The Ultimate Tent Buying Guide

The Ultimate Tent Buying Guide2-01

Finding the right tent can be hard work, there are lots of styles, designs, sizes, and different features to consider. In this guide we will go through all the essential things you need to consider when looking for a tent.

 

Tent Sleeping Capacity

The first thing to look for when choosing your tent is sleeping capacity, you need to base this on your group’s size and who will be sleeping in there, whether or not you may need extra space for additional guests, for your gear or even maybe dogs. However, there is no industry standard that defines the per-person tent dimensions, so some tents maybe smaller or larger than others, so make sure you check the dimensions.

Our rule of thumb is to assess your situation. If you want something lightweight, then the smaller the better. But if you’re looking for more room we’d suggest upping your tent capacity by at least 1 person, especially if you are taller people, claustrophobic, toss and turn while you sleep or are camping with dogs or small children.

 

See our guides:

Best 2 Person Tent

Best 3 Person Tent

Best 4 Person Tent

Best 6 Person Tent

 

Tent Types And Seasonality

Most tents fall into seven different categories; these are:

  • Summer / Screen 
  • Three-Season
  • Three-Four Season / Convertible
  • Four-Season / Mountaineering / Winter
  • Tarp

 

Summer/Screen

These are designed especially for those steamy summer months with maximum ventilation, using mesh instead of nylon, to let air flow freely through. Some good summer tents with stronger skeletal systems can handle most summer weather through light breezes to stormy summer nights, although most screen tents are used for shielding from insects or the sun.

 

Three-Season

The most popular choice of tents. Three-season tents are aimed at keeping you dry in any conditions, as the name suggests these tents are designed to handle most weather conditions from spring to fall, including strong winds, but the only thing these tents aren’t designed for is snow loads. Most three-season tents are made with a mix of nylon, mesh and ventilation, so these tents have the best balance when it comes to ventilation and protection. Three-season tents are best used for keeping you dry during rain and light snow, shielding from bugs and providing privacy, they are not the best option for sustained exposure to violent winds, storms or heavy snow.

 

Three-Four Season / Convertible

Designed for campers who use their tent in most conditions. Typically, they come with multiple poles, fewer mesh panels and different rainfly options, this allows you to strip down for summer months and to make the tent sturdy and more weather proof during stormy adventures. The only downside of three-four season tents is the weight; they are usually heavier than their three-season alternative. Another thing to note is although convertible tents are very sturdy, they’re not the best choice if you’re looking at camping in harsh winter weather, whereas four-season tents would be a better choice.

 

Four-Season / Mountaineering / Winter

Made to withstand the fiercest and most epic adventures, strong winds, snow loads, and storms, these tents can be used any season. Four-season tents use more poles and heavier fabric to stay firm, and less ventilation which can become stuffy in mild weather. But in howling winds and snow there is no other alternative to keeping you dry, warm, and safe.

 

Tarp

A tarp tent is exactly what it sounds like, one solid sheet of nylon or polyester, used when ultralight backpacking is needed. You’ll need some good knot-tying skills and somewhere to rig it up, either trees, boulders or trekking poles. With no walls protecting you from the elements and bugs are limited, but if you’re looking for a lightweight ‘back to nature’ approach then tarp is the way to go.

 

Tent Size

Floor Space

Check the dimensions of the tents floor space, not only square footage. Taller campers need longer length, if you’re over 6 feet look for tents of 90 inches or longer, rather than the more typical 84-88.

 

Headroom / Peak Height

If you your looking to stand up inside your tent look for a tent with a taller peak height.

 

Tent Shapes and Styles

Tents come in all different shapes and styles, each having different pros and cons.

 

Cabin-Style Tents

Cabin tents have almost vertical walls to maximize livable space and overall peak height, some models even have room dividers and an awning.

 

A-frame

These tents are simple, very light-weight and often inexpensive. They have sloping walls which limits available head and elbow room. These tents are best for kinder weather as the broad sides can get battered by high winds.

 

Modified A-frame

Similar to the A-frame tents but they use different poles or curved sidewalls to create more space and a sturdier structure than standard A-frames.

 

Dome

Super sturdy tents with wind-shielding ability, so dome tents are ideal in a storm. Peak height is usually tall but the walls have a lot of slope which reduced living space.

 

Tunnel / Hoop

Lightweight and water-resistant, hoop, tunnel or tube tents are a good option but are not free standing, they require staking.

 

Pyramid / Tepee

Shaped like a pyramid or tepee, these tents are supported by a vertical center pole with a rainfly over the top. Great space but the lack of floor can be a problem in wet weather or when there are a lot of insects.

 

Wedge

Wedge tents are higher at the head end and lower at the foot end. These tents are aerodynamic when the tent is pitched with the low end into the wind. Very low interior space but good in windy weather.

 

Tent Features

Number of Doors

When picking your tent, think about what size and the number of doors you may need. If there is a few of you in a tent think about having more doors or ones easier to access, so you don’t wake others during a midnight bathroom break. Cabin tents are the best for this, they usually have multiple large doors, with doors and walls between room for extra privacy and ease of getting out.

 

Poles

The number of tent poles usually determines how easy and fast it is to put up a tent, the fewer poles the easier. Most family tents are now free-standing making it easier to put up and move if needed.

 

Rainfly

A rainfly is the extra waterproof cover for your tent, used to fit over the roof in wet conditions. Use it whenever there is rain forecast, or even if you want to keep in extra warmth. There are two common types of rainfly, roof-only which offers good rain protection but also lets light in, and full-coverage rainflies, which offer the maximum protection from rain and wind.

 

Material

When looking at the specs of these tents, check out the denier of the fabric, higher-denier canopies and rainflies are more rugged than the lower-denier counterpart. Seem tape with high-denier fabrics reduce the chance of leaks on tent floors.

 

Ventilation

Mesh panels are used in the doors, windows, walls and ceilings of tents. This allows more ventilation so when you’re camping in a humid climate, look for larger mesh panels, and the opposite is true when you’re looking for a winter or wet weather tent.

 

Pole Material

Fiberglass

Found on inexpensive tents. Fiberglass is cheaper, heavier and less durable than the other two.

 

Aluminum

Most good tents have aluminum poles, as they are strong, light and easy to replace.

 

Carbon Fiber

Found on the best high-end tents, super-light and super-strong. The most expensive of the three, only down point is they are not as durable as aluminum.

 

Wall Construction

Double wall

Double wall tents have an inner canopy (which you sleep inside) then a rainfly (which keeps the rain off). Double wall tents usually have better ventilation and are drier, and can even be less expensive.

 

Single wall

Single wall tents have one layer of breathable/waterproof fabric, this makes them very light and easy to put up. The only problem can be condensation, so look for one with extra vents or a hybrid tent, with a partial rainfly.

 

Hopefully after reading through our tent buying guide you’ll be a lot clearer on what tent you need.

 

See our guides:

Best 2 Person Tent

Best 3 Person Tent

Best 4 Person Tent

Best 6 Person Tent