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How to Choose the Best Tent for You

Flickr/David Trood

With a vast array of camping tents available, picking one can seem like a daunting task. A cheap tent may look as good as an expensive tent, but which one is right for you?

Before choosing your tent you need to ask yourself these questions: How many will be using the tent? Who will be using the tent? What time of the year are you camping? Do you require a three or four-season tent? Would an ultra-light tent or a heavy family tent suit you best?

Choosing a tent doesn’t need to be as arduous as it may sound as long as you’ve asked yourself these questions, which will help to determine the right tent for your camping needs. Of course, these questions are only half the equation when it comes to buying a tent. Here we determine other factors to consider to help choose the best tent.

Camping Tent vs. Backpacking Tent

Camping is camping, right? Well, not necessarily. When it comes to tents they will fall into two different areas: camping tents and backpacking tents. Neither is better than the next, but it’s a good idea to know which one is right for you before you embark on your outdoor adventures.

Camping tents, or car camping, is often an ideal solution for most people, particularly those with young children who can still enjoy the outdoors without being far from their comforts. Camping tents in this category tend to be three or four-man tents so that more space is available for the most basic camping equipment. These tents are also ideal if you are staying in one location for a while.

Backpacking tends to be a bit more hardcore with tents ranging from one or two-man lightweight tents. They tend to be this size because the backpacker is required to carry everything with them until they reach their next camping destination and smart packing in this category is vital as all space and weight needs to be utilized properly.

Johnathan Esper
Flickr/Johnathan Esper

Sleep Capacity

The size of a tent is described by the maximum number of people who can sleep comfortably inside, which is also known as a berth. For example, a one-man tent has the berth for one man or a three-man tent has the berth for three. However, the berth figure does not include any luggage, which will need to be considered.

So if there are two people sharing a tent who each have two bags, the tent size that would be ideal would be a three or four-man tent. If you’re going to be setting up camp in the same location for a while then it makes sense to pick a four-man tent so you have enough living space to take advantage of. Try not to go too mad with the bigger tents, though, as the bigger the tent, the heavier it will be.


Knowing when you’re most likely to go camping will help narrow your search considerably. Typically tents can be found in two seasonal categories: three-season and four-season. The three-season tents are perfect from spring to fall while the four-season tents are the go-to choice for winter camping conditions. Most people who camp all year round will usually have two tents, one for the mild months of spring to the warm summer months and another for the winter.

Chris Morley
Flickr/Chris Morley

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Comfort Levels

A camping tent, compared to a backpacking tent, is going to be more comfortable as it’s bigger and allows the camper to camp in luxury. It’s worth pointing out, though, that just because a tent may let adults walk around easily, they may not necessarily perform well in rough winds. Tunnel tents have been designed to withstand high wind speeds making them a good choice to pick as they are long enough with plenty of room space.

Do you Need a Tent with Two Layers of Fabric?

This will depend on what your camping needs are. If you’re doing a solo trip then you’ll most likely choose a lightweight, small tent or bivi which are often single layered to save on space and weight; however, it’s also possible to find larger tents that are single layered. For the more serious tents these will often have an inner and an outer fabric.

When looking at these types of tents, check the gap between the two and make sure that your fist can fit easily between them. Make sure that the two fabrics aren’t touching as this will lead to leaking, and you certainly don’t want to be awoken on a frosty morning at 5 o’clock by a gentle dripping inside your tent.

With the smaller tents, the inner part is typically pitched first while a flysheet is added for weather protection. In larger tents it is usually the other way around allowing you to determine how to use the inside space for your needs. In most cases it’s possible to keep the inners attached, making pitching easier the next time you go camping.

Try before You Buy

To figure out whether or not you’ll be able to pitch your tent during a storm it’s a good idea to grasp how the tent setup works. Most outdoor shops will be happy to assist you with this and go through setting up a tent in the store with you. This is also the ideal time to get a feel for how big the inside is or whether you need to upgrade to a bigger tent or downgrade to something smaller. A good camping tent should be able to be set up by one person in terrible weather conditions.

Weather Resistance

While it may be tempting to go for a cheap tent, you won’t be remarking on what a good deal you bagged when the weather takes a turn for the worst. The time when you’re sleeping in a puddle of water, your tent poles are snapping and you realize that the tent fabric isn’t as waterproof as the label described, will be when you realize that maybe you should have opted for an expensive tent instead. So save yourself the misery and invest in a good quality tent.

More than One Tent?

If you have a backpacking tent do you need to get a camping tent too? The answer to this would most certainly be yes. While a backpacking tent is certainly an option for camping trips at some point you will want to upgrade to a tent that is slightly bigger. Even if the camping tent is somewhat cheaper it will provide you with more living space for you to take full advantage of.

Jose A. García
Flickr/Jose A. García

Remember these tips the next time you go out to buy a tent. It is always good to be a smart consumer, especially with outdoor products.

Happy camping!

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How to Choose the Best Tent for You