Choosing a Tent - Some Helpful Advice

An important part of your camping or backpacking equipment is, of course, your tent. Choosing a tent is not as easy as you may imagine! It is a good idea to do some research about the various types of tent before you buy one and to consider which seasons and weather conditions it will be used for. A trip to the mountains in the winter will need more than an all season tent!

Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Tent

The Season and Weather

Tents are classified by the season and weather that they are appropriate for.

Three Season - suitable for most times of year except the coldest weather conditions.
Four Season - suitable for a wide variety of conditions including extremely cold weather
All Season - Typically a car or family tent suitable for camping in the summer.

Keeping out the Rain

Most tents are now coated with a waterproof chemical that also allows air to circulate. A waterproof fly attached to the poles will keep you dry but still allow ventilation. A tent with a sewn in floor is better at keeping out rain, draughts and bugs biut can lead to more condensation.

dome moon tent by mrsmecomber
dome moon tent by mrsmecomber

Which Type of Tent Do You Need?

Tunnel tents are easy to set up with a good size to weight ratio. They are not as stable as other types of tent however so need to be securely fixed with the ends facing the wind. Many tunnel tents have poles oe extra straps to help to make them more stable.

Dome Tents are stable and reasonably easy to pitch. They are slightly heavier for the size than tunnel tents but the extra stability makes up for the slightly added weight unless you are going to be doing a lot of hiking, in which case you may prefer a lighter but less stable tunnel tent.

Geodesic Tents are very strong and stable and are suitable for the harshest conditions. The crossed poles and tensioned inner tent give a stable, resilient structure that is rigid and doesn't depend on fixed anchor points for it's stability. Geodesic tents are suitable for use in exposed areas and on rocky ground although they are heavier than similarly sized tunnel tents.

Pitching a tent by pate
Pitching a tent by pate

Practise Pitching Your Tent

Before using the tent for the first time, perhaps in less than ideal conditons, it's a good idea to practice pitching it in your back garden. It will also make sure that the tent is sound and there are no manufacturing defects. If there is something wrong with the tent you can return it for exchange well before your camping trip!

Erecting the Tent

Most tents nowadays consist of an inner tent with an outer flysheet. Some tents are pitched with the inner tent first then the flysheet erected over the inner tent. This has the disadvantage that, if it's raining. the non-waterproofed inner tent will get wet. An alternative method, used by some tents is to erect the waterproof flysheet first then set up the inner tent. This allows the waterproof fly sheet to protect the inner tent from the rain. Refer to the manufacturers instructions to see which is recommended for your particular tent. Some tents can have both the inner tent and outer flysheet attached so they can be erected together. They can be stored this way to make erecting and storing away easier. However they should not be packed together if they are wet. Seperate them and allow them to dry out as soon as possible.

The Size of the Tent

One of the most important considerations is the size of the tent, and more specifically, the size of the living area. It's no good buying a tent because it is cheap only to find your feet stick out when you lay down! You'll want room, not only for you to stretch out laying down but to store things you will need such as food, lamps etc. It's also a good idea to buy a tent with inside pockets to store small objects out of the way. If the tent is too small you will bot even be able to sit comfortably inside.

You will also have to consider how many people will be using the tent at one time. In addition you may want to fit in a table or chairs in case the weather is bad so you can eat comfortably. Of course, if you are only going to be using the tent for very short periods, such as overnight, then a small tent will probably be adequate but if you intend to spend longer periods camping it will be worth spending a little more to be comfortable.

How to Prevent Condensation

Condensation is going to happen inside your tent as the air inside is moistened by the occupants breath and warmed by their body heat. In cold weather theis moist, damp air will condense on the cold fly causing water to form. It can look as if the tent is leaking but condensation is perfectly normal and not completely avoidable. It can be minimised by making sure the tent is well ventilated. You can do this by leaving flaps open whenever you can and not using storm flaps unless it is really neccessary. When you pitch the tent make sure that you keep it under tension so that the inner and outer fabric do not touch. Remove any excess moisture regularly with a cloth.

Groundsheets that are sewn in are favored by many people as they are much better for keeping out bugs and draughts but they are more prone to condensation than standard groundsheets. Dual skinned tents are better at preventing condensation as their is an insulating layer of air between inner and outer sheets and any condensation that does form is caught by the inner sheet.

Good ventilation is essential and you should look for a tent that has openings on all the sides. Tents with mesh screens on every side are a good idea. Air flow will be good through the tent but the mesh will keep out bugs and other debris flying about in the wind.


It is not difficult to buy suitable cheap camping tents or cheap camping gear as long as you find out first it's suitability for the season and conditions in which you will be using it. Make sure you practice putting up your tent before you go on a camping trip and most of all - Have fun!

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Comments 2 comments

Mary Fellows profile image

Mary Fellows 7 years ago from Australia

And then after the tent you need the camping lights you know! We have a great tent which always gets comments on how fast it is to erect - basically unroll - staright the 4 corner poles and then push the top cross bars into position - 4 pegs in the corners pull over and attach the fly - it cost more than some of the basic models but it saved our relationship on a 6 month camping trip!

themoneyking profile image

themoneyking 7 years ago from Canada

I'm a fan of a hotel! Hah. Good tent guide -- learned some useful information. Keep up those informative hubs!

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