We understand that with so many different types of tents, buying a tent can be daunting, especially for beginners.
So that’s where our tent buying guide comes in.
Whether you’re a hesitant beginner or a seasoned camper, these tips and recommendations will have you selecting your next tent like a pro.
Let’s get started!
6 Steps to Purchasing the Perfect Tent
1. Determine Your Budget
Figuring out what you can and are willing to spend on a tent will help keep you from overspending.
Budget-friendly tents start at fifty dollars whereas premium tents can start at hundreds of dollars.
- Backpacking Tents – The cost of a quality backpacking tent ranges anywhere from $100 to $400.
- Low-Cost Tents – If you camp once in a while, go for low-cost tents. Pop-ups and dome tents are usually the most affordable option found for under $100.
- Family Tents – Family tents are usually large and can be a little pricey for higher-quality tents. In most cases, spending $80 – $200 on a family tent would give you the best balance of quality, space, and affordability.
2. Select the Size You Need
Are you going at it alone or bringing the whole family?
The more people you want to fit in a tent, the bigger the tent size you will need.
Tents are measured in ‘persons’ i.e. 1-person tent, 2-person tent and so on.
If you are camping with a friend, go for a 3-person size tent instead of a 2-person size, as it allows more space for two people and gear.
Always consider upgrading to a larger size tent to better accommodate campers and gear.
3. Consider the Weight
The weight of a tent is defined in two ways:
- Trail Weight – This includes only the essential parts of the tent – body, poles and rainfly. This is the lighter of the two weights and is a good consideration if you plan to carry your tent.
- Packaged Weight – This weight will tell you what your tent will weigh in its entirety. This includes everything that came with your tent when you purchase it – body, poles, rainfly, stakes, instructions, and extra parts.
The type of camping you intend to do will determine which of these weights you need to take into consideration.
- Backpacking and Hiking – If you will be hauling your tent up and down trails, then you need to be mindful of the trail weight of your tent.
Most backpacking tents weigh between 2lbs and 6lbs. But a good rule of thumb is for each backpacker to carry no more than 2-3 pounds of tent weight.
- Family Camping/Car Camping – If you’re driving to your camping spot, then weight is not that big of an issue.
Just be mindful of the packaged weight as you will still have to transport your tent from the car to the campsite.
4. Decide on the Season
Every tent comes with a season rating, which tells you how durable it is and what kinds of weather it can take.
- 1-Season – We recommend a 1-season tent only for summer. They can cope with light showers and mild wind, but nothing heavier.
- 3-Season – If you are looking for a tent made of stronger material and suitable for spring, summer, and fall, a 3-season tent is for you. This tent type can withstand strong wind, downpours, and even light snowfall.
- 4-Season – Though this type of tent can be used all year round, it’s best used during winter. They are designed for cold climates, severe winds, and deep snow.
5. Choose the Right Fabric
The fabric your tent is made of will make a difference in its weight, durability, and cost.
Here are a few of the pros and cons of different tent fabrics.
- Polyester – This is the most common fabric as it is affordable, lightweight, and easy to maintain. It doesn’t absorb moisture, meaning it won’t shrink or expand when it rains.
On the other hand, since this material is thin, it can be flimsy making it noisy in windy weather. If you get caught in a heavy downpour, water can seep through the fibers into the tent. That’s why it’s common for a water-resistant coating to be applied to this type of fabric.
- Nylon – A tent made of nylon is the second most common tent fabric. It is lightweight, breathable, and repels water when covered in a waterproof coating such as polyurethane.
Nylon is stronger and lighter than polyester and can withstand more wear and tear.
Because it is more durable, nylon can be more expensive than polyester.
- Canvas/Cotton – Tents made of cotton or canvas are heavier than any other tent, but they provide excellent durability and insulation. It keeps the tent cool in summer and warm in colder weather.
Since they are a great deal heavier than polyester and nylon tents, they will hold up in strong winds, but it can be hard to carry them around. Which is why this fabric is mainly used for “glamping”.
- Cuben Fiber – If you are an avid backpacker, this is the material for you. It’s extremely lightweight and incredibly strong. It’s also water-resistant and comes in a variety of season ratings.
The main downside to this fabric is the price. It’s one of the most, if not the most, expensive fabric on the market.
6. Choose the Right Tent Design
- Dome Tents – Though dome tents are a traditional and popular tent design, they don’t provide enough standing space because the sides slant in toward the top. Dome tents are great for beginner campers as they are not too bulky and easy to set up.
- Cabin Tents – If you’re planning a family camping trip, this type of tent is for you. This tent type has a vertical wall, which makes the center peak height taller, allowing you to stand up straight.
- A-Frame Tents – A-frame tents are one of the oldest and most legendary tent designs. Though they are easy to set up, they are not free-standing. It needs to be staked and guy lines are usually used to make them more stable.
- Tunnel Tents – This tent has a uniformed arch design, provides good interior space, and uniform headroom. Though they are not as common as dome and cabin tents, some campers still prefer them.
- Instant Tents – If you’re looking for a tent that can be set up instantly, this one’s for you. All you have to do is unfold the tent, extend the poles, and secure the pole to the ground (if needed). Because the poles are already attached to the tent itself, it saves time and confusion of running the poles through a sleeve on the tent.
- Backpacking Tents – Backpacking tents are specially designed for campers who will be carrying their tent. These tents are lightweight, small, and can fit into or attach to almost any backpack.
Other Important Things to Consider When Choosing a Tent
Although we’ve covered the basics of buying a tent, there are still plenty of other tent features to look at before you make your final decision.
Let’s take a closer look at some:
Poles are what hold your tent in place. With stronger poles, your tent can withstand strong winds, heavy rain, and snowfall.
There are 3 types of materials used in poles:
- Aluminum Poles – These are lightweight, flexible and robust, making them a popular option. When aluminum poles start to fail, they will bend and become misshapen.
- Carbon Fiber – Carbon is used in high-end poles and are lighter and more durable than aluminum poles. These are a popular option for backpackers who need to reduce their pack weight.
These are more expensive than aluminum poles and will create splinters if broken.
- Fiberglass – This is the most inexpensive pole material commonly used in budget-friendly tents. It is used less and less as it is heavy and breaks easily.
Most tents come with a set of stakes. Often these stakes are flimsy and will bend when driving them into hard ground.
Instead, consider buying higher quality aluminum stakes. They are not only lightweight but also more durable.
The four most common tent stake materials are titanium, aluminum, steel, and plastic.
- Titanium – This is the lightest and strongest material. It can flex without bending or breaking, making it a great choice for hard ground.
The downside to this material is the high cost compared to the other available materials.
- Aluminum – If you are camping on soft to medium ground, this material will do just fine. They are lightweight, but will snap or bend in harder soil.
They are cheaper than titanium stakes and extremely common.
- Steel – This material is less common than titanium and aluminum, but still widely used. They are pretty durable, but are heavier than aluminum stakes. Their weight is what makes this material less popular.
- Plastic – Plastic stakes are the standard stakes that come with low-cost tents. They are the cheapest option. While they are pretty bulky, they are actually pretty durable and perform well in soft and medium soil.
The biggest downside to these is they don’t last through many camping trips and the tip of the stake almost always breaks.
A tent footprint is a piece of protective material that goes under your tent. It will protect your tent floor and can add years to the life of your tent.
These are typically sold separately, but in our option, are a necessary investment.
Make sure you choose a tent that you will be confident setting up. You don’t want to spend hours trying to figure it out after you get to your campsite. Look for videos or instruction guides that demonstrate how to set up a tent. Then do a test run at home to make sure you’ve got it down.
Make sure your tent has ventilation even if it is made of highly breathable material. Look for one that can be closed in bad weather without suffocating everyone inside.
A well-ventilated tent prevents condensation build-up caused by exhaling and sweating.
Some campers use mesh as a ventilator, however be warned that this material is more susceptible to rips and tears.
Single vs Double Walls
A tent body with a rainfly is known as a double-wall tent, whereas a tent without a rainfly is termed a single wall tent.
You need a rainfly if you’re expecting rain or strong wind during your trip. For dry and warm weather camping, you don’t need a rainfly.
Number of Doors
If there will be more than one camper in the tent, having more than one door will be beneficial. It makes it easier to enter and exit without having to climb over other people.
But more doors can add more weight, so keep this in mind.
A vestibule, also called a porch, is where you store gear and dirty shoes. It is ideal for a family-size tent or for campers with a lot of gear.
These are great to have in bad weather. They add extra support to your tent so having them on hand is a smart move.
Are You Ready To Buy Your New Tent?
Choosing a tent is all about setting a budget, understanding where and when you plan to go camping and how many campers you have.
Remember, you do not need to buy a luxurious, high-priced tent to enjoy camping. Just make sure it fits your style, size, and budget.
We hope that after reading this tent buying guide, you feel confident shopping for your new tent.