Cash strapped families are cutting hotel and fuel costs by vacationing closer to home. In yet another sign of the times, Tent sales pop up with gas prices.

Though cold weather delayed the start of Michigan’s camping season this year, tent retailers and manufacturers say they are now seeing a spike in sales as families take to the woods for local, low-cost fishing and hiking trips.

Tent sales are up 14 percent this year and family-sized tents by 8 percent at retailer REI. This season’s most popular tents, the REI Hobitat 4 at $180 and Hobitat 6 at $250 fit four and six respectively, according to spokeswoman Courtney Coe. Best-selling tents at Joe’s Army Navy Surplus & Camping, priced between $89 and $129, fit four to 10 people and are large enough for a full-sized adult to stand in.

Families may be vacationing on a budget, but they aren’t necessarily scrimping on equipment. Retailers said campers are looking for tents as comfortable and hotel-like as possible, with multiple sections, separate entrances and add-on features such as vestibules and screened-in porches.

“It’s less about sleeping and more of a lifestyle,” said Joshua Thomas, spokesman for Target.

One of Target’s most popular tents, the $130 Greatland Cabin Dome Tent, sleeps eight and features a wide, enclosed porch, Thomas said.

A similarly priced best-seller, the Coleman Tucana Tent, measures 160 square feet and includes a front porch with “privacy wings,” a detached doormat and ports for cool air and electronics.

Sales for family-sized tents have been strong the past two weeks at outdoor-gear retailer Cabela’s, said spokesman David Draper.

“People are intent on camping but maybe not at Yellowstone,” he said. “They’re starting to get in the mood.”

Cabela’s sells tents with interiors as large as 200 square feet, such as the Deluxe Backwoods Three-Room Cabin Tent with two detachable room dividers and separate entrances. The $250 model sleeps eight people; a 10-person version is $290.

Manufacturers say it’s tough to keep more spacious models on the shelves. Outdoor gear manufacturer Marmot sold out of its best-selling tents, the three-person Aeros 3P tent, $369, and the two-person Aura 2P, $299, which are roomier and lighter, said spokesman Jordan Campbell.

“People want increasing habitability,” Campbell said. “They want more tent for their carrying capacity.”

Diane Clemens, owner of Irish Hills Resort Kampground in Cement City, said occupancy has increased by 20 percent this year. Most visitors are experienced campers who “live within five miles” of the campground.

“Quite a few have said they’d planned on going down South or to the Upper Peninsula,” but chose a closer campsite instead, Clemens said. “Last weekend we saw more tent campers than we have in seven years.”

One state does establish a national trend, but I strongly suspect this is not just a Michigan thing.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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