When it comes to picking your tent, it’s not always the right decision to head into the camping store and buy the first one that you see at a low price point. Picking your tent requires careful planning and important decisions such as which type of tent you need, what is the best material and how many people are going to stay in it.
In fact, learning how to choose a tent is going to give you a much broader understanding of all tents, their features, and how to get the most out of your tent.
The important thing to note is to take your time. Even if you’re going on a trip on that very same day – rushing in and buying the first tent you see could cause problems further down the line that nobody wants.
Imagine un-packing your new tent at your destination only to find out it is non-waterproof – or that it doesn’t fit the amount of people you first thought it did.
So, let’s go through some steps to help you on your way.
Choosing a tent for the right use
Tents come in all shapes and sizes to suit a wide variety of functions. Making sure you choose a tent that is right for the kind of adventure you are heading out on is paramount.
Weight is super important when considering which tent to purchase. Consider whether your destination or campsite is near to where you are parking.
If you’re going on a long hike/backpacking trip, then you’re probably going to need a nice lightweight tent to mitigate the strain on your shoulders. Remember, that lighter tents are generally made from more fragile materials – so you must consider the terrain too.
However, if you’re driving to the site and simply unpacking your tent onto the ground before you then a heavier, more feature-specific tent could be the right one for you.
Not only that, but a heavier tent tends to have more durable material construction and so will last longer in more extreme conditions.
Choosing a tent that's suitable for the weather
Will you be camping mid-summer time when the sun is glaring harshly from the sky and the temperatures have climbed beyond comfort?
If so, you’re going to want a tent that has been specifically designed as a ‘hot weather tent‘ with a lot of breathing capacity.
Look out for tents with various ventilation options that will help with the condensation that could build up if you don’t cater for it properly.
On the other hand, three-season/four-season tents or backpacking tents can be ideal for those colder temperatures – especially if you consider the placement of the tents on the ground.
Rain is another important thing to think about, contrary to popular belief, not all tents are waterproof and to be honest, some tents do a really bad job at it. If you are expecting wet weather then make sure you choose a heavy rain tent.
Consider the tent size
How many people are you going camping with? Are they all staying in the same tent? Are they bringing their own tent? How much stuff do they have with them?
Okay, I’ll stop with the questions. But you get the point that there are considerations to buying a tent.
The taller you are the more room you’ll need. The smaller you are the less you will need. It’s pretty simple really. Think about whether you’re going to bring along man’s best friend and where your pet is going to sleep.
If you are carrying plenty of extra gear, then choosing a tent with a porch could be a great way to separate your storage/eating area from where you are sleeping.
Popular types of tent
A Camping Tent
The camping tent is pretty much your standard tent that comes at an acceptable weight for you to travel with, normally ranging from a 1-person tent up to a 6-person tent or more.
If you’re going on a trip that is only for the weekend or just for a night, then this is the perfect type of tent for you. Complete for the intermediate camper who goes for a few short stays throughout the year; camping tents are a solid option.
A camping tent is a high-quality tent that will help to keep the heat inside, and the cold on the outside. It is easy to construct wherever you are and comfortable to sleep in with enough room.
If you’re heading into the wilderness on an adventure of a lifetime with gorgeous views and beautiful trails, then you’re going to want a lightweight and easy to travel tent. As an additional extra, you’ll want one that you can just carry in your backpack. Taking the strain from your arms and making it super easy to carry.
Backpacking tents put portability first. It’s easy to construct – even easier to pack up – and super simple to carry around.
With an advancement of material technology, comes the ability to pack more into less. That means that you’ll be able to have more room once your tent is constructed without making the backpack too much bigger or heavier.
Often known as ‘three-season’ tents, they have the ability to – yep you guessed it – adhere to many different weather types.
As you’re carrying it on your back all day, weight is something that will be significantly important. You’ll want to look for something between 2-2.5 lbs and a configuration that allows for maximum space inside.
Perfect for those adverse weather conditions that can ruin your trip if you’re without the appropriate equipment.
Think of the name – Mountaineering.
It’s not going to be skin tinkling warm or crisply cool. You’re more likely to be met with some sort of weather storm that is likely to blow away most tents that aren’t made particularly for the situation.
Often called ‘Four-Season’ tents, they contain more poles than a traditional tent as well as stronger materials to withstand the outside pressure. The only downside is that it will become heavier and because of the more durable material – more expensive.
But if it is protecting you from those strong and aggressive winds; heavy snowstorms; torrential rainstorms, then you’ll thank your lucky stars you bought this tent.
If you find yourself with a day-hike ahead of you across harsh or tiring terrain, then an ultralight shelter could be the option for you. It won’t be your first tent purchase, as well, it’s not really a tent – but can be useful in some instances.
If you’re a beginner or intermediate, then an overnight stay in a shelter is probably not for you as it can leave you rather exposed to the weather. However, if you come prepared with hammocks and tarps – then it could be a possible option.
Ultralight Shelters typically weigh below 2 lbs making it super easy to carry around. Instead of carrying poles with them, they’ll prefer you to use you your hiking poles (or sticks) to make a structure.
Tent materials and construction
When you come across the additional features that a tent may offer or read the label that shows the materials it has been constructed from, your instant reaction could be confusion. What is that? Is it going to be useful?
So, for your benefit we’ve unpacked all the technical language that comes with camping and tents and put it into one section just for you.
When you come across the additional features that a tent may offer or read the label that shows the materials it has been constructed from, your instant reaction could be of utter confusion. What is that? Is it going to be useful? So, for your benefit we’ve unpacked all the technical language that comes with camping and tents and put it into one section just for you.
Synthetic Nylon Fabric: most materials these days are made from a synthetic nylon fabric. When selecting your tent – the lower the number that is shown in the weight section, the lighter and less durable it is.
Double wall tents have a ventilated inner tent that is covered by a waterproof material on the outside. It allows you to have great insulation but reduces the amount of condensation too. A single wall tent would be adequate at high altitudes where breathing can be difficult. It allows for great ventilation.
Reduces weight and allows for an increased ventilation. It is especially useful with those double-wall tents to help even further with airflow making your stay extra comfortable.
Most are made from aluminium with elastic cords. When you erect your tent, you slide the poles through nylon sleeves or clip into plastic clips. The poles end has a pin that inserts into a ringed grommet – basically connecting it to the ground.
For easier set-up, some poles have numbers or colours that correspond to the nylon sleeve they are meant to go through.
If you are looking for a super simple set-up, then it may be worth checking out instant tents.
These are those metallic pegs that you hammer into the ground and connect to your tent to stop it flying around. Some can be larger and stronger, especially if you have a bigger tent. Porch Essentially acting as the opening to your tent where you can store your stuff. When you open the tent, you should have a little area where you can put your stuff before the fly net and ground cover is.
It has an added bonus of keeping your things dry and means you can take your shoes off before you go into your sleeping area.
Imagine rummaging around in the darkness trying to find something you need. It can be a right hassle.
With tents that include storage pockets, you’ll know exactly where to reach to pick up your important possessions.
You could put all types of things there from headlights to clothes lines that you can span from one side of the tent to the other.
The entrance to your tent is super important. It’s like the door to your home that you’d want super secure.
You’ll be looking for a nice zipper that is trusted not to get stuck and is weatherproof. Sometimes, tents will have more than one door that can be ideal if you’re camping with more than one person.
A strong piece of string that is used to keep the tent or material in the ground. They allow places for the poles to connect to where they otherwise would be unable to.
Some guylines are also reflective so other campers can see where you have pitched your tent in the dark.
Helps to weather-proof your tent, especially against the rain. If you’ve gone for a double-wall tent, then you’ll be able to interchange the rainfly to allow for more ventilation.
Height and Shape
Tents are erected with the help of poles and tension or stretching of material to take their shape. You need to make sure the height and shape is ideal for your body type.
For example, if you have larger tents that can fit multiple people then vertical walls will allow you to stand in your tent and a wider footprint will allow for more comfortable sleeping arrangements.
You’ll often find a tent with two types of weights. One will be the tent’s weight whilst it is packaged that includes everything including the cords, extra materials, stakes etc. And, Trail weight which is the basic weight that your tent will measure up to when you erect it.
What is the best material for a tent?
Synthetic nylon, man-made nylon, polyester. Which one is best? Sometimes, it can become overwhelming when deciding which material is going to be the best for your tent. Thinking about durability, lightness and more.
Nylon is typically used for light backpacking tents whilst bigger family tests are often found to use polyester.
Why choose these two?
1. Cheaper – Tents can be more affordable when they’re constructed from man-made materials. (Obviously, you’re not going to want these if you’re going camping in extreme conditions)
2. Lighter and easier to carry – man-made fabrics are often easier to carry. They are super easy to travel with and will sit comfortably on your shoulders for backpacking tents.
3. Easy maintenance – they are often resistant to damp and mould. This also means that they can be quicker to dry.
What’s not so good?
1. Nylon and Polyester aren’t’ the best when it comes to keeping you warm. So, they’ll struggle to keep the heat in when it’s cold outside and the warmth out when it’s hot.
2. Ventilation – sometimes these materials can make the tent harder to breathe.
3. Not as strong as other materials due to their lightweight construction.
How to look after your tent
You’ve gone to the store, erected your chosen tent and found that it is perfect for your situation. It has a great amount of room, offers great ventilation and is super lightweight when you put it on your back.
But once you’ve made a purchase, you’re going to want it to last for a good length of time. You don’t want to cheap out only to find it breaks on your first outing.
So here are some ways to help protect your tent:
1. Apply seam sealer to the materials that haven’t had tape layered over the seams. Seams are basically the stitching where the materials have been sewed together. Applying this sealer would really benefit your material, making sure it remains durable.
2. Practice erecting your tent at home in all types of conditions. It will help you become used to the way the tent works and avoid over stretching any material.
3. Make sure to keep your tent tied down. First off, use the stakes or pegs to tie it down to the ground. If it is safe to do so, consider putting your things inside the tent to help keep it still for longer.
4. Remove the fly netting and leave to dry out after heavy rain.
5. Make sure to clean your tent when you return home (we have a guide to that).
6. Don’t roll your tent up too tight when packing it back up. It could cause mould to build up where it hasn’t been cleaned properly and doesn’t allow air to get to the material.
7. Check the condition of your tent every few trips. Patch up any holes or breaks in material to make sure you’re good to go.
8. Don’t cheap out. Buying a tent can be an investment. Whilst it may seem expensive at the time, you’ll only regret poorly made tents when you are freezing cold/too hot or being leaked on!