The Ultimate Camping Tent Resource by Outdoor Authority

Everything You Need To Know About Camping Tents

camping tent

Camping has long been a favorite pastime for many people. It is always refreshing to leave behind your busy life for a few days to enjoy a simple life in nature. We can be so tied to our electronic devices sometimes, so it is nice to take a nice camping vacation and reconnect with our family and friends.

Of course, if you are planning to go tent camping, you will need to know how to choose the right tent to make your camping trip a success. You do not want to be out camping and the trip to be ruined because of problems with your tent. A good quality tent is a must.

There are dozens of tents out there and they come in all shapes and sizes. When you start researching tents for camping, you might become confused by all the different terms, especially if you are a first-time buyer. Even if you have purchased a tent in the past, you want to make sure that that you make the best selection.

To make your search easier, we have put together all the features you need to look for in a tent as well as an explanation of different terms related to camping tents. We will also discuss the different kinds of tents and tent accessories.


What To Look For In A Tent

tent

In order for your camping experience to be enjoyable and not a nightmare, there are some key things to consider so that you can choose the best one for you.

Comfort

Since your tent will be your base of activity while you enjoy the outdoors, you want to make sure it will be comfortable for you and anyone else that will accompany you. It should be a comfortable space to hang out in as well as to sleep in.

Pay attention to the height of the tent. The highest point in dome-style tents is in the middle but pay attention to the lowest height of the tent as well. Having to crouch down every time you go inside the tent is annoying, so be sure it will be sufficiently high enough so that you don’t have to crouch down while inside of it. You should at least be able to stand straight up in the middle of the tent. Cabin-style tents offer the most floor space since they are square in shape.

If you will be camping during the time of year where the sun shines strongly in the afternoon, make sure that the tent provides adequate ventilation. It should have a large screen window so that it doesn’t get too hot inside. For hot weather, you can also look into getting a tent that is made of mesh for ultimate ventilation. The screens will also allow you to see the stars at night.

Durability

A camper’s worse nightmare is being caught in a storm and the tent that they thought was so strong gets leveled with one gust of wind. Since the tent will likely be your home away from home while camping, you want to make sure it can hold up even under unfavorable weather conditions.

Most people prefer to camp when the weather is mild, but you never know when a storm will decide to roll through. It can be easy to be drawn to cheap tents, but they aren’t always the best option. You will get more bang for your buck if you spend a little more for a good quality tent that you can get many uses out of, rather then buying a cheap tent and only be able to use it a couple times before it is no longer usable.

There are many things that make a tent durable: poles, zippers, tent fabric, and pegs. These parts of the tent are made of different materials.


Tent poles are important to keep in mind when looking for durable tents for camping. There are several different kinds of poles.

Tent Poles
  • Aluminum poles are some of the most durable kind of tent poles. They are very strong and will not bend or break easily. Aluminum poles are found in most small, good quality tents. They will hold their own against gusts of wind.
  • Fiberglass poles are the least durable type of poles and are found in many cheap tents. They are flexible and bend with the wind. But flexibility does not mean durability. They can even bend under the weight of the fabric when you are pitching the tent. If the poles break, which is quite common, sharp shards of fiberglass will be exposed, posing a threat to children as well as adults.
  • Steel poles are very durable and often used to support the weight of heavy fabrics like canvas. They will definitely hold their own against strong winds. Steel poles are heavy and will add a significant amount of weight, especially for larger tents. They also need proper care to avoid corrosion.
  • Carbon fiber poles are light, flexible, and strong. They are understandably the most expensive tent poles since they are the most durable but also light in weight and do not corrode.
  • Inflatable pole tents use inflatable beams instead of solid poles. You inflate them using a pump. Inflatable pole tents can be set up quickly and easily. You would think inflatable poles would make the tent less sturdy in windy conditions, but actually, the opposite is the case. They make the tent sturdier and more resistant to the wind. But you have to take a pump with you if to inflate the poles. The tubes are made of heavy materials adding to the weight of the tent.

zipper

Zippers are another important thing to pay attention to when shopping for a durable camping tent. Zippers can be made of steel, aluminum, or plastic. Steel and aluminum zippers are strong but face the threat of corrosion. Plastic zippers will not corrode but are not as strong. Good zippers will open and close with ease without catching on the fabric.


Tent fabric is another thing to pay attention to as far as durability goes. There are a few different kinds of tent fabric.

Tent Fabric
  • Nylon is the most common type of material for camping tents. Nylon is lightweight but also durable. Nylon is naturally water-resistant and can easily be made waterproof if it is coated. Regular nylon can rip easily. There are different coatings that can be applied to nylon to make it more durable and more expensive. Nylon is used in the cheapest of tents as well as some of the most expensive ones. Since nylon tents are lightweight, they are easy to pack for family vacations and are popular for family tents.

    Nylon does not rot but it can get mildew if packed wet. Some nylon tents have a stronger material woven into it to make it stronger. This is called ripped-stone nylon. Since nylon is lightweight, when it is windy, you will hear flapping noises which can be annoying.
  • Canvas was the typical material tents were made of for many years before nylon tents came on the scene. Canvas is a heavy, durable material usually made of cotton. Because of its weight, you don’t see too many people using canvas tents these days. But cotton canvas provides great insulation keeping you warm on chilly nights and cooler on those hot summer days.

    Canvas does not rip easily and when it does, the rip does not spread. You can repair a rip in canvas by sewing it. An advantage with cotton canvas tents is that they are breathable so condensation will not develop. Some canvas tents are coated with Poly Vinyl Chloride to make them stronger as well as completely waterproof. However, this coating can take away the breathability of cotton canvas. Some manufacturers use special coatings so that the canvas will still be breathable.

    Canvas tents need to be weathered first so that they don’t leak when it rains. You have to leave them outside to be rained on a couple times and then, voila, no more leaks. You have to make sure canvas tents are completely dry before storing them or they will get mildew.
  • Polyester has almost all of the same properties as nylon. The only thing that makes it different is that it is more resistant to UV rays. Polyester is not breathable like cotton canvas, so condensation will develop on the inside. Manufacturers apply a variety of coatings to make them more water-resistant as well as UV-resistant.
  • Poly-cotton canvas tents are made of a man-made material that is a mix of polyester and cotton. Poly-cotton takes some of the heaviness out of cotton canvas tents while retaining durability. The properties of polyester make it resistant to mildew. Poly-cotton tents are well insulated, keeping you cool when it is hot and warm when it is cold. These kinds of tents are great for family camping.

Pegs may seem like a small part of the tent anatomy but they also play a big role in durability. Pegs come in different shapes and are made of different materials.​

Tent Pegs
  • Standard wire pegs have a hook design and are the pegs that usually come with the tent when you buy it. They are good to use in mild weather conditions and perform best when used on firm ground. But you should not rely on these as your only pegs since they can bend easily depending on how thick they are. They do not hold up well in windy conditions and can start to twist in the ground.
  • Plastic pegs are better than the standard wire pegs and their T-shape prevents twisting in the ground. Be sure to buy ones that are made of heavy duty plastic. They can only be used in soft ground and can bend if used in areas where there are rocks. Good quality plastic pegs can last you many years.
  • V-shaped steel pegs are great to use on all soils, from soft to hard. They come in different lengths and the longer ones will provide more stability. They are made of a strong steel which makes them very durable.
  • Rock pegs are long and thick and shaped like a giant nail. These are great to use on rocky ground since they are strong and will not bend when driven into rocky soil. They are made of either steel or titanium. Steel rock pegs are heavier and titanium rock pegs are lightweight and easy to carry. If you decide to get titanium rock pegs, make sure that they are long enough to properly secure your tent. While many rock pegs have a smooth surface, some have a screw thread for increased resistance and stability.
  • Screw pegs can be made of either steel or plastic and have to be screwed into the ground using a cordless drill adapter or a small hand grip. They provide a great grip in soft ground. They are easy to remove from the ground just reverse the drill direction.
  • The Delta Ground Anchors have become hugely popular among campers for their unique design and durability. They are designed so that they sit flush to the ground; removing the risk of tripping. They offer a very secure grip and can hold up perfectly in windy condition. The Delta Ground Anchors get further driven into the ground when under strain. Because they get so well secured in the ground, you will need a Delta peg removal tool to remove them.
  • Alloy pegs are lightweight and popular among backpackers or others who are trying to save on weight. They come in many different designs. Alloy pegs can get bent if used in hard ground.
  • Biodegradable pegs are nature-friendly and will naturally degrade if accidentally left in the ground. But this process takes some weeks, so don’t worry about them degrading while you are trying to camp. They are made from materials like potato starch and wheat. Because of their makeup, they are more fragile than some of the other types of pegs. They are usually shorter too.

​Easy To Set Up

There is nothing worse than reaching the beautiful camping site and then when you go to set up your tent, you realize it is much more complicated than you anticipated. After hours of trying to figure it out, you start to panic as it gets darker, wondering if you will be sleeping outdoors without the protection of a tent.

No one wants to find themselves in that kind of situation. You will want to choose a tent that is not too difficult to get set up. Never wait until you are out camping to set up your tent for the first time. Do a dry-run at home so you can get familiar with how to set it up and then it will not take you as long when you need to assemble it while out camping.

Packing Size

Before buying a tent, you should figure out how much space you will have in your vehicle for it. Consider how much space will be available after packing your luggage. You may not need to worry about the weight of the tent, but you should pay attention to the packing size. The big family tents with a few bedrooms are nice comfortable tents, but you should make sure you have room for such a large tent first.


How To Choose The Right Size

Choosing the right size is very important when tent shopping. You want to make sure that it will be big enough for you and any others that you will be camping with.

The first step to deciding the right size tent for camping is figuring out how many people will be in your tent and what you will be using it for. For family vacations, you will likely want a family tent. If you are backpacking, you will likely want a smaller, backpacking tent. How long will you be camping? Longer trips may require a larger tent so everyone will be comfortable the entire time.

Think of how many adults and children will be sharing the tent. Remember that you will also need space for your luggage. Being cramped in a tent that is too small will be very uncomfortable and can ruin your camping trip. Tents are categorized as two person, three person, four person, six person, eight person, and ten-person tents. Keep in mind though that these standards only take into account the number of people they will fit-- with no extra room for luggage. So if it says it is a two-person tent, there will be room for two people sleeping shoulder to shoulder. These are great standards to go by if you are backpacking since you will want to have as light of a load as possible. For others, though that are not backpacking, these standards are not good to go by and will mean being cramped on your family vacation. The standards are based on floor area and the average size of the person.

Of course, since people come in different heights and sizes, you should not look at that as a hard and fast rule. Are you tall? You will want to make sure you have more floor space so that you can sleep comfortably. A tent length of at least 90-inches is generally enough for most people including those as tall as 6-feet. Those taller than 6-feet might want a few more inches of floor space.

You will also want to think about if you or others you will be camping with are claustrophobic so that you can get a tent that is big enough and comfortable for all of you. Make sure you know the measurements of the sleeping bag or air mattress that you will be using. Air mattresses especially take up more floor area.

As a general rule, you will want to look for tents that are advertised as one or two people more than the number of people that will be in your tent. If you are two people, think of getting a three-person tent. For extra room, think of getting a four-person tent for two people. Doubling the number of person tent will give each person about 25-square feet.

Make sure you have enough room to sit up as well. The peak height of the tent, which is in the middle, should be at least six or seven feet so that you can stand up comfortably without having to crouch down.


Different Types Of Tents

There are several different shapes when it comes to camping tents and you will want to know about all of them so that you can pick the best size for you.

Tent

A-Frame Or Ridge Tent

This is the classic shape of tents that pops in your mind when you think of camping. A-frame tents have poles at each end and then a pole across the tent to hold it up; the ridge. Ridge tents are very easy to set up and sturdy. However, the shape offers little space inside to move around. They are good to use if you will only be using the tent for sleeping.

​Dome Tents

​There are many dome tents on the market and they are quite popular. They have flexible poles that are fixed to a webbing strap or tape, creating the dome shape. Dome tents are typically free standing, making them easy to move around when the weather changes. Smaller dome tents are pretty sturdy and will hold up in windy conditions. As dome tents get bigger, though, they become less sturdy.

​Instant Or Pop Up Tents

Instant tents can literally be set up in an instant. They are the easiest to set up and perfect if you have never set up a tent before, or you just want to avoid the hassle of setting it up. Pop-up tents will come as a circular package with a long coiled spring frame. When you want to set it up, you just unleash then spring frame and it will spring up and be ready to use. Since they have a flexible frame, though, they don’t hold up well in windy conditions and should therefore only be used in good weather conditions.

Geodesic And Semi-Geodesic Tents

Geodesic tents get their name from a mathematical term. The poles of geodesic tents crisscross over one another to form a pattern of triangles. This design ensures a stable structure that is able to withstand high winds. Fully geodesic tents have a minimum of five crossover points. Semi-geodesic tents have a minimum of three crossover points and are free-standing, making them easy to move around once set up.

Tunnel Tents

Some tunnel tents use flexible poles while others use sturdier poles to create their tunnel shape. Their shape maximizes living space but tunnel tents are not known for stability and do not hold up well in windy conditions. Tunnel tents come in many different sizes and need to be pegged down.

Tepee Tents

These tents have one pole in the center to hold up the tent creating the classic tepee shape. They are festive looking from the outside but offer little space in the inside. Most tepee tents are not very durable but some manufacturers produce some more durable options.


Should IT Be Waterproof?

Most people hope for nice weather when they go camping so that they can fully enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, none of us can control the weather and sometimes rainy conditions can come seemingly out of nowhere.

For kids play tents at home, they don’t necessarily need to be waterproof. But camping tents need to offer you more protection. Unless you have a guarantee of nice weather, you probably should invest in a waterproof camping tent.

A light rainfall can be relaxing, but that fuzzy feeling will quickly go away when it starts raining harder and your tent begins to leak water. Getting wet from the rain while inside your tent can ruin your trip.

Of course, the term “waterproof” is a pretty broad term since different tents offer varying degrees of protection against water. One sign of a good waterproof tent is if it has seam tape. Look for a tent that has a one piece tub floor. The floor needs to be waterproof. Seams joining the floor and tent walls at ground level should be avoided since it is easier for water to seep inside through the seams. The floor should be sewn into the walls a few inches up for the best seal against water entering the tent.

Be sure to buy a tent that has a dry entryway. This feature prevents water from getting inside when you enter the tent. It also gives you a dry place to remove wet shoes and clothes. If you get a double-wall tent (discussed below), make sure that the rain-fly is completely removable. This will allow you to remove it when you need to air out the tent. If you let moisture accumulate inside, mold can start to grow.

Single Or Double- Wall?

You will likely see these terms as you shop for a tent. Alternatively, they may say single or double skinned. Single-wall tents have one layer of waterproofed fabric. They are lightweight ,easy to set up, and easy to move. Single-wall tents are not breathable, and condensation will develop inside. However, if having a lightweight tent is a top priority for you, or if you want a tent that you can move quickly, single-wall tents are the way to go. They are good to use in dry environments. Single-wall tents are often used by mountain climbers, backpackers, and motorcycle campers because of their lightweight.

Double-wall tents , on the other hand, have two layers of fabric with the outside layer being a rain-fly. The inner layer is made of a breathable fabric while the outside layer makes it waterproof. Condensation will not accumulate inside the tent, providing a dry living space for you and your gear. Of course, in exchange for this comfort, they are heavier and take longer to set up than single-wall tents. But they are more durable and when the rainfly gets worn out, you can simply replace it. This will allow you to use the tent for years. Most people prefer double-wall tents.

Of course, there are different levels of waterproofness and so waterproof tents are given a number that will tell you how well it resists water. The higher the number, the more waterproof it is.


Different Tents For Different Seasons

Camping tents have been categorized by “seasons” so that you can pick the best one for the weather conditions that you will be camping in. There are 1-season, 2-season, 3-season, and 4-season tents.

Camping Tents
  • One-season tents are designed to only be used in the summertime. They do not offer protection from the wind , the rain, or the cold. One-season tents are usually made of mesh and therefore very breathable. Sometimes they are referred to as “mosquito tents” or “mesh tents”.
  • Two-season tents are used in summer as well when the weather is mild. They can only withstand a little rain and wind. Two-season tents are single-walled with a waterproof coating. But that waterproof coating is only good for light rain.
  • Three-season tents are great to use in spring , summer, and fall. They are the most popular choice for tent camping. They hold up in moderate weather conditions but cannot withstand heavy winds, or heavy rain and snow. They offer better water protection and provide better insulation than one-season and two-season tents. Three-season tents are the top pick for those looking to buy just one tent. They come in all price ranges from cheap to expensive.
  • Four-season tents are designed to withstand harsher weather conditions. They are to be used all year round but are not always the best option. They are very durable made of heavy, strong materials to hold up against heavy snow and rain. Because of this design, they can get pretty hot inside in the summer. Four-season tents are great to use in the wintertime, though, and provide great insulation keeping you warm in cold temperatures. Four-season tents are usually on the pricey side.

More Tent Features

Tents

Dry entryway (vestibule): As discussed previously, a dry entryway is like a little porch where you can remove wet and muddy clothing before entering the tent. This is an important feature for waterproof tents.

Doors: Traditional tents have just one door but other tents for camping have multiple doors. Multiple doors are great for families or when more than two people are sharing a tent. This way you can enter and leave the tent without disturbing others. It is also good if you have to pitch your tent in a narrow space. The zippers on the doors should be zip easily without catching on the fabric.

Windows: To ensure a tent will have proper ventilation, one thing to pay attention to is the number of windows. You will be able to zip and unzip the windows. They are also nice if you want to enjoy the views while inside the tent.

Vents: For even more ventilation, pay attention to the number of vents. The vents can be propped open to make it more comfortable inside of the tent in humid conditions. They are great to use with a rainfly to allow air flow.

Guy lines: For a more sturdy tent, guy lines are essential. They provide better wind resistance as well as resistance against water. Guy lines provide adequate tension so that the rain-fly does not start sagging when it rains, causing leaks. The tent will have a series of loops for attaching the guy lines to the rain-fly.

Footprint: If a tent does not come with a footprint, it is a good purchase to look into. A footprint helps make a tent more waterproof by providing a barrier between the tent and the ground. It protects against stones and other objects from puncturing the floor of the tent.

Loops, pockets, and straps: If you want to attach a mesh shelf, you can use the interior tent loops to do so. There is usually a loop in the middle of the tent for hanging a lantern. There will also be loops on the exterior of the tent for attaching guy lines.

Interior pockets are very useful for putting small items and are a good way to help you keep your tent organized. They allow you to keep things off the floor.

​The tent should also have many straps for holding back the tent door(s) and windows.


​Tent Accessories

If want to step up your tent camping game, there are some other accessories that will make your camping experience even better.

Tent Carpet

Some people think that adding a tent carpet defeats the whole purpose of being out in nature. That is a valid argument but before dismissing the idea, check out some benefits to getting this tent luxury item.

Tent carpets are ideal for people looking to make their tent space more comfortable, especially for those who will be taking longer camping vacations.

They can make your camping experience more enjoyable. If you plan to go camping when it is cold, a carpet will add warmth to your tent by providing insulation. It will also make the floor softer.

Tent carpets are better to use than regular throw rugs because they have a waterproof backing.

Of course, if you are a going backpacking, a tent carpet will probably be out of the question. Since tent carpets are expensive, you will likely only want to buy one if you plan on camping a lot.

Camping Wardrobe

You might want to look into buying a wardrobe for your tent if you plan on taking long camping vacations. They are a great way to keep your things organized, especially if you don’t go so light on packing. They will keep things off the floor and out of your way. Camping wardrobes are light and easy to carry. Use them to store clothes, shoes, and any other items you have. Most camping wardrobes are waterproof.

Again, this is more of a luxury item so light packers and backpackers will probably not be interested in this purchase.

Lights

​You probably will be camping in an area where there is no lighting at nighttime. Having light is important to safely maneuver around the tent as well as move around the camping site.

There are a variety of tent lights available that are either solar powered or battery powered. Some tents already come with a loop in the center of the tent for hanging a lantern.

Fan

When it is hot and humid outside, the vents and windows of the tent might just not provide enough circulation to keep you comfortable. Tent fans come in all shapes and sizes and will help keep you cooler. Some tent fans can be hung from the tent poles and can pivot. You may choose to direct the fan directly at you while you are sleeping so that you can get a good nights rest.

Tent Repair Kit

Even when you buy a good quality tent, unexpected issues can come up when you are tent camping. Your tent might get ripped somehow and you definitely don’t want to be caught in the rain with a leaking tent.

A repair kit comes with a sewing kit, material patches, sealants, and repair tape. To be on the safe side, it is always good to carry a tent repair kit when you go camping.


Conclusion

There are quite a few things to consider when looking for a tent for camping. Rather than quickly making a purchase, take your time to research the tent you are interested in to see if it will be a good choice.

Of course, we all love to save money when we can, and it's easy to be quickly drawn to the cheapest options. But when it comes to tents, cheaper is not always better. A cheap, low-quality tent may only be good for a few uses- which is fine if that’s what you want it for. However, you will save more money in the long-run by investing in a good quality tent that will last you many years.