Caveman picks their caves, we choose our house, and campers (or who intend to spend a night in the wild) must be selective with tents.
They are our shelters in the wild after all. Picking the wrong ones may cause us disaster and a waste of money is the first of them.
So, how to choose the right camping tent?
Here are tips to find the ideal tent for your trip while protecting your wallet from overspending.
#1. All-purpose tents don’t exist. Pick one that suits your need
Hell yeah. Camping at the beach is obviously far different than being in the wood overnight, and a nice family camping trip is nowhere near camping during 3-day hiking.
So, check where you’re sleeping and what the main feature of your camping trip is to decide what features your tent must have.
1. Best tents for beach camping:
Problems you’re dealing with while camping along the coast are the wind and the sun.
Hence, the tents must be stable to withstand strong gusts of winds blowing from the ocean, must be labeled UV resistant, and must have high breathability.
2. Best tents for backpacking:
The weight is vital, so your backpacking tents must be light, stable, and sturdy to protect you from harsh weather. They are easy to pitch or not depending on your preferences.
3. Best tents for camping:
If you are an inexperienced camper who just wants to spend a peaceful time with your family and friends at the campsite then the tents must be easy to set up (my tip #6 is about which tent is easy to pitch) and spacious.
4. Best tents for families:
Based on your family’s needs it can be a cabin tent which is what its name suggests, a tent looks like a cabin.
Or it can be an ensuite tent which you can stand straight in, this type of tent is used for changing clothes or toilet.
If your family holds a party or camps in the backyard, backyard tents or canopies might be what you need.
Remember, there is no such thing called “the fit-in-every-environment-tent”, read on to know what is available and how to choose your best camping/backpacking/beach camping/family tents.
#2. Choose the right tent design type
There are tent shapes that take a longer time to set up or are easier to collapse than others. Thus, the tent shape can make you happy or vice versa! Be prepared.
There are 5 popular tent designs that have their own pros and cons;
1. Dome Tent:
The most popular design for camping trips belongs to the dome camping tent. This type of tent comes in a variety of shapes (still dome) and pole configurations to serve different client needs
Why is it so popular? Easy to set up, durable against the wind with plenty of floor space are the three highlights of this tent. This is the best tent model for families and group camping.
2. Hoop/ Tunnel Tent:
Hoop (tunnel) tent shape places second in campers’ choice thanks to its weather–resistance ability and good space room.
It is the favorite tent shape for any backpacker looking for an extremely lightweight tent to carry. However, this tent is not as spacious as the dome one and it takes more time to put it in shape.
Hoop/ Tunnel tents are non-freestanding tents. Read tip #11 to know what you should choose between freestanding tents and non-freestanding tents.
3. A-frame Tent:
A-Frame tents capture campers’ hearts for their lightness, simplicity, and decent price.
However, due to their configuration, people may have difficulty inside the tents due to limited headroom. Also, they are not favorable for harsh weather conditions.
Thus, If you’re thinking about hiking/backpacking with the easy trail, an A-Frame tent is worth taking into account.
4. Pyramid Tent:
With its cone shape supported by a vertical center pole, pyramid tents are light to pack, simple to pitch, and durable. However, limited headroom can be a problem due to low angled walls.
With the floorless design option, you must be careful in selecting the site while thinking of a groundsheet to lay your back.
This type of tent shape is best for those who go camping in the wood, or mountain, or who backpack long-distance trips.
5. Cone/ Wedge Tent:
The last one on this list is the wedge tents. With the shape being high at the head part and lower to the body part, these tents are designed to reduce the rag from the wind.
They are also light to carry but not so good interior space. Cone tents are great tents for beach camping or mountain camping.
#3. Choose the right tent pole material
Tent poles are what make your tent “stand tall”, whether they collapse or not, or are easier to pitch or not is part of the poles’ fault.
Below are 4 typical types of material used to make tent poles. Each of them possesses different benefits and drawbacks.
This is the favorite selection for a family camping trip as fiberglass tent poles are strong and inexpensive while offering stability and structure for the tents and easy operation for the user.
However, these poles are inflexible and hard to replace when they are broken, which limits their use in cold weather.
Despite being less durable than the fiberglass tent poles, aluminum ones are trusted by backpackers by their lightness and strength which helps the tent build a firm position towards strong winds.
With better quality, they are surely sold at a much higher price than fiberglass tent poles.
3. Carbon Fiber:
Extremely lightweight, strong, and flexible even under harsh conditions are the benefits offered by carbon fiber tent poles.
Compared to the other 3 types, they are the most expensive tent pole. That’s why you normally see them in high–end tents.
Steel tent poles are guaranteed for their strength and rigidity. They also come at a good price.
However, the pros go along with the inconvenience of the weight. It may cause you trouble when pitching or moving around.
#4. Choose the right tent seasonality
Which season you’re gonna camp in matters. As a result, people make three tent types base on seasonality: 3-season tents, extended 3-season tents, and 4-season tents.
If you usually camp in spring, summer, or fall, a 3-season tent is a great choice.
Why? First, it is an ideal choice for your budget since the other two types are more expensive.
Second, the ventilation and protection from mesh panels on the walls deal with condensation which makes your tent damp and affects your sleep.
Extended 3-season tents (3-4 tents):
If you camp in early spring or late fall when you may encounter a little bit of snow, extended 3-season tents are better than 3-season tents.
They have more strength as well as better warm retention. This type of tent is also suitable for high-elevation camping sites.
4 season tents:
The last one, the 4-season tent without a doubt is the type of shelter which is suitable for all year–round camping, especially for winter.
They are designed (more poles, heavier fabric,…) to protect you from heavy snow, fierce wind, or harsh storm.
To maintain warmth, rather than a ventilation flap, these tents are usually equipped with a panel that can be opened to gain some ventilation when it’s warmer.
Thus, you may feel stuffy using these tents in mild weather.
Due to 4-season tents’ characteristics, this type is the most expensive and the heaviest, among 3 types of tent seasonality
#5. Choose the right tent capacity. Don’t let you and your friend squeeze into the tent.
We are not an octopus, we can’t squeeze in a box. We can’t squeeze in a cramped tent but still, feel comfortable either.
We may toss and turn, we may kick each other, or worse, some may have to find a hotel/motel.
So, make sure you count your number and include those who may pop up as well. Then, find a tent in which all of you can sleep soundly.
That’s not all. The number is just for show if you don’t take into account other causes such as your partners’ body sizes and sleeping habits.
Because if your friend is a gigantic one then you may take it as one and a half person space or maybe two.
Or, if your friend has a habit of rolling side to side, then it may be best to give them space (if you don’t want to be kicked or hit).
The advice here is that always leave out extra space.
Don’t be naive to think that the label on the tents (2–person, 4–person,…) equals the sufficient space room you can have.
You must add up space for equipment (personal bags, sleeping bags,) even those you intend to leave outside if you don’t want them to get wet in heavy rain.
Repeat, try not to be an octopus!
#6. Which type of tent is easier to pitch?
Which tent is the easiest to set up? The winner belongs to the pop-up tents.
This type of tent takes seconds to pitch. Their poles are already assembled and fitted in the fabrics, all you need is to release the sprung frame and they will spring into shape.
You may be thrilled with these require-no-skill tents, but pop-up tents have no chance against harsh weather and their capacity is low.
Hence, they are the best tents for a family’s camping trips, kid play tents or they are best to keep as an extra tent.
When you see “instant” tents, they might not always be pop-up tents. “Instant tents” are used for tents which we can pitch as easily as possible. Thus, they have most of the drawbacks of pop-up tents.
For example, Nicole’s instant tents are designed with an articulated frame. They are still easy to pitch but they don’t spring into shape and require more labor. One big downside of articulated frame tents is they weigh much more than regular tents do.
The second on the list is the air (inflatable) tents. Instead of poles, they use air tubes. Thus, you just need to plug them in a pump then peg them out and you’re good to go. One thing you can’t mistake, air tents can go against harsh weather unlike pop-up and instant tents.
Aside from those two above, all tents need some skills to pitch. And we have this question: Which needs no hassle between Freestanding (FS) and Non-Freestanding tents (NFS)?
The answer is still debatable. But one many people can agree with is with NFS, you need to have an understanding and deep analysis of your surroundings for staking and tying out, especially with the rocky, sandy, non-hard floors.
Therefore, FS tents are the best tents for camping and best tents for backpacking if you’re staking challenged.
#7. Guess the weight through types of tent and their features
When we backpack, the weight we carry is crucial to our stamina and progress. Thus, generally, the lighter, the better.
If weight matters to you, you can guess the weight of your tent simply by counting how many poles it has, checking what kind of material the pole has, whether the tent is single or double-wall and how big your tent is, etc.
You can totally do that through pictures, manufacturers’ info, or real items.
Regarding the weight, between freestanding tents and non-freestanding tents, FS is heavier than NFS with its pole system.
And if you choose air tents, remember, air tents are one single unit so you can’t divide them into bags to split the weight.
#8. Waterproof is not all about the waterproof rating (Hydrostatic Head)
1,000mm HH rating means the tent fabric can hold 1,000 mm of water on top before it starts to seep through the fabric weave. Common thinking is that the higher rating the better. With tents, the HH rating can be from 1,000mm to 10,000mm.
However, more coating (more HH rating) will make the fabric heavier and more rigid which means it’s more susceptible to tearing. Meanwhile, the rainfly must withstand wind gusts and other forces so it can’t be too rigid.
That’s why some tents have rainfly HH ratings lower than their floors.
One important thing to take note, you don’t need a 10,000mm HH tent to keep you dry, 3,000mm or even 1,000mm is absolutely okay. You still get wet in 10,000mm HH tents if:
- The seams are stitched badly. They are not double stitched, taped over, and sealed.
- There are no covers for the zips.
- The groundsheet has wear and tears.
- You don’t stake properly with the NFS tent.
- Your tent waterproofing already deteriorates over time.
So, to make sure you’re dry in heavy rain, make sure the 5 problems above don’t exist. Moreover, an additional tarp over most exposed to rain side adds up a lot of waterproofing.
#9. Freestanding Vs. Non-freestanding tents
You can easily start a debate just by asking which you should choose between Freestanding tents (FS) and Non-freestanding tents (NFS).
The main feature to separate them is the staking, FS tents don’t need staking, they work with pole system while staking makes the NFS structure.
Here’s the short summary of differences between FS and NFS tents which also tells their upside and downside.
Most people prefer FS tents because they’re simpler to set up and not picky with campgrounds.
On the other hand, NFS tent lovers prefer their lightweight, cheaper price and the improvisation when it comes to the campground.
Both FS and NFS tents can protect you from harsh weather. They are both the best tents for camping and backpacking.
However, truth to be told, if you want your tent to stand against a strong breeze, you must stake it even if it is FS. If there’s a chance of strong wind, it’s prudent to add guylines to the tent for more stability and wind resistance.
I owned both FS and NFS tents, when I camped for the festival or go with family without worrying about carrying the thing, I used the FS. But when I backpacked or hiked or mountaineered for more than 2 days, I used the NFS.
#10. Price and Quality
Money mostly equals quality. This saying can also be applied to buying tents. But, that doesn’t mean you have to afford for the most expensive tent available. The key is to know your need and balance it with the tent.
For example, if you don’t intend to camp in the winter, a 4-season tent is not necessary.
Or, you don’t need to buy a 10,000mm HH tent to get past the heavy rain. Or, don’t buy a cabin tent if you just go alone or with 1 person.
On the other hand, if you buy it too cheap because you think it’s just a shelter for you to get pass out the night in the wild. Wait for the wind to rise and the rainfall and you will see.
The last words
I reach the end of 10 tips to help you pick the best-suited tent for camping, backpacking, beach, and backyard. What else? Go to the store or scroll the mouse!
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