One of the biggest myths in this game is that of a reliable storm-proof 'free-standing' tent ... If you want your tent to stay exactly where you put it, then you must stake it down. Once you have made that step, drawing distinctions between tunnels and domes becomes rather pointless.
I understand that. I am under no illusion that one can just plunk down a freestanding tent and all of wind problems are gone -- at least if it is (or will become) very windy. I do, however, disagree that the distinction is pointless.
If I expected to be able to drive tent pegs, I would not be seriously considering getting (for the first time in my life) a freestanding tent; I'd consider just counting on my Stephenson (which is, in fact, a tunnel tent). It's light and it does well in the wind.
Instead, what we are talking about is terrain such as Nicholas Sweeting described earlier in this thread: all we got is rock around here - soil is very hard to come by. If you are anywhere in this area, or further north, you will for the most part be camping on rock. Having to find heavy loose rocks, or other suitable items to hold up a tunnel tent is both time consuming and frustrating. I made that mistake once for a multi-week canoe trip around Great Slave Lake, and lesson learned.
He is talking about camping on large gravel bars, or on river-swept bedrock, either of which can leave you with the inability to use tent pegs and a scarcity of useful-sized rocks anywhere close to your tent. Choosing a better campsite may not be one of the options.
I see the situation a bit less simplistically than some comments have made it out to be. Let's separate what it takes to just pitch the tent from what it takes to keep the pitched tent from blowing away.
* You always need to pitch the tent. For either kind of tent, you need to assemble a few poles and slide them through sleeves (or hooks, or whatever). However, to finish pitching a tunnel tent (but not a freestanding one) you also always need to scrounge up the necessary rocks. In nice weather, this may be the entire scenario.
* If it is (or is expected to become) quite windy, then both kinds of tents need to be secured so that they will not get blown away, and so that the sides will not get blown in. It seems to me that requires about the same resources regardless of the type of the tent, so I have tended to gloss over it (because it is not a distinguishing point between tents). The fact that the tunnel tent is already pitched would not reduce its need to be secured in a serious blow. The tunnel tent may even require more attention to ensuring its sides not get blown in.
It seems to me that, while the freestanding tent requires securing some of the time, the tunnel tent requires more securing all of the time. That is why the distinction is not pointless.
Ben said: Structurally, both freestanding dome and non-freestanding tunnel tents can work well in the Arctic. He is, of course correct – at least in general -- that a good one of either kind can resist wind when pitched correctly. I do believe there are terrains where either type works about equally well. There are other terrains where the tunnel type can be made to work, but it is significantly more work. That is what Nicholas Sweeting was describing up around Great Slave Lake.
PS Roger, I take it that you see no harm in a freestanding tent -- you just do not see insisting on one as important. Is that right?