this thing's incredible

This Teepee (That I Slept in for a Month in Alaska) Is Better Than Any Tent

Photo: courtesy of the author

Tents are sleeping quarters, not living quarters. They’ll protect you from the elements, but they are not concerned with your comfort. Once you move into any position that isn’t strictly horizontal, tents can feel like a middle seat in basic economy.

In my decades of camping, I’ve slept in a lot of tents — from ultralight and modern Hillebergs to heavy old canvas Springbars. The low roof forces you to awkwardly shimmy on and off your clothes from a lounge-y half-seated, half-reclined position. Or pull a leg muscle trying to slip on a sock. Once you get your pack inside, there’s even less room to maneuver. Tents also have floors. This seems like a great idea, since the ground outside is literally dirt (and thus dirty), but it means you can’t wear your muddy boots inside the tent. And that means fumbling with long and intricate hiking laces every time you enter or exit.

These inconveniences are tolerable when the weather is wonderful and you’re car camping for two days at a KOA in the Catskills. But I recently found myself on a monthlong hunting expedition deep in the Alaskan backcountry, roughly 150 miles above the Arctic Circle and 120 miles away from any semblance of society. The Arctic is beautiful — mossy tundra that rises and falls forever, lit by a haunting low-angle light — but it’s also cold, wet, windy, and miserable. Given the amount of time we would be spending in them, traditional tents just wouldn’t work. You might think a cabin tent would be a good option, with its high ceiling and open space, but they’re generally heavy and bulky to backpack, and probably wouldn’t stand up to the Arctic’s often epic winds.

We used a 12-person teepee, but if you have a smaller group and aren’t carrying a lot of gear, the 8-person version is even lighter and less expensive.

So I was relieved when my buddy Donnie Vincent, a backcountry bowhunter and filmmaker, told me we’d be using his 12-man Kifaru teepee as our Arctic living quarters. A single pole, made of light but strong aluminum, rises through the center. Ripstop waterproof fabric stretches out around it to create a 20-by-17-foot circular footprint. You can actually stand inside and walk around. Four of us could maneuver around each other and fit sleeping pads, oversize packs, a couple of food and water bags, and even a small cooking table we made from rocks. There’s no flooring, so we could come in and out without taking off our boots — a convenience that can’t be overstated after long, brutal days. And because of the chimney opening, we could also use a collapsible tin woodstove. Stuffing it full of endless tinder raised the teepee’s internal temperature into what felt like the 70s on nights when the world outside was below zero. We were in an Arctic Marriott, even if the socks we dried from a clothesline run overhead made it smell more like a hog pit.

Come time to move camp, the teepee disassembles in about four minutes, which is half the amount of time it takes to put the thing up. Then you’re left with an 11-pound package that’s the same size as most packed tents.

There are downsides, of course. Because of their height and width, teepees can be susceptible to wind failure. We had to stage an emergency 4 a.m. takedown when sustained 70-mph winds nearly blew our shelter into Canada. But this was more a function of user error — idiots camping on a highly exposed ridge because we wanted to “wake up with a nice view” — than it was anything wrong with the teepee. And you’ll want to avoid packing it into areas that have no big, flat spaces. On a different trip — a dall sheep hunt in Alaska’s cliffy Chugach Mountains — we opted for traditional tents, because they were the only things that we could find enough open ground to fit. I missed the teepee every time I kneed myself in the teeth trying to pull off a boot.

Other Great Strategist-Approved Camping Equipment

Contributing writer Steven John likes the BioLite CampStove 2 because it can cook your food and charge up your devices. Just build a fire in the chamber, and the stove converts the heat to electricity. “The hotter the fire, the more power you generate,” John says. “And of course, the faster you can boil water or cook your meal. I love this thing because it’s a perfect example of an upgrade to a classic, essential piece of hardware.”

John also likes this water bottle with built-in filtration. “The internal filter will remove 99.9 percent of waterborne parasites, bacteria, and other unwanted contaminants, and each replaceable filter can service up to 26 gallons of water,” he says.

One of the first things John sets up at any campsite is this lantern, which uses eight LED panels to provide a 360-degree ring of light. The panels are removable, serving as their own smaller lanterns, or they can be used as flashlights.