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Types of Tents

A tent is still the home of choice for some nomadic peoples, but most people use tents and camping to access and spend time in nature or affordable holiday accommodation. You can pitch at a location to suit you in places off the beaten track or in the heart of a busy temporary town at a festival.

The size and shape of the tent you buy depend on its expected use – a family holiday home for six people is different from a speedy shelter for the intrepid backpacker traveling in the mountains. A fair-weather camper needs a different standard to a winter trekker. Whatever you need or want from your camping activities, there is a shape and style of tent that not only meets your needs and gives you a dry place to lay your head.


Tent Shapes
Traditional tents and modern tent shapes have their origin in the human approach to working out how to provide a shelter using poles and fabric. If you give children some bedsheets, string, and bamboo poles, they will rapidly create almost all the basic tent shapes. Modern materials give us lightweight, flexible poles and waterproof nylon fabric, but the principles and forms of tent design are logical ways of creating a living space.


The common tent shapes are:
· Pyramid – a central pole and straightforward design.
· A-line or ridge tent – looks like a pitched roof.
· Cabin – a larger frame and a traditional house shape
· Dome – like a snow igloo or hill in shape.
· Geodesic – a more stable dome shape.
· Tunnel – a rounded shape with plenty of room.

From these common tent shapes, you get more elaborate styles. Adding in more poles and using techniques like flexible poles and springs allows a pop-up design that is self-erecting. An inflatable tent uses air to provide rigidity instead of rods. Both these innovations give a tent that is quick to put up and down with one person and minimal effort.

All tents involve a frame to support a fabric that keeps out the rain, wind, and sun. All the other details are minor adjustments to provide more comfort and style.

Pyramid Tent

Pyramid Tent
The basis of a pyramid tent is a central pole with a large square of fabric thrown over the top and pegged out along the edges. The highest point is at the center pole, and the lowest points at the edges.

Traditional fabrics include animal hides and canvas with a heavy wooden pole. The modern version uses lightweight and waterproof nylon with an aluminum pole. An alternative name for the pyramid tent is the pyramid tarp or the monopole.

The pyramid tent is an ideal solution for one or two people, but it is not the most beautiful tent on the market. Once you get beyond accommodating one or two, the size of the tent becomes unstable. The tent's support is the central pole, and if you knock it over, the tent collapses.

The pyramid tent is popular with ultralight backpackers because it is a quick way to provide shelter for a single night before you pack up and move on. It's not such a popular option with families because the living and storage space is minimal for a prolonged camp.


· This simple design is easy to put up and collapse.
· If securely tied down, it is very stable in windy conditions.
· Modern materials make this lightweight and easy to carry.
· Heat efficient – smaller headspace to heat.
· Steep sides help shed snow.
· For lightweight backpacking, you can use your trekking poles as the central pole when pitching your tent - reducing the amount you carry.

· The larger the tent, the more unstable it becomes.
· The sloping sides give little room inside the tent for moving around.
· The door may go all the way to the roof, which exposes the inside to the elements.
· A bigger footprint than tents with vertical sides. You need a larger amount of level ground to pitch it.
· Can't walk around inside.
· Lacks bug nets.
· No sewn-in groundsheet – so if the ground is wet, you sleep on damp earth or need to carry a separate groundsheet.
· Condensation may be an issue if you don't ventilate it properly.
· No porch area for weatherproofing at the door.

Ridge Tent

A-Line or Ridge Tent
Two vertical poles with an optional horizontal bar make a stable frame for the rainfly. The ridge tent gives you plenty of sleeping space and is straightforward to erect and stabilize with guy ropes and tent pegs. The sloping sides shed water and snow easily.

These days you get light metal poles and lightweight nylon fabric, giving a tent that packs into a small space. You get some adaptions incorporating vertical sides to improve the useable space inside in the larger A-line tents.

Ridge tents are popular with people who want a secure place to sleep (they are exceptionally weather resistant) or an extra storage area for their camp. Ridge tents are not so useful for family camping holidays because the interior is cramped and only functions as a sleeping area. Backpackers favor other tent shapes that pack into a smaller space for ease of transport.


· Excellent shape to allow water to run off.
· Very stable if you put it up correctly and remains stable at larger sizes.
· Straightforward to construct, but it helps to have two people.
· Light to carry and pack.
· Comes in a range of sizes from one or two people to a grand marquee.
· Design can include an integral groundsheet.


· Limited head height -you can't walk around.
· You need a skill in erecting – the guy ropes need careful placing and tension and regular tightening.
· Weight increases with size, and the pack size depends on the pole sections.

Cabin Tent

Cabin Tent
Poles can build a more complex structure resembling the frame of a house. When you cover it with the rainfly, you get a roof, sides, doors, and windows. The cabin tent can vary in size and subdivides readily into rooms – its main advantage is that you can walk around inside.

Cabin tents give greater comfort to a family holiday because they create a structure that acts as a holiday house. They are heavier to carry because there are more poles and fabric, but they are ideal for fair-weather family holidays by car.


· Plenty of useable internal space and individual bedrooms for a large family.
· You can stand up and walk around inside the tent.
· You often have windows for light and ventilation in addition to the door.
· You can use camping furniture inside the tent - tables, chairs, and camp beds.


· They are complicated to erect because you need to build the frame – for a large cabin tent, you need more than one person to help with the erection.
· A cabin tent occupies a large floor space. You need a sizeable area to pitch your tent.
· May have difficulty in high winds – poles are often lightweight.
· Heavy to carry and move – ideal for a family with a car but not for a party trekking along a trail.

Dome Tent

Dome Tent
The flexible poles' development made the compact dome tent a viable design—two poles crossover at the top and anchor the four corners to the ground. Dome tents vary in style, with some models having the rainfly on the outside of the frame. The alternative is to have an external structure and hang the rainfly on the inside.

Most models incorporate a porch area over the door, and some have a more elaborate arrangement with additional poles. The dome tent is excellent in sizes that accommodate up to four people. After that, the dome tent becomes increasingly unstable.

Most pop-up or instant tents use a dome design because it lends itself to an easy automatic erection. The dome tent is versatile and popular with groups of campers, festival-goers, and backpackers. A dome tent is not the best tent for camping in harsh weather; although the shape sheds snow easily, high winds are a problem.


· Straightforward to put up and takedown.
· Lightweight and inexpensive.
· Small pack size improves portability.
· Excellent amount of headroom.
· The freestanding design means you can move the tent without dismantling it – useful if the wind changes direction.
· Compatible with add-ons for extra storage.


· Lacks stability in high winds and stormy weather.
· Maximum size restricted to four people because of stability issues.

Geodesic tents

Geodesic Tent
A geodesic tent looks like a dome tent, but it is more stable and weather resistant. A geodesic line is the shortest line between two points on a sphere – the additional poles follow geodesic lines. A geodesic tent uses many intercrossing poles, and these distribute the structural stress, so there are few weak points and joints. The rounded shoes give better streamlining, allowing the wind to flow around the tent.

Like the dome tent, the geodesic tent is freestanding, so you can build it and then choose where to stake it down. Geodesic tents accommodate up to two people and are the best tent for camping in extreme weather conditions.


· Quick to pitch.
· Wind and snow resistant if adequately stabilized.
· Exceptionally well made and durable.
· Light to carry and pack.
· Plenty of headroom.


· More expensive than other tent shapes.
· Can be tricky to master because of the intercrossing pole design.
· Accommodates a maximum of two people.

Tunnel Tent

Tunnel Tent
A tunnel tent stretches the outer fabric over a series of hoops created from flexible poles. They are straightforward to pitch (though you may need help), and they provide plenty of headroom. A tunnel tent gives the advantages of a dome tent for a larger group of people, so they are popular with families.

You need to pitch the tunnel tent facing into the wind because the large sides do not cope well with heavy gusts. The same observation applies to most large tents – you want to present the minimum obstacle to the wind.


· Plenty of headroom compared with a dome tent.
· Excellent for larger groups.
· Straightforward construction.
· Relatively stable if you pay attention to the wind direction.
· Plenty of space inside.


· You may need help putting it up and taking it down, and it is not a quick process.
· Water can pool on the roof between the hoops, which is not ideal.
· Large footprint, so you need an ideal site.
· Difficult to provide ventilation to the middle part of the tent.
· Heavy to carry, perfer suitable with a vehicle.


Specialist Tents for Backpackers and Wild Campers
Backpacking, where you carry your food, water, and equipment, can let you explore some places beyond the reach of most travelers. But it does mean you need to consider the weight and value of every item you take on your journey. A couple of tents meet the needs of minimalist campers who want shelter while they rest overnight.

Bivy tent

Bivy Tent
A bivy tent is an upgrade from the bivy sack. The bivy sack is a minimalist approach to providing warmth and weatherproofing to your overnight sleep. A bivy tent or bivy shelter includes an internal pole or hoops and a zipper allowing you access to a small but comfortable shelter.

Typically, this small tent encloses one person and their sleeping bag and is a ridge or tunnel shape.


· Light and small in pack size.
· Includes a bug net and ventilation, so you are comfortable while sleeping.
· Super-easy to put up and takedown.
· Provides a weatherproof sleeping space.
· Small footprint, and you can deploy it in narrow spaces like a mountain ledge.


· It is small and will only provide a sleeping space with minimal comfort.

Backpacker Tent

Backpacker Tent
The backpacker tent is for one or two people and is a small tent - a tunnel or geodesic shape. The poles and fabric are lightweight, and the pack size is small. You get a bit more room to move around in the tent than with a confined bivy tent, making for a more comfortable overnight experience.


· Light to carry and small pack size.
· Geodesic is best for extreme weather conditions.
· More space inside and can shelter equipment.
· Straightforward to pitch and dismantle.
· Relatively small footprint.


· Occupies space in your backpack and adds some extra weight.
· For stability, you need to stake the edges, and that limits your terrain for camping.

Hammock Tent

Hammock Tent
Some grounds are not suitable for camping – swamps, marshes, rocks, and areas with dangerous wildlife. A better option is an elevated sleeping platform that protects you from the elements. A hammock tent will sleep one person in a tunnel or ridge tent design hanging in the air with suspension straps. Typically, these hammock tents include bug netting and ventilation panels.


· You don't sleep on the ground, which is an advantage if the ground is wet or contains poisonous bugs.
· Straightforward to put up and takedown
· Light to carry and packs small.


· You need tree branches with sufficient strength to act as anchor points to bear your sleeping weight. This limits where you can spend the night.


Specialty Tents and Glamping
Finally, there is a class of tents that benefit from advances in technology and materials. These tents approach camping from an innovative angle considering new ways of providing shelter (can be luxurious) in a non-traditional tent form.

Glamping elevates the humble tent to luxury hotel status with exceptionally comfortable interiors. These tents need to be large enough for several people to move freely inside.

Pop-up tent

Pop-up or Instant Tents
Typically, a pop-up tent uses a dome or tunnel shape, and as the name suggests, it pops up with minimal assistance from you. These tents are popular with festival-goers and for beach outings. Modern materials are durable, but many pop-up tents are inexpensive intended for limited use.


· No expertise is needed to produce a functional tent in under a minute.
· Light to carry and quick to deploy.
· Convenient for festivals and trips to the beach.
· Inexpensive and widely available for beginner or inexperienced campers.


· It can be flimsy and lack weatherproofing.
· Heavier and bulkier than a similar tent without the pop-up mechanism.

Air Tents

Inflatable or Air Tents
Instead of poles, you pump air into inflatable beams that provide the tent roof and body structure and support. You stake the tent to the ground with guy ropes and pegs for stability. They are super-easy to erect with a hand or foot pump, and you don't need to worry about losing or breaking the poles.

These air tent will accommodate a large family or group as easily as a smaller number. Typically these tents use a tunnel, cabin, or geodesic shape.


· Super-quick and easy to put up and takedown.
· Uncomplicated to pack away.
· Larger tents complete with interior rooms and windows.
· Versatile designs are suitable for large groups.
· Durable and well-constructed.
· Freestanding structure is easy to reposition if necessary.


· More expensive than traditional tents with poles.
· Risk of puncture – but this is rare and easily repaired.
· Tunnel shape means you need to consider the wind direction when pitching it.

Suspended Tents

Tree or Suspended Tents
Tree tents range from a simple hammock style suspended tent for two or three people to a sphere or cocoon. Suspending a tent in the air removes many of the problems associated with camping – damp ground and creepy crawlies coming into the tent. The tent shapes vary and typically use a tunnel or a pyramid shape for the smaller tents. The attachment can be between two points or hanging from a tree. Some suspended tents allow mountaineers to camp on a sheer rock face by providing a suspended but stable platform.


· Your sleeping platform is in the air removing any problems with unsuitable pitches.
· Exciting alternative to traditional tents adding to the camping experience.
· Enables comfort in inhospitable terrains.


· You need to place secure anchor points.
· You need to climb to access your tent.
· Not everyone enjoys the swaying motion while inside the tent.
· Limited load-bearing inside the tent, so some of your gear may need to stay on the ground.
· More technical construction and dismantling than other tent types.

Roof Top Tents

Roof Top Tents
If you have a sports utility vehicle, 4x4, or another vehicle with roof bars, you can opt to pitch a tent on the roof. Generally, these tents fold up and down with a cabin shape and provide a comfortable sleeping area for a maximum of four people. The luxury versions come with a hard shell and pop-up in a minute, complete with a mattress in place for a restful night's sleep anywhere.


· You are not sleeping on the ground.
· You can pitch your tent wherever you can park your vehicle.
· Quick set up and takedown.
· Better insulation and waterproofing available compared with traditional tents.
· Frees up storage space in your vehicle.


· Some models can be dark inside the tent with little light, but a solar or other camping light will compensate.
· Can be tricky to install if you are doing it yourself.
· You need to use a ladder to get in and out of the tent.

Truck Bed Tents

Truck Bed Tents
These tents use the truck bed as the camping platform and provide you with a secure elevated camping site. Truck bed tents use dome, cabin, and tunnel shapes to offer a roomy and comfortable sleeping area.


· You sleep off the ground.
· You can pitch your tent anywhere you can park your truck.
· Weatherproof and durable construction.
· The sides of the truck provide extra warmth and weatherproofing for your sleeping area.
· Inexpensive.


· You can't use the truck bed while you are camping, so you have to unpack and move your gear before going to sleep.
· The tent fits the truck, so when you sell your vehicle, you lose your camping equipment.

Bell Tents, Yurts and Tipis
A bell tent takes the pyramid's principle with a central pole and elaborates by adding more poles at the side. Large-scale bell tents with wooden or scaffolding poles and heavy-duty canvas create performance spaces for circuses and mobile exhibitions. On a smaller scale, bell tents create a spacious interior for high-quality accommodation in a tent.

The central and side poles provide a supporting structure, but the guy ropes and stakes are essential for stability. A large bell tent will comfortably accommodate eight to ten people. Families that enjoy comfort and privacy when they camp can opt for a larger tent, so everyone has plenty of space.

The bell tent evolved from the Tipi (Native American) and the Yurt (Mongolian) as practical designs for useable living space. Some modern designs dispense with the traditional guy robes and incorporate heavy-duty webbing that pins to the ground and offers exceptional stability.

Larger bell tents, yurts, and tipis are often permanent fixtures furnished like a hotel suite and rented for a week or two as a luxury holiday experience. You can buy a smaller scale bell tent to give you and your family a more luxurious holiday break for years.


· Spacious interiors with plenty of headroom.
· Excellent additional features - bug netting, large doors, modifications for wood burning stoves.
· Larger versions accommodate furniture.
· Excellent quality construction.
· Durable.
· Weatherproof.
· Sides can roll-up for ventilation in some designs.
· Straightforward to erect and pack away.


· Bulky and heavy depending on chosen fabric – these work best for several days in one location and not for a single night and moving on.
· More interior space means you need more ground to pitch your tent.
· Larger tents and quality construction mean you pay more for these tents.

Multi-room and Connecting Tents.
On a family holiday, you may prefer a larger tent so that the whole family sleeps under the same roof but still want privacy. Tents that subdivide into interior rooms with a tunnel or cabin shape are popular, affordable, and practical.

Connectable tents give you a different option – the idea is straightforward: you can connect tents to create a larger family space or use the individual tents as stand-alone tents when fewer people are in your group.


· Ideal solutions for larger groups needing some privacy.
· Extra space allows you to stay inside during wet weather and amuse smaller children with board games.
· Standing room and able to walk normally inside.
· Plenty of storage space.
· Connecting tents give you flexible camping options.


· Larger, more complex tents are more expensive.
· Large, framed cabin tents need at least two people to erect – but inflatable tents remove that issue.
· Larger footprint means you need more even ground to pitch your tent.
· Heavier to carry and a larger pack size means you want to pitch your tent closer to your vehicle.

Your best tent shape depends on your expectations for your camping experience. An economic pop-up tent is ideal for a one-off trip to a festival or event. Enjoyable family holidays benefit from a more luxurious bell or cabin tent, allowing you to enjoy the comforts of home in a different location. Whatever your camping needs, deciding on the best tent shape will give you the right options for budget and quality.

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