Ten Tips To Choose The Top Tent For You

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So you're interested in getting a tent, but you're not sure about how to choose the right one - there seem to be so many options! How do you know what to pick? Well, here are ten points, in no particular order, to consider to help you pick the best tent for what you need.

#1 - Purpose: Why do you need a tent?

The most important thing to understand is that there isn't one tent that will be great for everyone. The reason that you need a tent is different to the reason that someone else needs one. Someone who just wants a casual tent for the occasional weekend getaway will be looking at very different tents to someone who goes camping and hiking regularly, or for longer trips. Similarly, someone who is looking to replace their old tent will be looking in a different way than someone who is buying for the first time.

So why are you buying a tent? What do you want this tent to do? How often are you going to use it? Who is going to use it? Where are you going to be using it? Answering these questions will help you to set the right parameters when you go looking for a tent.

#2 - Seasons: When are you camping?

You might have seen tents that are labelled as "three season tents" or "four season tents". If you're not sure about what this means, it's a general guide as to when the tent is designed to be used, based on things like temperature and weather-resistance. It's not an official rating, but more of a guideline. It can be used for some other products as well, like sleeping bags. How it works is like this:

  • One season tent - good for summer
  • Two season tent - good for summer and spring
  • Three season tent - good for summer, spring and autumn
  • Four season tent - good for all year round

Most tents will fit into either three or four season. If they're four season, you can expect them to be good for the snow. If you have more particular requirements, though, it's good to check and see if they have a specific temperature rating, or what weather-resistance it has.

So when are you going to be using your tent? If you'll just go camping in the summer and spring, then you can just get a one or two season tent; getting a four season tent will be much more expensive, and they'll often be much heavier. However, if you're going camping in the colder months, then not investing the money into a three or four season tent could be a very bad idea.

#3 - Capacity: How many are camping?

This one is fairly simple. Every tent will say how many people it can hold; whether it's a one-person tent, two-person, three-person, etc. Sometimes, they can be a bit tricky, and the tent will say that it's a one-and-a-half-person tent. If you see that, it means that it's not big enough to fit two people, but it's more roomy than your typical one-person tent; so it's great for if you have gear that you want to keep in the tent with you.

So how many people need to fit in the tent? Don't get a two person tent and hope that you can squeeze three in without setting up the tent and actually trying it first, because you might not be able to! But on the other hand, don't get a massive tent if there are only a couple of you - you don't need that extra weight and price.

#4 - Weight: How much do you want to carry?

This is more of an issue if you're backpacking and camping; for those who are doing car camping, this isn't really a problem most of the time! But when you're carrying everything on your back, it's important to make sure that you're not taking what you don't need. Tents that are designed for colder climates and tents that fit more people are going to be heavier, so be wise in your choices; but don't make compromises that will make for a bad camping experience. If you do end up getting a heavier tent, one thing that you can do is share the load around; basically every tent can be split up into different parts, like the inner, fly, and poles, which can each be carried by a different person. Of course, this will only work if you're travelling in a group! It's always a good idea to travel with others, especially if you're in an unfamiliar area.

#5 - Pack Size: How much space do you have?

Again, this will be more important for hikers than car campers. The size in your pack is at a premium, and the tent can often be one of the biggest things that you'll be taking. So choosing a tent that can pack down to a relatively small size is quite important. Again, there are some tricks that come in handy here; for example, don't assume that the bag that the tent comes in will always define how small you can pack the tent. Try packing the poles and pegs separately (because these can't pack smaller, no matter how hard you might try!), and then you should be able to make the tent more compact. A great investment can also be a compression bag of some description. These have straps that force excess air out of the bag, making it much smaller in size. And again, sharing the parts of the tent around will mean that it's both easier to make small, and takes up less space in a single pack.

#6 - Waterproofing: How wet will you get?

Tents will have various levels of waterproofing or weather-resistance, that can often relate in to their season rating. It's important here to understand which things are waterproof, which aren't, and why.

The main two things that you want to look at are your fly, and your floor.
The fly is the outermost covering of your tent, and it's what rain, hail, wind, snow, or any other sort of weather is going to come into first contact with. This needs to have a pretty good waterproof rating, unless you're quite confident that you're not going to be anywhere near rain when you're out. But if you're wrong, it can get very uncomfortable very quickly.
Perhaps of more importance, though, is actually the floor. The floor needs to be waterproof as well for a simple reason; when it's raining, the ground gets wet. In heavy rain, you can get puddles, or even flooding. The last thing you want is for water to start seeping in through the floor. Because of this, you'll actually find that the floor will typically have a higher waterproof rating than the fly on a tent.

The waterproof rating is given in millimetres. This is because the way to test how waterproof a material is is by clamping a tube of 1 inch diameter over a sample of the material, and then the tube is gradually filled with water. The height at which the material starts to leak is that material's waterproof rating. It is worth noting that if a material gets a rating of less than 1500mm, it should not be marked as waterproof; only water-resistant. Some extremely waterproof materials may have ratings of over 15,000mm. Keep in mind, however, that more waterproof is not always better; because typically, the more waterproof a material is made, the more rigid and heavy it becomes. As such, lightweight tents will usually have lower waterproof ratings than regular tents. It's your decision as to what is better for what you need.

#7 - Durability: Will it last?

The materials used to make tents can vary widely between brands and manufacturers. If you're looking at a tent, and are pleased at how cheap it seems to be - it may just be that it won't be able to last very long, and the material tends to tear or rip quite easily. So you may end up getting a new tent again before long. But it depends very much on how you use the tent - if you only plan to go camping occasionally, then how durable the tent is doesn't matter as much as if you are using it quite frequently. Someone who goes car camping will also not wear out their tent as much as someone who goes hiking; and taking good care of your tent, and choosing smoother camping spots, can help a lot in prolonging the life of your tent, regardless of what tent you buy.

#8 - Simplicity: Is it easy to use?

Some tents come with a ten-page manual, with detailed instructions on setup and pack down, and you need every page. Other tents are designed so that these things are simple and easy to do. If you're planning to get a larger tent, that might be bad news for you - the bigger the tent, often the quicker it gets complex and difficult to setup. There are exceptions, of course, but it's a general rule. Particularly because the bigger the tent is, the more poles are needed; generally, the more poles that you see a tent has - or if the poles are all connected together in some strange way - the more difficult it can be. If you're confident in how to use it, or happy to do the research, then that's fine. But otherwise, perhaps try to find something that's easier to interact with.

#9 - Features: What else does it do?

As with everything these days, tents can come with a list of features as long as your arm. Some of these can be quite helpful, like air vents, a footprint, better pegs, or guy lines. It can be handy to check to see if the tent is freestanding or not - whether it will stand up by itself, or if you need to put the pegs in first. But there are also a lot of features that, most of the time, you may not really need, so why pay extra for them? Know what features you'd like to see, but don't assume that every feature is a good feature.

#10 - Price: How much is it?

This is actually really important, strangely enough! You've got a budget that you need to work within, so do keep that in mind when you're looking at different products. If you're only camping every now and then, you won't need or want to spend as much money on a tent as someone who is out camping frequently. Tents are an item that can easily get quite expensive, so it's important that you make the right decision and don't buy something hastily. Investigate your different options, and make an informed decision. And don't be afraid to ask questions if you're not sure!

Bonus: Why not something else?

Is a tent really what you're after? It's the most well-known option, but there are also some other great products out there, such as tarps or hammocks, that may suit what you need better. Look around a bit, and then figure out what works best for you!

 

To have a look at the different tents and shelters that we sell, have a look at this page.

 

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