Best Tent Buying Guide

If you are new to camping, buying a tent can be a bit overwhelming.

In times where social distancing due to COVID-19 is the new norm, camping has certainly become a new hobby for many who wants to spend time with friends and family in a safe manner. 

Even though it is a secure way to reconnect with nature, it can also get wet, cold, and exhausting (sometimes all of these combined). Investing in a good tent will help to recharge and connect with your loved ones or even yourself. 

Just like searching for a home, the options for camping tents are endless as there are lots of styles, sizes, and features to consider. That is why we have put together this comprehensive tent buying guide to help you make the right choice. 

Let’s dive right in.

1. What Kind of Camping Do you Plan to Do?

Basically, camping falls under two main categories

Car camping :  Most common type of camping which involves packing your car to the brim and driving to a campground, and setting up the tent next to your car. If you are a family, budget camper, or casual camper, you will fall under this category

Backpacking : Involves hiking and setting up a camp in the wilderness or in the middle of nowhere with all the gears strapped to your back. It is best suited if you love viewing amazing scenery and make unforgettable memories on a regular basis. Hikers, bikers, solo adventurers, canoeists, and wilderness explorers fall under the backpacking category.

2. How Often Do you Plan to Camp?

When answering this question, we want you to be honest. Are you an occasional weekend getaway type of person or an outdoor enthusiast?

If you fall under the occasional category, you can opt for a normal brand with something a little heavier that will fit your price range. On the other hand, if you plan to camp regularly or go on backpacking trips, you can buy something lightweight. Spending a couple of extra bucks will be worth it.

A quality family camping tent will cost around $100-$200 USD and professional quality tents may even go up to $400 USD.

3. What Size Tent you Should Buy?

One of the most important things you need to consider when buying a tent is the size.

Whether you are a solo traveler or into family get-togethers, the size of the tent you plan to buy will impact your trip.

If you plan to go on a backpacking trip, you need to prioritize weight before comfort. A modest 2- man tent should be your first choice. Even a 1-man may also be sufficient.

For camping trips with a family of 3 or a large group of friends, you need to factor in the additional space you will require for extra gear, a small baby, and even pets. You need to evaluate the sleeping habits and body density of your fellow companions.

You also need to find out if anyone of your companions tosses and turns frequently and gets claustrophobic. In such a case investing in a huge tent will be beneficial as it will give room for more space for indoor activities in the event of bad weather.

Additionally, if you plan to accommodate tall people, you need to consider tents that have more length and height to support them.

In case the camping places you frequent are likely to have rainfall, search for a tent with a good amount of vestibule to store your gear and shoes.

Overall key features you must consider when choosing the tent size are,

  • Number of people
  • Conditions such as claustrophobia
  • More or average elbow room
  • Babies, children, and pets

Tent Buying Tip 1 - Check the packability

Check the dimensions of the packing size. If you are backpacking, you need to make sure it fits in your bag pack or if it can be strapped on the outside of your bag. If you are car camping, you need to find out the space it will occupy. After you buy a tent, practice unpacking and packing it.

4. What Type of Weather Will you Be Camping In?

Here are the types of tents based on the expected weather conditions.

1-Season : If you plan to camp during the summer, a 1-season tent will be the best choice. They will provide good breathability and ventilation. But, they can only withstand mild showers and wind. This type of tent is recommended only for fair weather camping

2-Season : This tenet is similar to a 1-Season tent. It is not suitable for heavy storms and rainy weather conditions. Most of the tent shops will group 1-Season and 2-Season under the same category as they don’t have much difference. We added this category just so you will be aware of tents rated 1-Season and 2-Season

3-Season: These tents are made of strong materials suitable for the main camping climatic conditions which is spring, summer, and fall. The 3-season tent is the most preferred choice for backpackers and car campers as they can endure strong wind, rain, and light snowfall. In spite of being well insulated, they offer better ventilation as well

4-Season: Even though the name indicates otherwise, 4-Season tents are only suitable for winter, They are created to withstand freezing climates, harsh winds, and thick snow. Due to this reason, you must avoid using this tent in other seasons as they have more insulation and limited ventilation. We do not recommend this tent unless you are into mountaineering or serious winter camping

Tent Buying Tip 2 - Research on the usability

Talk to a camping store employee or do thorough online research and read online reviews about the camping tent you are interested in. See if you can find out a video tutorial on how to set up the tent. This will help you find out suitable tents for any weather condition.

5. How Important is the Weight of the Tent?

The weight of the tent generally depends on the type of camping you plan to do. An ideal way to find this is by determining the distance you plan to cover. It could be a quick stroll from your car to the campsite or a 5-hour trek from your prior location.

These are the general types of weights that are advertised for tents.

Trail weight : Includes the essentials such as tent body, poles, rainfly, and other important pieces of the kit. This is usually lightweight and a good benchmark if you plan to carry the bare minimum

Packaged weight : includes all the gear that you get with the tent purchase - tent body, stuff sack, pole sack, packaging, instructions, etc. This is the heaviest weight and is an exact benchmark of how heavy your tent will be as a complete package

As a rule of thumb, if you are backpacking/hiking, you have to carry the bare essentials. So, you need to choose a tent that is lightweight.

If you are going camping with your family, the weight of the tent should not be a big issue as you will be using some mode of transport to carry it. Heavier tents will also be reasonably priced as they will not use costly materials that are seen in backpacking/hiking tents.

Tent Buying Tip 3 - Keep learning

Make it a point to learn something new on every hike. Look for helpful articles and talk with others on the trial to learn practical tips and tricks to keep the weight low. Remember, it’s not always about the weight. The goal is to be comfortable while hiking or at camp.

6. What Are the Various Tent Material and Fabric Coatings?

Tent Materials

Many overlook the materials used in the tent. However, the material used in the tent will determine the insulation, water resistance, and breathability. Here is the list of the common materials used in tents.

  1. 1
    Nylon :  Lightweight, breathable, and covered in a waterproof layer such as polyurethane. The material is reasonably priced
  2. 2
    Polyester : Similar to nylon, this material is also water-resistant, breathable, and more durable than its equivalent. It can also withstand sunlight
  3. 3
    Canvas/Cotton : Bulky and heavier compared to the other materials. It is highly durable breathable and keeps the tent cool in summer and warm in chilled weather conditions
  4. 4
    GORE-Tex : Great insulating properties, high level of breathability, and water-resistant. But it is pricer compared to the others
  5. 5
    Tent poles :  Poles use different materials that will impact the sturdiness, structure, and trail weight of the tent. Here are the main pole materials,       
  • Aluminum alloy : Low-weight, flexible, and robust. The most common material in the market
  • Carbon fiber : Mostly used in pricey tent models where weight is of paramount importance
  • Fiberglass : Steer clear of this as they are bulky and break easily

Fabric Coatings

The type of fabric used to coat the tent will affect their resistance to water and UV light. Here are the common types of fabric coatings.

  1. 1
    Polyurethane/PU coating : Used in most of the tent fabrics to create a waterproof layer and provide good breathability
  2. 2
    Silicon coating (a.k.a silnylon) : Makes the tent more durable and waterproof. The water also dries off quickly. The downside is that this coating is not cheap
  3. 3
    Other coatings (UPF, SPF, UV, etc.) : Percentage of the coating will affect the fire retardant properties, overall water resistance, and protection from sunlight
  4. 4
    Hydrostatic Head (HH) : Measurement that shows how waterproof a fabric is. This metric just rates the fabric and not the water-proof qualities of the whole tent. The overall weather resistance of the tent depends on other factors

Tent Buying Tip 4 - Maintenance

The trick to make your tent fabric and material last longed is through proper maintenance. Inspecting, cleaning, and storing your tent properly are the critical steps you need to follow to extend its life. If protecting your tent from water is your major requirement, you need to invest in a waterproof tent.

7. What Type of Tent Should you Buy?

Camping tents come in various shapes and sizes. Let’s have a look at some of the common types of tend designs and the features they have.

Please note that this is just a general overview. The features of the tent will depend according to the type of brand, materials, size, design, and underlying structure.

Specifications

Material used

Tent capacity

Weather conditions

Best suited for

Ridge/A-frame tents

Aluminum poles, polyester or nylon

2

Withstand diverse weather conditions

Standing troop camps

Dome tents

Nylon, Flexible poles, and Poly taffeta

4

Not very durable in the wind or bad weather

Backpackers and modern glampers

Geodesic tents

Aluminum and steel frame

4

Stable in bad weather and high winds

Wilderness and winter camping

Cabin tents

Aluminum poles, polyester, and nylon

4+

No ability to  withstand bad weather

Fairweather camping

Tunnel tents

PU-coated polyester and aluminum poles

4+

Can withstand bad weather to a certain extent

Car camping

Cabin tents

Aluminum poles, polyester, nylon, or canvas

4+

No ability to withstand bad weather

Fairweather camping

Pyramid tents

Central pole and rainfly

1-3

Very stable in bad weather

Camping in exposed terrain and winter camping

Backpacking Tents

Polyester fabric, aluminum poles, and plastic stakes

1-2

Tackles harsh conditions

Expeditions/Lightweight Camping

8. What Are the Features to Look Before you Buy a Tent?

Even though we have covered some of the basic things you must know, below are some of the features you need to remember before you make the final decision.

Ventilation or vent : Required for both hot and cold climates. Search for vents that can be closed as they can offer protection against bad weather. A mesh will also offer good ventilation, but beware as they are easily prone to rips and tears

Single and double walls : Walls comprise the tent body and rainfly (protection against rain and wind). Single walls offer only one layer of waterproof and breathable fabric. Except for backpacking, double walls are always recommended for most camping types as they offer double protection

Footprint : Also known as a ground cloth is a material that goes under the tent. It acts as a barrier between you and the ground. Not used by backpackers due to the added weight, but are good for recreational campers

Tent poles : Nothing but a pole supporting the tent. Most tent poles are made of aluminum and are joined with an elastic cord

Tent stakes : Most of the tents come with stakes and they hold a tent to the ground. However, you need to use it when camping in harsher weather situations (heavy wind and rain)

Number of doors : Tents that have more than one door are convenient for more than one person sharing the tent. As this adds more weight, it is suitable for family campers

Vestibule : Provides extra storage space for muddy shoes, wet clothes, or anything else. Ideal for tents that house multiple people with a lot of gear

Interior storage : Convenient area to store headlamp or eyeglasses. Backpacking tents come with very little storage space to decrease the weight

Guy lines : Comes in handy during bad weather. They are strong ropes attached to the rainfly to provide stability during heavy rain and strong winds. Buy reflective guy lines as they will be seen by other campers

Tent Buying Tip 5 - Set up the tent before you buy

You can visit a local camping store nearby and find out if they will allow you to set up the tent Or you can take a look at the tent that is already set up to understand the design and its actual dimensions.

9. Should you Buy Tent Accessories?

Yes, you need to invest in some camping gear for additional comfort. Here are some of the tent accessories you can invest in to make your camping experience enjoyable. It has a mix of accessories that will be suitable for family camping and backpacking.

Rainfly : There are two types of rainfly. Roof-only rainflies allow more light and offer fair rain protection. Full-coverage rainflies give maximum protection from wind and rain. Since it is cut in the exact dimensions of the tent, you have to purchase this separately

Footprint : Custom-sized ground cloth that goes under your tent

Gear Loft : Store clothes or gear safely off of the floor and maximize space inside the tent

Sleeping pad : No matter the place you are camping, a sleeping pad will keep you comfortable and provide good insulation from the ground temperature

Camping pillow : If you care to get the best possible night's sleep outdoors, then investing in a good pillow will be worth it

Camping lanterns : They offer ample light during intense hikes and are useful if you are outdoors at night

Cooler : Invest in a lightweight camping cooler to store steaks, beer, and other perishables. They will help to elevate your wilderness retreats

Campfire grill : If you are planning to camp at a site with a fire pit, you can bring a simple campfire grill with foldable legs

Kitchen utensil kit : A kitchen set with all the essentials will provide you the comfiest outdoor dining experience

Headlamps : Incredibly useful when you are cooking in the dark or when you go out on a short stroll to refill your water

First-aid kit : Must have essential for any camper. A kit that is designed for camping will have information on how to treat outdoor injuries

Chairs : Unless you plan to sit on the floor, lightweight camping chairs are a great idea to carry on your trip

Portable charging block : Even if you don’t plan on working, you’d still want to click pictures and take videos. This will help you change your electric devices

Now you Are Ready to Buy your First Camping Tent

There are lots of things to consider before you buy a tent that suits your needs. Don’t let that discourage you.

Research is the key when it comes to purchasing a good tent. We want you to use this guide as a reference as it will give you the confidence to buy a tent in both an online and offline camping store.

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