Julia Butterfly Hill made it look precarious. Tree house designers make it look luxurious. Birds make it look ingenious and the Ewoks made it look downright magical. But living and sleeping amid the branches of a tree is something most of us can only imagine.
This weekend, about 200 people, including families with children, are going to find out what it’s like for real as they sleep beneath the stars, hang out, and contemplate nature from their own tree tent aeries at the second annual Tentsile US Camp Out 2018.
From June 29 to July 1, this extraordinary tree tent village will inhabit a redwood forest beside the Navarro River at 200-acre Camp Navarro in Mendocino County. During the campout’s three-day existence, campers will come down from the trees for on-ground or on-water activities such as hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, yoga, slacklining and OneWheel (motorized skateboard) demos. They’ll also be on solid ground while dining sumptuously on gourmet food created by the camp’s chefs, quaffing cold ones from 10 Barrel Brewing or enjoying Bulleit Whiskey designer cocktails. And that’s just a start.
“The vibe at our campouts is so great,” said event manager Venessa Castagnoli. “It’s very family friendly, a comfortable place for like-minded people who are into the outdoors and enjoy adventure. Every night we have live music, outdoor-oriented short films and bonfires where we roast marshmallows and make s’mores.
“We’ll also have daytime shuttles to the mouth of the river on the Pacific Ocean. That’s where we set up kayaking and boarding, and teach yoga classes on the beach.”
Tentsile got its start back in 1983, when Alex Shirley-Smith — a 6-year-old Londoner who had recently grown concerned about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest after watching a child’s TV program — was taken to see “Return of the Jedi.” The boy fell in love with the Ewok tree village and decided that forests would be cherished and protected by human beings if more people lived in an arboreal setting like the Ewoks.
Before long Shirley-Smith grew up, became an architect and developed the idea of using three anchor points (in his case, trees) to create tension so strong that it could support the suspension of a tree house tent. The coupling of tents and tensile strength — the resistance of a material to breaking under tension — gave rise to the company’s name, “tentsile.”
In 2012, Shirley-Smith’s prototype design for a tent known as the “Tentsile Giant” was praised by leading green design forums. However, its immense weight (85 pounds) and other problems made it impractical to manufacture. That same year, he partnered with product designer Kirk Kirchev to help perfect the Giant’s design. By combining lightweight materials with tensile strength, they reduced the need for external structural support. The result was Tentsile’s flagship tent, the Stingray.
According to Tentsile promotional materials, the Stingray tree tent can be set up in 15 minutes, weighs 22 pounds, fits three people and their gear (maximum load: 880 pounds), and goes for $650. By “stacking” it above one of Tentsile’s $250 Trillium triple hammocks, the Stingray becomes a multistory camping base for six people.
Today Tentsile offers eight different tree tent models, including the one-person Una ($200) geared to backpackers, and an assortment of hammocks. All tents and hammocks will be at the Camp Out, as well as a brand new model that won’t be available until 2019. Most tents will hang singly, but there will be a few stacks that contain two or three tents. The biggest stack will be a minimum eight tents high — a Tentsile record.