Having gone through more than one set of paddling gear since I started paddling, I have had some time to think about the experiences with previous items of gear.From that experience as well as from the experiences of others I have become more selective in my choice of paddling gear. There are a lot of options out there, but you can only spend your money once...
I added a little menu for this page, as it's rather long (like so much of my written English stuff, I don't have the eloquency in that language to be as succinct as I would like to be).
More rescue gear
Wetsuits function on the principle that there is air inside the foam of the neoprene. Even if the neoprene gets wet, the air in the foam insulates you. An added benefit of the air inside the foam, it will add a little bit to your floatation.
The myth that wetsuits need to be wet to function is complete nonsense. It works well if it's dry, and almost as well when it gets wet, as the water that seeps in between the suit and your skin is kept there and warmed up by your body heat. That's why it should be tight enough to make sure that no water can wash around inside, otherwise you will still be cold!
Unfortunately, people with thick upper legs will find that the wetsuits can be too constrictive, cutting off the blood supply to your legs... For taller peoplethere is the problem that for some obscure reason, taller suits are often also made wider, so that you have all of this neoprene flapping around your waist. Sotry the suit on before you buy it!
The student club that I became a member of had a bunch of boats, paddles, ACE helmets, some shaggy PFD's and nylon spraydecks that we could use. Asking more experienced paddlers what I should get to paddle (and survive) in the winter, I quickly came to the conclusion that a (farmer john) wetsuit was important.
I shopped around for what I considered to be the most vital piece of equipmentat the time (I swam out of my kayak at least once a week, more on trips where the water was actually flowing :-) ), and bought a Prijon wetsuit. Under it I normally wore a cheap nylon T-shirt and swimming shorts, in part because theclammy feeling of neoprene on my skin didn't appease me.
Since then, I've bought several other wetsuits, in part because I like to put on a dry wetsuit on those multi-day winter and cold weather paddling trips (one of the few luxuries I indulge in :-)). I found that it helps to have a thick (5mm)wetsuit for winter paddling trips, both for the extra warmth as well as for the padding it gives you extra protection from rocks and such. My latest wetsuithas special foam pads that cover my knees and parts of my shins to protect them from hard impacts.
I don't like wetsuits without a relief zipper. The ones that come with a zipper usually have a zipper that opens from below as well as from the top... Make sure that it does open from below as well though, as having to undress on a freezing winter day as you're already in need to pass water is no fun!
For women there are now also wetsuits with relief zippers, and the few ladies that I know who have one seem thrilled about it! I think that one can order themfrom some outdoor companies in the U.S., but I don't have any details.
As for zippers: I found that the ankle zippers work well as long as you don't destroy them. Seeing many paddling buddies with undone ankle zippers on cold days, I'm not sure that this design couldn't be improved upon. These zippers domake it easier to peel the suit of your body though. I also have a wetsuit with velcro straps around the ankles, but if the velcro gets too dirty with branches,grass and such, it won't close any more.
Last but not least: get a paddling farmer john wetsuit. Diving and surfing drysuits often come with arms attached, which makes fluent movement of your arms more difficult. Paddling wetsuits have bigger armholes, allowing freer movement. Besides, they are designed to be worn in standing or lying positions, whereas paddling suits are designed to be comfortable when sitting.
Try buying your own new wetsuit, as you'll never know what someone else has done inside their suit... I know a bunch of paddlers who don't think twice about peeingin their suit, and not everyone rinses out their wetsuit after each paddling trip.I tend to buy a new wetsuit when I see a good deal at a paddling fest or at a paddling convention, instead of paying the full price when an old suit wears out. My first wetsuit is now eight years old, and the outer layer of the neoprene is nowbleached to a pale blueish grey, mostly destroyed by UV radiation and abbrasion in the spots that touch the boat.
I personally don't like paddling drysuits. First of all, I think that they just cost too much, especially for a beginning paddler. It's still necessary to wear a thick enough layer of clothes underneath to keep out the cold and to have some padding in the case of a close encounter with hard objects. It's also not all that easy to get into a new or newly gasketed drysuit, having witnessed all too many wrestling drysuit owners trying very hard to get into their prized garments... And then I haven't started about the strength and agility needed to close thatzipper! :-)
My main problem with them are the gaskets though. I don't like a latex gasket around my neck, as I really abhor a neck rash. These neck gaskets are the first to become so wide that water can freely flow in and out, because your(big) head has to go through them, stretching the darn thing, whereas it should shrink to the size of your neck after that every time. Besides, seeing how many of the drysuits have no protective neoprene cover, getting a deep scratch from a sharp rock, branches or thorns makes the entire term "dry" suit a lie. It's not cheap nor easy for beginners to replace gaskets yourself, especially neck gaskets. I replacedthe wrist gaskets of one semi-dry top, and although I'm rather handy, it still tookquite some skill and time.
Even worse, if you rip a gasket,the suit can fill up with water and cause you to disappear under water, as RBP'erLarry Cable witnessed when he had to "swim" with a swamped dry suit. The air trapped inside your leg pants after you rip a neck gasket and the suit floods can also cause you to float upside down, making it very hard to breathe.
Still, despite those horror stories many drysuit owners swear by their virtues, and I have to agree that seeing them get out of their suit after a day of paddling almost dry does have its merits.
If you get one, the tips I've picket up so far are: get the latex booties, but one size bigger than your shoe size, so that you can wear socks inside them. That also makes it less important to have tight ankle gaskets, so that your feet get more blood, in turn keeping them warmer. Get a paddling dry suit which comes with an extra tunnel around the waist, under which you can put the tunnel of your spraydeck, keeping the seepage into your boat through the tunnel to a minimum.
Make sure that it's a paddling drysuit, with neoprene gaskets covering the vulnerablelatext gaskets, and adding to the safety by still having some layer to keep water out in the case that you rip a gasket.
Always get one with a relief zipper, and if you do spend the pile of money needed toget a Goretex dry suit, have a look at the Goretex website to hear about how to treat it.
After finding that it didn't keep me warm enough, especially after I got wet and sat in a windy area, I started to wear an old army raincoat over the wetsuit. I had put elastic "parachute cord" around the wrists and waist to keep most of the water out. During winter trips (our main season) I also wore an army insulation jacket underneath the raincoat, as well as a cheap artificial fabric sweater.
After a year, I had enough of the constant sloshing around of cold water in my sleeves!The feeling of that wave of cold water flushing from the sleeve into your armpit and over your chest when you put your arm up for a stroke after rolling up also lost its appeal rather quickly.
I had thought about getting a paddling jacket, which only has neoprene gaskets around the neck, wrists and waist. A really good deal on a PeakUK "breathing" semi-dry top made me change my mind and fork out some more cash. It had latex wrist gaskets, and neoprene around the neck and waist. The inside layer of the jacket wore out after a year, so I got a new one from PeakUK under partial warranty. That also lasted one yearbefore delaminating. Since the latex gaskets suffered both from UV radiation (causing lots of little cracks) and scratches from branches, rocks and thorns, I had to replace them after a year as well. I had made my decision never to buy a semi-dry top without neoprene covering the latex, and added home made neoprene gaskets over the replaced latex gaskets.
The bad thing about the single tunnel paddling jackets is that water comes gushing in around your waist once your end up flipping,. All the air is forced out through the opening of the least resistance, which is usually around the waist, and the water can then come in very easily... I limited that problem by adding a wide neoprene kidney protector around the paddling jacket, but I decided that I would go for a double tunnel semi-dry top the next time. By now I've bought both a Palm semi-dry top as well as a "Kayaker.de" semi-dry top. That last one has double neoprene gaskets around the neck, one with velcro closure. It has neoprene gaskets around the latex wrist gaskets and around the waist there is a wide neoprene double tunnel with velcro closure.Although both are made of breathable material ("Bretex" in the case of the latest semi-dry top), I don't find all that much difference between the non-breathing and breathing material... but that might say more about how much time I spend under waterwhen paddling! :-)
I hardly ever wear fleece under my semi-dry top, as that stuff tends to soak up too much water for my liking. To the "Smelly Helly" polypro that I wear under my Farmer John wetsuit I do add one or more layers of polypro between the wetsuit and the semi-dry top, depending on the outside temperature.
For shoes, in the beginning I just bought two pairs of really cheap boat shoes in which I wore some el cheapo synthetic socks. Needless to say, they were inadequate for the freezing temperatures, but having a nice dry pair of shoes and socks for the second dayof paddling did have its advantage.
Seeing how I hurt my feet while running acorss a rocky beach trying to rescue anothernewbie, I changed the shoes. I bought rough linen ones with thick soles and good traction, which I used untill I bought my Quadro. Playboats and big heavy shoes just don't mix... So I've started to wear neoprene booties instead, with the cheap synthetic socks inside, which helps keep my feet warmer and it also seems to help my booties from smelling as badly as those of my buddies. They're not ideal but the best solution that I can come up with so far. In my new Salto creek boat I will be able to wear the thick soled shoes again though.
The problem with pogies is that they usually either require teeth or the help of someone else to get your hands in them. If you do get your hands in them easily, so will the water... Pogies are of no use when you need to scout a rapid, as they stay attached to a paddle. I also find that when I need to get my hands out to grab someone or something, they get so cold so quickly that I lose some of the control in that hand. It's also not easy to get your hand back into them if you need to get your hand back in in the middle of a rapid.I have a pair of Walmart neoprene hunting gloves, but they are only used for when I handpaddle in the winter. The fingers are encased seperately, keeping them less warm.The fingers cannot touch the paddle, making you involuntarily grip your paddle harder, tiring your fingers. If you use gloves that don't have pre-bent fingers, you're also forcing your fingers to push against the neoprene even more, trying to keep them around the paddle shaft. I also find that with gloves I can't feel the buttons on my waterproof camera, which results in pictures not being taken. Plenty of reason for me not to use gloves when paddling with a normal paddle.
Pre bent open palm mittens circumvent the problems of both gloves as well as pogies:
You keep all your fingers together, keeping them warmer.You keep in direct touch with your paddle, keeping better control, and not having to squeeze extra hard to keep a hold of your paddle. You get to keep your hands warm, even if you go for a swim, lose your paddle or when you're scouting a rapid.You don't have to fight against the straight glove fingers keeping your fingers around the paddle shaft.It's also easy to pull one or more of your fingers free of the end of the mittens, so that taking pictures is rather easy.
Link to some pictures of my thin open palm mittens. They have a kind of
synthetic leather-like material on the inside and thin (3mm) neoprene on the outside.
Whatever you chose to go paddling with, make sure that you can still find and use the panic loop of your spraydeck with them! BT Regular David Mackintosh got very close to dying in the spring of 2002 when he got stuck upside down in a nasty hole and he couldn't pull his spraydeck with his surfer's mittens.
After seeing some people get hurt while wearing the flimsy ACE helmets ( My buddy Niels is wearing one of those here. ), and having planned a trip on class IV stuff in Italy the first summer, I wanted to buy a helmet that offered more protection.
Finding one that qualified was quite difficult, since I have a rather large head (62cm circumference), and very few helmet makers build helmets for bigger heads (at least ones that still have enough padding inside). I bought a bright yellow "Romer" white water helmet. The metal rings in it rusted through after one paddling trip though, so I had to exchange it for a less stury Romer model, which at least offered good protection to the back of my head. (a picture of me wearing that white helmet can be seen here. )
After using that helmet for a year, I got to see some people getting hurt in the face,especially on the forehead, so I decided that I wanted more protection for my forehead and face. I bought a Prijon "Korsica" helmet with integral chin guard, to which I addeda canoe polo face guard. (My buddy Niels wears an almost identical model here. )
I didn't like the straps and plastic on that helmet, so I first added a strap to the rear of the head, and then another one around the back of the neck, so that the helmet won't tilt backwards any more. Finally, because the plastic on the Prijon helmet started to crack all over the place, I bought a kevlar Shred Ready Full MentalJacket (which I never used, due to the strap system not keeping it well in place on my head and it fitting bad, despite all the work I put into outfitting it. Finally, last September at the Gauley Fest I added a composite Grateful Heads Dropzone helmet to mylist of helmets. It has a good all around coverage, and it's designed to hold a faceguard. I added the faceguard, but I'm not sure about adding a chin guard as well.Another project is adding a sun visor of some kind. It helps keep snow, sun as well as big splashes out of my eyes while paddling, a big bonus for a contact lense wearer like me.
One more thing about helmets in general: get one which protects your head well. Not only do you have just one head, but bad injuries can cause problems for the rest of your life (losing teeth, breaking bones and getting horrible scars on your pretty face). Worst of all, it might force you not to paddle for a while, as you recover from your wounds!
Don't worry about looking "cool" to the playboating crowd, if your buddies respect you, that will not change when you wear a full coverage helmet with a faceguard. Some of the best creekboaters start thinking about wearing faceguards, and ever more full coverage helmets are available nowadays, so hopefully common sense prevails and I will see less bloody faces on the river in the future.
Helmets come in versions with and without "drainage" holes. Besides the holes weakening the outer shell, think about why you want to have holes in it. They let in water and they will let the heat from your head disappear more rapidly on cold days. If the helmet hasfoam all over the inside, touching your head where the helmet covers it, what room is there for any water to gather inside anyway? Get a helmet without the "drainage holes"!
After breaking the end of both of my elbows, just a little tap against a rock can hurt forseveral weeks. On top of that, it's pretty common to have your elbow in front of your head in the tucked up position. Instead of my elbow having to take some blows directly, I'd rather have my elbow pads take some of the force of the blow and most of the damage.
I started out buying a pair of Lotus elbow pads, which offer a decent amount of protection. They are basically made of a hard shell, with soft foam on the inside. One of the pieces cups your elbow, the other protects some of your lower arm. The main disadvantage of them is that the elastic straps are put in the wrong position, i.e. at the ends. That ensures that the strap over your biceps slides down, taking the entire elbow pad with it.
That's what happened to me when I flipped powerfully at the bottom of Gorilla (Green Narrows, U.S.), and got whacked into a rock with my elbow twice. The first hit moved the elbow pad, the second broke the end of my elbow. The problem can be alleviated by adding a third strap at the elbow, which keeps the elbow pads in place. I have added them to both elbow pads and they stay well in place now.
A nice side effect of those Lotus elbow pads is that they also keep your arms warm, which is great for winter paddling.
I recently bought a pair of Stohlquist elbow pads. They offer far less protection, there is no cup that envelops your elbow on the inside and outside, and the lower arm protection is rather crude. They do have a better strap system, with velcro on elastic straps, but Iwant to see how well they stay in place after taking hits.
Get one which fits you well. A swimming vest only helps if it stays on you, so check this before buying one. For river running I prefer the kind of vest which has an adjustable waist strap below the rib cage that prevents the swimming vest to ride up too far. Make sure that it's got enough buoyancy for your weight range, and dependant upon the kind of paddling that you do, get either a rodeo style with most of the buoyancy around the waist, or a rescue style vest with plenty of padding everywhere.I prefer vests with side padding, because I've had a bunch of newbies trying to spear me.
When going for a new vest, I look for enough pockets to store my camera, five carabiners, a folding knife, with clasps or a sheath to attach paramedic's shears and at least one closable pocket for a car key, rescue whistle and little bottle of detergent (to put on the camera's lense).
For the last couple of years, I've run into only one swimming vest that I really liked, the Wildwater Explorer Leader.
I've recently bought a second one for when this one wears out (and I've found that manufacturers usually stop making a model of gear that I like, just after I have discovered it! I like it because:
- It has sufficient floatation even for someone my weight (~100kg's/220 lbs),
- excellent padding all around (helps when you get pummeled while swimming, or when someone spears you),
- it's easy to put on with the zipper,
- it has an extra strap around the waist to make sure that it doesn't ride up,
- it has a quick-release belt that is attached to one side of the PFD, so that you don't risk losing it after releasing the cowtail,
- the cowtail D-ring is kept from moving sideways by two straps, so that you can keep your tow under better control,
- it has several pockets:
-- one big one with velcro closure in the front in which I keep my biners,
-- a smaller one with zipper as well as velcro closure in which I keep my car key, whistle, folding knife, extra roll of film etc,
-- a throwbag-sized one on the back, in which I sometimes store a 15 metre/50 ft throwbag,
- it has several plastic strap attachment points in the front, to which I have strapped a small mesh pouch for my camera, but you could also attach a knife sheath or paramedic's scissors to it,
- it has a knife sheath with velcro closure near the left shoulder, in which I carry paramedic's shears, there is also a small plastic D-ring to attach a thin (breakable by brute force) line to, which would keep a knife or shears from dropping away,
- it is reinforced all over with a strong strap harness, ensuring that you can be lifted by your PFD without any important part ripping, letting you plummet into wherever you don't want to be...
- it comes in sizes up to XXL,
- it comes in bright colours (red, yellow etc.), making me more visible.
A picture of my PFD can be seen here and here .
For those who have to rescue swimmers and gear, a rescue harness as well as a quick-release belt and cowtail are a good idea. Make sure to practise using the cowtail a lot and check the quick-release in a towing situation repeatedly before you ever use in in a real rescue situation! This is one of those rescue gadgets that could get you in serious trouble if you're not well aware of its risks... The main risk lies in you towing something where thereis not tension on the cowtail's line, but where you need to release the quick release belt anyway. If you're capsizing and landing under a swamped boat, the lack of tension will make the quick-release very difficult to release, but you won't be able to get away from the swamped boat!
Another big risk is using the cowtail to tow a boat in either a wavetrain or in the sea surf. You run the risk of slowing down while going uphill while the swamped boat behind your overtakes you, possibly landing on top of you! Be certain that the swamped boat has enough floatation before you clip onto it...
Another "don't" is trying to tow a paddle! The blade closest to you is very likely to scoop up some water, in which case it will lift the other blade out of the water, perfoming a beautiful 180 degree arc and landing on your head!
Rescueing gear should *never* put you in danger, no matter how new it is or much money you spent on it. It's just not worth it to get injured or worse over a replaceable piece ofgear.
More rescue gear
I usually carry two throw lines. A shorter Salamander bag (15 m/50 ft) around my waist, which is good to wear during the scouting of rapids as well for situations where you need a rope in your boat and you don't want to pull the spray deck to get to a line. A longer (25m/80ft)and thicker line is usually clipped behind my seat. That's useful for longer distance throws as well as recovering broached boats and such.
I tend to bring several more throw lines in my car, which I regularly hand out to paddling buddies who have forgotten theirs. I don't care what their reason is, but I'm carrying my own lines mainly for them, so I want them to carry (and know how to use) a throwline for when I need it. I also have six or so carabiners in my PFD and a few more inside my boat to setup a Z-drag or to more easily clip lines onto whatever needs to me moved.
Warning: Whenever you use lines, make sure to carry paramedic's shears or a sharp knife as well! Incorrectly used lines can create big hazards!
The advantage of using paramedic's shears: They are a lot cheaper than "normal" rescue knives. They have small serrated "blades" which will go through throwrope very easily, but which can also be used very close to a victim's body without injuring them.Unlike folding knives, they are easy to operate with one hand. In area's where normal knives are illegal (that's the case around here), they offer a nice non-threathening and legal option. I do have a folding knife as a backup, but it's only been used in anger to slit the throat of a baquette (French stick bread) or skin an orange.
Boat and paddles
If there is a paddling club in your area, it might be smart to become a member, which gets you in touch with paddlers and gives you the chance to start paddling withoutimmediately buy a new boat. As a beginner you won't notice much difference between similar looking boats anyway. Not that I would advise you to start in a Prijon Taifun,but take some time to get the basic paddling skills down before investing in a boat of your wishes.
Since the latest playboats have crossed the 1000 euro/dollar line some time ago, buyingthe latest design boat after you just start paddling doesn't make much sense to me. It's a lot cheaper to buy last year's design, which will feel like a huge step forward from what mosts clubs have in their fleet anyway.
Make sure that you try out as many boat designs as you can, getting a good feeling of the differences between the designs and the brands. Since what your paddling buddies tell you about their preferences can be something completely different from what *you* prefer, youshould really try out a boat *before* you buy it.
Many discussions can be seen on different paddling forums about which brand and design is better. What matters more than brand names is that you get a boat that suits your needs. Do you want an all round creekboat, than you won't be interested in a fast wearing playboat that is obsolete in a year. Plastic quality may be more important than the latest design then. On the other hand, if you're a park and play boater, looking to do the latest moves and not likely to hit a rock, go ahead and get the latest fancy playboat every year!
For playboats, a tight fit and all around boat contact can be a big bonus for boat control.If you enjoy running multi-day self-supported creeks, get a comfortable boat that feels well for several hours. Also, getting out of a creek boat in a pin or broaching situation is a lot bigger consideration than just getting optimal boat contact.
For a creek boat, I don't like a boat with a centre pillar. It puts each leg in a seperate tube, making it difficult if not impossible to lift your leg up and out of the boat or on the rim of the cockpit. That's an important reason for getting a kayak where the cockpit is long enough to allow you to lift your knee out of the cockpit. It simply makes it easier to get out of the boat when you're in serious trouble. For those of you who don't consider pillars an issue, I hope that you have tried to get out of your boat in a vertical pin situation. We have used a line to hoist a kayak up against a tree, seeing if the paddler could still get out of the boat easily. To our surprise, most couldn't.
I prefer a kayak with plenty of volume (250 litres/65 gallons) as a rescue boat, so that having someone tag along from one of the grab loops doesn't put you in a position of constant stern squirting. Having the extra grab loops close to the cockpit also means that the swimmer can hold onto my Salto more easily, and keeping their legs out of harms'way. I find that swimmers usually bump their knees and lower legs against rocks in shallow streams, this takes much of that away.
For recovering a broached boat solid grabloops and a couple of steel loops in the deck are also a good option. the steel loops are also good to attach a steel cable and lock to.
Some people advocate getting the most expensive paddle you can get. I think that as a beginner, especially when you paddle in an area with low volume rivers or creeks, you should get something that will withstand the abuse untill you learn how to recognise and evade the rocks.
Having had RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) for quite some time, I changed from a 80 degree offset to 55 degrees. Some people go down to 30 degrees, and many of my friends still paddle with 80 or even 90 degrees paddles. When you start, it doesn't matter all that much, but as you get better, try some other paddles and see how you like different feather as well as shorter and lighter blades.
I'm really fond of my crank-shaft paddle with glass blades, in part because you instantly feel when your hands are in the right position to roll, even if your fingers are very cold.I also like it that they put less strain on my wrists, lessening the RSI effects.Some people have difficulties rolling with a crankshaft paddle though.
To keep my hands warm on really cold days, I have two sets of different thickness open palm paddling mittens. The finger compartment is pre-bent, so that you don't need to fight against the elastic neoprene to keep your fingers around the shaft. I also use gloves with my handpaddles, but never with a normal paddle. I don't like the strain on my fingers that normal neoprene gloves put on them, as you force them to bend around the paddle shaft. Then there is that lack of paddle contact that gloves give you, and since every finger is seperately encased in neoprene, the individual fingers can't warm each other.
Although I do have some pogies, I never use them any more. They are more difficult to get on, if you have to grab a swimmer, you get cold hands, and they don't keep your handswarm when you are swimming or if you get out of your boat to scout. Losing the paddle means that you'll have cold hands for the rest of the trip. Pogies that fit well around the wrist usually require your teeth to pull them on, and it takes some time to get your hand back in after you had to pull it out. I also don't like the feeling of being attached to the paddle, but that's mostly psychological.
Besides the financial pain of losing gear, it can destroy your entire trip if gear is lost that can't be replaced. I like to bring more than one boat for longer paddling trips, and besides the handpaddles which I bring as back-up paddles, I also have a three piece splitpaddle for in the creek boats. I've only lost one paddle once, but I've had several buddies destroy or lose theirs during paddling trips. It's those moments when you are grateful forbringing extra gear all that time.
Since you always run the risk of losing gear, you might as well mark it well. Write downyour name, phone number (With international prefix if you paddle abroad!) and your e-mail address on it! In my experience, people are more likely to send a complete stranger an e-mail than call them up, especially if that also involves long distance or even international phone charges. You might also catch someone on the line who's not fluent in your language. Then an e-mail could make it easier to cross the language barrier.
Maybe it's just me, but when I go paddling for more than a day, I often camp outside. I used to have a very badly designed dome tent which wore out about two years ago. That made me think about what I wanted to have in a tent.
I ended up looking at about twenty websites to compare what they had available and see what I could get for a certain price. I had intended to spend roughly 500 US$ at the most, and I finally got a great tent for 250 US$ (a discount model though :-)). This tent lasted for about fifteen weeks, with most of those weeks spent in mediterranean sunshine. The ripstop nylon lasted for a couple of years, when the UV deterioration finally signed the end of that tent. I bought a similar style dome tent again, but with a higher outer tent (1,70m) and with more attachment points for storm lines.
Things I looked for, when I wanted to replace my old two person dome hiking tent with a comfortable paddler's (vehicle carried) tent:
Can you put three people in the inner tent, without them touching opposite sides of the inner tent at the same time?
(I have bought a "four" person model, but IMO they use malnutritioned pigmees to measure the amount of people fitting in a tent. Since I'm quite a bit taller than average, I'm rather fed up with simultaneously touching both ends of a tent when lying down. In the outer tent there is also enough room for at least three more people sleeping...)
Is there enough room in the outer tent to store luggage out of the rain?
Is it possible to store your (expensive new) kayak in the outer tent?
Can you enter/exit the tent through two or more openings (really nice when you need to get out without climbing over the other person)? (My latest tent has an entrance on three sides in the outer tent)
Is it easy and quick to set up, even in the dark? And can you easily set it up alone? (Mine comes with four U-shaped poles that you click (and velcro) the inner and outer tent to with small plastic hook-shaped clips, so it stands in a few minutes)
Is it possible to set up the outer tent seperately, and hang the inner tent in the outer tent after setting it up? This allows for a quick setup of the tent in pouring rain without making the inner tent wet. It also makes it possible to take down the entire tent without getting the inner tent wet.
Are there no poles interfering with the inner room, and are no poles sticking through the top of the tent? I prefer the bended poles over the single straight vertical ones. They maximise inner room and the tent doesn't start leaking around the holes in the roof.
Does the tent ground sheet have enough height (at least 6 inches or so) to keep out the little streams that come rushing downhill in the pouring rain sometimes?
Does the outer tent come down far enough so that the wind won't blow underneath it and lift the entire tent? This is also nice to keep the rain out...
Is there enough ventilation for those hot mediterranean nights? Can you open the tent on two sides, letting a cooling breeze come through? Are the ventilation openings closable with a rainproof and velcro'd or zippered sheet/door? Do the ventilation openings have small enough mesh to keep *all* the stinging bugs out?
Camping in Norway and Sweden and having the stinging "knuten" come marching in three rows abreast through Dutch anti-mosquito mesh is not my idea of holiday fun!
Is the tent high enough to sit comfortably in when it's not fun to be outside (hard rain / cold weather)? Can you sit in there in chairs and have a table in there as well? Is the outer tent high enough to cook in there?
Is the outer material coated with some kind of UV-protectant?
Are the seams taped? I just retaped the seams with some liquid seam-proofer that seems to have made sure that it is completely rainproof (we got in a thunderstorm in France, no issues with leaks).
Are there enough loops for stakes and stormlines to keep it down during hard wind? Preferably in those positions that are most affected, such as somewhere near each pole, corner and to keep the ventilation flaps open.
Is the packaged tent not too big (are the poles breaking down in short enough parts)? Is there a strong seperate bag for the poles and another one for the stakes, so that they don't damage the tent accidentally?
Can the tent still fit in the bag when you don't fold it up very neatly (like when breaking up camp in a storm)?
Is it possible to turn an opening into a small (sun-)roof by adding two poles?
What colours does the tent come in? My last tent had some dark brown and green parts, which made it nice and inconspicious but the bright orange tent I had before that was a nightmare. Besides, dirt can't be seen as well on a green or brown tent! :-)
Spending most of my camping trips in the mountains (paddling trips) I also immediately threw away the aluminium "stakes" and bought two bags of rock-pins. They are essentially stainless steel eight inch nails with a small crossbar welded to them. It is very difficult to bend one, even if you hammer them in hard.
At first I also bought a big rubberised sheet to put in the outer tent, so that people can sleep in there without turning the inside of the entire tent into a muddy swamp. This idea didn't work too well, as the sheet tore in several places very quickly, and was rather heavy. Now I've bought a big agricultural tarpaulin, which is made of woven PE fabric with an added layer of PE on the outside. It is more noisy to walk on, but otherwise it works just fine. A nice side-effect of these sheets is that you can also use them as a big tent by just adding two poles and some lines.
I hope that some of this helped you find the gear you were looking for...