Choosing a tent is usually pretty fun, but it can also be a bit confusing with so many different shapes, sizes, and styles on the market. From small pop up tents, so family size tunnel tents, you need to choose a tent that’s going to be appropriate for your needs or your camping experience is going to suffer.
Cutting through a lot of the information out there, it’s not too difficult. There are a few core styles to choose from, and when you know what considerations to take into account when choosing a tent it should narrow down your options.
Here are the main areas to consider when choosing a tent:
The size of the tent is pretty important, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s no fun sleeping in a cramped tent, even for just one night. So take into account the maximum size tent you need and see if it fits your budget.
Don’t just take into account bodies, think about luggage, pets, how much personal space you really want, and any other requirements like portable toilets. Lean towards having more space than you need rather than having to cram yourself into a tight space.
Obviously budget is always going to be a huge factor when choosing a tent. My advice is to narrow down the options within your budget and not get carried away looking at deluxe tents that are never going to be an option.
You need to be prepared for all the potential weather conditions you will be camping in. This decision is made easier by the fact that a lot of tents fall into a seasonality category as I will explain next. But, for example, if you are going to camp in hot weather make sure your tent has plenty of ventilation otherwise it will be uncomfortably hot inside.
Likewise, if you anticipate there will a lot of rainfall or morning dew, be sure you have a rainfly. A rainfly is a separate waterproof cover designed to take the rainfall and dew instead of letting it hit the wall of the tent. This keeps the inside of the tent dry, shields a lot of the noise, and regulates the temperature to keep you more comfortable.
Understanding Tent Seasonality
Tents are classified by how many seasons they are designed to be used in. The options usually come down to a 3-season tent, 3-4 season tent, or a 4-season tent.
As the name suggests, a 3-season tent is designed to withstand the weather across 3 seasons, summer, spring and fall. They are not designed to withstand the kind of temperatures and harsh weather winters can bring.
They are typically made from a strong, breathable material with good insect protection to keep your comfortable in the summer. While being effective at deflecting wind and rain that you can expect in fall.
3/4 season tents go that little bit further and are built to withstand some harsher weather you may encounter in mild winters. They are still not suitable for extreme weather conditions, but the extra stability is usually enough to convince people they will pick one up over a 3-season tent to feel a little more secure.
A 4-season tent is designed to stay standing in all weather conditions, all year round. They have more poles for extra strength, have rounded roofs to allow snow to run off, and are built from very strong materials so you feel safe inside when the weather outside sounds brutal.
It’s really only worth buying a 4-season tent if you’re going to make good use of it in bad weather. The extra poles and strong materials mean they are heavy tents, so transporting and erecting them is a little more effort than a 3-season tent.
Different Types of Tents for Camping
Frame tents are the most iconic when you think about a camping tent. As the name suggests they hold their shape with a frame made by joining poles together. This type of tent is often referred to as an A-frame due to the ‘A’ triangle shape to the front of the tent.
The beauty of these tents is their longevity. If looked after they can last years, probably decades. The material used is typically cotton, so it’s cool in hot weather, warm in the winter months, and breathable too.
The ‘A’ shape has a lot of functionality and wasn’t just stumbled upon. You have a decent amount of headroom in the middle, the sloped sides allow rain to run off, and they are deceivingly spacious inside.
Pros of frame tents:
- Quick and easy to assemble
- Strong construction when assembled
Cons of frame tents:
- The poles are heavy
- There is limited space inside
Tunnel tents can offer a considerable amount of space and come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. More often than not a tunnel tent is a choice for a family of 4-8 people, although you can pick up smaller 2 person tunnel tents too if you want more space per person.
As the name suggests, these tents form a tunnel when assembled. There are a series of poles stabilizing the middle of the tent, and although there are lots of designs you usually have a large mouth to enter the tent.
It’s more of a luxury tent, if you are intending to camp in extreme weathers you will need to choose carefully to find a tunnel tent that can withstand extreme conditions.
Pros of a tunnel tent:
- Lots of standing room
- Suitable for families and larger parties
- There is a wide range of styles available
Cons of tunnel tents:
- Not suitable in extreme weather conditions
- Can be expensive for the size
Dome tents have exploded in popularity in recent years. They are inexpensive, easy to carry, and quick to set up. They have lightweight flexible poles that thread through channels inside the fabric and are pretty stable when set up.
You can get big domes, but the larger the tent the less stable it is. The most common size is a small two man tent, most at home in large fields for festival and camping events.
Pros of a dome tent:
- Quick and easy to use
- Strong construction on the smaller tents
Cons of a dome tent:
- Limited space inside
- Not ideal in poor weather conditions
Lightweight tents make it easy to pitch up in places you otherwise might not have been able to make it to. You can carry one in your backpack and go hiking, cycling, canoeing, just about anywhere without the tent weighing you down.
Lightweight tents are not as strong as frame tents compared side-by-side, but that’s the tradeoff for having a tent that’s really light. They are also typically very quick and easy to assemble, often not being much more than just a pop-up tent.
Pros of a lightweight tent:
- Extremely light compared to other tents
- Good range of styles and sizes to choose from
Cons of a lightweight tent:
- Not the most comfortable
- Can’t handle extreme weather
Pop Up Tents
Tired of threading poles and hammering pegs to pitch your tent? Pop up tents were designed for people like you. They are quick and easy to ‘pop up’, and there are some decent models to choose from now that are comfortable and strong.
They are perfect for festivals and overnight camping. You can’t expect as much from a pop up tent as a tunnel, or frame tent of course, but in their own right, they are pretty good. There is nothing wrong with wanting an easy option when it comes to setting up a tent, it’s a smart choice if you ask me.
Pros of a pop up tent:
- Quick and easy to assemble
- Wide range of sizes and styles to choose from
- Great for camping beginners
Cons of a pop up tent:
- Are often not as strong and durable as tents with frames
- Larger tents are less stable
If you have a large budget and want some luxury while camping then take a look at multi-room tents. They are not cheap, but separate rooms makes your camping experience a lot more enjoyable as you’ll have your own space to enjoy.
Multi-room tents are a good idea if you’re going to be in the same place for a while and have a large family. You will usually get a large room for family space, two or more bedrooms, and another room for cooking.
Pros of a multi-room tent:
- Brings a touch of luxury to camping
- More personal space
- Very strong and stable when erected
Cons of a multi-room tent
- Very expensive
- Difficult to transport and assemble
Tips and Advice to Make the Most of Your Tent
How to Store Your Tent
The number one tip when storing a tent is to always make sure it’s completely dry before storing. Any dampness folded or rolled up into the tent in storage is going to attract mildew and mould. Two problems that are very difficult to remove and will only get progressively worse.
This video does a great job at explaining how to clean and store your tent so you can keep it in tip-top shape:
Practice Erecting Your Tent at Home
Always practicing setting up your tent before taking it camping. This way not only will you know how to set it up when the time comes, you know you’re not missing any items, there is no damage on the tent, and you will be able to get the tent set up quickly. Which after a long day hiking and travelling is well worth the trial run.
Repair Any Damage as Soon as You Notice It
If you spot any rips, tears, holes, or anything that looks like damage on your tent take care of it as soon as you can. Damage is only going to worsen, and most likely at the worst possible time.,Like when you’re sleeping and torrential rain rips a bigger hole and starts pouring in!
Use the Tent as It Was Designed to Be Used
Sometimes it feels like a good idea to cram 6 people into a 2-person tent. Maybe not for you or I, but it happens. Usually when unexpected tagalongs turn up, or a group that are travelling on a budget and think its a good idea to cram. But this is a recipe for disaster and could result in your tent bursting at the seams, literally.
Also, if you tent is classified as a 3-season tent as explained above, then only use it during those 3 seasons. There is a reason tents have weather and use classifications, they are likely to let you down when used in extreme weather it’s not intended for.
The tent styles I have covered in this article are not an exhaustive list of every available style. They do cover all of the most popular choices however, and I’m sure you will find something within this list perfect for your needs.
I think the thermo tent needs a mention, and if you’re looking for the best canvas tent for your money check out my canvas tent reviews here.
Buying a tent is a big deal, it’s not only a large purchase it’s incredibly important you get a tent you’re happy with. Pay attention to the care tips and advice to look after your tent, most tents are capable of lasting a lifetime and are extremely good value for money when looked after.