I bought a brand new Marmot Limelight 2 from the REI store in Marlton, NJ, last weekend. I have never put so much research and effort into a purchase in my life.
I scoured the Interweb. I started my search with REI.com, which is the standard bearer for economical and quality camping products. Actually, the first tent that I saw, and liked, was the Limelight 2. Marmot has a great reputation for tents and backpacks. They are made of sturdy material, are user-friendly and are built to last. They aren’t fancy, but as long as you aren’t trying to win a fashion show, it will work for anybody.
But not wanting to jump at the first tent I saw, I searched for a few more weeks before making the purchase.
I learned about a new website called steepandcheap.com that features a new deal on camping gear daily. I also went to the Eastern Mountain Sports store in University City, where Lisa got a student discount, and was a little disappointed with their selection. They had a North Face 2-person tent that would have sufficed, but I didn’t like the pole structure. Looked flimsy and too complicated.
Last weekend I borrowed my boss’ car and drove to Marlton to the REI store, which happened to be having their spring sale.
The clerk tried to talk me into buying one of the REI brand 2-person tents. The price was ideal – $135, but I wasn’t sold. I didn’t want to go too cheap, because then you get cheaper material that leaks and zippers that catch and break.
I kept coming back to the Limelight 2. I asked the clerk if I could set it up, and he made some space. It fit in a nice small space, and it had a two-pole cross structure that was simple and effective. It has clips that attach the poles, so you don’t have to stab the poles through loops or attach funky grommets.
In the store, the space seemed tight. I pondered whether I should move up to the 3-person tent, which was $50 more, but also had two doors and two canopies, making it easy for two people to get in and out.
But ultimately, I decided that I would be using the tent mostly by myself, and the lightweight, easy to set up, 2-person tent would be a more reasonable purchase. While taking down the tent, a little girl, about 3, decided she wanted to play in my tent. I wanted to shoo her away, and her mother wasn’t even paying attention, but decided against making a fuss, since she just wanted to explore. Plus, I figured if this little girl liked my tent, then it was the one for me.
Also, since the clerks let me assemble the tent in the middle of their crowded store, I figured I better buy it or else look like a real dick.
So I packed the tent away, signed up to be a lifetime REI member (savings of $30) and paid $200 for my new tent.
I set it up again when I got home to properly inspect the Limelight 2. It came with a rain fly and a footprint, which I really liked since footprints are usually $20-30 extra. One of my favorite aspects was that you can set up the rain fly and the footprint as an emergency shelter, or just as a warm-weather shelter.
It came with an overhead equipment holder, which was a little smaller than I would have liked, but it will hold my glasses, a flashlight and a notebook perfectly, which is what I use it for.
Lastly, once I was able to get inside and stretch out, I was surprised by how roomy it was. It would be comfortable for Lisa and I. It would be a little snug for two grown men. The headroom was spacious, so there is room to sit up and Lisa might even be able to stand up.
One concern is that the window on the rain fly is pretty small, so I don’t know how well ventilated it will be. Also, you definitely won’t be able to do any hard core mountain climbing, and I wouldn’t recommend staking into onto the side of a mountain ridge, but I’m not planning to do anything like that.
For an extended weekend trip it is perfect. I would even take it on the Appalachian Trail, should I ever find the time for such a trip.
To wrap it up, the Marmot Limelight 2 is exactly what I was looking for.
In hindsight, my search for a new tent became a little obsessive, but maybe a little background/psychological profile might help explain this a little better.
I spent two summers living in tents. Most recently in 2001 when I was a Philmont ranger. For that summer I used my dad’s 1-person North Face, which was amazing. It was water-tight, comfortable and unbelievably easy to set up. I might steal it from him when he isn’t looking. But while great quality, North Face is expensive, and a lot of the time, all you are paying for is the brand.
Now back in the summer of 1999, I was a Charlie guide at the Charles L. Sommers Boy Scout camp in the Boundary Waters. I took scouts out on 6 different trips throughout the Boundary Waters and paddled well over 300 miles. It was a maturing and sobering experience. I was 20 and thought I ruled the world. The world quickly proved me wrong.
My second crew was from Atlanta. The last day of the trip was the Fourth of July and we had a layover stop on Vera Lake. A reclusive, beautiful spot. Storm clouds came in early. While one of the scouts and I scrubbed pots from our pancake breakfast, I looked up and said, “looks like we are going to have fireworks for the Fourth.”
Instead, we were hit by one of the worst storms in the history of the Boundary Waters. Right around noon, it became completely dark. Then the wind picked up. Our dining fly started to flap and the leaves fluttered at the ends of the tree limbs like paintbrushes.
Most of the crew retreated to their tents. The Scout and I scrambled to put away the dishes. Then all hell broke loose.
Branches started to crack. Then larger limbs completely broke off, crashing into the underbrush. Then I heard an entire tree topple over. This was bonkers.
The Scout and I stood in a clearing, watching the destruction that had swept in on us. A tree about with the thickness of my thigh fell on top of the Scout. It went right across his shoulders and he was pounded into the ground like Yosemite Sam.
The other adults came out at this time, and we pulled at the trunk to no avail. Then the Scout crawled out on his own accord. I gripped his shoulders to see if he was okay, and he feeble nodded his head. He was scratched, but no major damage.
I went to retrieve the other Scouts from their tent. The wind was coming up from the crowd, and the rain battered at my glasses, rendering me blind. The path to the scouts’ tent was completely blocked by fallen trees. I tried to climb over, but my boots slipped on the wet bark. Then the other scouts appeared, they had found their way down another trail. They were soaked, wearing only shorts and T-shirts – no shoes or socks.
We cut down the dining fly, which was by this point trapped under fallen trees. We hunkered down in a large hole, which was created when a giant oak had toppled over, its root system jutting into the air like obscenely long fingernails. There was a muddy brown puddle in the hole, but we crouched in it anyway, and held the dining tarp over our heads.
It was musty and steamy under there, but we were safe. The scout sitting next to me, one of the shoeless boys, said he was bitten by a spider on his foot. I saw that his skin had turned a pale blue, and he was trembling. He was clearly suffering from shock. I rubbed his feet, hoping to warm him up, and reached deep into my bag of Eagle Scout training and pulled out the one thing we are trained to do from the day we were a Cub Scout: We sang Kum-By-Yah.
The storm lasted for half an hour. It was all quiet. Our camp was completely destroyed. We found one canoe swamped 30 feet from the lake shore.
Our tents were destroyed. The leaders’ tent was a heap of broken poles and shredded canvas.
The scouts’ tent was still serviceable, but torn. They told me that during the storm, they were trying to decided what to do. One of them yelled, “let’s get the hell out of here,” and the second after they evacuated the tent, a tree crushed it right where they had been sitting.
I found my tent under a pile of trees. My heart sunk, as I knew it was a goner. With my tiny camp saw, I began chewing away at the limbs. As it cleared away, I could see that the tent material wasn’t too badly damaged. And as the last limb fell away, the tent popped up, as if nothing had ever happened. There were too small holes in the rain fly, which I was able to sew up (very remedial) and patch up with duct tape.
My tent was a Kelty 3-person tent my dad had bought me for high school graduation. I went on to use that tent for years. Eventually I lost a pole, another pole broke, and the material became less and less water proof. When I moved to Philadelphia, it was clear the tent was no longer useable, and it became a casualty of the selection process. It was surprisingly hard to toss it in the trash, even though I knew it had to go. I would trust my life with that tent, and after a few shots of whiskey I will tell this to anyone within earshot.
The storm turned out to be classified as a derecho. The Fourth of July Boundary Waters blowdown was profiled on Storm Stories on the Weather Channel, and there was even a book written about it.
Our crew survived, relatively unscathed, but others weren’t so lucky. One lady had her legs crushed between two trees and a scout on another crew was battered by a tree while in his tent. He broke his collar bone.
It was a chore to get back to base camp. We were hit by another storm that night. And the next morning we had to haul our canoes and gear over 2 quarter mile trails, each were completely blocked by fallen trees and we had to use our camp saw to clear the way.
When we finally reached camp, one of the guides who was there said to me, “I wish I had been out there.”
I know what he meant. I was actually glad to be one of the guides who was stuck in the eye of the storm. I was able to bring home a hero’s tale, a story about a harrowing brush with death and destruction. We survived to tell this story.
This is the event I always refer to when things seem bad or overwhelming. I don’t think it can get worse than being hit by a tree. Regular life travails seem pretty boring and easy in comparison.
My Kelty tent was one of my last connections to the blowdown.
While I don’t expect the Marmot Limelight to witness any such storms, it has a lot to live up to.
Up next, I write a story about my new hiking boots.