Tent Buying Guide

By Samantha Lemna | October 13, 2017

Whether it’s your first tent purchase or you’re needing something a little bigger or in a different style it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to picking out your new tent. With tons of brick-and-mortar stores as well as online options there is a seemingly endless list of tents to choose from. There are tons of different varieties with varying price points. The tent you choose will depend on what you want to use it for the type you want the size you need features you desire and of course your budget. Here’s our tent buying guide to help you make the right purchase.

What to Consider

  • Use
  • Size and space
  • Portability
  • Setup and disassembly time
  • Price

Front Country Camping

Most front country campers are also fair-weather campers getting away to the outdoors during summer weekends. A three-season tent will suffice though if you’re thinking about winter camping you’ll want to invest in a four-season tent that’s better built to protect you from the harsher weather.

Consider the size you’ll need and the features you want. Are you sleeping just yourself or a whole group of family or friends? Remember that just because the box says a tent can sleep 6 doesn’t mean it’s going to sleep 6 in a way that is practical or comfortable. You’ll also likely want the tent to be a bit big for storage purposes especially if you’re going to stay in a walk-in campsite. Being able to stand up in it may be an important feature and you should decide if you want multiple doors windows and/or an extended awning over the door. Ties for lanterns inside the tent are also handy.

Since you won’t have to pack your tent in a little extra weight for convenience and comfort are worth it. Materials such as cotton nylon and polyester are popular and any will do just be aware that while nylon is the cheapest option it can be damaged by the sun and polyester must be waterproofed (some brands will do this for you). Poles are normally fiberglass or aluminium – the latter is the more durable choice. Don’t buy a tent that doesn’t have folded seams or double stitching. You also want a tent with a single floor piece meshing that keeps the smaller bugs out and heavy duty zippers.

Dome shaped tents are one of the most popular designs. It’s easy to assemble and very stable (it’s a good option if you camp in an area that’s really windy. They offer lots of room and some models even offer porches and separate sleeping areas making them a good option for larger groups.

Tunnel or Tube tents are becoming more popular as they have a lot of room for sleeping and storage and the structure is stable. It’s worth investing in a quality version if this is the tent for you as it can be vulnerable to wind.

If you need a cheap and convenient smaller tent a popup tent might be for you. They’re not large but they’re easy to store and assemble. Taking them down can be a challenge depending on the model.

If you’re a car camper you may want to look into a roof-top tent. They’re the latest in camping gear and are proving to be quite popular. You need a good roof rack and the tents can be expensive but setup is easy (and some even come with a built-in mattress). You can camp in more places and you don’t have to deal with uneven ground stones or ground firmness issues that plague conventional tents. The negative however is since your tent is attached to your car you can’t set it up and drive away. It also reduces the fuel efficiency of your vehicle (although it opens up storage space especially if you planned on sleeping in your car). This is a good choice if you have the vehicle for it and camp frequently especially if you take long road trips.

Make sure the rainfly is big enough. You want it to cover the top of the entire tent and go well down the sides for adequate water protection. If your tent doesn’t come with an extra ground barrier (or footprint) it pays to purchase one. They’re inexpensive and help keep dirt and moisture away from the floor of your tent.

If it’s your first tent it’s nice to go to a store and have a look at the tent. There are tons of different styles and “takes” on those styles. Many stores will have floor models so you can see if the tent is right for you. When you make your purchase make sure you practice setting it up and taking it down. Not only will this help you make the process easier when you go camping you also want to make sure that all the pieces are there and it’s not too complicated.

Backcountry Camping

If you plan on going back country camping you’ll want something lighter and better built to withstand the elements. Four-season geodesic and semi-geodesic are popular options for back country campers especially those who camp in extreme geography. Cotton polycotton and polyester are good material options.

Here’s a handy quiz that will help you find the type of tent best suited to you.