How to Know Which Camping Tents Are Right for You

How to Know Which Camping Tents Are Right for YouTents can get expensive, so picking out the right one is a big decision. After all, your tent will be your only refuge out in the unforgiving wilds (or the backyard). If you get the wrong tent, that great camping trip you had planned will suddenly become an excruciating experience. Luckily, getting the right tent is largely a logical, step-by-step process. Get to know a little about your own inner camper and then get a tent that matches up.


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Clarify your intended usage. Are you looking for a car camping tent or a backpacking tent? This article focuses on car camping tents. If you intend to do any backpacking, you'll have some different priorities, such as restrictions on weight and size. Think about what you'll be doing with your tent before you start shopping.
Step 2
Decide the time frame in which you intend to camp during the year. Most people are mild weather campers, which means most tents are designed for milder weather. These tents, called three-season tents, will hold up to rain and moderate wind but won't be suitable for high winds, freezing temperatures and snow. For the latter, you'll want a four-season tent. If you plan on going only in the heart of summer when it's very warm, you could benefit from a mesh summer tent, designed for maximum ventilation and cooling. Family or car camping tents are a good, inexpensive option designed for lighter-duty, family camping trips.
Step 3
Decide how many people you'll be camping with and who will be in your tent. You've probably noticed that tents have designations like "solo" and "three-person." While these sizes are notoriously vague and unreliable, they at least get you thinking about how much interior space you need. Don't forget your loyal canine companion, if you plan to take him camping--he'll need some shelter too.
Step 4
Consider the gear you'll need to store in the tent. In addition to people, you will need to store items like backpacks, shoes and extra clothing in the tent.
Step 5
Read reviews. Find a few tents in your price range and read the reviews. Every company will have marketing folks writing about how their tent uses the most cutting edge technology and is the strongest, most comfortable tent on the market. It's probably not, and the only way to really get an idea of how a tent performs in the wilderness without buying it is to read the experiences of others. Many online retailers have customer reviews built right into the product page so it's not hard to find some feedback. Read a variety of reviews, both positive and negative when available, from professional and novice sources, to get an idea of the potential pros and cons of a given tent.
Step 6
Shop in person. The only way to truly know that a tent is right for you is to see it before buying it. Pitch the tent in the store and determine how easy or difficult it is to set up. With all the people, pets and gear you thought about, you now can get inside and see if the tent will meet your needs. Try lying down to determine if there is enough leg room and head space. Also sit up and make sure the tent is comfortable to sit in. Bring your camping partners when possible so you can really get a feel for how roomy the tent is.
Step 7
Consider the build quality. In addition to space and comfort you want a tent that will hold up to weather and last for years to come. Start by looking for tents from reputable manufacturers instead of cheap, discount tents. Some quality names are Big Agnes, MSR, Kelty and Black Diamond. Shop for aluminum or composite poles and factory-sealed seams. Look for beefy, strong zippers that are easy to open and close.
Step 8
Ensure you have enough ventilation. One of the biggest shortcomings of some tents is that they don't have proper ventilation, which causes condensation to build up inside. These tents are hot, stuffy and damp. Avoid this issue by seeking tents with plenty of mesh ventilation. When shopping for double-walled tents, make sure the fly has an inch or so of space from the tent itself to allow for some air movement.
Step 9
Consider the less-obvious features. Look for storage pockets in the tent for gear and tools. Consider if you'd like to have a vestibule, a covered awning where you can store things like muddy boots that you don't want in the tent.

Tips & Warnings

Freestanding tents are the choice for car camping. These tents are easier to set up and move around than tents that require staking out. Be sure to seal your seams before camping. Purchase a footprint (ground sheet) to extend the life of your tent.
Freestanding tents are the choice for car camping. These tents are easier to set up and move around than tents that require staking out.
Be sure to seal your seams before camping.
Purchase a footprint (ground sheet) to extend the life of your tent.

Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

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