McManus was 100% right: tents are out to get us

The first time I read Mean Tents by Pat McManus, I threw my back out. I laughed hard enough to injure myself, because there’s so much truth in the story. Pat was a master of making us laugh at the things that happen to all of us in the outdoors, even if they weren’t particularly funny when they were happening.

I miss Patrick McManus. He was without a doubt my favorite writer ever. I still read all his stories over and over again, and they always make me laugh. The only thing that makes me sad is knowing there will never be any new McManus stories.

At least we still have everything he wrote before he died. And they’re all just as hilarious the second, third, or fiftieth time I read them. But my favorite by far is Mean Tents.

As McManus points out, tents can be very useful shelters, as long as they’re supervised closely. But if you take your eye off them for a second, they’ll do everything in their power to make your trip miserable.

Consider, for instance, the Case of the Floating Freestander. I know of a tent that either discarded or ate its own stakes somewhere along the trail. They were in the tent bag when we checked it the night before the trip, but they were gone by the time we got to the campsite. We set the tent up anyway and used our packs to anchor the tent down. When we returned to camp, the tent was out in the middle of the lake, about half-submerged in the water.

All our gear was all still inside the tent. None of us had noticed any wind that afternoon, which suggests that the tent picked itself up, walked to the water, and threw itself in. This is proof that tents have no regard for their own safety when a chance arises to cause campers misery. After all, had the tent spat out the gear, it could have easily floated all the way across the lake.

Some tents like nothing better than to load themselves up with morning dew, then sag slowly down until they rest right on my nose. Others steadily drip condensation on my head like a backcountry version of Chinese water torture. There’s almost no limit to the horrible things a tent can do to you when water’s involved.

But fire comes into play sometimes, too. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about some tents that have used fire to help turn a fun campout into abject misery.

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