Choosing a Tent

tips on choosing a tent for camping

Choose a tent based on the conditions you will face while camping. Is it an overnight on the beach or a mountain voyage?

Camping wouldn’t be camping without the tent. There are many different styles to choose from to help make a night in the great outdoors even greater. Which style is best for you depends on a few factors that will help decide what you need.

Tents used to be heavy canvas house shaped objects that required much care. That care got even more complicated if the tent got wet. Now most tents are made of nylon which dries quickly, is very lightweight, and relatively inexpensive. There are five main parts to a tent: the tent itself, the fly, the ground cloth, the pegs, and the poles. The tent is the part you sleep in, the fly is a waterproof cloth the same shape as the tent which acts as shingles on a roof to repel dew, rain, or even snow keeping the tent fabric dry. The ground cloth is a waterproof cloth the same shape as the floor of the tent which helps to keep the floor warmer and drier. The poles provide support and give the tent its shape and the pegs hold it all down.

what to look for in a tent

Choose a tent with a fly that reaches to the ground to keep the rain and dew off

The Cost Factor

The first factor you need to address is how much you wish to spend. Tents that can be purchased at a department store for as little as $20 will not likely last as long as one of the more expensive models from a specialty store. The higher end tents can cost as much as $400 for a 4 person model but the quality of the fabrics, the stitching, poles and fly will usually be much better. Evaluate for yourself how often you plan to use the tent and under what conditions. If you only plan to use the tent for one weekend a year in good weather, then cheaper model will probably do. If you are trekking across the Himalaya Mountains or plan to camp under any weather conditions then you will need to spend more. By far most tents are designed to be a three season tent. This means they are only good for the summer and for nice weather. If you are going to be camping in the winter or in less than ideal weather a four season tent is required. A four season costs more but is much more versatile as it can be used year-round.

how to pick a tent

Four season tents cost more but will keep you warm and dry in a variety of weather conditions

Size Matters

The next factor to decide is how much space you require in the tent. All tent sizes are based on how many people can lie down and sleep in it. A two-person tent sleeps two people; a six person is much larger and allows for up to six people to lie down in it. If you plan on having much gear with you in the tent, you will need to factor this in to your size choice. Typically a four person tent will sleep two people and give enough space for their gear. A two person tent will sleep one person and their gear. Try not to get a tent that is much bigger than you need. It will just waste space in the car and add weight to the backpack or boat.

tents for hiking, camping and the outdoors

The frame of this tent resembles a house. It has enough space to stand in but will catch the wind and rain

Style And Use

Once you have decided how many people you need to accommodate, the next step is to decide what shape of a tent you will need. Tents are mostly available in three shapes: One that resembles a house, another that resembles an igloo or dome and a third that resembles a cocoon. The house shape tent is usually taller with enough space to stand up in. This is ideal for long camping trips in fair weather. It gives you the ability to move around inside without crawling on your hands and knees. The major downside to this type of tent is that it catches the wind and is prone to dampness from dew and rain hitting it.

The igloo style tent is ideal for most situations. It typically has a lower height of around 4′ which allows the wind to blow over it and is less prone to acting like a sail in rough weather. The downside is you will likely have to bend over or crawl around inside as it is not as tall. This style of tent is the most popular as it is small enough to fit in a backpack or the trunk of your car yet has models large enough to sleep from four to six people.

The cocoon style of tent is the true backpacker’s tent. They typically sleep only one or two people at most and are very low to the ground. Their low height allows the wind to blow right over top causing very little disturbance to the occupants, yet the long and round shape (similar to a caterpillar’s “cocoon”) allows rain and snow to roll off the tent with ease. The small size of this tent is ideal for anyone who is biking, kayaking, or hiking alone and does not have room to carry much gear on them. The downside to this style is that you will likely have to slither into it and will likely find it very confining.

The Accessories
camping tents

Igloo or dome style tents (shown here without rain flies) are low enough to the ground to avoid the wind but still roomy inside

Whatever style of tent you choose, make sure it comes with a sewn in floor and that a ground cloth is available. This will help insulate you from the damp ground keeping you and your gear warmer and drier. Also, ensure that the fly is going to effectively protect you and your tent from dew and rain. A good fly will extend to the ground and have space between

it and the tent. In most cases if the two pieces touch they will allow moisture to pass from the fly to the tent getting everything that touches the walls inside wet. No matter what tent you purchase, change where it sits every day or two so the ground can dry out under it preventing moisture and insects from building up. When possible, assemble your tent in a sunny area so it will dry out through the day. Most good tents will have sizable windows for airing it out and all windows should be covered with a good quality screen material to keep the bugs out.

Fiberglass poles that are strung together (shock-corded) with an elastic rope are light and very strong. The shock cording ensures that one piece won’t be forgotten and does help to hold them together a bit. Most of the igloo and cocoon style tents come with these poles. Aluminum poles are still used on larger tents such as the house shaped style. The downside to these poles is their increased weight and size making transport more difficult.

This cocoon style tent is small enough for backpackers and kayakers but doesn’t have much space inside

Choose a tent with pegs that can be easily driven in and removed. The two main types of pegs are plastic and metal. Be cautious not to drive in the pegs any deeper than necessary so you can get them out again. There are a couple different hammers on the market designed specifically for driving and removing tent pegs. If you plan on camping frequently you may wish to purchase one of these hammers.

Shop Around

Shop around for the tent that suits your needs the best. Visit several specialty outdoor stores for expert advice on the current year’s models. Most major tent manufacturers have websites that display the different models that are available as well. Once you do purchase a tent, spend a few minutes to assemble it in your back yard (or living room if necessary) to familiarize yourself on how it goes together and how to pack it up before your trip to the great outdoors begins.


Copyright 2016 Mike Wilson

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