Camping Tents

Camping TentCamping tents are one of the most important parts of any outdoor camping adventure.

In this series of camping tent guides, tutorials, and reviews, you will find everything you need to know about tents.

Camping Tent Guides

What is a camping tent?

A camping tent is a portable, collapsible shelter. It is made of fabric or cloth that is stretched tightly and draped over. The structure of a tent is supported by poles that are often staked into the ground. The purpose of tents is to provide humans with shelter while outdoors.

Usually, tents have a roof, floor, and walls. Many modern tents also have doors, windows, and sometimes air vents, vestibules, gear lofts, and more.

 

Why do you need a tent to go camping?

The main purpose of a camping tent is to provide you with shelter. When sleeping outdoors, shelter is an important thing to consider. There are a few different reasons why it is so crucial: protection from the elements, temperature, protection from insects, and privacy.

Protection from the Elements

Most importantly, a tent will protect you from harsh elements and bad weather. Being exposed to cold rain, winds, or the hot sun for too long can have health implications.

During cold and wet winters, a 4-season camping tent is a great option. 4 Season tents are built with more insulation, as well as a stronger frame to withstand heavy snowfall and high winds. 3 Season tents, on the other hand, are not intended for winter use, and may require additional DIY tent insulation and other safety precautions.

Temperature Control

Tents help you to maintain a comfortable temperature. This is especially true in cold weather. The tent walls will block the wind and trap in the heat, allowing you to keep warm and maintain a safe body temperature.

There are also models designed for camping in the summer months. Tents designed for warm weather provide ventilation, additional windows, and sometimes mesh walls.

Protection from Animals and Insects

You don’t want to sleep with the mosquitoes, right? Then get in the tent! A tent will stop any critters and rodents from keeping you company while you sleep.

Privacy

Most people go camping with their family and friends. When you need to change clothes or slip into a bathing suit, tents provide you with a great source of privacy.

Believe it or not, not all campers and backpackers use tents. Hammock camping is an alternative that has been gaining some popularity lately. Enthusiasts of hammock camping argue that sleeping in a hammock is significantly more comfortable than sleeping inside of a tent. While this is arguably correct, a hammock won’t protect you from rain, snow, and wind.

 

Types of Camping Tents

Over the years, the design and style of camping tents has evolved. There are so many choices available today, that the perfect tent for you is definitely out there. Here are some of the most common types of camping tents currently available.

Dome Tents

Dome Tent
Dome tent.

Dome tents are the most common type of camping tent. They are shaped like domes, with two poles that cross each other in the center and then bend down towards the corners. Dome tents are easy to pitch, have a high center point, and are ultralight. They are a great choice for camping, backpacking, or hiking.

Backpacking Tents

If you plan to go backpacking or hiking, it is very important that your tent be small and lightweight, so it’s easy to carry over long distances for long periods of time. Another important factor is your tent’s ability to withstand tough weather conditions.

Luckily, backpacking tents are built just for this. They are smaller and more lightweight than other types of camping tents. Backpacking tents are also extremely durable and are typically capable of withstanding tough weather conditions.

Because of their small size, backpacking tents are not very spacious inside and are usually designed for 1 or 2 people. However, this means that they are often affordable. Many high-quality backpacking tents are less than $100 USD, even models from well-known manufacturers.

Cabin Tents

Cabin tents are ideal for family camping. With walls that are almost vertical, you are able to stand up and move around inside of the tent. Cabin tents are very spacious and comfortable inside. In fact, some large cabin tents can comfortably fit 10 people. Due to the larger size, however, cabin tents are heavier, bulkier, and more difficult to transport.

Geodesic Tents

Geodesic Tent
Geodesic tent.

Over time, geodesic tents have evolved from the more common dome tent. This type of tent is similar to the dome tent, but offers more stability and support. The poles cross over each other and intersect multiple times, which significantly increases the tent’s stability and wind resistance. As the poles criss-cross each other, they form visible triangles.

Instant Pop-Up Tents

Over the last few years, instant tents have emerged and quickly grown in popularity. Instant tents are an exceptional feat of engineering. With spring loaded poles, the tent “pops up” into shape almost immediately, requiring no manual set up. Setting up a pop up tent takes only a few seconds.

In addition to being the easiest type of tent to set up, pop up tents are very lightweight and easy to carry. As a result, many popular beach tents are designed as pop ups. While pop up tents are a great choice for short camping trips and one-night adventures, they are not built to withstand rain and wind.

Tents with Multiple Rooms

Multi room tents are large, spacious tents that are intended for groups. They are perfect as family camping tents. Inside can be separated by removable dividers, creating multiple rooms within the tent. Multiple rooms provide privacy, peace, and can make it easier to fall asleep. Tents with multiple rooms vary greatly in size, ranging anywhere from 2 rooms to upwards of 5.

While multi room tents are an awesome concept, they are much larger than the other common types of camping tents. Their large size makes them heavy, difficult to carry, and sometimes difficult to pitch and set up.

Tunnel Tents

Tunnel Tent
Tunnel tent.

Another popular style of camping tent is the tunnel tent. This type of tent is similar in shape to the dome tent, but with the middle section extended in length. Because these tents are larger, they are a bit heavier and more difficult to carry. However, the interior of a tunnel tent is much more spacious than other common tent types like the dome, geodesic, and pop up tents.

Rooftop Tents

 

Rooftop Tents
Rooftop tent pitched on a Jeep.

In recent years, rooftop tents have become increasingly popular. The tent attaches to the roof rack on top of a vehicle, typically a truck or SUV. It is then pitched almost instantly, unfolding and extending a ladder below. Because set up time at the campsite is significantly decreased, roof top tents are extremely convenient. However, you can only use them on campgrounds and trails that allow car parking.

Motorcycle Tents

Another style of camping tent to emerge over the last decade are tents for motorcycle camping. These tents are designed for campers traveling long distances via motorcycle. The tent provides additional room, often in the form of a vestibule, that shelters the bike and protects it from rain, snow, and the hot sun.

 

Tent Material & Fabric Types

Popular camping tents are generally made out of canvas, nylon, or polyester. In most modern tents, the fabric will either be nylon or polyester. Let’s take a look at all three materials and see which is best for your purposes.

1. Canvas

Best Canvas Tents

Canvas tents are typically used in situations where the tent will be set up for a long period of time. Canvas is an ideal material for long-term tents because it is heavy, strong, and dependable in all types of weather.

Notably, boy scout camps throughout America use canvas tents for their summer camps because they are solid, dependable, and can withstand a lot of abuse.

Compared to more modern materials, canvas is heavy and expensive. Because of this, the popularity of canvas tents has decreased over time. In this day and age, you’d be hard-pressed to find an average weekend camper using a canvas tent.

We don’t recommend choosing a canvas tent unless you are planning to have it remain up for a long period of time.

2. Nylon

Tent Rainfly CloseupThe majority of camping tents on the market use nylon as the primary material. If you have ever spent the night in a tent, it was likely made of nylon. Nylon tents are a bit more expensive than polyester tents, but are stronger and lighter. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of nylon tents and see how they hold up in terms of strength, UV resistance, and water resistance.

Strength

Nylon is very strong and very lightweight. The strength-to-weight ratio of nylon is very good, which makes it the fabric of choice for most tent manufacturers. Nylon is very stretchy, which allows it to distribute stress over a large area, preventing tears or rips.

UV Resistance

Unfortunately, that strong and stretchy nylon does have a few weaknesses. Over time, nylon can degrade from UV exposure. Campers and hikers who take trips often may find their nylon camping tents degrading after a few years of use. In the last few years, some nylon tents have been manufactured with a coating to prevent UV damage.

Water Resistance

Another issue with nylon is that it absorbs water. In rainy weather, nylon tents will tend to stretch and sag. This is not a huge issue, but it can be inconvenient at times. This issue can be avoided by purchasing a nylon camping tent that is coated with silicone.

3. Polyester

Polyester is another very common type of tent material. It’s not quite as popular as nylon, but there are definitely a lot of polyester tents on the market. The main advantages of polyester tents are UV resistance and water resistance. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of polyester tents and see how they compare to nylon tents in terms of strength, UV resistance, and water resistance.

Strength

Polyester camping tents are less expensive than nylon tents, but are not as strong or as light. Because polyester is not as strong or tear resistant as nylon, it must be manufactured in a heavier, thicker fabric. In other words, to match the strength and durability of a nylon tent, a polyester tent will be much heavier and more difficult to carry.

UV Resistance

Compared to nylon, polyester camping tents are much more UV-resistant. Additionally, fabric thickness also plays a role in UV resistance, so thick polyester tents should hold up under UV exposure.

Water Resistance

Polyester does not absorb water. In fact, it is actually very effective at resisting water. Unlike nylon tents, polyester camping tents will not stretch or sag when wet or outside in rainy weather. The tent fabric will remain tight and functional. Most high-quality, waterproof tents are polyester.

 

Which tent material is the best?

So which tent material is the best: canvas, nylon or polyester? The vast majority of camping tents are made of nylon. Nylon is stronger, lighter, and easier to carry. While nylon tents are a bit more expensive than polyester tents, the price difference is not that significant.

While nylon does have a few weaknesses, casual campers won’t be effected by them. There are also coatings that increase the nylon’s UV and water resistance, which are the two main issues with nylon tents.

We recommend that for camping, you choose a nylon tent with a silicone coating. If you are backpacking, there is no question that a nylon camping tent is the correct choice for you.

Denier

When inspecting and evaluating tent fabrics, you will likely come across the term “Denier”. Denier is a unit of measurement for the weight and thickness of the threads used in the fabric. Fabrics that have a higher denier are stronger, thicker, and more durable. Alternatively, fabrics that have a lower denier are not as strong or durable.

Denier is usually noted as a “D” in the specifications of a tent. For instance, 50D nylon is going to be a lot heavier and stronger than 15D nylon.

It is important, however, to not compare two deniers unless the fabric is the same. Different fabrics have a different standard of strength, so you should not compare the denier of a nylon tent to the denier of a polyester tent. For instance, polyester camping tents usually have deniers of 68D and up, while nylon tents will be closer to 40D. You should not compare these two denier measurements.

Ultralight nylon tents that are designed for backpacking will often have a low denier. When backpacking, the weight of the tent is often a top priority. Fortunately, nylon is a great material and these tents are pretty durable, even with the lower denier.

 

 

Camping Tent Size & Capacity

10-Person Camping Tent
A 10-person camping tent.

When selecting a tent for camping, the capacity is an important aspect to consider. You need to think about how many people will be sleeping in the tent, and then choose a model with an appropriate capacity.

It is important to remember that the listed capacity of a tent is the maximum. For instance, a tent that is advertised as a 4 person tent can fit 4 people, but it will probably not leave any room for comfort. Realistically, a 4 person tent will likely fit two people comfortably. Additionally, unless you are camping with your significant other, a 2-person tent is ideal for just one person.

Keep the capacity in mind when you are looking around for a new tent. Remember to choose a camping tent that has a larger capacity than the amount of people that are going to be sleeping in it. For groups larger than five, you may even want to opt for a family-sized 10 person tent. There are also plenty of medium-sized options available, including 6 person and 8 person tents.

 

Freestanding vs. Non-Freestanding Tents

Another important tent feature to consider is a freestanding vs. non-freestanding tent. A freestanding tent does not have to be staked down to maintain its structure and shape. A non-freestanding tent, on the other hand, must be staked into the ground. The stakes are necessary because the tension from the stakes provides the support to keep the walls of the tent standing up.

Freestanding Tents

A freestanding tent is a tent that is self-supporting. You can pick a freestanding tent up and then set it back down, and it will still continue to maintain its shape.

Additionally, if you get a little dirt inside, freestanding tents are easy to clean. You can just unzip the door, pick the tent up sideways, and shake the dirt right out of it. Essentially, these tents can be moved around easily and quickly, which can be really convenient.

However, in the event of high winds, you will definitely have to stake down a free standing tent. They are no match for windy days and, without being tethered to the ground, they will blow around like a kite.

Non-Freestanding Tents

In appearance, non-freestanding tents are very similar to freestanding tents. They do, however, require the corners to be staked down to provide tension on the poles. The tension on the poles keeps the tent walls standing upright and supports the entire structure of the tent. Because of this, you cannot pick up a non-freestanding tent.

Generally, larger tents are all going to be non-freestanding. If the tent sleeps more than just 2 people, it will very likely not be a freestanding tent.

While they do take a bit longer to set up, non-freestanding tents are much more effective at handling windy weather. If you plan to camp or backpack in an area with windy days or unpredictable weather, we recommend that you opt for a non-freestanding tent with a strong set of stakes.

 

 

Types of Tent Poles

When it comes to the poles of the tent, there are generally two common types: steel poles and shock cords. Almost all modern camping tents use poles with shock cords because they make set up and disassembly much quicker and easier. Older tents however, use a steel pole configuration. If you’ve purchased or inherited an older, second-hand tent, it’s very likely to have steel poles.

Let’s take a look at the differences between steel poles and shock cords.

Steel Poles

Older, traditional style tents use a pole configuration that has steel poles. The poles come apart completely, which means that you essentially have to solve a puzzle each time you set up the tent. Remembering which piece goes where is a difficult task.

Fortunately, most older tents actually sew a small set of instructions to help you assemble the steel poles and pitch the tent. Each pole is also labeled to help you follow along with the instructions.

Shock Cords

Many modern tents use small, fiberglass poles. These fiberglass poles have a “shock cord” inside of them. The shock cord allows you to disassemble and fold up the poles, but still holds each piece loosely together. Shock cords are a fantastic feature, since they remove the need to remember the order that pieces must be connected while pitching the tent.

Pole Clips vs. Pole Sleeves

The method used to connect the poles to the tent can vary from tent to tent. The two most common methods are pole clips and pole sleeves.

On a tent with pole clips, small pieces of plastic that are attached to the tent are clipped onto the pole to stretch out the tent fabric and hold the tent’s structure in place.

Alternatively, many other tents utilize pole sleeves. Just as the name describes, the tent will have small sleeves that the pole must be fed through. These work the same way as the pole clips, by stretching the fabric and forming the tent’s shape.

In my opinion, the pole clips are a better choice. This is simply because, in my experience, they are faster and more convenient. You just set the poles up and clip the tent right onto to them. On the other hand, I have found that sliding the poles through small sleeves can get a bit frustrating some times.

This is just a personal preference, both the sleeves and clips are easy and effective. We wouldn’t recommend factoring this feature too heavily into your tent selection.

 

 

More Camping Tent Features To Consider

We covered most of the essential features of camping tents. However, there are a few more features that are pretty common in modern tents. A few of these features that are particularly common and notable are the rain fly, gear loft, and vestibule. Let’s take a look at each and see what they are and the benefits they provide.

Rainfly

A rainfly extends over the top of the tent to block rain and provide additional water resistance. Many tents, especially newer models, include a removable rain fly. A removable rainfly is great because you can attach or remove it according to the current weather situation.

If the weather takes a turn for the worse, you can just pop on the rainfly to keep your tent nice and dry. On warm summer days, you can remove the rain fly to enjoy the breeze and keep the cool air circulating.

Gear Loft

A gear loft is a small net that hangs from the top of the tent. They give you a place to store small personal items like cell phones, wallets, and keys. Although gear lofts are fairly common, not all tents come with them. They are very convenient and prevent the loss of important personal items.

Additionally, many tents also provide more storage via mesh pockets on the interior walls.

Vestibule

A vestibule is an extension of the tent that covers the front door. Some tents have side vestibules, but a front vestibule is more common. The purpose of a vestibule is to provide an area for you to store items that you want to stay dry, but you don’t want to bring inside of the tent.

For instance, you would leave your boots by the tent vestibule to keep them out of the rain. You wouldn’t want to bring the dirty boots inside the tent. Tent vestibules usually do not have a floor.

You can think of a vestibule as the mudroom or porch of your camping tent.

Screened Room and Porch

A great option to consider is a tent with a screened porch. A screened porch is also commonly referred to as a “screened room.” These tents provide an additional room that is separate from the main sleeping area. The screen room typically has mesh walls that are transparent and can be open/closed via zippers.

If you are camping in an environment that has a lot of insects, this is a feature that you should definitely consider. They offer the best of both worlds, allowing you to enjoy the relaxing outdoor breeze while still keeping the mosquitoes and bugs away.

Mesh Ceiling for Stargazing

Best Tents for StargazingSome tents also feature a mesh ceiling, which is great during the warm summer months. The air circulate more effectively throughout the tent, creating a cool breeze inside. If the weather takes a bad turn, you can simply attach the included waterproof rainfly.

Additionally, mesh ceiling are also transparent, which makes them perfect tents for stargazing. You can stay safe from pesky bugs while you lay back and enjoy the breath-taking night sky.

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