How to Choose the Best Camping Tent: a Tent Buyer Guide

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When navigating the market of tents, it can be quite overwhelming. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so it can be quite difficult to make a decision. It is almost like getting married; you want to make sure you get it right the first time because you will be together for a lifetime. How to choose the best camping tent for you is the end goal of this article. Together, we will transverse through this world to make it to the other side.

The Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Tent

  1. Choose a tent that fits your needs. Camping is not staying at the Ritz Carlton. It is, rather, about minimalism. As a result, you choose based on only what you need. You are sleeping outside, so it can be expected that you will do away with some comforts.
  2. Choose a tent that is easy to set up. At the end of long day of hiking or driving, you are probably going to be exhausted. Even if you are not tired, you will still not want the headache of setting up your tent. You are in nature to enjoy it. Choose something simple, so you can focus on the surrounding scenery.
  3. Be aware of where you will be using it. A tent that you will be using on top of a mountain will be very different from one you are using at the bottom of a valley. The mountain top tent will have to be more durable. If you know where you are using it, then you can plan your purchase around that.
  4. Consider the weight. As you move up in price in the world of tents, you will notice that weight increases. When selecting a tent, it is best to choose one that is lightweight. It will make it much easier to move around and give you greater flexibility.
  5. Prioritize the features you want. Tents have different heights, seasonalities, capacities, materials, rain flies, accessories, and much, much more. As a result, there is a lot to consider. To deal with this information overload, select the top 3 characteristics you want to help direct your final decision. Ask yourself, what do I want out of my tent?

Tent Capacity

No industry standard exists yet when it comes to tent sizing, so you will have to base your decision on what each manufacturer says their tent does. Choose based on your group’s size and the amount of gear or anything else that might be in your tent.

Assume a tight fit. For each person in your tent, you will need 30 square feet (2.8 m²) per person. You should consider increasing the size of your tent if you meet anyone of the criteria below.

  • You are a large person or with large people. Three of my best friends are 6′ 2″ and I am 6′, so we take up a lot of space. If I were to get a tent for all of us, it would have to be big because of all the room we would take up.
  • You are bringing a pet or small child. My nephew Zach has a dog named Delaney and she takes up a lot of room. When she sleeps on the couch, she takes up as much space as she can get. Zach also has a sister named Annabelle who is a toddler. She needs plenty of room to run around, so I would recommend that Zach gets a large tent if he is thinking about bringing either of them along for a camping trip.
  • You are claustrophobic. It can be scary to be in a small place. It is like the world is caving in around you, so you think the same exact thing will happen to you.
    The bigger the tent, the less likely you are to feel this way.
  • You sleep better with more room. Right now, I sleep on a single bed in my UCSC dorm room. To be honest, it is not the best. Sometimes I like to roll around. If you have a similar issue, then by all means upgrade to a larger tent. Because you are sleeping outside, it does not mean that it has to be uncomfortable.

Choosing Between Seasonalities

Tense come in 3 different seasonalities, 3 season, 3-4 season, and 4 season tents.

3 Season Tents

This is the most common type of tent. It can hold its own in Spring, Summer, and Fall. It is the most popular among the 3 different seasonalities. With a proper rain fly, they survive even the strongest down pour. However, they are not meant for sustained exposure. They cannot survive a continuous barrage by the weather.

They serve 3 functions:

  • To keep you dry, if it rains outside your tent, you will be fine on the inside. It can hold its own in response to a steady rain, but will falter if dealing with a substantial storm.
  • To provide privacy, when I change, I do not like anyone to see me while I do it, so I like to have some walls to offer minor protection. A 3 season tent will do that for you.
  • To protect you from the bugs, mosquitoes, bugs, and spiders can annoy people. It is not a big deal. The tent walls will keep them at bay, so you can sleep soundly.

For most people, a 3 season tent will be their best bet. It holds up to most elements and is best used during those warm sunny days and the occasional rain.

3-4 Season Tents

These are designed in case you encounter some mild snow or a harder than average rain. They work fine in late fall or early Spring when the weather contains some vestiges of Winter. They offer strength, good ventilation, and warmth.

Compared to 3 season tents, these are much more sturdy, holding up in harsher weather. However, they cannot take a consistent pounding. They are not build for that. When you get one of these, you will find that they include more poles and fewer mesh panels than you would in a 3 season.

4 Season Tents

These are designed to be the tent of last resort. They hold up on the top of mountains where you have fast winds and cold breezes. In response to the snow, they do not collapse. You can use one above the treeline or when there is particularly inhospitable weather. They stand firm despite the turmoil of the surrounding environment.

Unlike other models of tent, everything about them is heavier, so it can be more of a burden to carry. The poles are sturdier and the walls are stronger. Their ceilings are rounded to let snow roll off. They do not have much in the way of mesh panels, so it can feel overwhelming in a warm Summer. However, they are very nice when Winter is knocking at your door.

Tent Features

When selecting a tent, each one has various attributes that need to be considered.

Tent Floor Length

Most floor spaces are 84-88 inches (213-223 cm), so it can be an issue if you are over 6 ft (1.8 m). For this reason, aim to get a tent that is 90 inches (228 cm) if you fall into that basket.

Tent Poles

Tent poles determine how easy or hard it is to set up. Most 3 season tents will only have a handful of poles and be freestanding. This makes them easy to set up and move around. If there is sand, dirt, or dust on your tent, then it is easy to shake off.

When putting your tent together, it easier to go through loops than sleeves. I do not like sleeves, so I minimize the number of them as much as I can. You want as little hassle as possible when assembling your tent. Most tents, though, use sleeves and loops to give more balance to a tent. It chooses the middle ground between strength, setup ease, and strength.

In general, you are going to want aluminum poles over fiberglass ones. The former are more durable and stronger than the latter.

Tent Materials

The wall thickness of your tent can mean the difference between sleeping soundly through a cold breeze and shivering the night away. Denser fabric is stronger and reduces the chance of leakage, but it is heavier. Less dense fabric is lighter, but can risk leakage and weather troubles.

Rainfly

Rain is a frequent phenomenon when it comes to camping. It just happens, so it is essential that you never forget about the possibility of it. If you expect rain, then put it on. If you want to stay warm, then put it on to stop air flow. They come in two types.

  • Roof only rainflies protect only the roof. They provide only modest protection from rain, but allow more light and ventilation into your tent when they are put on.
  • Full coverage rainflies protect everything. When this is on your tent, then you can expect no water to get into it during a rain.

Tent Height

In a previous article, I wrote a review about the Big Agnes Big House 4. One of its benefits was the height. I am 6′, so most tents do not offer me the opportunity to stand. I have to crouch down if I do not want to hit my head on the ceiling. Fortunately, there is a variety of tent shapes when it comes to considering tent height.

  • Cabin-style tent, this is the most common type of tent you will run into. It is “shaped like a cabin”, peaking at a particular height. It does not do as well in harsh winds because it can be easily battered down. Sloping walls, unfortunately can limit space.
  • Dome shape, this type of tent is rounded. As a tent becomes more curved, the stronger it is able to hold up to the wind because of the flexible poles required to stabilize it. You get more head space in a curved tent. Be aware that, as it gets bigger, you run into more stability issues.
  • Geodesic shape, imagine a half dome put on top of the ground. Its curvature gives it more stability because it is more aerodynamic. The wind hits it and smoothly glides over it. Crossed poles create triangles to stabilize it. If you camp in Winter and expect a lot of heavy winds, then it is a good option to consider.
  • Umbrella shape, imagine a large umbrella lifted up with walls on it. This kind of tent is perfect for parties and offers plenty of standing room. It is very spacious, but is not designed for holding up to the weather.


Ventilation

If you are going to be camping for a significant amount of time, then you are going to want good ventilation. When camping, everything takes on a new aroma. Good ventilation will help you keep air moving through your tent. If you are in a particularly humid area, then you will want a tent with large ventilation windows, so you can ensure plenty of air flow.

Single Wall vs Double Wall

Single wall tents feature a lighter fabric, making it easier to lift and maneuver. They work well in hot areas where you expect to be warm most of the time. They do not hold up in sustained downpours or heavy snow fall.

Double wall tents are beefier, holding up in harsher weather conditions and keeping you plenty warm. Because they are double walled though, these tents are heavier, making it harder to maneuver.

Guyout Loops

When the weather gets tough, your tough tent gets going. This, in essence, is a loop on the outside of your tent. With these loops, you can attach guy lines to make sure you have no flapping fabric during high winds.

Interior Loops and Pockets

It is a nice feeling to know that everything has a place. With plenty of pockets in your tent, you can keep it organized and clean, allowing easy access for nearly all your items. Good pockets prevent small items from getting loose and lost under the clutter inside a tent.

Most tents will also have a lantern loop at the peak of the tent. It is like inset lighting you find in many homes today, but for your tent. Other loops can be used to attach a gear loft

Tent Extras

Tents are a lot better when you have extras for them. They can enhance your experience. If you do not want one, then you do not have to use it. You can leave it off or put it on as you please. Because they are extras, you get added flexibility.

  • Vestibule/Garage, this is an extension to your tent to store excess gear you want outside or as a place for your dog to sleep. Because it is not the main body of your tent, it gives you the flexibility to set it up or just keep it down.
  • Tent footprint, one of these will protect the base of your tent as they are specifically designed and shaped for the tent you plan on getting. They will extend the lifespan of your tent floor. If you want something less expensive, then go with some tyvek. It is a white fabric used in the construction of houses that can be found at Ace Hardware, Home Depot, and Lowes. You will have to cut it to size though.
  • Gear loft, sometimes a tent does not come with all the pockets you need. A gear loft fills that gap. With one of these, you can store anything you might need. Because it is sold separately, you can place it anywhere inside your tent as you see fit.

Tent Accesories

  • Stakes and anchors help to keep your tent on the ground during a rough wind. If you do not like them, then you can always just use rocks.
  • Broom and dustpan, with this pair, you will be sure to keep your tent clean and dirt free.
  • Seam sealer, if you are worried about how well your tent is sealed, then you can use a seam sealer to give your tent the extra seal it needs to keep out the rain.
  • Utility cord, some of us can only get so far from civilization without scratching that need. A utility cord will help keep what you need charged.
  • Battery powered ventilation fan, your mesh wall can only do so much, so it helps to have a fan to help air out your tent in the blistering heat. With one of these, you will help to stay cool.
  • Tent repair kit, if there is one thing I would encourage you to get, it is this. A tent repair kit will save you down the road when the weather turns against you or a branch makes a small entrance to your tent. It can handle the minor repairs you need to take care of.
  • Floor mat, dirt in a tent is not fun. It can get into your sleeping bag or even into your mouth if you are not careful. With a floor mat, you will be able to wipe your feet off.

Final Words

Wonderful! Now you are all prepared to choose between tents. Choose wisely knowing what you know now. You should be fully prepared to make your decision and have a wonderful camping trip. Best of luck to you on your expedition and be sure to have a lot of fun.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, please do comment below and share this article. Thank you for reading and I hope you make it a great day!

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14 Comments on “How to Choose the Best Camping Tent: a Tent Buyer Guide”

  1. This post reminds me of the time when I went camping with a couple of friends and we didn’t have enough tents, so I ended up in the smallest one with the biggest guy! At least there was enough insulation haha.

    Thanks for the great post Alex, I have learned that having the right sized tent is an essential when it comes to being comfortable outside. Shared your post around to spread the word!

    1. Hey Jeremy, that must have been an interesting experience. I am not sure I could handle sleeping in a small tent with the biggest guy. It sounds like quite a tight fit. It is wonderful to hear that you found this article helpful and shared it. The more people who know how to choose a tent, the easier their lives are.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. Great post! If I only have the budget right now for one tent, should I get a 3 season, 3-4 season, or 4 season tent in your opinion? I don’t have any plans set in stone right now but will be camping in the summer. Thanks!

    1. Hey Justin, it is wonderful to hear that you found the article helpful. For most people, a 3 season tent will be their best option. If you are camping where you expect some light snow or a harder than average rain, then go with the 3-4 season tent. If you are going to be Winter camping most of the time, then a 4 season tent will be your best bet. You said that you will be camping during the Summer, so a 3 season tent sounds like the most optimal choice for you. I hope this answers your question.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. Hi, nice and with a lot of info. I see there are many different styles and materials used now. I have not been camping for quite some time. The last tent I had was canvas and took a pack mule to carry it. What are the weights of these tents? If you could suggest a tent that will be used in the rain but also light to carry I would get back in the woods?

    1. It is good to hear that you found this article helpful Rodney. The last tent you had sounds like it was very heavy. For something like a 4 person tent, it is probably going to weight, at most, 10 lbs. If you are thinking about a good tent, I would recommend the Big Agnes Big House 4. In a previous article, I gave a review about it. It is light and easy to set up. I hope I have answered your questions.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. Hi Alex, this a lot of information about tents. I appreciate you pointing out facts one does not easily think about. I love camping and here in Thailand, it is quite popular too. I would look pretty fancy with a tent you recommend lol. Most tents here are very cheap and mostly only provide some shelter, mosquito net, and visual privacy.
    Great post. Thank you.

    1. It is wonderful to hear that you found this article helpful Stefan. Thailand sounds like a wonderful place to go camping. The tents there sound very minimalist. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  5. Hey Alex, great information.

    I love the rain but getting soaked isn’t always fun. I think the full rainfly tents are a must!

    Here’s a funny joke I read.

    You know what bears call tents? Sandwich baggies

    LOL

    1. It is wonderful to hear that you found this information helpful Mo. When it is raining and you are camping, you definitely do not want to get soaked. That joke was very funny! I will have to save it for later. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  6. This is very useful to me, I traveled New Zealand for a few months and bought a car which I slept in. I’m going back out there but I will be buying a tent, so I can have better sleep and more room!

    1. It is wonderful to hear that you found this article helpful Kody. New Zealand must be a wonderful place to visit. It is good to hear that you plan to return there with a tent instead. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  7. Thank you for all this wonderful information! My family and I went camping for the very first time last Summer. We used a Cabin-style tent. I sure wish I knew what all those loops were for before we went camping! It seemed like I was always sweeping out the tent. Also I would like to point out that I appreciated the list of camping accessories your provided, especially for all of us novice campers!

    1. Hello Colleen, it is good to know that you found this information helpful. You must have found camping with your family to be a blast. You are right that accessories help a lot. They make the experience a lot easier. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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