Camping Tents Buying Guide

camping tents

Buying camping tents is not like buying a grocery. Believe me; if I knew how hard it was, I would not even have tried to touch upon this subject. But thanks to travels freaks within my friend circle, that I was able to survive my very recent trip to Haridwar.

Also Read: All the essential camping needs

I got to know the essence of camping or more specifically camping tents. How much gas should be carried with us, what kind of torch might be useful to us, how many people can be accommodated in a camping tent, how to set up a camping setup etc. God!! I am eager to share my knowledge with you all guys.

Also, guys do go through the vocabulary in the last section for more insights.

Camping Tents Sleeping Capacity

When choosing your camping tent, first select a model based on your group’s size and whether or not you might need additional space for extra friends, gear or dogs. Keep in mind, however, that no standard that exists that would define per-person tent dimensions.

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When evaluating camping tent capacity ratings, the usual advice is this: Assume a close fit. If you seek more room, consider upsizing your tent capacity by one person, particularly if you or your usual tent companion(s):

  • are large people
  • are claustrophobic
  • toss and turn at night
  • sleep better with more than average elbow room
  • are bringing a small child or a dog

Camping Tents Seasonality

3-Season Tents

By far the most popular choice of camping tents, 3-season tents are lightweight shelters designed for the relatively temperate conditions of spring, summer and fall.

These camping tents are usually equipped with ample mesh panels to boost airflow. Mesh panels keep out insects (but can still let in powdery blowing sand). Correctly pitched with a taut rainfly, 3-season tents can withstand downpours but are not the best choice for sustained exposure to harsh storms, violent winds or heavy snow.

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The primary functions of 3-season camping tents:

  • Keep you dry during rain or light snow.
  • Shield you from bugs.
  • Provide privacy.

3- 4-Season Tents

Extended-season (3+ seasons) camping tents are engineered for prolonged 3-season usage, suitable for summer use but also trips in early spring and late fall when moderate snow may be encountered. Their goal: offer a balance of ventilation, strength and warmth-retention.

Typically these camping tents include 1 or 2 more poles and fewer mesh panels than pure 3-season models. This makes them sturdier and warmer than their 3-season cousins. Extended-season tents are an excellent choice for those who make frequent trips to exposed, high-elevation destinations. While very sturdy, they are not as fully fortified for harsh winter weather as 4-season tents.

4-Season Tents

These camping tents are engineered to withstand fierce winds and substantial snow loads and can be used in any season. Their chief function, though, is to stand firm in the face of seriously inhospitable weather, principally in winter or above treeline.

They use more poles and heavier fabrics than 3-season tents. Their rounded dome designs eliminate flat roof spaces where snow can collect.

These camping tents offer few mesh panels and rain flies that extend close to the ground. This hinders ventilation and can make them feel warm and stuffy in mild weather. But when foul winds begin to howl, a 4-season tent provides a reassuring place of refuge. But then these are usually preferred by experts or for camping in mountainous region.

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Comfort Level:

This is probably the biggest complaint of non-campers. A genuinely excellent camping tent should be more than merely a place to sleep or get out of the weather. It should truly feel like your home away from home, with features that meet your individual (and group/family) needs.

Size alone is a big part of comfort for two reasons. First, the point of larger car camping tents is so you can bring more stuff, right? More support of home? Your queen-sized air mattress isn’t going to fit in a basic backpacking tent.

If you’re going to be camping for a few days, you’d probably like to be able to change your clothes, which means bigger bags, more stuff, and more space. Secondly, if you are always packed in like sardines, climbing over and stomping on each other, you’re not going to be relaxed, and ultimately your enjoyment will suffer.

While I will admit that most of the camping tents are tight at their stated capacity, it should still provide enough room for you to spread out, play games, or whatever other activities you typically find yourself doing while camping. More place means more comfort.

Storage space can also add to the ease of your camping experience. It’s always nice to have a spot to dump your phone, wallet, watch, glasses, etc. and know you’ll be able to find them again when you need them. While simply the number of pockets is essential here, so is the size and location of those pockets

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Ventilation is another key factor to consider comfort-wise. If you typically camp in warmer climates, the amount of airflow you can get blowing through your tent can drastically affect the temperature, and thus comfort level. Large windows, more mesh, and big doors help, as do specially designed vents. The tradeoff lies in storm resistance — more mesh, more vents, more windows means more holes and gaps for precipitation and wind to penetrate.

Of course, we realize that everyone defines comfort a little differently, and tent features can be more valuable to some than others. That’s why we try to give you the full spectrum and explanation of the features of each tent, and then let you decide what matters the most to you.

Ease of Setup

camping tents
Camping Tents

Finally, say you arrive at your favourite campsite. It’s 9 pm and pretty dark. Your headlamps are buried, and you’re hungry. One person is getting the stove set up so you can have dinner in the next hour, you hope. That leaves one person for the tent setup.

If you think it is improbable to be in such a situation, please do not bet on it!!!

We set up these tents solo, in pairs, and wind, rain, and total darkness to determine just how feasible the above situation is, and to hopefully give you the feedback you need so that you can have your tent up efficiently, and with a minimum of swearing.

This section gives you a glimpse into our experiences so that you can match your need for easy setup of camping tents with the rest of the tent’s features. Some of these tents go up so smoothly you’d swear there was a magic wand in the packaging somewhere. Others take a little more time (or a few rounds of practice).

Many times, camping tents that take a little longer to set up will have other features that make the slow set up worth the hassle. Likewise, some camping tents will go up in under a minute (literally) but lack basic features you rely on or at least have come to expect. The perfect tent is a balance between these two facets. It goes up easy but meets your other camping needs as well.

Key Camping Tents Features

Peak Height

If you like being able to stand up when changing clothes or enjoy the airiness of a high ceiling, then look for camping tent with a tall peak height (listed in the spec charts).

Cabin-style camping tents:

Feature near-vertical walls to maximize overall peak height and livable space, (and some models come with family-pleasing features such as room dividers and an awning, or a vestibule door that can be staked out as such).

Dome-style camping tents 

offer superior strength and wind-shedding abilities, both of which you’ll appreciate on a stormy night. They stand tall in the centre, but their walls have more of a slope which slightly reduces livable space.

Camping Tents Floor Length

If you’re tall (over 6 feet) or as additional space, consider a tent with a floor-length of 90 inches (rather than the more typical 84–88 inches).

Camping Tents Doors

When choosing your camping tent, think about the number of doors you need as well as their shape and orientation. If you’re camping with your family, multiple doors help you avoid climbing over each other for midnight bathroom breaks.

Cabin-style camping tents tend to shine in this area. Also, note how easy or noisy the doors are to zip open and shut. YKK zippers on the doors resist snagging and breaking better than others.

Camping Tents Poles

A tent’s pole structure helps determines how easy or hard it is to pitch. Virtually all family camping tents these days are freestanding. This means they do not require stakes to set up. The significant advantage of this is that you can pick the tent up and move it to a different location before staking. You can also quickly shake the dirt out of it before taking it down.

Fewer poles allow faster setups. It’s also easier to attach poles to clips than it is to thread them through long pole sleeves. Many tents use both clips and short pole sleeves to balance strength, ventilation and setup ease. Colour-coded corners and pole clips also make installation faster. Aluminium poles are stronger and more durable than fibreglass.

Rainfly

A rainfly is a separate waterproof cover designed to fit over the roof of your tent. Use it whenever rain or dew is expected, or any time you want to retain a little extra warmth. Two rainfly types are common. Roof-only rain flies allow more light and views while offering good rain protection. Full-coverage rain flies provide maximum protection from wind and rain.

Camping Tents Materials

When you’re shopping, be aware that higher-denier fabric canopies and rain flies are more rugged than lower-denier ones. Also, seam tape and high-denier fabrics on tent floors reduce the odds of leakage.

Vestibules / Garage

Shelters or awnings attach to your tent to store or shelter your muddy or dusty boots or keeping your packs out of the rain. They can be an integral part of the rainfly or add-on items that are sold separately.

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Ventilation

Mesh panels are often used in the ceiling, doors and windows of tents. This allows views and enhances cross-ventilation to help manage condensation. For hot, humid climates, seek out larger mesh panels.

Interior Loops and Pockets

A lantern loop is often placed at the top-centre of camping tent’s ceiling for hanging a lantern. Loops on interior tent walls can be used to attach a mesh shelf (called a gear loft, sold separately) to keep small items off of the tent floor. Similarly, interior pockets help keep your tent organized.

Guy out Loops

Higher-quality tents will include loops on the outside of the tent body for attaching guy lines. Guy lines allow you to batten down the hatches—no flapping fabric—during high winds. 

Optional Camping Tents Accessories

Footprint

This is a custom-fitted ground cloth (usually sold separately) that goes under your tent floor. Tent floors can be sturdy, but rocks, twigs and dirt eventually take a toll.

A footprint costs far less to replace than a tent. For family camping tents that get a lot of in/out foot traffic, this is especially useful. Also, footprints are sized to fit your tent shape exactly, so they won’t catch water like a generic ground cloth that sticks out beyond the floor edges. Rain caught that way flows underneath your tent and can seep through the floor fabric.

Gear Loft

Most camping tents come with an integral pocket or two to let you keep small items off of the tent floor. A gear loft is an optional interior mesh shelf that can tuck more significant volumes of gear out of the way.

There are some essential points you should lay extra stress upon:

Decide on Size

Rule of thumb: If you’re car camping, buy a giant tent. More significant than you need. You’ll appreciate the extra space to roll around in, and you’ll have plenty of room for dogs and kids. If you’re backpacking, buy a tent that’s one person bigger than you need. Just you and your partner? Go for a three-person camping tent. Again, you’ll have more room to store gear, and the weight penalty isn’t huge.

Pay Attention to Weight

If you’ll be huffing a tent on your back, buy a backpacking-specific model, which is made from lightweight materials. For regular users, freestanding tents are much more comfortable to set up and still pretty packable. If you’re car camping, weight isn’t an issue.

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Know What Kind of Weather You’ll Be Camping In

Backpacking on the peninsula? You’ll need a good three-season tent with a bomber fly and a great vestibule to store gear out of the rain. Car camping in the Southwest? You can get away with a two-season tent—just make sure it can protect you from the sun and has lots of vents to keep air flowing when temps rise. You’ll need a four-season tent only if you’re winter camping in high-alpine environments.

Pay Attention to Packability

Weight is the most important consideration, but you still need to make sure your camping tents fit in your backpack or easily straps to the outside of it. Once you buy, practice packing the tent in its stuff sack, and think about the best way to distribute the load among multiple packs.

Pitch Before You Buy

It’s one thing to read about dimensions and occupant capacity and another to get inside a tent to test its roominess for yourself. One three-person tent design might feel bigger than another three-person tent, so try to visit a camping store that has your tent pitched before pulling the trigger.

Research Durability

This isn’t as much of an issue for car-camping tents, but read reviews for backpacking tents. Most shelters these days are pretty well made, but see what users are saying online before you plop down a couple hundred bucks.

Research Ease of Use

This is another online search or, better yet, a conversation with a camping store employee. Most tents these days are pretty intuitive, but some are easier than others to set up in a gale-force wind or in the pitch dark. Tip: Always practice setting up your tent in your backyard before you go camping.

All Set? Here Are Some Buying Recommendations.

Tent Anatomy

  • Ceiling loops are great for hanging lanterns or lines for drying socks and clothes.
  • Metal pole junctures called hubs add sturdiness and allow poles of different lengths to join. This cuts weight and helps pull the canopy outward to create vertical walls and more living space.
  • You can store small items (like a headlamp, iPod) in the tent’s inner pockets.
  • Guylines provide extra stability in wind, rain, and snow. Attach them to guy-out loops, located along the perimeter and at key seams on the rainfly. Tip: Use reflective cords to avoid tripping in darkness.
  • Found on double-wall tents only, the inner canopy (breathable and often made of mesh) lets moist air escape rather than condense in the tent. It also keeps bugs out.
  • The rainfly–usually nylon and coated with polyurethane or silicon–should cover the tent body with a few inches of space remaining between it and the canopy to allow airflow. Some tents pitch in “fast-pack mode,” using just the fly and poles, to shave weight for trips in mild, bug-free conditions.
  • Poles create the tent’s skeleton. Treat them with care: Never snap poles together (the ends can splinter), and when breaking them down, start in the middle to minimize tension on the shock cord.
  • A waterproof bathtub floor curves a few inches up the tent’s sidewalls to prevent leaks in rainy weather. Ideally, the rainfly should overlap the floor’s perimeter by several inches.

Tent Features

Here’s the lowdown on the most common features you’ll find on tents.

Structure: Freestanding vs Non-Freestanding

Freestanding

Freestanding camping tents can be erected without the use of stakes, which makes them easier to pitch and move around camp to find the perfect flat spot. (Note: All tents should be staked down to prevent them from blowing away, and to achieve maximum performance.)

Non-Freestanding

These camping tents rely on stakes to create the structure, so pitching in sand and snow requires special attention. They’re typically lighter than freestanding tents and can often fit into tight spots.

Doors: One vs Two

One

A camping tent with just one door is lighter than a double-door tent, but unless it’s positioned at one of the ends, one person will be crawling over the other to get in and out of the tent.

Two

Two doors really boost the comfort/livability factor of camping tents, especially when each door is protected by its own vestibule; this allows each camper to have their own storage space.

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Pole Material: Fiberglass vs. Aluminum vs. Carbon Fiber

Fibreglass

These are found on inexpensive, light-duty tents. Compared to the other two types, they are cheaper, heavier, and less durable.

Aluminium

The vast majority of good backpacking tents use aluminium poles, which are durable, light, and easy to replace.

Carbon Fiber

Found on ultra-high-end camping tents, these are super-light and super-strong, but not as durable as aluminium. They’re also more expensive. But it is usually preferred by expert people camping on more rough terrain. If you are a beginner, you do not need to worry about it.

Pole Connection: Sleeves vs Clips

Sleeves

When poles feed into continuous sleeves along camping tents body, an excellent structure is created that is best equipped to handle wind. But, setup can take longer, and airflow between the tent body and the fly is impeded so that condensation can become an issue without proper ventilation.

Clips

Setup is fast and easy with plastic clips that attach camping tent to poles. Airflow is superior, but stability in high winds is sacrificed.


Wall Construction: Double vs Single

Double-Wall

A traditional double-wall camping tents use an inner canopy (to sleep in) and a rainfly (to keep water out). Double-walls tend to be less expensive, drier in wet conditions, and have better ventilation.

Single-Wall

Single-walls use one layer of waterproof/breathable fabric, which makes them lighter and often easier to set up. Condensation can be a problem, so look for vents or a hybrid design (that uses a partial rainfly, often over the front door) to help reduce condensation.

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Vestibules

A vestibule is like a mudroom or foyer–it’s where you make a pit stop to ditch wet boots and drop your pack before diving into the dry, inner sanctum of your camping tent.

Vestibules are covered, but floorless, and they’re particularly critical in three-season tents when you’ll likely be dealing with wet, sloppy weather. Some vestibule tips:

  • Give Yourself Some Room: Look for one with enough head and elbow room that you can cook inside, if necessary. You can remain inside the inner tent, but there should be enough room in the vestibule to lay out a few pots, set up your stove, and fire it up without scorching any fabric.
  • Check the Drip Line: When it’s raining you’ll often want to open the vestibule, at least partially, to allow some airflow. When rain drips from the top of the vestibule door into the vestibule space, will it end up inside your tent? Try to picture this drip-line–and avoid tents that have outwardly that will get wet inside when things start dripping.

So this is all about this guide on camping tents.

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