How to Choose the Right Tent
Are you looking into buying a new tent? Do you know what you are looking for in this new tent you want to purchase? Tents, these days come in many shapes and sizes and there are many styles of tents on the market these days. So, whether it’s a backpacking tent, weekend, family, or inflatable there is a tent suited to every type of camper and glamper. From the lone camper to large groups, there are tents out there to suit all your needs.
This being said it is important to know what you are looking for in a tent before you buy. If you have never camped before it may be worthwhile speaking to other campers to see what they look for in a tent or what features of a tent they like or dislike. If you don’t know any campers aim to visit a shop with tents on display so you can get an idea of what is out there before committing to a purchase. Ask questions about size and features, prices, and packages. Some will sell tent bundles that include a footprint and carpet and many retailers now offer credit or payment plans.
Below we have listed the main components that people take into consideration when looking to buy a tent. Every camper is different and it is important that you think about what you want from your future tent before making a purchase. We have also included a PDF Tent Comparison Guide Checksheet (see bottom of the article) that you can use when looking to purchase a new tent. So whether you are browsing around the shops or on the internet you can clearly see what each tent offers by marking it on the checksheet and comparing it to others.
Price or Budget
There is a great range of tents nowadays to suit all budgets but there are other things that need to be taken into consideration. A good way to think when purchasing your tent is to price it against other holiday accommodation. How often are you planning to use your tent and for how many nights each time? How many years do you expect your tent to last? (You may need to purchase another due to family size increasing). Now work out how much it would cost to stay in a hotel or B&B for the same amount of time you’ve calculated that you will use your tent. This will help you to set your budget.
Some tents can be priced in the thousands these days but they are larger and more full of features than tents in years gone by. Tents are designed to be more spacious and luxurious today with materials being lighter and more technical than before, features such as storm straps, privacy curtains, sen in storage pockets, lantern hanging points and blackout bedroom pods. All of these design features will have an impact on price but they will also have an impact on your camping experience too.
The structure of a tent is also an important thing to consider when making your purchase. What holds the tent up? Is it fiberglass poles, steel poles, a combination of these or is it even inflatable beams.
When you think of structure or what is going to be holding that tent upright you should be considering who will be pitching the tent. How easy is it going to be to pitch? If it is a couple or family with 2 adults then pitching a tent is going to be easier especially when pitching tents using a poled system. If you are a single parent or are going to need to be pitching the tent yourself for any reason you may be best looking at inflatable structured tents or bell tents with a central pole.
There is no point in spending a lot of money on a tent that you are going to struggle to pitch or be unable to pitch correctly. A tent needs to be pitched correctly so that the structure works and can do its job effectively. Like holding up against strong winds or allowing the rain to run off and away from the tent so as not to cause leaks or damage to the tent.
There are pros and cons to each type of structure and sometimes it just comes down to preference. While poles can snap and air beams can pop or be punctured, it does now have to end your holiday or the tents’ life. Whichever type of structure you choose it is worth learning how to fix small mishaps onsite or in place. It may be worth investing in a spare pole or beam to add to your kit. Or take an emergency repair kit for this reason. To fix poles some heavy-duty tape, such as Gorilla Tape normally works a treat and for air beams, a puncture repair kit may be a wise decision.
Another feature that I often include when thinking of the tent structure is a sewn-in groundsheet. These are pretty standard these days in most branded tents and for good reason. As well as adding some strength to the structure by helping hold poles or beams in place, many people prefer this feature on their tent due to sewn-in groundsheets keeping water out and heat in it (no draughts around your feet or when sleeping) while also keeping creepy crawlies and wildlife from entering your tent
Size of Tent
Choosing the size of the tent you will be looking to buy is another really important thing to get right. While many tents state how many people they are able to sleep it does not always represent an accurate picture of the size you may need if family camping for a week.
So ask yourself when you will be using the tent. Will it be for weekends away or weeks away. For weekends you can often use a smaller tent as the time you spend in it tends to more limited. If you are planning on using the tent for a week or two at a time you will be best looking for something larger as you will be spending more time in it and be taking more stuff with you. Some people just buy two tents one for weekends and one for extended breaks of a week or more.
While the tent may sleep say 6 people you will also need to consider if 6 people could comfortably spend a day in the tent should the weather be poor and you have no plans of leaving the site. Are you going to have a toilet inside the tent for during the night to save leaving the tent or if you have younger children. You also need to consider what other gear or camping furniture is going to be in the tent with you and what room this will leave.
I always find it is best to go 1 or 2 people bigger when looking at your tent so it is not too cramped feeling while away. This also helps if you end up with an unexpected guest on your holiday. The duration of your camping holidays will also need to be taken into consideration.
If you’re after a backpacking tent then it will be more likely the weight that you may want to consider and having enough room to sleep in along with room for your kit so it stays dry during the night. You will need to buy a tent that is person-specific and lightweight as you will carrying the tent with you throughout the day most times. Backpacking tents are made to be lightweight and highly technical. This is to ensure they are strong and weatherproof as it will be put up and taken down on a daily basis.
Tents of ALL Shapes
This is a personal preference if you are happy sharing your sleeping space maybe a tepee or bell tent style is what you want, although many bell tents now offer sleeping pods that you can buy and use inside the tent to give you more privacy and a separate sleeping area. Bell tents and teepee’s also have good height in the centre of the tent but not so on the outer parts.
The tunnel style tent (one of the most popular styles of tent) with optional front and side opening doors. A tent shaped like a tunnel with bedrooms often to the rear or in some styles with a side entrance the rooms can be at either end with a living area in the middle. Remember to take into consideration what furniture you will be taking and where it may be placed. If the tent has 2 entrance doors you can just use one and keep one closed to provide an extra area for furniture or increased floor area.
Tunnel style tents have the most area of overall height within the tent due to their design. Many have pre-angled poles or beams to allow this. Giving you more room throughout your tent and enough room for furniture and belongings.
There are also good ranges of dome tents, geodesic or semi-geodesic tents, pop up tents and ridge tents so have a look around and see what type of tent is going to meet your needs.
HH – Hydrostatic Head
This is how waterproof the tent is and a good HH goes a long way to ensuring how dry your tent stays when it rains. HH is how many ml of rain can fall before the tent material starts letting in water. A high HH is good, 3000 and above is what most recommend.
As well as looking at HH value you should also look for a tent that is stitched with taped seams as water can often leak through seems that aren’t taped. Another worthwhile check is to see if the manufacturer has additionally waterproofed and UV proofed the tent. This is something you will need to do yourself throughout the tent life to help preserve and maintain it. Once you have purchased the tent you will know what material it is made from and then be more able to choose a suitable product for waterproofing and UV protection.
Another important part of any tent is the ventilation it has. Tents need to be well ventilated and allow good airflow to prevent the build-up of condensation forming on the inside of the tent. Most times condensation builds up more during the night when we are all in the tent and sleeping. Each person can produce a litre of fluid simply from breathing during a nights sleep. That along with any wet stuff that may be lying about your tent can result in condensation if the tent is not well ventilated enough.
Condensation built up will sit on the inside fabric of the tent and then start to drip. This can cause the inside of the tent to feel damp or if a lot of condensation starts to drip onto the floor causing small puddles it can be mistaken for leaks in the tent. Follow our guide to reducing condensation and always buy a well-ventilated tent.
In smaller tents, most ventilation is to the top of the tent and family tents can feature both low and high ventilation panels to help with good airflow. Some tents feature ways of opening or closing ventilation panels with guy lines or velcro braces. These can be good as it allows you to control the airflow within the tent.
Many tents now come with many additional features these days. The types of additional features you may like in your tent may depend on what type of camper you are, the dut=ration of your camping trips, and personal living preferences. We will go through some of the additional features that some tents may have.
Electric Access Points – Are you going to be using electrics? Look for an electric access point. This is normally a zipped opening along the bottom or groundsheet of the tent. If a tent has these access points check whether there are one or two and if there is only one which side is it on. It will be important to know this before pitching for the first time. By knowing which side this is on it will allow you to plan where you are going to put electrical items inside the tent and how far or what side of the electric hook up point you are going to pitch.or
Windows – What about windows? For some campers, it is important where the windows are situated in a tent. If you prefer more privacy high side windows are maybe what you want. If you have children you may want to look at tents with more and larger windows so you can keep an eye on the young ones while they play. Tents with panoramic views are ideal for this.
Privacy Curtains – Also check if the windows of the tent have curtains that you can close over via a zip, ties, toggles, or velcro later at night for more privacy. It is worth noting if they also roll away for safe storage during the day.
Lantern Hanging Points – These are small points on the ceiling or in bedroom pods that allow you to safely hang your lights. These are normally just a little plastic hook that you can hang battery operated lights from. Some tents now have a velcro system leading up to a hanging point should you wish to use electric lights. The velcro points will keep the electric cord secure against the side of the tent and prevent it from becoming a hazard.
Bedroom Pods – Bedroom pods or the areas where we sleep in the tent may go up in one but contain 1 or more bedroom areas. Things to look for here is the material used. Some tent manufacturers now use a darkening fabric that either reduces the amount of light entering the sleeping areas or blacks out light altogether. These are especially useful for people who are light-sensitive when sleeping. Allowing them to get a more rested night’s sleep while away on their camping trip.
Bedroom Dividers – Do the bedroom pods have dividers between them and can these be removed or rolled away to open the area up. This can be good if you have little ones and want to be able to see them throughout the night or if you want to make your room larger.
Storage – Storage in the bedrooms can also be worth looking at as many of us are rarely without our phones, tablets and these little storage pockets normally along the side of the bedroom pods are an ideal way to keep these items safe and off the floor. They are also useful for nightlights for little ones without disturbing others who may sleep near them.
Some tents also have storage pockets in the main living area and these are also great for keeping small items in and off the floor of the tent.
Built-in Porches or Awnings – Some tents now have built-in porches or awnings, especially family tents. These tents are great for additional room, especially when it comes to cooking as you should never cook inside your tent especially with gas. These areas are great for cooking in, keeping shoes and wet gear in and out of the living area, reducing condensation. You may even just want to use it for a dining area or to sit out with a bit of shelter on an evening.
Over-sized Carry Bags – Don’t underestimate just how good these are. An oversized bag is a welcome feature in my eyes especially if you are packing up a wet tent. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to fit your tent neatly back into its bag. With an oversized bag, it allows you to pack up quicker at the site and get that tent in the bag and the bag zipped. Then you can start tightening up the bag straps allowing you to reduce the size if you need to. Most people like to get packed away quickly then will repack the tent once home, especially if the tent is wet as it needs to be thoroughly dried out before being packed away for storage or it will get ruined with mould and mildew.
Apart from the tent, another thing you should be thinking about is what items you will be taking with you camping. Are you going to be using Sims to sleep on or are you going to be using beds (inflatable or framed), this is handy to know when looking at bedroom areas and the size they are. Will they be big enough to take beds?
What camping furniture will you be taking? Will it all fit where it needs to in the living area or rooms.
Are you going to be using a toilet in a tent? If so, where are you going to be putting it? Will you use a bedroom area as a toilet or would you buy a separate utility tent to house the toilet in.
Do Your Homework
I hope this post has given you some inspiration and you have a clearer idea of what you may be looking for when buying a new tent you can continue to do your homework and research what tents are out there and what you may look at buying before parting with your hard-earned cash.
The clearer you can be with what you want from a tent and how you are going to use it the more likely it is that you are going to choose a tent that is right for you and will last you for years to come. A good tent, that is right for you and your family will make your holiday more comfortable and enjoyable than one that is too small or the wrong layout.
Why not check out some of our Tent Reviews. This may give you some more ideas.
Another thing you may want to look at once you have bought your tent is tent and camping insurance. This is great peace of mind for a few quid a year. You can insure single and multiple tents and it can also cover other gear that you will be taking with you on your camping trip.
As we stated at the start of this article tents are not always cheap and like anything else of value, it should be insured.
As mentioned above here is our tent comparison guide to help you when choosing a new tent. This will allow you to compare 5 tents, you can print multiples if comparing more than 5. These are handy to fill in when our shopping or looking online at tents and allows you to compare at a glance.