Whether you’re looking for a tunnel, geodesic, or family tent, the cutting edge technology, innovative designs, and a variety of tents today will keep you comfortable and prepared for your next adventure.
Like any gear, choosing a tent requires product research and a clear idea of what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be exploring.
In this article, we’ll walk you through what’s important to understand when picking a tent so that you can spend less time researching and more time in the outdoors.
Most Common Types of Tents
The first step when picking a tent is understanding which type is best suited to your needs. There are three main types.
Pop-up tents are just what the name sounds like, an easy and convenient option that pops into shape when removed from its carrying case. All you have to do is unzip the case and let physics do the rest.
Pop-up tents are a great option for shade cover at the beach, in a park, and even easy overnight trips – like car camping. The main appeal of these tents is their simplicity because less time spent reading instructions means more time relaxing. Pop-up tents usually have a relatively compact carrying case. However, they are bulkier than other options, such as non-freestanding tents.
Freestanding tents come with poles, an exoskeleton, and usually a rainfly. Once the poles are in the exoskeleton, the tent keeps its body without being staked into the ground, hence the name “freestanding tent.”
Freestanding tents are easy to set up and flexible. If the stakes are taken out, the tent can still be moved around without going limp. Freestanding tents also come with a rainfly, which keeps the inside of the tent dry while increasing breathability.
These tents can be pitched in a variety of locations ranging from the side of a mountain to a wooden platform or inside a living room. As freestanding tents are double-walled with a rainfly, poles, and stakes, they tend to be bulkier than non-freestanding tents and even some pop-up tents.
Non-freestanding tents are an ultralight option ideal for the minimalist or experienced camper. These tents have one exoskeleton and must be staked into the ground to keep their shape.
Pitching a non-freestanding tent requires a flat plot of ground to stake out the tent. The tent also utilizes trekking poles to create its shape and support the exoskeleton. They are low weight, one-piece, and easy to pack –making them ideal if weight and space are deciding factors. On the downside, they have less ventilation and are more complicated to set up and collect condensation easily.
Decide What Sort of Activity You Will Be Doing
The most important deciding factor when choosing a tent is what it will be used for and for how many people. If you’re going backpacking on an extended day trek, you will want a light, durable, and easy to set up a tent that won’t take up too much room in your pack.
As more and more adventure seekers flock to the outdoors, activities such as kayak camping have gained traction as a way to reach less crowded stretches of wilderness. When selecting a tent for kayak camping, choose one that is durable, water-resistant or waterproof, and lightweight.
Like backpacking, weight and size are important factors. If you are camping in easy-to-access locations, like a backyard or car camping, size and weight are not major concerns. Instead, you will want to choose a convenient, easy to set up, and weather-suitable tent.
Check the Weather
The climate where you intend to camp is a critical factor to consider. Weather will influence your tent’s material and its intended seasons.
Tents are often made out of some combination of nylon or polyester. 3-season tents are compatible for spring, summer, and fall camping, whereas 4-season tents are made to withstand harsh winter climates and heavy wind. Beyond seasonal variation, consider the local weather of where you plan to use your tent.
If It’s Raining:
We suggest a double-walled freestanding tent with a rainfly. Picking a tent with a rain wicking material and a polyester groundsheet will prevent waking up drenched in the middle of the night or morning. If you plan to camp in an especially wet climate, like the PNW, consider selecting a tent made out of water-repellent material.
If It’s Snowing:
Choose a 4-season, water repellent tent made of durable fabric. A steep shape can help prevent snow from building up around the edges. It is crucial to have a vestibule in cold weather to keep your gear shielded from the elements. You may also want to opt for a roomier tent to store bulky gear inside.
If It’s Windy
We suggest a low-to-the-ground geodesic tent made out of durable material. Avoid a bulky tent with an awning. Make sure the tent comes with plenty of tie-downs to securely fasten it into the ground.
If it’s Hot
Breathability is key. Choose a tent with windows, mesh walls, and adjustable ventilation flaps. Polyester and nylon, which most tents utilize to wick moisture, tend to be less breathable fabrics, which makes the features above essential.
Size & Capacity
It is important to think about how many people (and dogs) will be sleeping in the tent and how much gear will need to be stored inside and away from the elements.
A general rule is to look for a tent that can hold two more people than you expect to be camping in it. If you will be camping with 4 people, get a 6-person tent.
Pack Size & Weight
It is also important to consider the size and weight of a tent when it is packed. Think about what activities you will be doing while camping. If you are backpacking in temperate climates, aim for a small pack size and low weight. If you are camping in extreme climates, you may need a more durable tent, which will increase the pack size and weight.
Additional Accessories & Features You May Need
A footprint is a ground cover that protects the bottom of a tent. If you are camping on a hard or rocky surface that could tear the tent due to friction, it’s ideal to have a ground cover. They also provide a barrier to morning dew.
Vestibules are the space underneath the taught part of a tent’s exoskeleton or rainfly that acts as an awning. They are a place to store gear and provide protection from the elements.
Windbreaks are a separate piece of fabric fortified with poles that can be placed around a tent to shield it from the wind.
Pro-tip: if you are camping during the winter, you can build a windbreak out of snow.
Select tents come with a port within their exoskeleton for AC units. If you are car camping and bringing along an AC unit, this would be a great feature for camping in particularly hot climates.
Also known as durable water repellent (DWR). You can waterproof your tent by spraying a DWR on its exoskeleton and rainfly.
Amidst all of these features, remember that picking a tent is all about choosing one that is best for you and your adventure.
Take the time to think about what you need and what will provide the most comfort. We guarantee that no matter what tent you choose, the memories you make with it will be worth it!