Go camping! Guide to choosing a tent

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The technology surrounding tents has been improving throughout the history of camping, and today high-tech, well-equipped tents are the norm for many avid campers. These canvas structures come in a range of size, shapes and materials which are all suitable for different uses. Before you buy a tent, work out what specifications you want it to fulfil, so that you are able to buy the most suitable one. If you wish to start camping on a regular basis and stay in a variety of places, you may find it necessary to purchase more than one tent.

Before you choose which tent to buy or take with you on your holiday there are three questions that you should ask yourself: –

  1. How is the tent going to be carried, i.e. in a backpack or by car?
  2. How many people are going to sleep in the tent?
  3. Do you need to have separate sleeping compartments for different people, or can you all sleep in one area?

There are seven main types of tents: –

  • Frame tents – These tents are large enough to stand upright in, making them the best option for families. They also often include a living space, which includes a kitchen equipped with cooking apparatus, and compartments for the bedrooms.
  • Ridge tents – These tents are supported by a horizontal pole that is held up by two vertical end poles, which join to form a triangular shape. This type of tent is sturdy, but due to the large surface area of its side being open to the elements, it will not withstand strong wind or heavy rain.
  • Dome tents – These tents are supported by lightweight, flexible poles that fit through sleeves built into the tent’s fabric, meaning they are incredibly easy to erect. The sizes available range from 1 to 5 man tents, and are ideal for backpackers.
  • Geodesic tents – These tents are designed and erected in the same way to the dome tents, but the differentiation lies with the poles’ configuration. The poles cross at different points and levels across the tents to provide extra stability and hold the fabric taut. The tents are also often lower to the ground so that the wind can easily pass over the top without causing too much damage.
  • Touring tents – These tents are very similar to frame tents, but they also include an extended ridge and a dome in the roof, as well as a porch area designed to provide shade or be used for cooking.
  • Vis-à-vis – These are tents which have compartments on either side of the communal area. They are usually either dome or ridge tents.
  • Hoop tents – These tents combine features of the ridge and dome tents to produce a design which is popular with backpackers. Hoop tents are often 1-man tents, and are lightweight, small yet offer great stability and strength.


Tents sizes start at 1-man, which are small triangular structures that can often look like oversized sleeping bags. 2-4 man tents are most common, and the sizes continue to rise in 2-persons ranges up to 16-man tents. However, many tent sizes will actually underestimate how many people can comfortably sleep in the tent. Therefore it is advised to buy a tent one birth larger than you require, i.e. if you require a tent for 3 people actually choose a 4-man one. The larger tents are often made up of separate compartments which each sleep a certain amount of people, which are joined in the centre by a communal area. Larger tents will often have a porch area attached to the front, which acts as a sunshade.


Specialist tents are also available, which will withstand certain environmental conditions. There is no one fabric which will suit all purposes, therefore you have to make sure that you have specified what conditions your tent will be exposed to. The fabric you use will depend on how much camping you plan to do, how much importance you want to give to safety factors, and what type of camping you will do. If you are going to be staying in an area with high wind or expected heavy rain, make sure you buy a tent which is siliconised on the outside, PU coated on the inside and has a polyester ripstop. It should also have a nylon, PU coated groundsheet, and all the seams should be taped. In extreme conditions tents that are semi-Geodesic are recommended. These structures are curved in shape and are low to the ground, so will not be as affected by strong winds.

Single and double wall construction tents are available. Single wall tents only have one layer of fabric, which has to take care of all functionalities. Double wall tents have two layers, the outer one being waterproof and the inner one being breathable and able to transport moisture to the outer material. There are a few differences between the tent fabric (the outer material) and garment fabric (the inner material). Tent fabrics must be impermeable to water. You can never totally guarantee that it will be a dry night so this is the most important quality you should look for in a tent fabric. Some tent fabrics may be protected with water-repelling compound or others will be made from waterproof material. Garment fabrics are usually made from either cotton or polyester-based materials. Both non- and fire-retardant materials are available, although it is recommended that the latter always be chosen. Some garment fabrics will also be sealed to protect against moisture, which adds greater protection against moisture being transferred from the tent fabric and entering the inside of the tent. This shield also offers protection against mildew.

The denier (d) of a tent measures its weight in grams per 1000-metre length. Lightweight fabrics are around 50d.

The water resistance is measured in pounds per square inch (psi) and measures the weight of the water which can be exerted on a square inch of fabric without it leaking. Typically a good flysheet would be 80 psi.

Tent poles

Most tents now come with quick erect pole systems which are poles that are separated into segments that slot together, with a piece of elastic stretching through the middle of the segments to keep them all together. These fit into continuous pole sleeves, which aid you in pitching the tent quickly and easily, and means that they can be stored without difficulty.

Tent poles have to be bendable yet strong and durable, and they create the skeletal structure of the tent. There are a variety of materials used to make poles: –

  • Carbon Fibre – This is a very strong and flexible material that is also frequently used to make fishing rods. It is, however, the most expensive material used to make tent poles so it is the future of tent pole material.
  • Aluminium-alloy tubing – This material is the most common material used today, with most tent poles being made from this. The majority of these types of poles are anodised, as aluminium is very vulnerable to corrosion.
  • Fibreglass – Before aluminium-alloy tubing was used, this was the most popular material for tent poles. It is not as strong as aluminium-alloy tubing though, so larger poles must be used to give the same strength. Cheaper tents will still use this type of material for their poles.

Tent poles can be attached to the skeleton structure by using either sleeves, which allow you to run the poles through them, clips, which clip the poles onto the tent, or a combination of these to take advantage of both their benefits.


Originally from talkcamping.co.uk

Image CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26501263

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