Buying A Tent
Ok so you are looking to buy a new tent and don't really know where to start let alone the best place to buy from or even the type of tent that will suit you best. There are plenty of options ranging from the cheap and nasty to the ridiculously expensive. Tents also come in all sizes and weights and knowing what your main use for the tent is will go a long way to driving your correct purchase.
Lets simplify the process a bit and look at what the experts have to say about the subject...
How To Choose A Tent For Camping (article from REI)
Types of Family/Car Camping Tents
At REI, tents that can sleep 4 or more people comprise the category known as family camping or car camping. Weight is far less of a concern for these tents as it is for a backpacking tent, since most are carried only from car to campsite.
Here are the basic styles:
- Cabin-style tents: These upright styles offer the easiest in/out access. Their near-vertical walls maximize livable space, and some models come with family-pleasing features such as room dividers and an awning (or a vestibule door that can be staked out as such).
- Dome-style tents: The larger cousins of classic backpacking domes, these offer superior strength and wind-shedding abilities, both of which you'll appreciate on a stormy night. They stand tall in the center, but their walls have more of a slope which reduces livable space.
- Screen rooms and sun shelters: These usually cover the camp picnic table or are pitched for a day at the beach, though they can double as sleeping shelters if needed. With all-mesh walls, screen houses excel in warm conditions and keep occupants shielded from bugs, but not rain.
Tent Shopping by Price
Camping tents are sold at discount stores across the land, sometimes at amazingly low prices. Outdoor specialty stores like REI, meanwhile, can carry models that can cost upwards of $500, or even $1,000. From a distance they look about the same, so what's the big difference?
As is often the case, you get what you pay for. In calm weather, a bargain tent may serve you just fine—for a while. The real difference is the quality of materials, which tends to become apparent in bad weather or after your first few outings. Here are some tips to compare a tent's quality:
- Poles: Aluminum is stronger and more durable than fiberglass.
- Zippers: YKK zippers resist snagging and breaking better than others.
- Materials: Higher-denier fabric canopies and rainflies are more rugged than lower-denier ones.
- Rainfly: A full-coverage fly offers better weather protection than roof-only styles.
- Detailing: Guyout loops let you batten down the hatches in bad weather.
- Floor design: Seam taping and higher-denier fabrics reduce the chance of leakage, especially from seams and corners.
Bottom line: If camping is an annual activity for your group, consider the long-term advantages of having a quality tent. Similarly, if you camp in areas where wind and storms are a threat, the same advice holds.
Tent Setup and Livability
Key features to consider:
Headroom: This is listed as "peak height" on spec charts. If you like being able to stand up when changing clothes or enjoy the airiness of a high ceiling, then look for a tall peak height. Typically, cabin-style tents are taller than domes.
Doors: Does the tent have 1 or 2 doors? What shape are the doors, and how easy are they to zip open and shut? Cabin-style tents tend to shine in this area.
Ease of setup: A tent's pole structure usually determines how easy or hard it is to pitch. Fewer poles allow faster setups. It's also easier to attach poles to clips than it is to thread them through long pole sleeves. Some tents offer a combination of both clips and short pole sleeves in an effort to balance strength, ventilation and setup ease.
Freestanding: Virtually all family tents these days are freestanding. This means they do not require stakes to set up. The big advantage of this is that you can pick the tent up and move it to a different location prior to staking. You can also easily shake it out before you take it down.
Rainfly coverage: A rainfly is a separate waterproof cover designed to fit over the roof of your tent. Use it whenever rain or dew is expected, or any time you want to retain a little extra warmth. Two rainfly types are common:
- Roof only: This allows more light and views while offering decent protection from rain.
- Full coverage: This offers maximum protection from wind and rain.
Packed size: How big is the tent when packed? Motorcycle and small-car campers find this spec especially important.
Ventilation: Mesh panels are often used in the ceiling, doors and windows. This allows views and enhances cross-ventilation to help manage condensation. For hot, humid climates, seek out larger mesh panels.
Virtually all family tents these days are freestanding. This means they do not require stakes to set up. The big advantage of this is that you can pick up a freestanding tent (like a huge beach ball) and move it to a different location prior to staking. You can also easily shake it out before you take it down.
Vestibule: This shelter or awning attaches to a tent for the purpose of storing your dusty boots or a keeping your daypack out of the rain. It can be either an integral part of the rainfly or an add-on item that's sold separately.
Interior loops and pockets: A lantern loop is often placed at the top-center of the ceiling to allow you a handy place to hang your lantern. Gear loft loops on tent walls can be used to attach a mesh shelf (sold separately) to keep small items such as keys or a headlamp off of the tent floor. Similarly, interior pockets can help keep your tent organized.
Guyout loops: Higher-quality tents will include loops on the outside of the tent body for attaching guy lines. Guy lines allow you to batten down the hatches during high winds.
Most tents come with a few attached pockets to let you keep small items off of the tent floor. A gear loft is an optional interior mesh shelf that can tuck a much greater volume of gear out of the way.
Other Optional Nice-to-Haves
- Stakes for sandy-soil campsites
- Broom and dustpan
- Inside/outside floor mat
- Battery-powered ventilation fan