With so many choices and options available, buying a tent can be a complex decision for any camper to make but it’s imperative to pick the right one. If you buy a tent with all of the features available, the tent may be comfortable but could also be large and heavy which is not the best choice for backpackers. If you buy a lighter tent, there may be less features and perhaps not a lot of protection from natures elements; when a tent is used under the wrong conditions it could take the fun out of any camping trip. The key is to find the right balance for your specific needs.
Parts of a Tent:
The body is the main bulk of the tent once it’s deployed. Tent poles provide a frame which holds up the walls and forms the body.
A rain fly is a waterproof covering that goes on the outside of the tent. A good rain fly extends to the bottom of the tent in order to protect the entire tent from the rain and water damage. Some even extend out from the tent to channel the water away from the tent body. A good rain fly can mean the difference between a wet and a dry experience.
A vestibule on a tent is very similar to a covered porch. This space acts as a buffer between the tent entrance and the snow and mud, allowing a person to remove soiled clothing without bringing the mess inside the tent. Vestibules also provide extra storage and protection from the elements.
A footprint is an extra piece of material that fits below the tent and protects the bottom from wear and tear. Many manufacturers make footprints that are fitted to a particular tent, but it is easy to make your own with plastic sheeting (usually available by the roll). Another option is to use a standard tarp; it will not look as professional as the first two options, but it will work just as well in dry conditions. Replacing a worn out footprint is much more cost effective than replacing the entire tent.
NOTE – In wet conditions, using a tarp or any footprint that extends out from the tent will enable the rain coming off of the roof to form puddles on the footprints surface. Depending on the slope of the ground, these puddles can travel under the tent, allowing water to get inside.
Tent Stakes are placed in various loops or holes around the tent and pounded into the ground. This allows for the tent to remain taut and anchored to the ground.
Guy lines are tension cords that attach to the ground and keep the tent anchored in high winds. Some tent constructions require guy lines to keep the tents shape.
Ventilation is a camping necessity. Most tents have mesh openings which allow the air to flow in and out of the tent while protecting against bugs and dust kicked up by the wind. This circulates the air and prevents condensation build up inside the tent. Most mesh vents can be closed to help keep out wind and keep in heat.
Tents can have either a zippered door, or just a flap. While a flap is a functional door, it does not provide as many benefits as a zippered door. A zippered door will keep out rain, wind, snow and insects as well as control the flow of the air. When buying a tent, consider the number of doors you will need. If you need to save space and weight, then one door might be all you need. If you plan on having a large number of people staying in the tent, then 2 or 3 doors might be a better option.
There are 2 basic types of tent poles: rigid and collapsible. Rigid are typically stiff, tubular poles that slot one into the other to form a frame over which the tent wall will hang. Collapsible poles are typically lightweight, flexible and strong. Tent poles come in a number of different materials including: fiberglass, aluminum, aluminum alloy, and carbon fiber. Collapsible poles are generally tube shaped and can break down into small, 1 to 2 foot extensions. An elastic shock cord runs down the middle of the tubes in order to connect all the pieces.
Collapsible tent pole materials:
Solid fiberglass poles can be prone to breakage and deterioration and are mostly found in cheaper tents. Fiberglass loses its flexibility in cold weather and can break with little applied pressure. The benefit of using fiberglass is that it is incredibly light though they should not be used for anything more than casual camping.
Fiberglass tubes are collapsible poles that are often reinforced with aluminum ends. They are held together with an elastic cord that helps improve flexibility in cold weather. More reliable than solid fiberglass poles, fiberglass tubes are a popular, cost effective style of tent pole.
Tent poles made of aluminum are stronger, more durable, and generally more reliable than fiberglass poles. Aluminum poles are just as light as fiberglass but they don’t lose there flexibility in the cold. Aluminum poles are more expensive than fiberglass, but they are sound investment for anyone that plans to do extensive camping.
Different metals can be added to aluminum on order to produce a stronger and lighter pole. Aluminum alloy poles are even more costly than standard aluminum poles but they are worth the extra cost if added strength, durability and light weight are desired.
Carbon Fiber poles are very strong and very durable, and they are often half the weight of aluminum poles. Carbon fiber poles are the best option for the serious camper, though they sometimes can be the most expensive.
Summer tents often include a lot of mesh in the construction of the body. The rain fly on a summer tent is not as long as those of a multi season tents; this allows the tent to have more ventilation during the hot summer months. Summer tents usually use a two pole construction in order to save weight.
Three season tents:
Three season tents are designed to be very versatile. The tents usually include a full rain fly that can be removed in order to improve ventilation. Three season tents typically use a 3 pole design because it provides extra durability during heavy winds. These tents are very popular due to their versatility; however, they are not designed for cold weather.
Four Season or All Season:
Four season tents are basically three season tents that are better equipped for winter use. They are usually constructed with four poles for excellent durability ander heavy winds and snowfalls. Four season tents are the most versatile tents available, but they are also costlier than 3 season tents which in fact has limited their popularity.
Rigid frames tents:
A rigid frame tent utilizes a sturdy frame made up of stiff, tubular poles that slot into one another to form a frame over which the tent material can hang. Guy lines typically hold the tent in place and keep it from blowing down rather than holding the tent up. Frame tents are usually large and roomy, perfect for lots of gear or people. This type of tent is used more casual, family camping because they are heavier and bulkier than other types of tents.
A-Frame tents use triangular shaped frame sections that are connected by a pole that runs down the center, or ridge, of the tent. This forms elongated, triangle shaped tent that is fairly simple in construction. A-frame tents are becoming increasingly rare among hikers and campers due to the fact that dome tents are roomier than a-frame tents with comparable floor sizes.
Dome tents are popular for hikers and campers alike. Like most tents, dome tents consist of a tent pole, frame and a lightweight tent body. These tent poles are evenly spaced and curved in order to form the dome shape. Dome tents are usually between 2 and 4 poles as the frame. Because they are overlapping and evenly spaced, the tent poles change the geometry of the floor depending on the amount of poles used (2 poles would create a square floor, 3 poles would make a hexagonal, and 4 poles would mean an octagonal floor). Using 3 or 4 poles increases the amount of usable space inside the tent but it also makes the set up a little more complicated. Dome tents are light weight and sturdy, and they provide a large amount of internal space while retaining structural integrity under inclement weather.
Tunnel or hoop tents, use 2 to 3 hoops arranged in sequence as the frame. This creates a tunnel on which the tent body can hang. Hoop tents are popular among hikers because of their simple construction, large proportion of usable space inside and durability under high winds. The hoop construction allows the weight to be distributed among all the hoops evenly, thus creating a very strong stable structure.
Capacity and Size:
It is always good to buy a tent with a capacity greater than your anticipated needs. If there will be two people using a tent, it is a good idea to buy a tent built for 3 or 4 people. this is important because even though you can generally fit 2 people in a 2 person tent, the size of the people and the sleeping bags need to be considered. Other things might affect your decision when it comes to size is: the amount of gear you plan on having, the amount of tossing and turning, the amount of vertical space, and whether or not there will be pets inside the tent. It is always better to have too much space than not enough.
The choice of tent color might seem insignificant, but it can be an important choice. More than just a cosmetic decision, tent color can dictate the temperature of the tent. A tent that is brighter colored will reflect more sunlight and create a cooler environment inside. A tent that is darker will absorb more sunlight during the day and keep the tent warmer. Also, bright colors will enable rescue workers to easily spot a tent in dense forests or snow should the need arise.
Quick List of what to look for:
- A full rain fly – you don’t want your trip to be ruined by rain
- Durable material – you want a tent that can stand up to the rigors of camping
- Waterproof – water test your tent before your trip
- Pockets, hooks, and gear space – places to store gear and hang lights, this is a comfort thing
- During the summer – lots of ventilation
- Select a tent for the appropriate weather conditions: high winds, rain and snow
- A vestibule, especially if camping in rainy weather. Vestibules provide an enclosed space to change clothes and store gear separate from living space.