it was storm-proof. It’s true that it’s not ideal for going through a harsh storm, but I did use it in Mount Laguna in San Diego county (a very windy place) and it held up, so it’s got enough wind resistance for my purposes. Pitching the tent well goes a long way to making it hold up well in the wind.

This was a nice campsite – but the deer were a bad sign. Fortunately, these deer turned out not be a nuisance.

Another hiker said that he would not want to use my tent because it requires 12 stakes. I asked what was wrong with 12 stakes. He said it was too much labor to set up. I responded that I consider it to be a labor saving tent because of its relatively low weight (also, it does not use tent poles, and I consider setting up tent poles to be more tedious than staking).

The hiker who was impressed by how many stakes my tent required also took a photo of my tent at this very location. Trout Creek, near Wind River Experimental Forest, Southern Washington.

The last common complaint about this tent is the condensation. I, however, rarely had condensation in my tent during this hike, and the few times I did get condensation it’s because I put it in the wrong tent site. Basically, this tent will have condensation unless a) it’s pitched under tree cover or b) it’s very windy.

Unfortunately, there was no good place to pitch the tent at Callahan’s Lodge (i.e. I was doomed to have condensation). Fortunately, I was going into town the following day, and it was a sunny day when I had time to dry gear, so waking up with a wet tent was not so bad (heck, I even washed the tent with soap in town).

Wind is unreliable, so I almost always pitched the tent under trees, even if it meant that I had to put it under a steeper slope or have more awkward pitching. Having used this tent for over a month, I can attest that this tent does not get condensation under trees.

I squeezed my tent into this spot under the trees, even though it was a steep slope (other hikers joked about how I might slide out of my tent) because this was near a lake and I knew I needed the tree cover to keep dry. Guess what – my tent was totally dry the next morning. Pipe Lake, William O. Douglass Wilderness, Southern Washington.

Even though it’s such a spacious and low-weight tent, this is an uncommon tent on the Pacific Crest Trail. Most PCT hikers had never seen this tent model before, which meant they could learn to recognize me by my tent (i.e. if they saw my tent in a campsite they knew that I was around even if they did not see me). And even though I think this tent deserves to be more popular on the PCT, I like that I have an uncommon tent. It makes me feel special.

Here you can see how the trekking pole helps my tent stand up. Near the tributary of the Cispus River, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Southern Washington.

When I was using my Taiwanese tent in Hokkaido, I discovered that one of the cool things about travelling with a tent is that it’s like having your own portable room. Even if you are in a totally unfamiliar place, when you crawl in to go do sleep, it’s the same tent that you have slept in many times before. I felt that effect even more strongly this summer with this tent – though I was in a different place every day, at night, I was able to retreat into my own familiar palace.

16 thoughts on “My Palace on the Pacific Crest Trail

  1. Oh hey, you have the same tent as my partner! It is indeed fantastic, and incredibly light-weight. I like that it uses hiking poles, because I always need to use one anyway, so it’s perfect for backpacking. I’ve only used it with her once so far (I have hard time travelling, so she usually goes camping alone), but it’s a nice size for two people and yeah, it’s huge if you’re alone. I had some annoyances with the tent pole on the inside, bumping into it a few times and such. It was a little like an anti-cuddling barrier. But at least when I bumped into it the tent held up. I had been worried that I’d end up knocking it down in my sleep or something. It didn’t even budge. I’m sure there must be a way to set it up that minimizes the annoyance of the pole being on the inside, but since that was the very first time she used that tent, we hadn’t figured out a way to do that yet.

    • I have had the trekking pole fall on me a few times when I was less experienced, but it wasn’t a big deal – it was quick and easy to fix. I’m so used to this tent that I don’t even think about the trekking poles falling anymore, though if I had a partner who wasn’t used to this tent I might be a little concerned.

      There are alternative pitching methods which put the trekking pole on the outside rather than the inside (here is a YouTube video about this), but in my experience, the alternate pitches are less stable, so it’s better to use the original setup when feasible. Of the alternatives to putting the trekking pole in the inside, the best is tying the guyline to a tree branch (so the branch is holding up the tent instead of the trekking pole) but this requires a tree in the right place with the right kind of branch (and the tent will flap more in the wind than if you use the trekking pole, though I suppose it would not if all the guylines were very tight).

      I also would use trekking poles anyway. They can be essential during difficult stream crossings or walking on snowfields (especially when I don’t have other snow equipment). I have also found that, when I am carrying enough gear for an overnight trek, they significantly reduce the strain on my legs (the last time I went on a backpacking trip without trekking poles I regretted it).

  2. I feel like I learn so much about hiking through your blog posts even though I have zero experience. 😉 Never even been camping although I would’ve tried that much with my qpp had he not broken up with me. In fact both times he broke up with me were not long before a planned camping trip. Each would’ve been my first time trying sleeping in a tent at all. Alas, maybe one day…

    • Hiking and camping are actually separate activities – it’s due to the lack of permanent shelter and the prohibition on bikes/motor vehicles on the PCT one has to do both (unless one is riding a stock animal instead of hiking, or one is going through a section with a lot of forest service roads and someone with a vehicle is there to pick you up at those roads).

      If your interest in hiking and camping is strictly intellectual, I hope you enjoy all of your armchair hiking and camping! If you have a more practical interest, I would recommend starting with hiking without camping, or camping with very little hiking, before combining the two activities (I admit that my first camping trips were combined with hiking, but I was already an experienced hiker).

      I believe you live near the Potomac Heritage Trail, and not far from the Appalachian Trail. I know little about the Potomac Heritage Trail, but I think most of it is near roads, so if you can arrange for someone to pick you up (or maybe there is public transportation, I have no idea) you could do a lot of hiking without any camping (and your pack will be lighter!) The Appalachian Trail has so many permanent shelters that it is very possible to hike from Georgia to Maine without ever using a tent/tarp.

      • Yeah my interest in hiking is pretty intellectual. I had to hike through the Harford Glen trail as a kid:
        https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/maryland/harford-glen-trail and maybe that turned me off for life.. lol. Granted I was only 11 probabally when I did that and surely things have changed but walking through trails has never seemed very appealing. I am in the best shape I’ve been in years after walking to and from the metro for work every day, I find walking itself and standing for hours to not be so bad these days, especially with orthotic inserts in my totally supportive hiking boots that prevent pronation… I bought these not because I ever planned to go hiking but because I wanted to try something different from motion control sneakers.

        Camping I started to have a legitimate personal interest in when I thought I’d actually be doing it on the Assateague Island campgrounds. I was planning for campfire cooking and sleeping bags and figuring out if I enjoyed it at all or hated it… And we’d spend our days hanging out at the beach right there was the plan…

        I definitely enjoy the armchair camping and hiking though. 🙂 one of my closest friends also was planning for an intense backpacking trip of combined hiking and camping a few years back, and I just sat there and listened, intrigued by all the details that need to be planned for.

      • If one has access to a backyard, that is the best place to start camping, IMO.

        Also, much as I love my Big Agnes Scout UL2 tent, it’s really most suited for long-distance backpacking trips, where weight is an important consideration. For camping trips where I don’t have the carry the tent long distances, I would choose a different tent.

      • Lol this is where I really need to have a little kid in my life in order to have an excuse to do that kind of camping just in a backyard thing… XD And yeah I mean, I wouldn’t pick a tent to purchase based on a blog post where weight is such a huge consideration and it’s clearly about backpacking/hiking too, I know there are big differences…

      • All the excuse you need is if they don’t own the backyard or share its use it’s none of their business you are testing out a new tent. I tested the tent featured in this post in my backyard before I took it out on a trip so that I could figure out how to pitch it (if I can’t pitch it in my own backyard, then I sleep in my bedroom, if I can’t pitch it on the trail, then I won’t have shelter that night).

        EDIT: I didn’t have access to a backyard in Taiwan, so I tested my tent inside my studio apartment (which was only possible because it is a semi-freestanding tent … still, it’s weird to pitch a tent indoors). I also once had to pitch a tent on a concrete floor in rural Taiwan – something which I can do with my Taiwanese tent, but not the tent featured in this post.

  3. Pingback: Does My Palace Cause Cancer? What Can I Do? | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

    • Yeah, if I were less strict about spending money on new backpacking gear, I could see myself building up a collection of tents (and other gear). For the moment, I still only have two tents, and while my Taiwanese tent is heavier and smaller, it is tougher and more versatile in adverse camping conditions (for example, when I went camping in the Marin Headlands, the ground was so rocky that that I totally bent a stake – with my Taiwanese tent that was merely annoying, with my Palace that would have been a serious problem).

      Though I will hopefully soon have another backpacking shelter since I am, uhhh, sewing a backpacking tarp right now (my first tarp! and the materials cost only about 50 USD! but since I am hand-sewing rather that machine-sewing it is taking forever).

      Anyway, what tent(s) did you decide to keep, and which features made them keepers? I’m curious what made the cut.

      • How exciting! Good luck on your tarp! We currently have two MSR tents, the Hubba Hubba and the Mother Hubba – Hubba Hubba is a two person that works well if we need something quick to pitch at a trailhead or someone we know needs to borrow a backpacking tent. The Mother Hubba is a three person tent so we mostly use it for car camping. We also have a Hilberg which we use for four season adventures and we have two zpacks tents which are ultralight backpacking tents! One of them is pretty trashed but we just cant seem to throw it away because it has been through so much with us. So we still have a variety of tents!

      • I took a break on sewing the tarp and sewed up a backpacking quilt (which I finished yesterday). In a few days I’ll go back to work on the tarp (who knew that tarps needed so much damn sewing??!! well, it’s because they need to hold up under high tension, unlike quilts/sleeping bags).

        I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Hubba tents, though I’ve always been wary because they do weigh more than other backpacking tents (and since I don’t have a car, I don’t car camp). Zpacks tents are also good stuff, though I personally am averse to cuben fiber as a material (in my experience, lighter cuben fabrics are not as durable as I would like, and the heavier cuben fabrics which are durable are not much lighter than silnylon/silpoly yet are way more expensive).

      • I have been SHOCKED by how durable our cuben fiber tents have been. We have patched them here and there but our Zpacks tent from the AT is still going (if a little threadbare) and our tent from the PCT is in really good shape. That means they lasted five months of constant use! I have been blown away.

  4. Pingback: Sewing a Tarp by Hand Is Like Walking across the Entire State of Washington on Foot | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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