If you're taking on Denali, get the most rugged tent you can

Question: I am planning a climbing trip on Mount Denali, and shopping for a three-person tent. One option might be the Alpha CD by Sierra Designs, but will it stand against the high wind? Also, what are your thoughts about tent poles reinforced with short "legs", aka Jake's corner (e.g., the Stretch Dome)? Thanks much!

- Dmitri, Bloomington, Ind.

Answer: Denali. Where good tents go to die. You don't mess around with tents when you go there - you buy the most rugged tent you can, then spend half your time digging it in for protection. Winds of 170 or so have been recorded there (admittedly in winter). During May and June, winds of 60 or 70 mph are not at all unusual.

With that in mind, Sierra Designs' Alpha CD ($350) is a fine tent, and might well work on Denali, but to me is just a little on the light side. Chiefly, it's too well-ventilated for temperatures far below zero. And the vestibule does not have its own pole, so it will be a bit cramped for the inevitable in-tent cooking (warning: can lead to death from carbon monoxide). Plus it could use an extra pole for Denali's winds.

Better, in the Sierra Designs' line, is the time-tested Stretch Dome ($469). It's a real expedition tent, with four big poles holding it up, a wind-tight canopy and a big pole-supported vestibule. Sleeps three, meaning for two it's just about right on Denali. Yeah, it weighs 2 pounds more than the Alpha, but that's the way it goes.

The North Face's VE-25 ($499) is another classic high-mountain tent and a proven performer in Denali. I used a VE-25 when I climbed in eight or nine years ago. I especially liked its dual doors and dual vestibules.

Last, Mountain Hardwear's Trango 3.1 ($550) is no stranger to Denali. It's a four-pole design with poles made from light, tough Scandium, and like other tents of this caliber, it has a roomy, pole-supported vestibule.

Any pole reinforcements are fine - they help stabilize the tent. Sierra Designs sells gadgets called Grip Clips ($12 for four) that can be fitted to any tent and act as internal guys. Plus, you will ALWAYS want to carefully guy out your tent when climbing Denali. Take a set of either small snow flukes to use as anchors, or a set of stuff sacks that can be filled with snow, attached to guy lines and buried.

Good luck!

Doug Gantebein writes the Gear Guy column for outside Online, the Internet edition of Outside Magazine. To send him a question on anything about outdoor gear, go to www.outsidemag.com and follow the Gear Guy links.