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How to Choose a Camping Tent?

The joy of camping opens up plentiful family holidays, romantic getaways for couples, and access to the great outdoors for the intrepid explorer – all from the comfort of a camping tent. But, how do you choose the best camping tent for you and your lifestyle?

Before you can consider the intricate details of waterproofing and pole structure, you need to consider the answer to the primary question – what do you want from your tent?

Camping Tent

Why Do You Want a Camping Tent?
To fully answer that question, you need to consider:

· Season – what time of year are you going camping?

· Space – how much room do you need?

· Frequency of use.

· Budget – what can you afford and what can you get for your money?

These factors help you work out the must-have features for your shopping list when looking for your ideal camping tent.


Seasonal Matters
Seasonal references describe most tents:

· Three seasons,

· Three to four Seasons, or

· Four-season tents.


What does this mean?

The seasonal reference loosely refers to the actual seasons, with a three-season tent being suitable for typical weather conditions in spring, summer, and fall. The four-season tent stands firm in the worst winter weather.

In practical terms, the description is about the tent's ability to stand up to weather – rain, wind, and snow.

A three-season tent is for mild conditions. It will withstand a downpour or two, but it is a warm-weather tent, and ventilation with mesh panels is more important than keeping out a blizzard.

A four-season tent has more poles, a more stable structure, heavy materials, and typically domed panels that shed snow. A four-season tent keeps harsh winter weather out and the people inside warm and protected. Although you can use a four-season tent all year round, typically, this is a winter tent or one for challenging environments on the top of a mountain. In summer months, the interior of a four-season tent can prove stifling and too hot. Most dedicated year-round campers have two tents – one for winter and one for summer.

The three to four-season tent is a compromise between the two – it will protect against wind and some snow and give some mesh panels for ventilation. This type of tent is ideal for the shoulder seasons when the weather can switch between winter and spring and fall.

Most family camping occurs in the spring, summer, and autumn months, and an airy, roomy three-season tent is ideal. But if your camping is more adventurous and you like to camp in all weathers or the place you are visiting has a challenging climate, you may want to consider one of the other seasonal tents.

Pick your quality of tent for the weather conditions you expect to encounter. In summary:


Three Season Tents are:

· Lightweight shelters for spring, summer, and fall.

· Ideal for temperate conditions.

· Incorporate plenty of mesh panels – airflow.

· Taut rainfly will withstand downpours, but not best for harsh storms, high winds, or snow.

· Almost always double-walled tents to cut down on condensation.


Three-four Season Tents are:

· A compromise between ventilation (fewer mesh panels) and retaining warmth and are more durable – for late fall and early spring when you may encounter snow.

· More stable with 1-2 more poles.

· Extended season tents.

· Better for high elevations

· Not a fully winter proof tent.


Four Season Tents are:

· Usable in any season but may be too warm in hot, humid conditions.

· Able to withstand high winds and snow.

· More stable and durable with more poles and heavier fabric.

· Typically, a rounded dome shape to eliminate flat panels where snow can collect.

· Light on mesh panels, and these have additional protection to cover them in harsh weather.

· Highly waterproof with a rainfly extending down to ground level.

· Typically, single-walled tents.

Space Matters

Space Matters
The amount of space inside your tent makes all the difference to the quality of your camping experience – especially if you have a wet day and need to remain inside.

There is no industry standard for the inside space provided by a tent. You must work it out from the information you get on:

· Peak height.

· Number of people it sleeps (or berths).

· Floor area.

· Tent shape.


Peak Height
The peak height is the tallest part of the tent. Typically, it is an external measurement, and to get an idea of how much headroom you have inside the camping tent, subtract a couple of inches from this measurement. If you want to sit up comfortably inside the tent, you need a minimum peak height of 3' 6." If you want to stand and move around, the peak height needs to accommodate the tallest person's height.


People, Pets, Children, and Gear
When a camping tent says it can sleep two people, it means that two people in sleeping bags can lie down in that tent. It does not include your clothing pack and other gear. If you want to be comfortable, you need to think of your equipment as an extra person. Tents with vestibules allow you to store your gear, wet boots, and other items outside of the tent's main sleeping area, but to be comfortable, always opt for an extra person capacity.

You may need a tent that sleeps more people if:

· Your party includes children – little people take up a lot of space.

· You are taking along the family pets – you need to accommodate their sleeping, equipment, and food.

· A member of your party is larger than average or claustrophobic and needs more space to move around.

· Restless sleepers – when you are on holiday inside a camping tent, you still sleep in your usual position, and if you sleep like a starfish, you need more room.

Opting for a tent that is larger than you technically need gives you more room to move.


Floor Space
The floor length accommodates your sleeping body, and if you are tall (over six feet), you will be more comfortable with an extra-long floor length (say 90 inches) instead of the standard floor length of 84-88 inches. The extra space is essential because you need to avoid touching the tent's sides – especially when wet.

The other measurement in camping tent specifications is floor area – as a guide, you want 20 square feet per person to be comfortable. The minimum amount is 15 square feet per person, but you will feel more confined and cramped.

Before you buy your camping tent – mark out an area equivalent to the floor space available and see how comfortably you and your gear fit in that space.


Tent Shape
Most camping tents follow the dome shape (rounded) or the cabin shape (vertical walls and like a small house), which impacts the amount of available space inside the tent.

The dome shape is stable in the wind and sheds water (and snow) easily. The sloping sides restrict the amount of useable interior space. The cabin shape is less weather-resistant, but often you can walk around inside and enjoy a comfortable interior layout with separate rooms.

The ideal tent shape for you will depend on how many people are in your party and the types of weather conditions you expect to meet. You can get an excellent camping tent in both these shapes and others.


Frequency of Use
The joy of a camping tent is that you can get out of your usual routine and take an affordable holiday anywhere you can pitch your tent. The features and tent quality you need will depend on how often you want to use your tent.

If your camping holiday is an experiment or a never to be repeated event, you may opt for a lighter cheaper model. Camping with the right equipment and comfort level rapidly becomes addictive, so you may also consider the merits of investing in a new enjoyable activity by picking a better-quality tent that will encourage you to get the maximum use from your camping tent.

A camping tent that is quick to put up and take down is a plus when you regularly go camping. It gives you more of your leisure time and less effort in making the holiday happen. If you intend to e a frequent camper, you will pay close attention to the tent features' quality as these enhance your enjoyment and give you a longer camping tent lifespan.


Camping Tent Features
A camping tent is a straightforward concept, a frame with material stretched over it, but the details give you a durable, luxurious tent for many years or a flimsy single-use tent.

Tent Poles

Tent Poles
Almost all family tents are free-standing with the advantage that you can erect it and then move it into position before taking it down for stability. The poles and the pole structure make this feature possible.

The pole configuration and materials depend on the shape of the tent. Fewer poles give you speed in getting the tent up and down but may compromise on stability.

Most pole arrangements involve short lengths connected with an elastic cord. These poles then slide into sleeves in the tent fabric or create a frame with durable plastic clips. The poles' top typically has a spike that fits into a metal grommet – but designs vary, and some poles are curved instead. Clips are excellent for airflow in the tent, but sleeves provide a more stable frame. Color-coded poles and clips help with a rapid and smooth tent set-up.


Regardless of the precise design, poles form the rigid frame that gives the tent its structure and stability.

Many materials make functional tent poles:

· Fiberglass – light and affordable. The main disadvantages are that they can snap and splinter under pressure.

· Carbon fiber – light and strong, relatively new on the market, and typically only in the more expensive premium tents.

· Steel – traditional material, strong but heavy and may rust.

· Aluminum – all the advantages of steel but corrosion-free and light.

Most of the better, middle price range camping tents use aluminum poles for their combination of strength and lightness.


Tent Materials and Construction
The fabric of a double-walled tent includes the tent's main body (with interior rooms and potentially a sewn-in floor) and a separate rainfly that provides the wind and waterproofing on the top. A single-walled tent has the tent's fabric as one layer that incorporates the rainfly and inner lining as one fabric.

Most tent fabric is synthetic nylon, but you can get luxury cotton canvas tents. The cotton canvas tents are heavier and more substantial, and more expensive. The disadvantage of a cotton canvas tent is that you need to take extra care in storage to avoid issues with mold.

Deniers – a measure of grams per 9,000 meters of thread describes the quality of the nylon fabric. The higher numbers are thicker and more durable but cost proportionally more.


The rainfly can be a separate cover that either fits only the top of the tent or extends all the way to the ground. The roof only rainfly gives you maximum views, light, and air. The full coverage provides better weather protection. Some comping tents give you the pest of both worlds by allowing you to roll up the sides to air the tent and offer better light or allow you to watch the stars come out.

The hydrostatic head measurement tells you how waterproof the fabric is and 1500mm is the minimum rating for a waterproof rainfly. The higher the number, the more waterproof the material; 2,000 mm deals with average showers and 4,000mm with almost everything the weather can throw at it.

A system that lets you pitch the rainfly first gives you the advantage of erecting the tent's inner part under shelter. Other approaches involve putting up the frame and the inner tent before pitching the rainfly over the top.


Taped seams improve the waterproofing of your camping tent. If you buy a camping tent without this feature, it is sensible to use a seam sealer (application of a rubber solution or tape). Treating the seams before first use improves your tent's capabilities to withstand the weather. The seams are a potential point of weakness for water to penetrate and extra protection in these areas is beneficial.

Typically the tent floor is a higher denier material to withstand the pressure of you walking and moving across it. A "bath-tub" floor is where the higher density ground material goes partway up the sides of the tent, providing a protective "wall" around the base. This construction method helps keep debris and water out of the tent interior and improves waterproofing and cleanliness.

A separate groundsheet may not be as waterproof because of the gap between the ground and the tent walls, but it does improve ventilation and cut down on condensation.


Footprint Mat
A footprint mat is an optional accessory that helps preserve the durability of your tent floor. Stones, pebbles, and sharp rocks will eventually damage the bottom of your tent. A footprint mat sits between the tent floor and the ground, adding an extra layer of insulation and protection. It is the same size as the tent floor (pr footprint) and is cheaper to replace than your tent.

A separate groundsheet that extends beyond your tent's footprint is not ideal because it can collect and direct water under your tent. A footprint mat is an accessory you can make yourself with a trip to a hardware store for some builder's heavy-duty plastic or other ground covering material.


Tent Carpet
Another useful accessory is a mat that covers the tent floor on the interior. This mat provides additional warmth through insulation and offers extra cushioning for comfort. It is not essential, but if you are a frequent camper, small accessories like these turn your camping tent into a holiday home.


Guy-Out Loops
Higher quality tents have loops on the outside of the tent to attach guy lines for increased stability in windy conditions – helpful for keeping the rainfly taut and allowing water to bead and run away.

Not every tent has guy lines – some use only stakes for stability. Glow in the dark guy lines are visible at night to avoid trip hazards. You can also get fluorescent stakes as an additional extra.


Doors, Windows, Vestibules, and Garages
One door or two? The door is the way you get in and out of the tent. If you only have one door, then the tent occupants may need to climb over each other for a midnight comfort break. The advantage of one entry is the security of knowing that your children must wake you up before they wander outside. Two doors may be more convenient in larger tents and offer you options for airing out the tent during the day.

YKK zippers

The best tent zippers are YKK zippers that are quiet and tend not to snag. Both are essential when considering how many times a tent door will open and close for a busy camping holiday.

Windows gives you a view and provides some welcome air flow in the case of mesh panels. A fine mesh (no-see-ums – keeps out the bugs you can't see) gives protection against insect life but will still allow in fine dust. Some tent designs offer covers for the mesh windows, so you have flexibility between airflow and weatherproofing.

A vestibule or porch area acts as a barrier between the outside world and the inside tent. This feature is useful for keeping rain and wind out, plus it gives you a waterproof place to store your boots and other gear without cluttering up the inside of your tent.

A garage extension is excellent for the safe storage of bikes and other camping equipment.


Living in a tent is a compromise between staying cool, dry, and comfortable and keeping harsh weather out in some circumstances. Like houses, camping tents need air flow to prevent the build up of condensation and avoid unhealthy, hot, stuffy conditions.

If you camp in a hot, humid climate, you need more airflow than camping in a colder climate. Ventilation comes from:

· Mesh panels – windows and doors.

· Ventilation flaps – you can roll up sides or other areas to air out the tent.

· Vents – typically at the tent's highest point to let hot air out and keep the interior fresh. These are weather protected to stop rain from coming in.

· Second mesh doors for airflow and insect proofing.

The amount and quality of ventilation depend on your camping location and season, but all tents benefit from airflow.


Interior Features
Some tents have interior rooms, so you divide up the sleeping areas, but other internal features include:

· Lantern loops – usually at the top of the tent so you can hang a light source for illumination.

· Pockets – side pockets let you put small items in easy reach rather than losing them amongst the sleeping bags and other gear.

· Gear loops and gear loft – an optional accessory that creates a mesh "loft" inside the tent, creating useful storage space above your head.


Optional Accessories
Along with your camping tent, there are plenty of items that can help improve your tent's durability and comfort:

· Windbreak – not just for the beach, a carefully positioned windbreak keeps the wind away from your tent, plus you gain privacy when opening the tent door.

· Stakes and a mallet – you may want to upgrade to more and better-quality stakes than those that came with the camping tent.

· Dustpan and brush – you want to get all dirt and debris out of the tent before you pack it away, and you also want to start with a clean floor after you erect it.

· Inside/outside floor mat – to trap dirt and moisture from your boots. The more dirt you keep outside your tent, the happier your experience of camping.

· Tent repair kit – accidents happen. Duct tape will fix most issues, but a dedicated tent repair kit either bought or created by you, means you can stop a small accident before it is a crisis.

· Seam sealer – always useful if any of your seams develop a drip.

· Utility cord – so many camping uses and lets you hang up damp clothing to air or dry.

· Battery operated ventilator fan – to assist with airflow.

· Solar lamp – because you will need light in the dark.

· Tent cleaner and proofer to keep your tent in excellent condition.

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