A quick guide to choosing a camping tent
There are tents for every taste and color, but how can you decide which one to pick? Here’s a brief guide to camping tents and how to choose them.
As with all other outdoor activities, camping can look appealing when you are sat at a desk in the city. The images of a tent, already set up, of a bonfire, already made and tended to, of food, ready to be enjoyed are many tired worker’s fantasy.
But behind every fantasy is the stark reality. And with camping that reality is: someone needs to pack equipment, haul it to your camping spot and erect the tent. Someone also needs to make and light a fire, and shop for and prepare a meal.
Every camping trip also requires planning – where is beautiful, safe and accessible? When is the right weather for your trip? And what equipment do you need, and where will you acquire it from?
Before you can dip your toes in an icy, wild stream, or enjoy the sounds and sights of a remote forest, you need to pay a trip to an outdoor sport store and stock up on everything you need to ensure your camping adventure is comfortable and dry.
But what is that camping equipment? At the very least, when you camp you will need a tent. And in this article, we’ll cover how to pick the perfect tent for your trip.
Why do you need a tent?
Technically speaking, it would still count as camping if you were to sleep under the open sky. But pleasant an experience would this be? It’s worth trying if you are into experiencing the raw, real outdoors, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Even the opportunity to watch the stars as you fall asleep doesn’t outweigh all the benefits that a sleeping tent provides. And if you do fancy star-gazing from your bed, there are tents with see-through ceilings so you can get all of it in one package. That package, however, needs to be carefully chosen unless you want to end up with features lacking or, on the contrary, excessive.
There are many questions to answer when choosing a camping tent. Like, how many people will sleep in there? How will you store your survival gear? And will you really want that see-through ceiling at the end of the day? But let’s proceed from generic to specific. This is a guide to choosing a tent, after all.
What sleeping capacity do you need?
The number of people you plan to house in a tent is the first thing you need to decide on. As you can imagine, there are tents of all kind of shapes and sizes. Are you buying a tent for some me-time forest runaways, or great camping trips with a group of, say, five people?
Choose a tent in accordance with your answers. Keep in mind, though, that if you want a tent for a group of four, a four-person tent might not be the most optimal pick. That’s very counterintuitive, we know, but the thing is that there are no standards that cover per-person tent dimensions.
As a rule, a four-person tent will sleep four people of medium size, and it will be a pretty tight fit: no gear, no pets, nothing else, just four of you learning things you didn’t expect about each other. If you want that environment to be spacious, upsize the tent by one or two persons.
Remember that people rarely stay in one position while sleeping. Tossing, and turning, and elbow moving might turn out to be a bigger distraction than you expected. Many assume wild animals to be a major sleep distraction, but more often than not the true sleep disturber is your neighbor. Don’t skimp on the space, and your future self will thank you for that.
What weather conditions are you camping in?
Most of us associate camping with warm summer days. That is indeed the most optimal time for experiencing outdoors, with biting cold and chilly winds not being an issue. But that is also far from the only time when people go camping, for the weather can be a most unpredictable madam, and many prefer not to let her dictate the terms.
When it comes to seasonality, there are three major categories that tents fall into: three season, four season, and transitional. The three season is by far the most popular type of tent since it’s designed for temperate weather conditions of spring, summer, and fall.
They are usually made from lightweight materials and often feature ample mash panels to facilitate airflow and keep insects from trapping inside the tent. When pitched with a rainfly, such a tent also provides decent protection from even heavy rains. With that in mind, three season tents are not particularly suitable for prolonged exposure to harsh weather.
If you need a tent that can withstand a blizzard, then a four season tent is your choice. Such tents are made from heavier fabrics and feature more poles. They have few mesh panels to hinder ventilation and keep the air inside warm. The four season tents also feature dome-design tops that prevent snow accumulation.
Generally, these tents provide safe refuge in windy and snowy weather and are absolutely unsuitable for summer days. If you don’t want to choose between two extremes, there is an option that maintains the balance between the two. An extended season (three plus) tent offers a balance of ventilation, durability, and insulation.
How much weight can you carry?
When shopping, it’s easy to forget that you will probably need to carry the tent for distances greater than from the shop counter to your car’s trunk. Or maybe not. How do you plan to carry it, actually?
If you plan to reach the destination by car, you don’t need to worry about weight that much. If there will be a bit (or a lot) of hiking involved before the setting-the-camp part, the weight will become a relevant issue. You will have plenty of other survival gear, like sleep bags, outdoor utensils, extra clothes, and more.
Every ounce matters, and having no mercy for your back will backfire sooner or later. Naturally, the bigger, the heavier, those are the rules tents play by. You might need to curb your appetite for extra room in favor of ease of transportation. Or delegate tent carrying to someone stronger.
What peak height do you need?
That feature is by no means a top priority, but it affects your comfort, so it needs to be addressed. Are you the type of person who needs to bend when passing through a doorway? Do you have any friends or relatives with the same issue? Are you of average height but just want to change clothes comfortably?
If so, then consider getting a cabin-style tent. They maximize peak height by having near-vertical walls while also expanding the livable space. Many of these tents also feature space dividers so that camping doesn’t turn into a lack-of-privacy festival.
There are also dome-style tents that stand tall in the center but have slopes for walls. They are much better at wind-shedding, though, so you gain something for giving up a bit of that space.
Additional tent features to consider
Once you’ve answered the big questions, there are a number of other tent features to consider.
Number of doors
Letting the number of doors become the determining factor is not the best idea, but it shouldn’t be ignored either. Even if it’s just the two of you, depending on the tent’s configuration, you don’t want to disturb your neighbor should you hear nature’s call in the middle of the night. Having a couple of exits is a universally good idea, both for the sake of comfort and safety.
A footprint is a ground cloth that goes under your tent floor. You might ask why you need a second floor when there is already one. The forest terrain is the best answer to that question. It’s hardly ever perfect and if your tent is big enough for you to walk around in, you’d want that walking to be unhindered.
The forest floor is full of all kinds of stuff that can poke holes and damage your tent’s flooring in any other way. Besides, you can replace a damaged footprint, but if your tent’s floor tears, that brings you one step closer to tent replacement. Footprints are usually sold separately but are always tailored for the size of your tent so nothing sticks out or anything of the kind.
Vestibules are the extensions of your tent that can shelter your gear from the tricks of the weather. They can either come as a part of a rainfly or as separate items. It’s generally convenient to have a place to store your bags and dirty footwear without fearing it should get soaked or winded away.
Find the perfect tent for your campaign trips
Bearing all these points in mind will significantly increase your chances of choosing the tent that you need. There are also other things to consider like the pole material, number of vents, and interior loops, but that would require an extensive guide, not a brief one.
Our work was to provide you with several tips on choosing a camping tent. We hope we’ve completed that mission!