A little guidance goes a long way if you’re looking to buy a tent, what with so many types of tents on offer. Our tent buying guide will answer some of the most common questions around types of tents and features to help you choose which tent to buy.
This guide will cover the following topics:
- Choosing the right size tent
- Types of tents
- Double or single skin
- Anatomy of a typical tent
The size of a tent is generally described by the maximum number of people that can sleep inside, for example you will see tents described as 2 man, 2 person or 2 berth. To find the best tent for you, you must first consider the number of people in your party.
As a rule, if you plan on keeping your kit in your tent too, choose a tent that is one person bigger. If there will be two adults sharing for example don’t pick a pop up 2 man tent as space will be limited, opt for a 3 or 4 man tent so there is plenty of space for you both to sleep comfortably.
For families a 6 man tent and upwards will provide enough space so you won’t feel like you’re sleeping on top of each other (which can be testing with kids!). Bigger tents are likely to have separate ‘rooms’ so the kids can have their own space.
It’s possible to get a 10 man tent or even a 12 berth if you have a big group. Remember though the bigger the tent the harder it will be to put up and the more space it will take up in the car. If you will be walking to the campsite a bigger tent will also be heavier to carry!
A one man tent is generally only suitable for single backpackers or hikers who need a lightweight tent and don’t have much kit with them.
Types of Tents
Ridge, dome or tunnel? Pop up or inflatable? There are so many shapes and types of camping tents available it can be overwhelming. Here are the most common types of tent:
A-Frame or Ridge Tent
When you think of a traditional tent, you probably picture an a-frame tent or ridge tent with poles at each end and a support pole across the top (the ridge). They are simple to pitch and the poles are rigid making them quite sturdy, but they can be quite bulky and heavy. The shape of the tent, even the larger versions, mean you can’t always easily walk around inside.
Pop Up Tents
As the name suggests pop up tents simply ‘pop up’. You might also see these types of tents described as instant or quick pitch tents. They are ideal for people who have never pitched a tent before. The poles are already assembled and fitted into the tent fabric and once the sprung frame is unleashed they practically just pop up by themselves. Pop up tents are especially popular for festivals and as kids play tents as they are so easy to pitch. Pop up tents are not suitable for windy conditions due to their flexibility.
Folding up a pop up tent can be a bit trickier, if you’re not sure how to do this – our article how to fold up a pop up tent might help.
A dome tent has flexible poles which cross over the middle of the tent with the ends fixed to webbing straps or tape at the base, forming its domed shape. In windy conditions, they are much sturdier and more reliable than a pop up tent but generally the bigger the tent the less stable they are.
The poles on a tunnel tent will be arched over in a tunnel shape, rather than cross over each other. Whilst a dome tent could be freestanding, a tunnel tent will always need to be pegged down. They are generally taller than dome tents so you can stand up in them and are probably the most popular type of family tent.
You may see tents described as vis- à -vis which in French literally means ‘face to face’. These tents are usually tapered towards the ends with two sleeping areas facing each other, separated by an opening in the middle that you can stand up in. A vis-à-vis tent can be a tunnel or dome shape.
A backpacking tent will be one of the most technical tents you can buy. They are designed to be carried by backpackers and hikers, so will be lighter and smaller (compact when packed too) than a standard tent. The lightweight tents are often weatherproof and wind resistant offering stability in open areas such as fields. It’s likely they will be put up and taken down frequently so are generally easy to pitch.
A weekend tent refers to a tent that is suitable for weekend or short camping trips, where you may not require as much kit as you would for a longer trip. It is quite a general term that covers many types and shapes of tent.
Inflatable, blow up or air tents are a fairly new innovation and are becoming increasingly popular mainly because they are so simple to pitch. The tent is given its structure and rigidity from air filled tubes or beams in places of traditional poles. The tubes are filled through valve/s using a pump and most inflatable tents can be erected in a matter of minutes. A blow up tent can however be heavy and more expensive than a standard tent
Geodesic is a mathematical term, but when used to describe a tent it refers to one that has criss-crossing poles that form triangles on the surface. This structure means that geodesic tents are more stable in extreme weather conditions such as on mountains or windy, exposed areas.
Double or Single Skinned?
You may see a tent described as single or double skinned (the term walled might also be used). A single skin tent is made of a single layer that is waterproof. They are often made from breathable fabrics to aid ventilation.
A double skin tent will have an inner tent, that isn’t waterproof and usually made partially or entirely from mesh, and an outer tent (called a flysheet) that is waterproof. The outer tent protects the inner tent from the elements and provides a space between the two to help insulate and reduce condensation.
There are merits to both and the pros and cons will vary from brand to brand, but below is a quick overview.
|Provides better insulation||Often heavier|
|Offers more protection from rain/condensation||Can be more expensive|
|If outer tent damaged inner tent still offers protection|
|Often more Lightweight||Harder to deal with condensation|
|More internal space for size/weight||Provides less insulation|
|Cheaper||Little protection from elements if skin damaged|
Tent fabric will be made with a waterproof membrane or coating that prevents water droplets from penetrating through the fabric. A Hydrostatic Head rating determines how waterproof a fabric is.
All tents will met the British Standard for waterproofing, the minimum rating for a tent to be waterproof is 1,000mm. The higher the rating, the more waterproof the tent is. The flysheet of a tent may have a lower waterproof rating than the ground sheet. It should be noted that the rating does not take into account wind driven rain, in which tents requires a higher rating of at least 2,000mm to keep water out.
Over time and with use mud and dirt can cause the water repellent coating to break down which will result in water being absorbed into the fabric rather than running off. It is recommended that tents are periodically ‘reproofed’ with a special reproofing spray. This will restore the water repellency whilst maintaining the breathability of the fabric.
Anatomy of a Typical Tent
A groundsheet is essentially a waterproof barrier between you and the cold, wet ground (you’ll need an airbed or sleeping mat still if you want to keep warm). Unless you have a traditional A-frame tent chances are the groundsheet will be sewn onto the walls so there is no gap to let creepy crawlies or drafts in.
You may also choose to lay a separate groundsheet under your tent to protect the bottom from dirt and tears. These can be purchased individually. A separate groundsheet is also useful to lie in the living area of larger tents or between a group of smaller tents to make a communal living space.
If a tent is described as ‘double skin’, this will have an inner tent and an outer fly sheet designed to protect the inner tent from getting wet. The flysheet is suspended over the inner tent but should not touch it, as this will cause condensation and rain to penetrate through to the interior.
Guy ropes are cords attached to the outer tent or flysheet which are pulled away from the tent and pegged in the ground to stabilise the tent. The guy lines should follow the seams of the tent and not overlap. There will be an adjuster on the cords so you can tighten and loosen the lines, as they get wet or dry they may shrink or slacken so you should check regularly.
The inner is the main living and sleeping area of the tent.
Many tents will have a porch attached to the entrance. These can be very short, making a useful area is useful for storing kit you don’t want in the tent but want to keep dry, or quite large, allowing you space to cook. It’s also possible to buy separate porches (normally for larger tents) as well as canopies.
Double zips are useful and allow you to open the door from the top or the bottom, for example, you can open the top for ventilation.
Tent pegs can be made from plastic, metal or wood. Most tents will come with basic steel hooked pegs which are fine for firm ground and fair weather. If pitching in soft mud you may wish to buy T-shaped heavy duty plastic pegs which will not twist around. V or X shaped pegs are recommended for sandy ground. Always check what the terrain will be like prior to camping to ensure you have the correct tent pegs.
The poles are essentially the skeleton of the tent and provide structural support. In basic terms there are two types of poles, bendy and rigid. Bendy poles are generally made from fibreglass or aluminium and are linked with elastic cord. They are flexible and lightweight. Rigid poles are sturdier and are more often used in traditional and trailer tents.
Breathing, wet clothing and general humidity can all cause condensation to form inside your tent (try not to touch the tent fabric as this can also let water on the outside come through). Air vents are designed to help reduce condensation by letting vapour in the air escape. Doors and windows also offer ventilation, so it is best to keep these open when possible. Look for doors and windows with mesh insect nets to keep out midges even when open.
Hopefully our tent guide has made buying a tent a little easier!