Choosing The Right Tent

Tents are manufactured in many different shapes, styles and sizes. From one person designs made to fit neatly into a rucksack to large frame tents made to accommodate a dozen people or even more.

Therefore, it’s important to choose the correct tent for the purpose that you intend to use it. Ask yourself the following:

  • How the tent is likely to be carried?e.g. are you carrying it in a rucksack or travelling by car? – Its compactness and weight are going to be crucial factors if you intend carrying it on your back for a considerable length of time
  • How many people are going to be sleeping in it? – Do you require one sleeping area or separate compartments? Quite often, if you see a tent advertised on a camping website, it will tell you it’s a 4 berth tent, for example and show you a little diagram with four people usually laid out top to tail. However, it’s important to note that the sizings are usually shown for average sized people and, with equipment etc., that you might need to stow in the tent, it can quite often be the case that a tent that’s meant to sleep 4 can only, in reality, comfortably sleep 2. A more accurate guide to buying unseen is to look at the actual measurements stipulated and to take a tape measure and work out if you think it’s going to be big enough. Don’t forget to consider the height of the tent also, as this might be a factor that’s important to you. If you’re buying a larger tent with multiple compartments or ‘rooms’ into which you’re considering putting in a foldaway table and chairs for example, make sure the measurements given to you are sufficient to fit all your equipment in as well as the number of people that will be using it.

Styles of tent

  • Frame tents – generally tend to give you the best all round headroom and living space. They provide you with separate sleeping compartments, kitchen and living area. The frame itself is usually constructed of steel so they’re only really suitable if you are carrying them by car.
  • Dome tents – have become increasingly popular with smaller groups of campers over the past few years. They are easy to erect using lightweight aluminium poles which thread through a sleeve in the tent fabric crossing at the top. More often than not the poles come with an elastic cord running all the way through each pole so, even though they’ll fold away easily into, what appears to be 5 or 6 separate poles, they more or less snap into place forming one longer pole, due to the elastic thread running the entire length of the pole. They’re a great choice for the backpacker and can range up in size to accommodate 5 people or even more. Additionally, they can usually be packed away very compactly making them easier to transport.
  • Ridge tents – have a triangular shape. They have one long horizontal pole supported by two vertical poles at each end. Whilst this style tends to be very sturdy and offers plenty of head room, their weakness is the sides which are unsupported which can cause problems when a strong wind prevails. However, they are probably the easiest and quickest of all the tent styles to erect.
  • Touring tents – include both extended ridge and extended dome designs. The increased height allows you to stand up and walk around in them and they’ll often come with see through windows. They usually have a large porch area under which people may tend to cook. In reality however, although you may see a lot of people cooking in this environment, an open flame and a tent really do not go together at all for obvious risk of fire so this should be avoided.
  • Vis-à-vis tents – are basically tents which have a sleeping compartment on either side of a shared communal living area.
  • Hoop tents – comprise of a single or multiple hoop support structure and this leads them to be called the ‘tunnel tent’. Quite often they’ll also have an entrance at both ends. They’re extremely sturdy, yet light to carry, which makes them very popular with mountaineers.
  • Geodesic tents – are similar to dome tents but have a different pole configuration that gives them more strength in windy conditions.

Tent materials

The majority of tents come with both an inner and outer sheet. The inner tent forms the sleeping/living compartment and the outer sheet (flysheet) goes on top, which is waterproof and protects you from the rain. This two-walled effect provides you with insulation and prevents condensation from forming inside the sleeping area.

There are 3 main materials used in the manufacture of tents – cotton, nylon and polyester. They all have their pros and cons.

  • Cotton used for the inner tent is best in reducing condensation as it allows the tent to breathe more easily. However, it is heavier and bulkier than both nylon and polyester so is generally used more for frame tents where weight and transportation issues are less important. Cotton can be coated with PVC for extra durability and can be treated to prolong its life. Looked after carefully, a cotton inner tent can last for years but if it’s neglected, it can rot quite quickly.
  • Nylon and polyester tend to be used for the vast majority of dome and ridge tents and are generally coated with polyurethane to provide waterproofing. The advantages over cotton are that these kinds of materials tend to dry out more quickly, are lighter in weight and can pack down to an extremely small size, making them the ideal choice for backpackers. However, both nylon and polyester can become brittle and deteriorate over time if over exposed to direct sunlight.

In essence, your choice of tent will basically depend on how many people are going to be using it, the amount of equipment you are going to be keeping in it, how you are transporting it and the kind of climate and terrain you are going to be camping within. If possible, it’s always better to go and take a look at some tents in person to ensure that they fit your requirements. However, if you are buying over the internet, i.e. sight unseen, err on the side of caution and always choose a berth size one above the number of people who are going to be using it to be on the safe side.

Leave a comment

Camping Expert