Hiking - Gear/Equipment

Confused About Camping Tents? Here is Everything You Need to Know

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If you are passionate about being in sync with the wilderness of nature, chances are high that you have been on camping trips. If not, then it is highly probable that you fancy the idea of doing so. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a relaxing session of camping? When you are out in the wild, camping tents provide you with shelter. Thus, it is important to know the fine details about these tents before purchasing one for yourself.

If you go in the market or check online for different types of tents for camping, you will be amazed by the number and types available. This is why we have put together all the essentials that you need to know about a camping tent before buying. Let’s get started.

Camping Tents: Basic Terminology and Classification

Depending on the outdoor activity you do, the requirements for your camping tent will vary. For example, backpackers and hikers usually prefer to carry compact and lightweight tents with as little accessories and supporting structures as possible. In contrast, an elaborate camping trip with your family would necessitate purchase of a sturdy and big tent.

In order to make the right choice regarding the best hiking tent that fulfils all your requirements as a hiker or family camper, you need to understand the types of tents available.

Here are the most basic key words about outdoor tents that you need to know.  These are also the basis of classification of different tents.

Freestanding and Non-freestanding Camping Tents

As the names suggest, freestanding camping tents can stand without the support of ropes, stakes or guy lines.

In contrast, non-freestanding tents cannot be erected without the support of ropes or lines.

Freestanding camping tents
Freestanding camping tents

Number of Wall Layers

Depending on the number of walls, camping tents can be classified as single or double walled.

Tents with a single wall are made of one layer of breathable and water-resistant fabric. These are much lighter than the other types but have the problem of potential condensate build up.

In contrast, tents with double walls have one layer each of the tent canopy and the waterproof fly. The inner wall of the canopy lets moisture out, thereby preventing the build-up of condensate, while the second layer would make it the best tent for rain and wind.

Seasonal Tents

Since the weather conditions vary drastically throughout the year, tent manufacturers make tents that are functional in many seasons. This eliminates the need of purchasing a different tent for each weather.

Three season camping tents are perfect for use in all weather, except winters. They provide excellent protection against winds and rain, and most of them can be used in mild snowfall as well, though they will not provide insulation against cold weather.

Understand all about Winter Camping 101 ( Do's and Don'ts to Follow)

Four season camping tents can be used in any weather and have structural elements that make them more durable. They have much less mesh elements, thus making them more suitable for cold weather.

However, because of additional structures, these tents are heavier than others. For those of you who are looking for an all-weather tent without its heaviness, then convertible outdoor tents are the best option.

These tents can be made into three or four-season counterparts by addition or omission of certain structural elements. You can then use these tents according to the weather.

Shape of the Tent

Depending on the overall shape and structure of the tent, camping tents may be classified into the following categories:

  • Tents with A-Frame: 

As the name suggests, the shape of these tents resembles the alphabet A. These tents are among the oldest camping tents and are very easily set up. However, because of the tapering top, these tents may buckle more frequently in strong winds.

Shape of the tents
Freestanding camping tents
  • Minimal Shelters: 

These tents are not really tents, but simple means to protect yourself from rain and strong sun. These do not have walls and floors, and are not meant for long use. They are mostly used when a small break is needed.

  • Tents with Dome:

These tents comprise of a dome shaped structure that makes them freestanding. Also, because of the rounded shape at the apex, these tents are more durable in strong winds. Depending on the number of people it can accommodate, a dome tent can be a basecamp tent (for more than six people).

  • Wall Tents: 

These tents are also called outfitter tents, and are non-freestanding. They are much heavier than other types of tents, but offer a lot of space.

  • Bivouacs:

​​ These are basically a layer of breathable material that can be slid above your sleeping bag. They don’t have much room inside and provide basic protection from the elements of nature while you sleep. These are considered to be among the best tents for backpacking.

Specifications of Camping Tents

The knowledge about different types of tents is not enough for you to make the right choice. You should also know about the specifications of tents so that you can compare different ones.

Here is a list of essential specifications that you will come across:

1. Dimensions of the Tent and its Floor Area

This particular specification will give you an idea about the interior space of the tent. It is usually depicted as length x width in inches, unless stated otherwise.

2. Compact Size

Also known as packed size, this value gives you an idea about the dimensions of the tent when it is duly folded and packed. It is usually depicted in the form of diameter x length in inches, unless stated otherwise.

3. Capacity of the Tent

This number is indicative of the how many people can comfortably sleep inside a particular camping tent. However, you should keep in mind that filling the tent to the full capacity rarely leaves any room for storage of other items.

Thus, if you want some room for storing additional items with two persons, you should opt for a tent that has a capacity of three persons.

camping tent size
camping tent size

However, if the best 4 person tent has a vestibule, you will have enough covered room for storage of items. In this case, the capacity of the tent is a true estimate of accommodating people and gear.

Many times, tents have more than one vestibule, so you should really check this specification.

Know all about Tent Vestibule: Add a New Dimension to Your Camping

4. Material of the Tent and Accessories

Commonly used materials for best waterproof tents are nylon, mesh and polyester. Each of these has a different texture and feel. The type of fabric of material used for other parts of the tent may be different.

Similarly, the material of accompanying poles may be aluminium, fiberglass and carbon fibre. Each of these materials has its own advantages and disadvantages, and it is prudent to know these details before making a purchase.

Know all about How to Use Tent Heaters (Go Camping Anytime!)

5. Number of Doors

The number of entry/ exit doors in a tent may vary from model to model and are important for family and group camping sessions where tents are shared by many persons.

6. Total Weight

The total weight of the tent and its accompanying accessories is a very important specification. A comparison of this value is of importance for backpackers and hikers who don’t like to carry extra load.

7. Accessories

Depending on the type of tent you look at, there will be different number of accessories accompanying it. For example, three-season tents usually have lesser number of poles than all-weather tents.

Now that you know about the different types and detailed specifications of tents available in the market, how do you choose the one that matches your requirements perfectly?

Worry not, we have done all the research and compiled a list of essential features that you must look for in a camping tent.

Ideal Features of Your Camping Tent

Regardless of the kind of outdoor activity your do- hiking, backpacking or elaborate camping, there are a few basic considerations that you need to make before purchasing your camping tent.

camping tents
Camping tents

Let us understand the importance of each of these.

Feature #1 - Endurance

The foremost concern that you will have when outdoors is how to manage in the weather conditions. Although camping trips are depicted as blissful vacations among green pastures and coasts, the reality is that weather can turn anytime. So you might have a clear morning sky but face a short (or long) spell of drizzle and rain.

Therefore, it is important for you to consider the durability and resistance of your camping tent in terms of outdoor weather. You must look for features like water-resistance, breathability, and ability of the tent to withstand a reasonable amount of snowfall, even if you plan on camping in so-called ‘good weather’.

Both- backpacking tents and elaborate camping tents should be sturdy and weather resistant. Otherwise, your dream camping trip will turn sour as soon as the weather takes a turn.

Feature #2 - Compactness

This is a very important parameter for hikers and backpackers who want to travel light and carry only the most basic and essential items with them. In contrast, families who camp together and travel in their RVs don’t usually worry a lot about this aspect.

Therefore, if you are a hiker, you should opt for a tent that isn’t too heavy and doesn’t require a lot of accessories. Also, you would need a tent that can be folded into a compact mass that can be tucked in your backpack or hung by a cord. If you are a family camper, these issues won’t matter to you much.

Learn all about The Best Camping Knot: Learn the Taut Line Hitch Knot (Infographic and Video)

Feature #3 - Comfort

Even of you don’t carry a heavy camping tent with you, the comfort of the tent should never be compromised.

After all, your tent is all you have for shelter when you are outdoors. Therefore, it should provide enough space according to your need, whether you are backpacking or setting up a big tent for camping.

The height of the ceiling is crucial if you will use the tent for more than just sleeping in. The same is true for breathability and ventilation. Whichever camping tent you choose for your particular requirement, think about the possible activities you will do in the tent, and then purchase the most suitable tent.

Feature #4 - Ease of Setting Up

You don’t want to have a tent that takes hours to set up correctly. Therefore, the design of the tent and the arrangement of the accompanying accessories should be user friendly. Ideally, you should not spend a lot of time or effort to set up or pack a tent.

Learn all about How to Repair a Tent

Feature #5 - Quality and Cost

You should only purchase camping tents that are made with high-quality material. Compromising on features and quality for money is not advisable especially if you don’t purchase tents often. Try to keep all the above-mentioned parameters in mind and then choose the best tent that will stay with you for a long time.

Quality of tents
Check the quality of tent

We are sure that now you have a fair idea about the type of tent that is most suitable for your requirements. As the last part of our camping tent guide, we have compiled some basic handling practices that will keep your tents happy and give them a long life.

Tent Basics: How to Handle Your Camping Tent

Only purchasing a good tent is not enough. You have to make sure that you use the tent correctly and store it properly. These simple practices extend the life of your tent by several years.

Here are the most important and recommended tent handling practices that you should adopt:

  • Check the seaming of your new tent. It will most likely be sealed or taped. It is a good idea to put some more sealant on the seams. This will increase the life of seams and ensure that you tent stays waterproof for a much longer time.

  • If your tent did not come with a stake, then you should buy some and make a habit of using stakes every time you set up your tent. This will decrease the likelihood of your tent being blown away in case of strong winds, and it will also keep sagging at bay.

  • Make the best use of guy lines but keep in mind that these lines and the rainfly are not overly stretched.

  • Clean the tent thoroughly before storing it. A wet sponge is the best way to get rid of grease and mud on your tents. Refrain from putting the tents in washing machines. Make sure that the tent is completely dry before you pack it for storage, and store it in dry surroundings and ambient temperature, away from direct sunlight.

Check out How to Remove Mold and Mildew From the Tent

Given the huge variety of camping tents available in the market, it is important to know the details about each type. We have covered all vital aspects related to purchase and use tents for camping and backpacking. However, if you have something to add in our list, please let us know.

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