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Coleman ‘Instant Tent’

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Asphyxiation is rarely a concern on a family camping trip. But this month, on a stormy night in northern Minnesota, my wife and I awoke lightheaded and out of sorts. “I feel on the verge of hyperventilating,” my wife said.

It was after midnight, and our tent was crammed with two adults and three small sleeping kids. Rain tapped on the roof. The tent’s windows and top vent were closed tight. Inside, the air was clammy and hot, the tent a sealed chamber akin to a plastic bag.

Coleman Instant Tent 4

The Coleman Company Inc., a self-proclaimed leader in “the innovation and marketing of outdoor products,” had struck out with its latest easy-to-erect camping tent. The Instant Tent 4, touted to set up in one minute or less, has heavy-duty walls and hinging poles that snap into place.

On our camping trip, the four-person tent, which costs just $136.99, did in fact set up with ease. Unfold the bundle of nylon and interlinked poles from its duffel bag and the shelter almost pops to its shape.

The compromise for this convenience is a poor-performing design. No doubt, the Instant Tent will work fine on a clear night. But if hard rain comes, look out.

The roof and durable floor will not leak. But the walls, which are made of fabric that’s “twice as thick” as standard tent fabric, according to Coleman, make for a stuffy place to sleep.

Need some air? There is no rain fly or awning to shield the windows. Unzip a window and you expose the screens, which are angled toward the sky, to the rain falling down.

Interior of the Instant Tent 4

It was too hot inside the tent on our trip, despite temps in the 60s outside. We gave in after our midnight awakening and pulled the zippers open on each window a crack. Later, when the storm built up again, I zipped the shelter closed tight.

In addition to stale air, the sealed tent holds moisture in like a sponge. We awoke in the morning to a ceiling patterned with dew, the respiration-induced droplets threatening to rain down if an arm but glanced off the taut Coleman walls.

Further annoyances: Lying in the quiet of the North Woods, the tent itself was unusually loud. The floor fabric is crinkly and noisy when you move. The dual zipper pulls on the windows and door, which are made of metal, tap together with the breeze to make a quiet but persistent “ting-ting-ting” to interrupt the nature outside.

The Instant Tent 4 will no doubt find fans in car campers who hold setup convenience as a No. 1 trait. Anyone who knows tents will be disappointed in the clammy and poorly-designed Coleman camp shelter.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.

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