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Choosing a tent that’s best for you
Written by Rita Liotta

Imagine: A clear moonless light in the outdoors. The stars twinkle and shine above, the fire crackles and a soft breeze gently ruffles the trees. The quiet and solitude of the wilderness surrounds you as you bank the fire, put away the dinner dishes and get ready to turn in for the night. Your tent stands ready to receive you. You enter and light a small lantern that gives the tent’s interior a welcoming glow. You unroll your sleeping pad and bag and crawl in, nestling down in comfort and warmth. Off goes the lantern and you’re left with the small night sounds of the backcountry. An owl hoots as you fall asleep, thinking about tomorrow’s adventure…

Your tent: A critical piece of outdoor gear

Before purchasing your tent, you should ask yourself a few basic questions such as:
• Is the tent to be carried on the back? If yes, choose a lightweight tent less than 2 kg per person. If no, (car camping) your tent can weigh more than than 2 kg per person
• How many people will be sleeping in the tent ?
• Do you need to be able to stand up in the tent? Do you need separate cooking, dining and sleeping compartments?
• How many seasons is the tent needed for? 1,2, 3 or 4?
• Does the tent need to be ultralite (all gear being optimized for light weight)?

To fully experience the best of an outdoor excursion, you need a strong and solid tent, a structure you can rely on, time after time. Choosing a tent is an important decision that you should carefully consider. All it takes is one miserable, cold and rainy night in a too-small tent with too many people (and maybe a wet dog or two) to convince you that it’s time to invest in a new shelter. In this article, we’ll discuss some important tent features and functions. This information will assist you in making a well-considered purchase decision before another disastrous expedition. Here are the topics we’ll cover:
• Parts of a tent
• Summer, winter or three-season use
• Tent types and styles
• Tent materials
• Tent weight and size
• Tent ventilation

Parts of a tent

• Poles
• Body
• Windows
• Rain fly
• Vestibule

Poles lend structure and strength to the tent. The more extreme the conditions, the stronger the poles need to be. Pole materials include carbon fiber (strongest), fiberglass and aluminum. The body of the tent is usually made of nylon and may or may not have windows or mesh panels that can be closed or covered in bad weather. The rain fly is like a second roof for your tent. It helps to keep the tent dry and prevents moisture condensation on the inside walls. A rain fly can be either integrated into the tent’s design or a separate piece. Choose a tent with a separate rain fly for greatest versatility. A vestibule is a separate small entryway where you can store gear. Some tents also have internal hammocks and pockets where you can get equipment up off the floor and out of the way.

Summer, winter or three-season use

Are you a fair-weather camper who only needs to weather the occasional rainstorm? Or are you a mountaineer whose tent must literally keep you alive in blizzards and winter conditions? Fair-weather campers should choose a summer tent with lots of mesh for warm climates or a three-season tent in temperate, changeable climates. These tents are versatile and strong enough to withstand moderate wind and rain. A three-season tent should have a full rain fly that reaches to the ground. A summer tent should have a rain fly that ends several inches above the ground to facilitate ventilation. A nice feature to have is a vestibule where you can shed muddy boots and stow gear. Weatherproof windows and skylight windows in the rain fly are great options. Tents built for moutaineering or winter weather have steep walls and a low profile to resist wind and snow buildup. Many have vestibules and these tents can be set up freestanding when there’s no way to pound in stakes to anchor the shelter. A rain fly is standard and should extend to the ground. A vestibule is essential for gear storage.

Tent types and styles

• Dome
• Cabin
• Tunnel
• Single wall
• Tarp

Dome tents are good three-season choices. They tend to be stable in the wind and resist snow and rain effectively. Dome tents have simple pole design and are easy to set up. Their aerodynamic shape is functional and aesthetic. Cabin tents are good choices for fair-weather or family camping. Their house-like shape lets you “furnish” them with cots and chairs. It’s often possible to stand up in a cabin tent, a handy feature for dressing and undressing. Tunnel tents have a low profile that sheds wind and snow easily. Their odd look belies a spacious interior and light weight makes them popular with long distant hikers and cyclists. An ultra-lightweight single-wall tent will be ready for use in seconds. These tents pack down to optimize space in your backpack, kayak or canoe, use a minimum of poles, and generally have an exoskeleton that maximizes interior space. Tarp tents are rigged from a single square or rectangular piece of material. Rigging options include lean-to, roof and pyramid types. Tarp tents are generally open to the weather, so remember that when making your decision.

Tent materials

• Polyester
• Nylon
• Cotton – popular for larger and cabin tents. Ideal for hot conditions
• Polyester/cotton blend

Regardless of fabric, tent seams should be double-stitched and reinforced at key stress points. Polyester resists UV exposure better than nylon but can tend to be heavy. Choose a polyester tent fabric if you’re setting up in a campground or camping resort where you’re planning to stay for days or weeks. Nylon is the most popular and widely used tent fabric. It is durable and lightweight, resists tearing and naturally sheds water. Choose a nylon tent if you’re a summer, winter or three-season camper who’s hiking or biking and needs a lightweight tent that can be set up and taken down on a daily basis.

Tent weight and size

When considering camping tent weight, be sure to include the body, poles, rain fly and stuff sack. Remember to allow extra space for pets and children when deciding on a tent size. A two-person tent can seem awfully cramped if you’re camping with a child and/or a pet. There are special-purpose lightweight tents designed for backpackers, hikers and bikers. These tents can weigh as little as one or two pounds and fit neatly into a corner or a pack or pannier. Family tents are often roomy cabin or wall tents that can weigh ten or twenty pounds but are more spacious. In general, if you’re looking for a two- or three-person tent that you can use in most weather conditions (three-season), expect it to weigh up to nine pounds. If you tend to bring a lot of gear, be sure to allow for that when choosing tent size – a vestibule, for example, will help you make the best use of the tent’s interior space at your camp site.

Tent ventilation

Ventilation can be tricky. If your tent has mesh panels or windows, they may not be exactly weatherproof in a bad storm. Look for secure, waterproof closure mechanisms that are easy to deal with. The fabric of the tent (sidewalls and roof) should be breathable. If the tent isn’t breathable, moisture will condense in the interior of the tent, creating a clammy environment. Mesh panels are a must, however, to aid in keeping out insects while allowing air in. When pitching your tent, take a minute to figure out wind direction and orient the tent accordingly.

Conclusion

Choosing the right camping tent for your needs is a complicated process. Be sure to consider the type of camper you are, the number of people in your group and the amount of camping gear you usually bring. Your tent is a critical piece of camping equipment. It can be a specially designed piece of hiking gear or backpacking gear. Or it can be a cozy family retreat. Buy the best tent you can afford – considerate it an investment. Before long, you’ll be snug and secure in a tent perfectly suited to your needs.


About the Author:
Rita Liotta is a successful freelance writer offering guidance and suggestions for consumers regarding camping gear, camping equipment, tents and GPS. Her many articles give information and tips to help people save money and make smarter decisions.