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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Fabric: Cotton
Especially used for high-quality family tents and classic tents
Tent Fabric: Polyester
Especially used in cheaper trekking and family tents
Tent Fabric: Nylon
Mainly used in high-quality, lightweight trekking tents
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.
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 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?
Tunnel tent / Dome tent
Tunnel tent / Hybrid tent
Tunnel tent / Hybrid tent
- Cotton/ Polyester fiber
- Polyester/ Nylon fiber