Spring for quality shelter come Spring

REI offers a pair of shelters ideal for car camping looking to stay warm and dry during the spring ‘shoulder’ season

Here in the heart of a soggy winter, summer camping looks mighty appealing. So much so, many of us will spring into camping well before summer.

The REI Alcove Shelter in use during a sunny day near Henry's Fork, Idaho.

Getting out in the ‘shoulder seasons’ – spring and fall – in the Pacific Northwest, though, means making sure you have adequate shelter from rainy conditions.

These days, many top-end backpacking brands also offer great car camping tents, but one of the best we’ve found comes out of our own Puget Sound backyard. REI’s Hobitat series of tents has been around for something like 5 years now, but their 2011 version of the REI Hobitat 4 shows you can improve an already good product.

The new Hobitat 4 (and bigger sibling, the H6) features a three-pole structure, with two cross-poles and a long ridgepole anchored about the door in front, and above the awning in the back. During set up, make sure you get that top ridgepole positioned and locked in place before fitting the cross-poles into the corner grommets.

While technically a modified dome tent, the Hobitat most resembles a small room. The steep wall, 6-foot ceiling and broad rectangular floor (8’4” x 7’6”) makes it a comfortable living space even when you have to hang out inside for hours while storms rage outside.

A full-coverage rainfly protects the tent from drenching rains, and it provide strong enough to withstand sustained winds of 35 mph during use in North Idaho with a fall thunderstorm.

If the single room of the Hobitat proves too constraining, REI offers a number of modular add-ons. A broad vestibule can be zipped in place to provide extra gear storage, and if that’s not big enough, there’s a huge “Tech Garage” that zips onto the fly, providing an extra 56 square feet of storage! Big enough for all the family’s mountain bikes without blocking the doorway!

The Hobitat 4 proved ideal for 2 adults who wanted plenty of elbow room during an extended camping trip, while the Hobitat 6 seems well suited to a family of 4 provided they all get along well. The Hobitat 4 weighs 16 lbs, 8 oz. and sells for $299. The Hobitat 6 (8’4” x 10’ floor) weights 20 lbs, and runs $349. Visit

Of course, hanging out in a tent all day can become wearisome no matter how comfortable the tent. When camping, you want to hang out outside, though not necessarily in the rain. For this, REI also has you covered.

The REI Alcove is a freestanding shelter that goes up in minutes, but stands firm through wind and rain. The open-sided shelter provided cover over a picnic table during one long trip that included a lot of rain, wind and even some sunshine! The table cover gave the campers a place to cook and congregate during the evening after a day’s adventures without having to stay standing in the rain.

How much do we love the Alcove? Our team of testers has worn out two already through excessive use. Though the Alcoves are strong enough to withstand powerful storms, after a few hundred days of sunshine the fabric roof will break down – given enough time, UV light will do what winds can’t!

The Alcove sells for $109. Visit



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