How to Choose the Best Tent for your Camping Needs
Good Morning Campers!
Last year I was looking to buy a tent for my family and I discovered that there was so much to take into consideration. As the winter sets to end soon and people begin to think about their family holidays and trips away I really wanted to share this experience with everybody so that they have all the information to hand that I had to find this time last year!
Do you know what the hydro-static head of a tent is?
How many people actually fit into a two berth tent?
Any easy to cook recipes for when you are camping?
I did the research, bought a lovely big tent and have been happily camping in it. This is all the information I gathered for your perusal.
Photograph is my own, a picture of the tent we ended up buying!
High Hydrostatic Head
At Least In The Tent Buying Department!
When you are looking for a new tent, no matter if it is just for yourself or for your whole family, there is a very important thing you need to be aware of.
Size really does matter.
When the manufacturers tell you that a tent has a certain berth they are not being entirely honest! Well not dishonest exactly but they only seem to allow for very small, slender people with no baggage or furniture of any description. If you are like me though, a medium to large person with a propensity for packing the whole house, you need to look at tents that will fit everything in.
As a teenager I went camping with my boyfriend and nearly got burned alive because our tent was too small and my then boyfriend decided to change the gas can of the little stove we had in front of a naked flame.
Goodness Gracious great balls of fire had nothing on this experience I can tell you. I saw my life flash before my eyes... or maybe that was just the resulting fire ball!
So now when I invest in a new tent for the first time the good rule of thumb i use is to double the amount of people that will be using it to work out what berth size you need. So if it says it is a one berth tent it isn't joking. In some of those tents you can fit one man or his kit, not both!
One of the reasons for this lens is to give a rough idea of what the different berths of tent actually mean in terms of actual camping experience for everyone from the lone hiker to our family of 5 and our 12 berth tent that can fit an actual vast number (18) people in it if you do not allow any room for kit. As if!
One of the most important things you must do if you are contemplating buying a tent is to look around at lots of different types, don't for goodness sake buy the first and cheapest tent you can find on eBay because I can almost guarantee you will spend a lot of money for something that doesn't fit your needs. Before purchasing a tent you need to make a checklist of all the features your holiday home will need and everything you will likely be doing with it.
Of course the most important thing to do when starting any new project is to make a list don't you think?
So grab a pen and paper, or your smart phone or android device to do list app and start making notes of all the things you will need in a tent. Don't just count the people that will be there, but all of the gear, clothes and other essentials you need to make your holiday perfect.
Think about where you are going to be camping so you can see if the tent suits the weather there. Will you be cooking in the tent? If so you need to make sure there is room not only for the cooking appliances and kit that you might need but also for the food you will be consuming.
Do you need an extra room/tent to serve as a toilet or shower room?
Can you fit a big tent and all the paraphernalia into/onto your current vehicle, please don't go out and buy a tent without checking the storage dimensions as well.
With so many different things to contemplate about this issue, it can be a little scary so I hope my lens with clarify some issues and make the whole experience more enjoyable.
We'll Weather the Weather
Whatever the Weather
Whether we like it or not!
In buying a tent, not liking the weather can be a lot more serious than moodily staring out of the window with a mug of hot chocolate in your hand. Buying the wrong kind of tent for the places you intend to camp can be extremely unpleasant, bordering on dangerous even.
There are a number of things you can do before purchasing your tent however, that can help reduce the chances of waking up in the middle of the night with your family all lying in puddles and your tent halfway up a tree!
Don't forget also that when I talk about weather causing problems with camping everyone automatically assumes that I mean because of bad weather. Good weather can also have problems in which insects can feature quite highly, you should have seen the state of my back last year where I was attacked by midges. Nothing life threatening, granted but certainly far from pleasant!
As much as there is danger in waking up with your tent out at sea, there are also problems to be found with heat whilst camping and that needs to be a concern as well, although one you can alleviate with sensible camping in a shady a spot as possible.
So we are going to look at three of the important aspects of camping now, regarding tents and weather - your tents hydro-static head, guy ropes and mosquito nets!
Now I am fairly certain I can hear people saying "their hydro-static what?" even from here so I will make that the first thing I write about.
The hydro-static head is the measurement of how waterproof a tent is. This is measured by the height of a column of water that is poured onto a fabric before it begins leaking. A fabric is considered waterproof if a 1000 mm column of water is obtained before any leakage occurs but that is only really showerproof. For a tent to be completely waterproof to withstand just about any amount of rain you need a hydro-static of 5000 mm but in most temperate climates where there is more chance of the odd rainy day or regular showers (like the UK) an hydro-static head of 3000 mm is usually adequate.
It is what you are prepared to risk, the tent I ended up buying had the full 5000 mm but this is because I am a worrier!
These are the long cords that come down from the tent and are pegged into the ground and they assist in making it wind proof. There is a strong rule about these ropes, as many as you can is a good idea. If your tent has a lot of guy ropes use them all, if it doesn't find a way to attach some more.
You don't have to of course, if you like sprinting across the campsite to recover your tent in every strong wind!
Also the tent pegs you get are important as well. You need a good selection and lots of spares in case they break, bend or go missing - don't forget to pack a rubber mallet, into the actual tent peg bag as well. If at all possible call ahead to the campsite and find out what type of ground you will be camping on. This way if it turns out to be quite rocky you can invest in some special pegs that are designed for rocky soil, or some weights. If the campsite it poorly lit you can get tent pegs with solar powered lights on them to help you see where they are if you are returning to your tent in the dark.
Like the boy scouts who so love camping it is a really good idea to "be prepared" about this issue!
Here in the UK we do not get a lot (if any) of actual mosquitoes but we do get a number of other biting insects. It is also a bit alarming if you crawl into your sleeping bag only to discover that something else is already sleeping there or look up from your book straight into the eyes of an eight legged monstrosity wearing 18 hole Doc Martins and carrying a ghetto blaster!
Mosquito nets, correctly positioned and in plentiful supply can provide a solution to these problems. Before buying your tent check to see if it has an inner tent that is one complete unit for a start, or if the bedrooms at least are easy to seal units. Many new tents have bedrooms like this that have two doorways one the actual tent doorway and the other a mosquito net. These mosquito screens zip up fully to allow you to keep your door of your bedroom/tent open to allow breezes in but prevent anything unauthorized from bagging your bag before you do!
Room with a View
What to Look for Before Buying Your Tent
Before you go to buy your tent there are a number of things you need to think about so I am going to try to do as comprehensive list as possible. If I miss anything, please do let me know in the guestbook and I will edit the list with credit where it is due!
- Purpose of tent - is it for one person to carry while hiking etc, or a family of 6 to travel around Europe in, or something in between?
- How often will you use it - is it for a one off event or something you will use every weekend and holiday you can?
- Where will you use it - are you planning on camping in the Bahamas? In the UK? Or Maybe in Antarctica or halfway up Mount Everest?
- How much space do you need - are you very good at travelling light or do you always pack the kitchen sink?
- How much room do you have - in your home to store it between uses and in your car/rucksack for travelling to your destination?
- How many people will be available - to put it up and take it down, how competent are they and can you trust that they will help and not spend the whole time on their I-phone listening to music and sending text messages to their friends?
- How many bedrooms do you need? - This is different from the how much space do you need because you need to take into consideration the appropriateness of older children sharing with other people. For example there is a law in the UK that children over the age of 12 should not share a room with a family member, parent/sibling, other relative or indeed other person of the opposite sex.
Added to the fact that you know better than anyone if your teenage daughter is going to bring her entire make-up collect and scream at anyone daring to enter her "personal space" or whether having both of the younger ones sharing the same room in such a tiny dwelling is a great idea or invitation to chaos and destruction!
- Budget. - I put this as a last consideration rather than at first because I want to look at this slightly differently than we usually look at purchases. It is no good saying right I have Â£125.00 what tent will that buy and getting the first you see. It is much better to look at all of the above points, find a tent that fits all of your personal criteria and then see how much it costs. You would be far better to delay your camping experiences until you can afford to buy a tent that will make them good experiences. It is a heartbreaking waste of money to spend all of your budget on a tent that turns out to be completely useless for what you and your family will need.
Big is Better in tent purchases, but don't just buy the biggest tent you can find unless you know it is suitable for your family. Look instead for the one that fits all your family's needs best. You need a tent that will last your family for many years so think of this as a one time investment and make sure you check out all the important other features before you buy, not space alone.
One in a Tent
Or how many people can you fit in a one berth ten?
One berth tents have a very unique role in the camping world. They are very small, extremely lightweight and will usually fit into a rucksack. They are often used only for a few particular types of camping, by people who are experienced at doing these types of camping.
The two types of campers who may be interested in a one berth tent are extreme solo campers and single festival goers. You would not fit an air mattress into one of these, just a floor mat and there will be very little room for gear. The festival goers would only tend to take a spare change of clothing and may purchase food at the festival and so would not need much in the way of cooking equipment so would be okay.
The extreme campers are people who climb mountains, do long distance cycling, or walk alone in the wilderness. These are people who will buy the best one berth tent they can find with the best weather protection, the lightest frame and the most pockets and pouches that they can find. They will probably only take clean underwear, their outerwear also being an investment that is designed to equip them to carry out their extreme hobby. These people are virtually professional campers with every piece of kit they take being chosen for versatility as well as low weight and hardiness.
The only other time that I can see a 1 berth tent will be a camping option is if you are part of a family that has a large tent and you literally only need another bedroom. Perhaps for a teenager to just sleep in, with all their gear still in the car or the main tent, one of these little tiny 1 berth canvas bedrooms will do just fine!
Rest in Peace
There Were Two In A Tent...
And The Little One Said...
... a two berth ten is far too small for the two of us!
These canvas mini homes (and I do mean mini) are by far the best solution for the lone camper, especially if weight is not an issue. Large enough to put a single blow up mattress in and also fit your rucksack with all your gear, they are even better for single festival goers than one berth tents as they provide a place to relax out of the sun (or the rain if you are in the UK like me!). These are ideal as actual living spaces although they generally still only have one room. This room will be a lot bigger than in the standard one berth tent and possibly have more storage space and maybe even a front porch that you can use as a wind breaker for putting your little camping stove up to make a brew. Although they may be heavier than a single berth tent, they still would not be so heavy that you could not take them to a festival or a backpacking trip on foot, bicycle or public transport. Generally I would not recommend this size tent for more than one person, although two teenagers who are close would probably manage. Again this could be a solution for an extra bedroom to accompany your main family tent for when children have either grown too big to fit in your original set up or now require a little more space and privacy. They also make great storage tents if you haven't enough room for sleeping and storage in your main one.
Three Is A Crowd - Unless The Third is a Wee one.
A three berth tent is a bit of a strange item really in the world of camping. Not really big enough for two people but perhaps a little too big and unwieldy for just one. Like the one berth tent, this one fills a more specific niche in the camping market. These tents are idea for a single person with either a small child or a dog, more for use if you have your own transport. They also make quite good additional rooms for example for a toilet and washing area or a separate kitchen. Sometimes they even have two rooms although the front one will be more like a large porch it still could be used as a little kitchen area by itself. The bedrooms are usually big enough to fit a double inflatable mattress or two single ones. Ideal if either the child accompanying you is small and needs lots of paraphernalia, or if it is just you and your dog but you need a lot of kit, for example fishing or photography equipment for pursuit of your hobby.
You could potentially manage with two adults as long as they are not especially large and you have a car with you to store your belongings in, especially if all you need to do in your tent is sleep.
With Four You Get More! - Double Airbeds become An Option!
This is where you start to be able to get a tent that you can have a really nice camping holiday in. Ideal for couples or single parents with a couple of small children these tents start to get roomy and sometimes even have more than one room, the second room being more than just a porch. A bit heavier and more complicated to put up, standards are changing in the industry however so lightweight simple versions of four person tents are now becoming available. Spacious enough to have double air-beds or two single ones as well as store all of your gear, these are fantastic for campsites where cars are not allowed on the pitch. You will probably still need a separate tent for your portable toilet if you have one, although most campsites have toilets within easy reach and there are other solutions available, even for us ladies for overnight emergencies these days. This is definitely the part of the camping market where things start to become possible for regular camping weekends away for couples and small families.
The Main Thing To Remember
Double it up!
Double the number of people in your tent to find out the minimum berth size you need!
Who Actually Has 2.4 Kids?
Average Family Tent?
For A Couple With The Standard 2.4 Kids?
What exactly is the .4 kid is what I want to know? Is it for families with two children and another on the way? Two children and a dog or a rabbit maybe? Well put it this way, if you are an average family like this then a five berth tent will probably be too small for you.
By the 5 berth tent stage you are starting to really get the home from home camping solution, however. These still usually only have one room but it is easily big enough for a couple and a child or a couple and a dog or three teenagers. There is usually a front porch or even a separate room that can be used for cooking and relaxing in and storing your possessions. This is the kind of tent you buy when your family is only small. You would then probably put it away once more children arrive and get bigger and get it out again when they are teenagers and want to have camp outs in the back garden or go on fishing trips with Dad. Its a great starter tent solution but will also be the one you turn to again and again over time.
Room at Last to Swing a Cat...
But don't try this at home!
Especially if you have a cat like ours who would not only take your arm off but would also knock the entire tent down in the process!
So there are definitely two bedrooms in the 6 person tent, again the manufacturers claim that each room could fit three people but I really don't believe this is the case for the most part. Well I don't believe that you could fit 6 adults in there is more to the point. You could have a couple in one room and up to 3 children in the other though, depending on their size. You may even get two adults and a baby in a bassinet in one room at a squeeze. As you can see though by the time we start looking at a six berth tent it becomes obvious that this could be used as a family tent. More ideal for two adults and two smaller children however and only good if you don't mind being a bit squashed. A couple on their own however would find this tent luxurious - possibly not to Harry Potter standards but still a great home from home. Your second room will be spacious enough to turn into either a toilet room, a kitchen or living space. You can get wonderful accessories which I will be covering in other articles in depth, but a living room can be created with the addition of inflatable sofa's, (yes I kid you not) and they are very comfortable too. Put a small kitchen area in and you have a space for preparing food, washing, washing up and relaxing. Wonderful! a great way to have a holiday, just try to remember the rule of thumb, double up the people in your party to buy the right size tent and you will be fine.
Who Likes Camping
Who Likes to Camp Anyway?
It would be interested to see how many people like camping or have even considered it an option in these economically challenged times.
What do you feel about camping as a family holiday option
Tents to go to Town In. Well Actually a Field, You May Seem a Bit Daft in One of These in the Middle of Town
So now we are looking at the tents that are seven berth to ten berth.
This is the beginning range of the big beautiful tens, tents that a couple will be able to use exactly like a home from home with separate rooms for their toilet and kitchen and room to relax other than the bedroom. Ten berth tents can be huge, some even as big as some twelve berth tents and even the seven berth ones give you at least a couple of large spacious rooms. Some have smaller sleeping rooms and a big family area in the middle. Often they will come with a porch extending the capacity of the tent even further. The Skandika range of tents, which is what I eventually settled for, all have a standard berth size, plus also the room to fit several other people sleeping in the living area if you are only intending to use the tent to sleep in.
So from here a family of three to five can expect to find luxury in their purchase. With tents ranging from two bedroom and a living space up to three bedroom with a living space there will be room for everyone up to five people. Do not forget though that even if there are only four of you a ten berth tent will give you extra room for your toilet, washing or kitchen, or to give the children extra bedrooms. It is important to realize here that although the saying less is more is relevant in many aspects of life, camping is not one of them!
Later on in the lens I am going to explain about other space making moves you can try to give you more room for actually living in your tent and the next lens I am doing is about all the things you can get to make camping easier and more fun, so stay tuned!
To Ten Berth Tents... - And beyond
Now I am going to take the opportunity to tell you a little bit about what size tent I own. I thought I would explain now about how I think of camping, to see if it is something you agree with or not. I have a 5 person family - myself, my fiancé, a teenage daughter, an eleven year old son with special needs and a 6 year old monkey (aka son!). We eventually decided to get a 12 person tent that can be used for 18 people if they are all friendly and you do not need a living space.
Why a 12 person tent for a 5 person family? Well we intend to use it a lot, especially as finances dictate that holidays in hotels, apartments etc are going to be difficult to obtain for the foreseeable future. We want to go camping for weekends during any relatively good weather. When we camp we want a home away from home with as much luxury and convenience as possible. If the boys share a room as they do at home, there is enough room for my daughter to have her own room (or share with her boyfriend) and for one of the smaller rooms to be made into a toilet/washroom. The main living space is huge enough for a substantial kitchen as well as a couple of inflatable sofas/chairs and a table (although we often set our table up outside with a windshield giving us privacy as you can see from the picture at the top of the page). The first time we camped in this tent it was only myself and my fiancé in the whole thing, it was wonderful, we had the bathroom, a separate room for a kitchen and another room to store all our stuff and we definitely intend to go for another holiday just the two of us in it this summer!
So contrary to popular belief, certainly in reference to tents, big is definitely beautiful. A large tent with plenty of room to cook, sleep, go to the toilet and relax in is the way to go. If you add to that a high hydro-static head, plenty of fly nets and good strong guy ropes the luxury and freedom is indescribable. If you can't afford a big tent or you have a smaller tent and just want extra space... read on McDuff!
Making More Space
I always wanted you to go into...
More space, Man!
So you have a smaller tent, you want to go camping but you are not sure you have enough room. Here are a few solutions to making the most of your tent and adding to it to provide more space.
1, In a small tent it is crucial to utilize all the space you do have to think about investing in some space saving gadgets. Its not essential to have much of a toilet in the tent, especially if you camp where there are public toilets available. Rather than using up precious room , you could invest in short term solutions such as the shewee for the ladies or a folding stool with disposable bags. Then only if small people need the toilet or adults are in dire straits you have a way to spend a penny without having to fork out several hundred pounds for a bigger tent.
Many camping shops sell accessories for camping such as pocket systems where you can store all your small things in pockets attached to the inside of the tent. You can also get special cutlery that has a knife, for and spoon all in one unit that folds away small to save space. A Swiss army knife is a great investment as you have so many tools in one compact unit. My next lens is going to be all about things that make camping easier and more fun so I will be looking at these little space saving ideas in much more detail. Keep an eye out in that for the section entitled Top Ten Tiny Things to Take in Tents!
There are a couple of other things you can do to increase space and these two suggestions do cost a bit more, but will give you a large amount of extra space if you need it.
The first suggestion is to invest in a toilet tent. These come in a number of shapes and sizes, from the tardis shaped toilet tents we remember the posh people having when we were camping as kids, to ones that have room for a toilet, a portable shower and a changing room. When not in use, these tents can also store lots of your belongings as well meaning you have lots more room inside your tent itself.
The second suggestion is to invest in a decent gazebo. One with windowed sides that all zip up is perfect, but even a lesser one, perhaps without windows would do. Imagine the potential of having a gazebo that you could use for so many things. Turn it into a kitchen/dining area by putting all of your kitchen equipment and your table and chairs in it. Make it into a large toilet, shower and changing area. Put all your furniture in there and use that as your living area or do a combination of all of these. The pocket solution I described previously would work well in a gazebo as you can fix them to about any pole and gazebos tent to be a bit higher than most small tents.
I have know of people who make their gazebo into a multi-purpose room with a small toilet area at the back with a screen for privacy and then kitchen and sitting area at the front. I have seen some families bring a little inflatable paddling pool and set that up in their gazebos so their little ones can splash and play without getting sunburn. I have known people who use the gazebo as the toilet, changing area like this; They have the toilet at the back, screened off for privacy and near the front have a solar powered shower, so they don't have to trek across the campsite for the toilet or the shower. People put washing up bowls in there and fill them with hot water for washing and shaving. Some people have larger inflatable pools in there to use as a bath, or bigger bowls to fill with warm water and pop their kids in that for a bath. Some people simply store all their belongings in it, ready to be bought out and used around their tent as needed. The only limit to what you could do with a gazebo is your imagination, but please check to rules of the campsite you are visiting to make sure that extras tents such as the toilet tent and gazebo are allowed on your pitch or if you have to pay for a bigger pitch. A lot of times that will depend on how busy the campsite is and whether or not you are camping in or out of season.
As I said, keep looking at my articles for much more in depth information about the accessories you can take camping with you.
Some Tents to Check Out! - Home from Home in Canvas
I haven't put much in the way of links as I want this to be more of an informative piece than a sales pitch. I do have a camping A-store on my camping blog however, so if you want a one stop shop for all things camping pop over to Crystal's Camping Site (link below) and have a look around.
Meanwhile here are a few tents that I especially like to give you some idea of what you are looking at.
More Information about Camping - Crystal's Camping Site
I have a blog called Crystal's Camping Site in which I do much more in depth reviews not only about tents, but about all camping products, campsites and camping experiences. I am always looking for guest bloggers so if you are reading this and want to feature on the blog, please give me a shout!
I tried to make my blog look as if it actually was a campsite so when you enter it you look as if you are sat in a shady copse of trees looking over your screen at a quiet and peaceful meadow - you can almost smell the breakfasts cooking in the mornings!
As all reputable campsites there is a shop, it is an Amazon UK store so my apologies to all my readers in other parts. Feel free to have a wander round and a browse anyway as this may give you ideas of what to look for (and indeed what category to look for them in) for your own Amazon site.
I am also happy to take requests on the blog so if anyone wants me to research or use personal experience to review a certain product also give me a shout and I will do my best.
I hope you like the blog, please feel free to follow it to get information about new articles and finds if you would like and to participate by discussion or in either of the ways mentioned above!
A blog about camping by someone who is not only passionate about it but also loves to learn more about it all the time.
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