The Definitive Buyers guide: How to Choose a Tent
If you’re thinking about going camping, then you’re in need of a couple of necessities. Of course, you’ll need equipment for food storage, water filtering, and safety, however, before all of that, you need your most basic equipment: shelter. If you’re thinking of getting yourself a tent, you have a variety to choose from and each comes with its own set of challenges.
Whether you’re buying a tent for your first camping trip or you’re looking to upgrade from your worn out tent, then you’ll want to consider a couple of factors prior to investing in a new tent. Though there’s an endless selection of tents on the market, not all of them are designed the same way. In fact, choosing the wrong tent could turn your summer camping trip into a nightmare.
Regardless if you’re camping with friends or family, you want to make sure that your shelter will not only keep you safe and dry but it will also be comfortable. Read on to find yourself the best camping tent, and to discover all of the features of a tent and the factors you should consider when buying one.
There are a couple key factors for any tent. When thinking about the tent you’d like, make sure that you know these factors and are able to identify what you need from each one. Once you know exactly what you’re looking for, it will help you to narrow down your search for the tent of your dreams. Let’s take a closer look at the main decision points you’ll be thinking of when choosing a tent:
- Capacity: The capacity means the number of sleepers the tent is able to hold.
- Seasonality: This regards to the construction of the tent in relation to various weather conditions.
- Weight: The weight of the tent is an important consideration.
- Livability: The level of comfort and ease based on the design and features provided.
- Ease of set up: The level of ease to set up and take down your tent.
First and foremost, when choosing a tent, you need to decide on a model which suits the number of sleepers in the tent. You can find tents for solo sleepers all the way up to 16 person tents. Though, it’s important to know that there are no set industry standards per-person.
Thus, each company will have their own definition of what constitutes a three-person or twelve person tent. But, the best way to decide on size is to always assume that the tent capacity the brand offers will be a tight fit. Thus, you always want to go at least one size up.
For example, if you need a three-person tent, then opt for a four to five person tent for extra room. If the tent has extra unused room, you’ll be able to store some of your personal belongings inside the tent or have more room in between sleepers.
You should consider going up one size if:
- You’re camping with a large group of people
- Any sleeper has a tendency to toss and turn throughout the night
- You’re camping with a dog or small child
- You sleep better with more personal space around you
- You’re claustrophobic
Based on when you’re going to go camping, you’ll want to choose a tent which suits the seasons. There are a few different types of tents which focus on providing you with a range from minimal to full protection from the elements.
This is typically the most popular choice of tents as it supports the climate of spring, summer and fall weather. Three-season tents are usually designed with good ventilation via mesh panels on the windows and doors. In addition, the mesh panels work to keep the insects out of the tent while you’re sleeping.
Most three-season tents come with a rainfly in case of windy and rainy weather, however, if there’s a monsoon rain, it won’t really be the best choice to withstand these harsh conditions. Ideally, three-season tents are best for keeping you dry during light rain, protecting you from insects, and providing you sufficient privacy. Their key features are:
- More mesh panels for proper ventilation and insect protection
- More headroom due to upright walls
- Fewer poles and lightweight fabric for weight reduction
3-4 season tents
This is an extended version of the three-person tent as it’s designed to withstand prolonged three-season use. Thus, you’re able to use it in spring and summer but can also use it into late fall as well as it provides more protection from the elements.
These tents are designed to provide campers with a balance of ventilation and warmth. To achieve this, they usually have fewer mesh panels in order to create more warmth. These tents are a great choice if you’re going to be camping off-season and in high-elevation areas.
Though they’re very sturdy, they’re not ideal for winter. Their key features are:
- One or two extra poles for increased strength and durability
- Upright walls for proper interior headroom
- Fewer mesh panels for warmth
A four-season tent is designed to withstand all the elements presented to it. Whether it’s torrential downpour or snow, a four-season tent is designed to be used in any season. However, their main purpose is to provide you with sturdy support during harsh weather conditions.
Four-season tents are typically designed with more poles and heavier fabrics. Thus, they tend to weigh a little bit more than your three-person tent. They have fewer ventilation panels, thus, using this tent in the spring or summer could feel quite stuffy and warm inside. Their key features are:
- More poles for sturdiness
- Heavier fabric for warmth retention
- Rounded dome design for protection against harsh winds and prevents snow collection on the roof
- Fewer mesh panels for warmth retention
- Rainflys which reach the ground
Though, don’t assume that you need just one tent as not every tent is going to suit your needs. You may need one tent specified for the winter and late fall while you have another one for the spring and summer as they’re lighter. Take a look at this guide to storing your outdoor summer items like your out of season tent.
The weight of your tent will depend greatly on how you’re going to be camping. If you’re going to be car camping, then weight may not be as much of a concern in comparison to if you’d be backpacking or camping with children.
However, in today’s market, in general, tents are now designed to be lightweight. Many people believe that if a tent is heavier then it must be more durable and sturdier, however, that’s simply not true. Now, tents are designed with ultralight materials and durable fabric which function just as well, if not better than a heavier tent.
However, in order to look for weight, you’ll need to decide on the seasonality as 4-season tents are typically heavier due to their purpose. Here are the weight specs that you need to keep in mind:
The packed size means the amount of weight the tent takes up when it’s completely packed. This will give you an idea of how heavy the tent will be when you’ll carry it. Of course, you can always split the weight of the tent. Your partner can carry half while you carry the other half, that way, the weight isn’t so bad.
Minimum trail weight
The minimum trail weight is the weight of the tent body, rainfly and poles. In essence, this is the weight of the bare minimums of the tent. Though, if you’re going to backpacking, you’ll have additional accessories added on such as stakes, which will alter the weight of your tent.
The packaged weight is how much the tent weighs when you purchase it. It will include all the necessities such as the tent poles, stuff sack, instructions, and rainfly. To determine the weight you’ll be carrying, it’ll most likely range somewhere in between the packaged weight and the minimum weight.
It’s good to know that there are ultralightweight tents which can weigh as little as one pound per person. These tents do weigh less, however, do sacrifice some of the luxuries that traditional tents have which includes interior space and features. However, what you lack in features and space you make up for in carrying weight. Thus, it really depends on what you’re needing and looking for in a tent.
When you’re choosing a tent, you want one which will provide you with comfort. Depending on what you’re going to be using your tent for, you may want a tent that’ll allow you to lounge in it during the day.
A camping tent should provide campers with more than just a place to rest their heads. You want your tent to fit your needs whether it’s to lounge, read a book, sleep, or escape from the sun.
Thus, to increase the livability of your tent, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough ceiling height. This will allow you to comfortably move around your tent without having to strain your neck, especially if you choose a cabin tent. Being able to stand comfortably in your tent is a huge bonus.
Another important feature is proper ventilation. To increase livability, you’ll want your tent to have enough mesh panels to provide you with airflow during the warm summer days and nights. If not, you’ll end up with a stuffy interior and the build-up of condensation on the ceiling of your tent.
Though, this does come with a sacrifice. For more ventilation, you’ll have less protection against the rain and wind. So, again, it depends when you’re going to be camping. See, seasonality is key.
Ease of Setup
Though you may not think about it right now, setting up and taking down your tent can make or break your trip. If you got out of the office, jumped into your car and went straight to your campsite for the weekend, you’ll want to be able to destress and relax by the fire as soon as possible.
If it’s already dark, you need to set up your shelter as quickly as possible. You don’t want the next twenty minutes turning into anger and frustration. You want a tent which you can easily be set up and taken down without much hassle.
Types of tents
Naturally, you have your traditional tent, however, you also have other types of tents as well. Through the years, the camping industry has found other forms of shelter and depending on where and how you’re camping, a traditional tent may not be the right choice for you. So, let’s take a look at some of the different types of shelter available.
A traditional tent is a three or four-walled shelter that’s either free-standing or attached to the ground. This is the most common type of tent used today and is ideal for those camping in groups or during the off-season as it offers more space and protection.
A hammock is made of fabric which is suspended above the ground. It uses ropes or netting to attach itself between two points. Typically, when camping, it’s tied to two trees. Essentially, it’s a hanging bed. They can be designed as solo or two-person hammocks. This is ideal for people who want a lightweight shelter and wish to be more connected to nature.
An ultralight tent is not much different than the traditional tent, however, is designed with lighter materials. They can be freestanding or non-freestanding, it simply depends on the design.
These tents are known as four-season tents. They’re built with more poles heavier fabrics and less ventilation for warmth retention. These are best for those who need extra protection against the elements and are interested in camping off-season.
You may have heard the term ‘backpackers tent’, however, a backpackers tent can be any of the above types of tents. The main factor for a backpackers tent is weight. Thus, when you hear about backpacking tents, they’re focused on providing the camper with a lightweight shelter.
Now that you have an idea of the size of your tent, the type of tent and the seasonality of your prefered tent, it’s time to look at key tent features. Some of these features are essential while others are not, it simply depends on the type of tent you’re needing. So, let’s take a closer look at the features of tent construction.
Naturally, there are still canvas tents available, however, the market has moved away from that construction and are designing tents that are made out of a synthetic material.
Usually, it’s made of nylon and can be measured in denier. Denier is the grams of mass per 9,000 meters of a fabric thread. This means, the lower the number, the lighter and more delicate the tent will be.
Though, this doesn’t mean ultralight tents are all delicate. Many are made out of special fabrics such as Sil nylon and Dyneema which are more durable and resistant to tears.
Freestanding vs self-supporting tents
Traditional tents come in two styles: freestanding and self-supporting. But what’s the difference?
- Freestanding: These are tents which use poles (that are included with the tent) in order to stand. They’re not attached to anything, thus, you can easily pick up the entire tent and move it around without it losing its form.
- Self-supporting: These tents come with either a rope or cord which are attached to metal stakes that you need to insert into the ground. If you don’t insert the stakes into the ground, the tent will lose its form.
Right now, freestanding tents are extremely popular and widely used, however, self-supporting tents are beginning to make more of an appearance. So which one do you choose?
Well, the freestanding tents have some nice conveniences such as their ability to be easily moved around. So, if you’ve accidentally pitched over pointy rocks, you can easily relocate your tent. In general, freestanding tents are built stronger and are more spacious inside.
However, with self-supporting tents, though it may not look as tough, it’s more secure as it’s attached to the ground. It may take you more time to set it up, however, if any strong winds come, you know your tent isn’t going to fly away.
If you have a vehicle and want more stability it would be worth considering a SUV tent.
If you’re concerned about straining your neck and want to be able to stand up straight in your tent then you’ll need a tent with a tall peak height. You have two different roof styles for tents:
- Cabin-style: A cabin-style tent offers near-vertical walls which provide you with maximum peak height and livability. This style often comes with extra options for family-sized tents such as room dividers, vestibule doors and an awning.
- Dome-style: A dome-style tent is designed to provide you with optimal protection against harsh weather conditions. It’s extremely strong as the walls are slopped, however, it does reduce livability. This style is typically seen in 4-season tents used for mountaineering.
Single wall/double wall
When purchasing a tent, you’ll be presented with two options: single wall or double-walled design. What’s the difference? Let’s take a look.
- Double wall tents: Double wall tents are extremely popular in camping tents and most likely, your tent will we double-walled.It has an interior body which is held up by two or more poles. It can either be freestanding or self-supporting as the tent isn’t reliant on the interior poles to support its shape. Double wall tents are made with a breathable interior tent with a waterproof outer rainfly. This allows any condensation to move out of the tent, rather than allowing it to build-up on the ceiling. Typically, most campers opt for a double-wall tent.
- Single wall tents: A single-wall tent is usually desired if campers are going into high alpine areas as condensation is very difficult to form in these conditions. Thus, if you’re not going to be mountaineering, then you should opt for the double-wall. Overall, a single wall is lighter in weight and more compact. Though they’re lightweight, the trade-off is that they’re harder to ventilate as the material is not very breathable. So, expect condensation to develop. However, if you’re just going camping in the woods, there’s no need to worry.
The majority of tents come with aluminium tubing poles that are connected via an elastic cord. In order to set the tent up, poles are needed and are usually given their own sleeves made of nylon or they’re clipped onto the tent. The end of the poles are then inserted into a grommet. If you’ve bought a more intricate tent, then it’ll be color coordinated with the hooks for easier setup.
Though No-See-Ums is actually a name for small biting flies, the term is now used to describe any small biting bug. No-See-Um netting is essentially mosquito netting which is used to protect you from insects while still allowing proper air flow to enter into the tent.
If you have a double-walled tent, it’ll aid in giving you extra ventilation. If you remove the rainfly, the No-See-Um mesh becomes a way for you to stargaze without being bitten alive by bugs.
Most tents will come with their own tent stakes. The tent stakes should match the type of tent it comes with. For example, if the tent is ultralightweight, then the stakes should also be lightweight.
However, lightweight stakes may not be as durable as you’d like, of course, this depends on where and when you’re going to be camping, as most of the stakes that are supplied with your tent are stock stakes.
If you are't satified with the stock pegs you check out our tent stakes recomendations.
When you’re camping, you’re carrying a lot of gear with you. Some of that gear you prefer not to keep outside but rather have it close to you. Vestibules are rainfly extensions which offer campers extra storage for their equipment.
Most tents on the market offer campers vestibules and it’s included in the specs. The more vestibule room, the better as you have more options for storage.
When looking at tents, opt for a tent with a large door if you want convenient entry and exit from your tent. Small doors can be a hassle especially if you have more than one person sleeping in the tent. Though door design is important, what’s even more important are the number of doors.
If you’re sleeping with a large group of people, you’ll want as many doors as possible as it makes moving in and out much easier. However, if you need a large tent but are concerned about weight, then reducing the number of doors will reduce some of this.
A rainfly is a waterproof covering which is separate from the tent. It’s designed to fit over the roof of your tent and protect your tent from any rain. It can also act to give you extra warmth as well. You have two types of rainflies available to you.
A roof-only rainfly provides you with more light and views while providing you with rain protection. A full-coverage rainfly gives you maximum protection from both wind and rain.
Throughout the night, you exhale moisture which builds up condensation in your tent. However, this is where ventilation comes into play as it helps you prevent and reduce condensation in your tent.
Look for mesh panels and windows which will allow you to keep them open for airflow, however, keep the bugs out. Some tents will come with a rainfly that can be opened or closed as well.
Most tents will often come with a knot of cord, this is called a guyline. A guyline will help you draw your tent taut. In specific styles, such as dome-style tents, you won’t need a guyline to keep the tent pitched. If your tent needs a guyline, test it out prior to camping so that you know how to pitch down your tent properly.
The last thing you need to consider is in-tent storage. Who doesn’t love extra storage in their tent? Pockets are a great help when you’re looking for a place to put some of your valuables.
Most tents come with storage pockets, however, if you’re looking to reduce weight, then most ultralight weight tents will come without pockets.
Optional Tent Accessories
Now, above we listed the features that are included in almost every tent. However, there are some features that are usually purchased separately, however, are great additions to your tent. These are not considered necessities, however, these accessories can greatly help your camping experience.
Below, you’ll see the accessories that can help you out when you least expect something to happen to your tent. And sometimes, when everything is going wrong, you’ll be thankful you’ll have these extras alongside you.
Ground cloths usually do not come with your tent, however, it is an after-tent purchase that you should consider investing in. A ground cloth works as a buffer between the tent and the ground underneath of it.
If you’re camping on rocks and roots, the last thing you want is your tent to catch a snag. Thus, a ground cloth prevents any unnecessary tears from occurring. Tent floors are built to be tough, but over time, your tent floor can take quite a beating.
Now, most tents come with their own interior storage pocket so that you’re able to keep small valuables off of the floor. A gear loft is an optional interior shelf made of mesh that you can use to store even more gear out of the way, giving you more interior space for sleeping and lounging.
Tent Repair Kit
When you’re camping, anything can happen to your tent. Maybe you snagged the floor against a rock or maybe the wind came and damaged the wall or your children poked a hole in the floor with a sharp object - who knows how it happened. However, you’ll be able to resolve this by bringing a tent repair kit along with you. These kits are designed to repair damaged nylon and synthetic tents.
Battery-powered Ventilation Fan
Sometimes, you can misjudge the weather and end up under circumstances which were much hotter than you expected. To prevent condensation and cool yourself down, you can get yourself a battery-powered ventilation fan. Ventilation fans come in various sizes, so you’ll be able to choose one which suits you and your needs.
Best Uses for Camping Tents
Camping tents cover a wide range of tents, however, the right tent can take you anywhere. If you’re not sure about the size of your tent you should get, well, let’s break it down.
If you’re looking for a two-person tent, you already know that this type of tent will be more affordable, smaller and easier to carry. Thus, if you’re going backpacking, you’ll want either a solo or two-person tent - nothing larger than that.
If you’re travelling with friends or family, a six-person tent is usually a decent all-purpose tent. You’ll be able to comfortably fit families of four, however, still have a little more elbow room for each other.
Plus, if someone additional needs to sleep in your tent, you have space. Of course, if you simply enjoy having more space in your tent a six-person tent is also great for couples as well.
If you’re going to be going to a walk-in campsite or backpacking, then you’ll be looking for a lightweight tent as it’ll be easier to carry. However, you’ll want to pay attention to the packed size as that’s the weight you’re going to be carrying on your back.
How to Care for Your Tent
If you’re considering a tent, then you’ll need to know some helpful tips to make sure your tent lasts you many years to come. Here are some must-know tips to keep your tent in tip-top shape.
- A majority of tents comes with taped seams. This means that the holes which were caused during the sewing process are sealed. However, some tents come with unsealed seams as well. If your tent is unsealed, it’s best to apply a seam sealer to the floor and the interior stitching prior to using your tent.
- Try to set up your tent at least once prior to camping, especially if it’s your first time setting up a tent. That way, you’ll get an understanding of how it works and you won’t waste your time reading the instructions when you’re at the campsite. You’ll be able to see how the tent functions and if you encounter any difficulties.
- Make sure you stake your tent down. If strong winds come and your tent is empty, well, it’ll end up in the sky flying around. And empty tent must be staked down.
- When you’ve finished your camping trip, allow your tent to dry out, leaving it out for a night or two. Then you’ll be able to roll it up afterwards.
- Once the season is over, go over your tent and see if there are any small snags that need sealing. If you have any stains, use mild soap and water. Check the accessories for any damage. It’s much better to repair it at the end of the season, then to be surprised next year.
In Need of More than One Tent?
You may already have a tent for backpacking or a light summer tent, but do you need on that’s a little bit heavier? If you’re planning on camping more often throughout the year, sometimes it’s best to consider getting yourself an extra tent. You may already have a lightweight tent, however, if you want to camp during the late fall and winter, well, you’re going to need a four-season tent.
Having another tent gives you a little more freedom for when and where you’re able to camp. If you already have a high-quality tent for off-season camping, getting yourself an inexpensive three-season tent will do you wonders in the spring and summer. So, don’t be afraid to get yourself a couple of tents in order to suit your camping needs.
Finding a tent isn’t that difficult when you know what you want. This is why it’s so important to look at seasonality, weight, and number of sleepers. Once you have those two factors decided, it narrows down your options in which you’re left with looking for specific details that you may or may not want.
From there, you have more freedom to look at the specifics of what you need. Maybe you need more internal storage or maybe you need more headspace. Whatever it is that you need, there is a tent out there that’s perfect for you.
You won’t have a problem finding the right one for you as there are an endless amount of tents on the market. All you need to do is figure out what you’re looking for.