How to choose the best tent for your next adventure

Tent buying guide
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Few holidays give you as much freedom as going camping. Simply throw your tent, sleeping bag and mat in a backpack, bicycle bag or car and you can go wherever you want. Spend the night at the campsite, stay primitive with the farmer or sleep in rugged nature. However, with so many types of adventures and tents at your disposal, choosing the right tent for your next adventure often proves to be a challenge. That’s why we wrote this tent buying guide containing the most important choices to make when buying a tent. In what follows are 4 tips that will help you choose the best tent for your next adventure.

Type of Season

4 Seasons illustrated with 4 distinct drawings

It seems logical, right? You use a 3-season tent in three seasons and a 4-seasons tent in all four seasons. But is that really what it means? The right answer is no, it has nothing to do with the season in which you go camping. It’s more about the conditions at your destination and what you expect your tent to handle. The seasons of a tent do not so much indicate the time of year, but rather its suitability for sun, bad weather, rain, wind and cold. Which one you need depends entirely on what the camping conditions are at your destination.

3 Season Tent

Trekking in the spring, camping trips in the summer, a micro adventure in the fall – the simple outdoor adventures are easy to do with a 3-season tent. This tent is designed to keep your luggage as light as possible, while protecting you against bugs, wind and rain. As a result, 3-season tents are often made of a lighter material and contain more mosquito net for breathability and air circulation. They are also often tents with a double wall (inner and outer tent) for greater versatility.

4 Season Tent

The main job of a 4 season tent is to keep you safe in extreme weather conditions – gusts of wind, icy cold and heavy snow showers. As a result, 4-season tents must be strong and robust. The construction of the poles and the sturdy cloth ensure this. Because heat is also important, there is as little mesh as possible in 4-season tents. Snow edges prevent the cold and snow from entering the tent. 4-season tents are also often slightly larger than 3-season tents, because you want to have some space in the tent for your full expedition outfit. 

A Useful Tip:
Are you traveling to an area with dry, warm weather and want to save space and weight? Then a tarp can be a solution. This tarp can serve as a shelter with limited protection against the elements. Hence, it can be used as a mini tent, hammock, emergency stretcher, poncho, or luggage solution!

Type of Activity

What you plan on doing before sleeping in a tent at the end of the day, heavily impacts the type of tent you end up with. Below we’ll discuss the most common types of activities that rely on a tent for shelter.

Car/RV camping

Happy family travelling by car with camping equipment on top. Parents and kids riding down country road by mountain landscape.

Compared to the other types of camping, car camping is the most comfortable and preferable as you get older. Here, you simply take your car or RV for an adventure and set up camp in a designated or dispersed campsite.
Designated campsites provide you with basic (usually free) services such as showers, toilets, tumble dryer, washing machines and treated water.
Dispersed campsites, also known as wild camping, simply means camping outside of campsites. By doing this, you are self-reliant for food, drinking water, sanitary amenities, own safety and most importantly leaving no trace once you leave. 

In both cases you can afford to bring with a decent tent since weight isn’t an issue. Also, you don’t have to disassemble the tent until you decide to go back home, unlike when trekking or going on an expedition. Thus, consider a tent that you can possibly stand up in and that has multiple rooms like a front porch and separate bedrooms. These types of tents are also referred to as family tents, as they are spacious enough for a family or group of friends.

Trekking

Adventure trekking set. Couple of campers hiking, sitting at tent and campfire, carrying backpack.

When trekking from point A to point B on foot or on your bike, you are most likely carrying the tent on your back or in your bicycle bag. Furthermore, this tent is set up almost every day at the end of the day and taken down in the morning before you move on to your next destination. Taking this into consideration, the most important features to look for in a tent would be the weight, ease of use and robustness. Usually you would go trekking in the summer and spring months where bad weather isn’t really an issue. However, if you plan to pass through a country with worse weather, make sure your tent is waterproof. 

Expedition

three children sitting in front of a campfire cooking marshmallows during winter.

Lastly, if you are planning a trek in winter then you are planning an expedition. Here, you don’t just want to have a lightweight and robust tent. It is equally if not more important to have a tent that keeps you well protected against the elements. Thus, a 4-season tent is definitely the best option to go with. They are designed to bear substantial snow loads and powerful winds. As an example, if you are planning a multi-day mountain hut tour then definitely consider spending the night in a 4-season tent. I personally made this mistake when doing the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland during the last two weeks of september. One thing I can tell you about this experience: “A good night’s sleep heavily influences your perspective on the surroundings ”.

A Useful Tip:
Pay attention to where you place your tent; not in a hole or under a tree with dead branches and place the entrance to the tent away from the wind.

Tent Design

Would you like to spend the night comfortably at a campsite or in the great outdoors with a backpack ? There is a type of tent for every activity, each with its own advantages.

Tunnel Tent

Campsite in the Belgian Ardennes with a tunnel tent on grass

The tunnel tent features arch poles that are placed parallel to each other thereby forming the shape of a tunnel. Often the inner tent is attached to the outer tent, as to keep the inner tent dry when pitching the tent in the rain. It offers a lot of space with little weight and due to the construction there is always a (small) vestibule with space for luggage. 

Advantages
  • Large living space and more storage space (in the awning) than a dome tent.
  • Different compartments in larger models: suitable for family vacations.
  • Quick to set up and extra strength thanks to the guy ropes, which are necessary to tighten the tent (ideal if your tent stays in one place for a long time).
  • Handy in rainy weather : you put up the outer tent first, so the inner tent stays dry when it rains during pitching.
Disadvantages

    Dome Tent

    Dome camping tent in summer forest

    Dome tents -also called igloo tents- offer the most space with the least use of cloth compared to other tents and are also very stable due to their construction. As a result, little to no pegs are needed when setting up the tent. Usually you put up the inner tent first and then the outer fabric goes over it. These tents are relatively heavy, because longer poles are required. Dome tents are popular as a festival tent or as a “side tent” at the campsite because of their simple design and ease of setup.

    Advantages
    • Compact volume and limited weight : ideal for those who travel on foot or by bicycle
    • Suitable for unstable surfaces: thanks to the self-supporting structure of the arch construction, you can easily pick up the tent in its entirety and set it up somewhere else
    • Little space required: the construction tensions itself, without guy ropes to tighten the tent
    • Inner tent can be set up separately: ideal in nice and dry weather, so you sleep even closer to nature
    Disadvantages

      Hybrid Tent

      Green hybrid hiking tent after the storm with ajar entrance mounted on the mountain meadow in a heavy fog

      A hybrid tent is a combination of a dome and tunnel tent, with the advantages of both models in one tent. Thanks to smart pole constructions, these tents are extremely wind-resistant, while still being relatively light. They also often offer more living space than standard dome tents. This model can be found from summer tents to extreme expedition tents.

      Advantages
      • Combination of self-supporting structure (dome) with more space (tunnel): ideal for family holidays to any country.
      • Lightweight and slightly more technical models.
      • Equipped with smart extras such as an awning or awning
      Disadvantages

        Pop-up Tent

        one young man, setting up a fast assembly tent, easy to set up.

        A pop-up tent sets itself up as soon as you throw it in the air. They are increasingly seen as a side or festival tent that stays on the campsite for a few weeks. Their biggest advantage is that it can be set up in a flash requiring minimal work from your side. As a camper you hardly have to roll up your sleeves, which is nice if you want to sleep quickly after arriving at the campsite or if bad weather threatens to wet your gear.

        Advantages
        • Lots of space
        • More affordable than the classic dome or tunnel tent
        • Sets up in an instant
        Disadvantages
        • Not very compactly packaged as a round disc, so difficult to carry
        • Packing back requires some skill
        • Lower water resistance , so not suitable for heavy or long rain showers

        A Useful Tip:
        When selecting a new tent, add the number of people you are going to use it for plus one for more living and lying space.

        Tent Material

        Tent Fabric: Cotton

        Especially used for high-quality family tents and classic tents

        Cotton tent
        Pros
        • Ideal for warm / dry climates due to its breathability
        • Very UV resistant
        • (Almost) no condensation
        Cons
        • Fairly heavy material, which is why there are also tent cloths made of polyester/cotton mix

        Tent Fabric: Polyester

        Especially used in cheaper trekking and family tents

        Tourist camp with lots of polyester tents in the woods. Light blue color dome tent and mountain range landscapes in the background
        Pros
        • Ideal for rainy climates, less so for warm climates (stuffy)
        • 100% waterproof due to PU coating and taped seams
        • Good UV-resistant
        Cons
        • Heavier than nylon cloth
        • Condensation

        Tent Fabric: Nylon

        Mainly used in high-quality, lightweight trekking tents

        Nylon tent and accessories in wilderness on summer day
        Pros
        • Great for wet, cold or turbulent climates
        • 100% waterproof due to silicone and/or PU coating
        Cons
        • Moderately UV resistant
        • Without coating: not 100% waterproof and therefore less suitable for a rainy climate
        • Condensation
        • Fabric collapses a bit so you have to tighten it more often

        Ripstop

        The term “ripstop” is often mentioned with nylon and polyester canvas tents. This is thinner and lighter than a standard woven cloth, and provided with thickened fibers that are woven into the cloth. This makes the fabric very tear-resistant and tensile and thereby increasing the lifespan of the tent.

        Coating

        To make your tent canvas waterproof and stronger, the canvas is provided with a coating of silicone or polyurethane. This coating also protects the fabric from harmful UV light, which significantly extends the life of the tent. However, this coating will slowly start dissipating over time. One way to slow down this process is by not machine washing your tent and re-waterproofing your tent every couple of years.

        Tent Poles

        Tent poles are usually made of fiberglass or aluminum. Some tents don’t even have poles at all, but an inflatable construction. Fiberglass tent poles are generally used for cheaper tents. These tent poles are heavy and can splinter after frequent use. Aluminum, on the other hand, is a light and durable material, which is often used in robust tents.

        A Useful Tip:
        Consider investing in a footprint as this custom groundsheet reduces condensation and protects the inner tent.

        Insights & Takeaways

        What should you pay attention to when buying a tent?

        Car/RV camping

        Trekking

        Expedition

        Tent Design

        Tunnel tent / Dome tent

        Tunnel tent / Hybrid tent

        Tunnel tent / Hybrid tent

        Tent Material

        - Cotton/ Polyester fiber
        - Aluminum/ Fiberglass tent poles

        - Polyester/ Nylon fiber
        - Ripstop
        - Aluminum tent poles

        - Nylon
        - Ripstop
        - Aluminum tent poles

        Ally Mash
        Ally Mash
        Ally is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent most of his free time backpacking through South America, Iceland, Vietnam, and Europe. He loves sharing his experience through blogging. His mission is to get more people in the mindset of protecting our planet by sharing its beauty.

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