How to Choose a Tent
SIZE AND CAPACITY
Do you need the tent to fit just you? Or do you need something for 2 people? Something for 6 people?
Determine how many people you’ll be sharing a tent with to start. If you’re looking into backpacking tents, most don’t fit more than 3 people, but the majority are designed for 1 or 2 people. Personally, with backpacking tents, I always get a 2 person tent. This way if I’m solo, I have that extra space, and if someone wants to join, well I have room for them too.
Things to factor in:
- Large people – If you’re over 6 feet, consider a tent with a floor length of 90 inches instead of the standard 84-88 inches.
- Tossing and turning at night
- Elbow room
- Bringing a child or a dog
- Peak height – Do you want to be able to stand inside of your tent?
If you’ll only be using your tent for car camping (camping near the car), then you don’t really need to factor in the weight of the tent. But if this is something you’ll be using for backpacking, weight is a HUGE factor.
For backpacking aim to have your tent be around 2 pounds if not lighter.
3 SEASON OR 4 SEASON
3 season tents are designed to be used primarily for summer but they can also be used in the early spring and late fall months when you might encounter moderate snowfall. These tents offer a balance of ventilation, strength, and warmth-retention.
Extended season tents are not as fortified as a 4 season tent, but they are sturdy and make a good choice if you frequently hike to exposed and high elevation destinations.
4 season tents are designed to withstand high winds and substantial snow. These tents can also be used in any season. They’re rounder in design, use more poles, are made from heavier fabrics, have fewer mesh panels, and the rainfly closes all the way to the ground. These tents are designed to withstand inhospitable winter weather, especially in exposed areas above the tree line.
How many doors do you want your tent to have? Also, think about their shape and orientation.
For example, if you’re choosing a backpacking tent and you’re sharing with another person, think about if that will be comfortable for you. There are also options to have 2 doors on backpacking tents. One on each side to make it easier for you and your buddy to get out of your tent without climbing over each other for midnight bathroom breaks.
Also, are the zippers noisy to open and close? You don’t want everyone to wake every time someone needs to use the bathroom.
PUTTING IT UP
The structure of the tent poles determines how easy or hard it is to pitch the tent. It also determines if the tent will be freestanding or not.
A freestanding tent doesn’t require stakes to keep it up. You use steaks with the loopholes on the outside of the tent to steak it into the group and get it to stand. Some ultralight tents require to be staked to stand, and some also use a hiking pole instead of tent poles.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Fewer poles will make the set up faster.
- It’ll be easier to set up a tent where the poles are clipped not threaded through long pole sleeves.
- Aluminum poles are stronger, lighter and more durable than fiberglass poles.
The rainfly is a separate waterproof cover that’s designed to fit like a roof over your tent. It helps shield you from the rain and adds warmth.
Roof only rainflies offer fair rain protection while allowing more light to come through and more views. While a full coverage rainfly offers maximum rain and wind protection.
There are also single wall designs which do away with the rainfly. They’re lighter than double wall tents (that have a rainfly), but they also allow more condensation, which means they can dampen on the inside from your own breath.
- Vestibule/Garage – It’s a shelter/awning that’s part of your tent where you can store your boots or keep your backpack from the rain. It’s usually either part of the rainfly or sold separately.
- Inside Loops and Pockets – Some tents come with loops allow you to hang a lantern on the inside of your tent. Some tents also come with pockets so you can store stuff not just on the floor of your tent. I use mine for my phone, headlamp, sunglasses and other small but valuable things you don’t want to lose or crush trying to climb out of your tent.
- Guyout Loops – Higher quality tents will include loops on the outside for attaching guy lines. These allow you to batten down the hatches so you don’t have flapping fabric during high winds.
- Footprint – It goes underneath your tent floor to protect your tent from rocks, twigs, etc. It’s more commonly used with ultralight tents to protect the fabric from ripping. Footprints are designed to fit the exact shape and size of your tent so water won’t flow under your tent and potentially seep through the floor fabric.
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