If you’re looking for highly technical information to help you select a high-performance tent, you’re in the wrong place.
This article is about looks, superficially and simply. We’re here to talk about choosing the color of your tent.
There are two main camps (so to speak) when it comes to choosing the “correct” tent color: a bright side and a dark side. Those on the bright side pick colorful tents like orange, yellow, green, and even white. These bright colors let in light, so even if a hard-hitting storm puts you in a permanent tent timeout, you don’t feel like you’re trapped in a pit of darkness. Bright colors keep your spirits up. Cards and whiskey can only keep you going for so long if you’re trapped in a lightless shelter for a day or two.
Bright tents are easier to find, day or night, so when you return to camp after bagging a peak, you don’t have to scour the landscape for your camouflaged tent. This is especially valuable during winter storms when white-out conditions turn everything into a grey blur. Plus, bright tents aren’t just easier for you to find; they’re easier for everyone to find. If you get really lost (like search-and-rescue lost) or injured, a bright tent can make you easier to spot.
Bright tents aren’t all sunshine and rainbows though—there are cons, so those on the dark side have a few good reasons for eschewing bold fabrics. Some of those reasons are even true.
There’s a lot of talk about brightly colored tents attracting bears. That isn’t exactly true, but it’s not exactly untrue either. Bears can see color, just like us. So, while they might not be specifically “attracted” to bright colors, if a tent is easier to see from a distance, it’s more likely to catch a bear’s eye. Bears are curious. But as long as you’re following smart bear-country protocol—correctly storing your food, keeping your sleeping area smell-free, and making a healthy amount of human noise—your tent color won’t have much of an effect on the likelihood of a bear encounter.
The dark siders are dead-on about one thing though: bright tents stick out. That’s why they choose neutral tones that blend into the environment. It’s the Leave No Trace mentality on a visual level. If you’re heading into the wild in search of solitude and every meadow you come to is hosting a baby circus tent, it’s kind of hard to feel alone. Tents with natural colors blend into the natural scenery. You might pass by them without even noticing that anyone else is around. This means more people can utilize the same area without ruining the feeling of being alone in nature. Think of it as choosing a “low-impact” color.
Ultimately color takes a backseat to function, and by the time you’ve narrowed down the exact features and size you want, you might only have a few colors to choose from. If you can, pick a color you like. If you want to blend in, blend in. If you want a brighter tent so you feel happy when you’re stuck inside, pick a brighter tent. Luckily, most tent manufacturers are starting to balance brightness with natural subtlety. They pull light greens and yellows that blend in with forested surroundings and light oranges and reds that are great in desert environments. A mostly mesh tent with a neutral fly lets in light without broadcasting your presence. It’s not difficult to get the light your soul needs in a tent that won’t look turn your camp into a Vegas-style neon sign.