There are a large number of different types of tent available, all suited to a variety of different situations and group sizes. From waterproof ratings, double or single skin, size considerations and tent accessories, this guide will give you the information you need to buy the right tent for you.
Waterproof ratings for tents are measured in millimetres and will usually be between 1000mm (the lowest level considered waterproof) and 10,000mm. The higher the rating, the more waterproof a tent will be. Ratings are measured using a hydrostatic head test but these ratings don’t take into account wind driven rain.
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 tent reproofing spray. This will restore the water repellency whilst maintaining the breathability of the fabric.
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 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 a pop up tent can be tricky, if you’re not sure how to do this check out our how to fold up a pop up tent guide.
Family tents are those which have been specifically designed for family camping holidays. They will often be large enough to stand up in and have separate bedroom compartments so the kids can have their own space.
Backpacking tents are some of the most technical tents you can buy. They are designed to be carried by backpackers and hikers, so are 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.
Festival Tents are designed specifically for festival goers. Tents for festivals are compact, lightweight and easy to pitch to take the hassle out of camping.
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.
Single Skin tents are made from a single layer which is waterproof. They are often made from breathable fabrics to aid ventilation.
|Often more Lightweight
|Harder to deal with condensation
|More internal space for size/weight
|Provides less insulation
|Little protection from the elements if the skin is damaged
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.
|Provides better insulation
|Offers more protection from rain/condensation
|Can be more expensive
|If the outer tent is damaged, the inner tent still offers protection
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 kit in your tent too, choose a tent that is one person bigger.
If there are two adults sharing a tent, space will be limited in a two man tent. A 3 or 4 man tent will allow you plenty of space to sleep comfortably and store your gear. 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.
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 insects 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.
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.
For more information on tents check out our other guides: