Although choosing a tent looks pretty simple on the surface, it can turn into one of the most daunting tasks for a new camper. Much of that has to do with tent manufacturers themselves who provide an endless range of options from which to choose from.
What’s more, tents feature quite a few specifications that further add to this confusion, especially if an individual doesn’t really understand what he or she is actually reading from the sale brochures.
Most people eventually throw their hands up in frustration and just pick whatever looks good.
As a result of this lack of knowledge, it’s quite common for novice campers to buy a tent that either provides them with more than what they need (a waste of money), or one that’s not big enough to meet their requirements (yet another waste of money).
So, if you’re not looking to waste your money, it’s perhaps wise to learn how to choose the right tent to suit your needs.
This tent buying guide is designed to make your buying experience less of a hassle. So, to kick things off, here’s a checklist of some of the most important factors to take into account when determining which tent to buy:
What Type Of Tent Do You Need?
Most camping tents are designed for use in different weather conditions and seasons. Therefore, it’s important for campers to pick a tent while keeping in mind the weather and environmental conditions in which they’ll be camping in.
Generally, camping tents fall into five major categories as listed below:
If you want to pack light during your nature expedition, then a tarp provides the perfect solution since there won’t be a need to carry along heavy poles.
In most cases, the construction simply features a solid, waterproof sheet of polyester or nylon with grommets and holes.
Tarp tents can be tied to trees, rocks roots or even your trekking pole. If rigged properly, they can be surprisingly weather resistant too.
Just keep in mind that good knotting skills will be needed when setting up such tents.
Like the name implies, summer or screen tents are meant for use in hot weather. As such, one of the primary features of such tents is its ventilation-friendly fixtures.
In most cases, the body has large sections of mesh and the rain fly stops several inches above ground to facilitate maximum airflow.
Well-made screened tents also have strong poles to withstand mild breezes or an unexpected summer storm.
Mountaineering or winter tents are designed with tough and heavy-duty fabrics, sturdy poles and plenty of extra guy-loops to secure the sides.
Sidewalls are usually steep to prevent rainwater and snow from collecting while the vestibules are large to allow for easy change of clothing and gearing up. These are all weather, 4 season, shelters.
Three-season tents are designed with versatility in mind. They can be used in spring, summer or autumn, and hence its name.
These tents feature a strong skeletal system that can withstand strong winds. Their ventilation to protection ratio is also good since the walls are made with a combination of mesh and solid panels.
Additionally, the rain fly on these tents provides full coverage by extending all the way to the ground, offering campers with excellent protection against precipitation.
If you’re looking for a tent that will allow you to camp out in the in rain, snow or hot and warm weathers, then a convertible tent is the way to go.
Also called “all weather tents”, convertible tents allow campers to sleep out in the wild through all kinds of weather conditions.
These tents feature a combination of features, some of which include:
- Zip down mesh windows with solid nylon panels
- Strong pole system
- Vestibule and rain fly options
- The only downside to such tents is that they’re the heaviest among all other options
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Tent Shapes and Designs to Compare
All the different types of tents mentioned above come in a variety of shapes and configurations. And since each design has its own pros and cons, it’s important not to overlook the shape of your desired tent. Here are some of the common types of shapes you’ll come across when comparing tent styles:
Dome style tents typically feature arched ceilings. They provide good interior space and decent structural stability.
These shelters are higher at the head and lower toward the tail section. By going for a wedge shaped tent, you’ll be sacrificing interior room, and especially headroom. On the upside, these tents are lightweight and aerodynamic.
Traditional and Modified A-Frame
The body of tents with this design feature slopping walls that touch overhead along a horizontal point. Traditional A-frame tents are great for protecting you against the elements such as rain, however, they can be quite flimsy when strong winds are present. Traditional A-frame tents also provide quite limited head and elbow room. For the modified A-frame tents, you’ll get more space and stability since the design features curved sidewalls as well as center hoop and rigged poles.
Tunnel tents are known to be weather resistant and lightweight. The trade-off is that they’re not freestanding tents and usually require quite a bit of staking in order to achieve their shape.
Teepee tents strike a good balance between space and weight. They typically feature a rain fly braced by a vertical center pole. You’ll need to stake a teepee tent to the ground so that it can achieve its structure. The only downside with the pyramid or teepee design is that it compromises the tent’s performance in wet conditions.
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Other Tent Buying Considerations
Interior Space and Dimensions
Interior space is one of the most crucial factors to consider when buying a tent. If you buy a tent that’s too small, it means that your living space will be all squashed up and everyone is going to be miserable due to the lack of space and proper sleeping arrangements.
On the other hand, if you make the mistake of buying a tent that happens to be too large, then you’ll be paying for space you don’t need.
Most tent manufacturers will list square footage and the number of people who can sleep comfortably in a tent. However, you’ll need a lot more information than that when trying to figure out an ideal tent size.
When considering your options, make sure to find out the dimensions for floor space too while also taking into account:
- The number of people who will be sleeping in the tent
- The resting space each person needs
- Whether you require any extra room for moving around or storing camping gear*
*If you have a campervan or vehicle, this creates room for keeping gear and thus less tent space will be required.
Don’t forget to measure standing headroom too when sizing up a tent. Tents with steep walls usually provide ample headroom.
And while it may be comfortable to stroll around inside a tent without worrying about bumping your head on the ceiling every other second, do keep a lookout for tents that feature designs that are great for inclement weather since such tents will allow snow and rain to runoff with ease.
From squared and triangular to round and dome shaped, tents come in every imaginable shape. We’ll talk more about tent shapes below, but for now, just note that the design of your tent has an impact on the layout of your living space and structural stability.
Depending on the construction materials, some tents can be heavy while others are lightweight. The latter option is more preferable because you can set camp much faster since the tent won’t be as heavy to move around.
Common Tent Features for Comparison
Apart from knowing your desired tent type, shape, size, and weight, there are other futures to consider as well. For instance, construction materials have a big impact on the lifespan of your tent and its performance. So, when analyzing the build quality of a tent, find out what materials have been used for the poles and body too.
Modern tents have bodies made of a variety of materials, although nylon and polyester are two of the most common fabrics. Both materials are breathable and lightweight, although nylon is lighter and is more often used to make inexpensive tents. Polyester, on the other hand, is slightly heavier but it can withstand UV radiation better than nylon.
Single or Double Wall Tent: Which one Should You Choose?
If you’re weary about rain when planning a camping expedition, a double wall tent is what you should go with since single wall tents are more for ventilation during hot weather.
The design for double wall tents includes an inner canopy and external fly rain. And as an added bonus, some camping tent brands offer a raised floor piece along with the body. This is a good addition if you want protection from water and unwanted guests like insects, snakes and other creepy-crawlies.
Pole Materials, Assembly Style and Construction
Although tent poles can be made of aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber, you’ll find aluminum poles to be the more popular option since they’re strong, light and easily replaceable. Though more expensive and less durable than aluminum, carbon fiber poles are extra light and super sturdy and should be your next best option. Finally, if you want an inexpensive option, fiberglass tent poles will be your best bet. However, you’ll be getting what you pay for since fiberglass tent poles are less durable than aluminum and carbon fiber ones.
Another important feature to consider is the assembly style of your tent. Depending on the manufacturer, tent poles can be connected either using sleeves or clips. The latter option provides fast setup and superior airflow, albeit stability in high winds will be compromised. And although tents with sleeve style poles allow you to put a strong structure, the set up can take longer. Also, keep in mind that sleeves positioned between the fly rain and body will impede airflow, thus resulting in condensation when ventilation is poor.
When it comes to structure setup style, backpacking tents fall in the category of free standing or non-free-standing models. The difference between these two structures is simple. You don’t need stakes to erect a freestanding tent, while non-freestanding tents have to be staked down to achieve the desired structure. Freestanding tents offer the advantage of easy pitching on any suitable flat spot. For non-freestanding tents, the stakes used will ensure that the structure is not easily blown away.
This tent buying guide would be incomplete without mentioning vestibules. Many modern tents have a vestibule, which is much like a changing room that provides a place to remove soiled or wet clothing before entering the tent. Although vestibules are covered by the tent’s walls, they’re floorless. You’ll mostly find this feature with three-season tents. Tents with vestibules are a great option when camping out during wet or sloppy weather.
Now that you’re aware of everything you need to know about tents, you can feel confident about making a tent purchase for your next expedition out in the wild!
Big Agnes -Flying Diamond Tent Footprint, 6 Person
- EASY TO USE: The Big Agnes Footprint includes webbing stake-outs and grommets at the corners are easy to attach.
- PROTECTION FROM INCLEMENT WEATHER: Footprint is sized to prevent pooling of water under your tent during wet weather.
- SAVES TIME AND SPACE: The Big Agnes footprint enables you to pitch a lightweight, Fast Fly shelter while leaving the tent body behind.
- LIGHTWEIGHT AND FUNCTIONAL: The Flying Diamond Tent 6 Footprint weighs a little over two pounds and is easy to fold and store anywhere your travels take you.
- THE MOTHER OF COMFORT: The outdoors aren't just where we get away, it's where our stories are made. Based in the Colorado Rockies, Big Agnes creates innovative solutions that help you get outside, go further into the backcountry, all while being fun and comfortable.
Big Agnes Gear Loft, Trapezoid (fits Burn Ridge 3)
- Large Wall Loft-fits: Burn Ridge 4
Big Agnes Flying Diamond Tent, 8 Person
- Canopy is made out of polyester, polyester taffeta, and nylon mesh. Fly is made out of polyester ripstop with a 1,500mm waterproof PU coating. Floor is made out of polyester with a 1,500mm waterproof PU coating.
- Seam-taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane – free of PVC and VOCs. Improved pole structure gives you better stability in camp. New color-way is ideal for setting up at base camp.
- With two doors and two vestibules. Separate tent into two rooms with a fabric wall, which can be tucked away when it's no longer needed. Doors have two closure options: Mesh for ventilation or polyester for complete protection.
- Vestibule zippers include storm flaps. Through trekking poles, vestibule can be staked out as a shade. Reflective guylines and webbing added to tent corners offer visibility in low-light conditions.
- Assemble DAC pole system with press-fit connectors. Attach tent's body to frame via plastic clips and sleeves. Color-coded webbing, pole ends, and buckles make it easy to set up tent.