Camping out – one of the joys of summer. You experience a sense of freedom in being close to nature. Home is wherever you put your tent. That tent will keep you dry, provide some protection from insects and other small animals, and give you a sense of security and privacy in the great outdoors. It can also be your most expensive piece of equipment, so you don’t want to make a mistake in the one you select. Take a logical approach to the difficulty of selecting one tent from the huge array offered, and you will come away with the tent that is right for you.
* The most fundamental question to ask is: “How are you going to use it?”
Tents are designed for specific needs: Backpacking, car camping, family camping, and extreme adventuring are the general categories of use. You want a tent that is designed for your type of trip. This matters because those labels are determined by size, weight, and tenting material. Backpacking tents are going to be as lightweight as possible. This doesn’t matter at all if you are traveling in a van with four children and a dog. Just selecting the right category will narrow your search significantly.
* Choose features you can’t live without.
Do you want a vestibule? Do you want a double-wall tent for extra protection from precipitation? Is extra ventilation (netting) more important, or do you prefer more solid walls to retain heat? If backpacking, do you want a tent that is free-standing (it does not have to be staked out to remain upright).
* When will you use this tent?
If you are going to camp only in the warmest summer months, you can make do with a tent that is lighter weight. You will also want to maximize ventilation, and the ability to see out (screen windows). If you want to do three-season camping, you’ll need a sturdier tent that offers more weather protection.
* Consider the design- does it meet your most important needs?
Don’t just look at total square feet of floor space. A tent that is 6×6 feet will have 36 square feet of floor space, but even one person who is over six feet tall will have trouble sleeping in that tent. Yet a tent that is 5×7 feet has only 35 square feet, but can sleep two people in relative comfort.
What is the head room? A solo tent that you can’t sit up in is little better than a cocoon. These are very uncomfortable to spend long waking hours in, which may be required in bad weather or mosquito season. In a family tent, can you stand up? Many a half-hearted camper has been deterred from repeating a family trip because they spent days living like a hunchback in a too-short tent.
If you are looking at a family tent, does it have separate, partitioned rooms? This can be important for family harmony if you are camping during a rainy spell.
If you are planning an extreme adventure, you can zero right in on tents designed for your particular need, such as ultra-lite backpacking, scaling sheer cliffs, polar expeditions, etc.
* Try to find a way to practice setting it up before buying.
If you are buying from a brick and mortar store, this may be possible. Some tents are true monsters to set up, and it’s difficult to identify them without trying it yourself. In general, poles which must be slid through long sleeves are going to be problematic; a system of free poles with clips that attach the fabric to them is going to be easier. It won’t matter how much you like a tent’s features if it drives you insane to set up and take down.
* Consider the fabric and construction quality
Most tents these days are made of nylon, but there are various weights and qualities of that fabric. Silnylon is impregnated with silicone for lightweight weatherproofing, and good for backpacking tents. For family camping, you probably want a heavier grade of nylon that can withstand kids who will kick, pull, and otherwise abuse a tent no matter how often you tell them to stop.
The quality of the poles is critical. Fiberglass poles can break much more easily than tubular aluminum, but cheap aluminum poles will also crack. The end plugs and shock cords of cheap tent poles can easily be damaged, and fixing these in camp can be difficult to impossible.
Look at the seams. Are they taped and sealed at the factory? Is the stitching secure? Seams are often the first locations of tent failure.
* Consider the price
Of course, your choice is going to be guided by your budget. A medium-quality tent may be perfect for someone who takes good care of the equipment, or who doesn’t camp very often. Try to avoid low-quality tents if you can. They aren’t going to be worth the expense, because they rarely last past one season.
In conclusion, if you spend a little bit of time researching the choices before you make a tent purchase, you are likely to have several good years of use as a return on your investment.