By Mitra Cazaubon
Whether you are going hiking, camping or just enjoying a day outdoors; a tent is a must have. But before you go buying the latest tent, there are some important tips you need to know. In this article, we will look at the features you need to be mindful of when buying a sturdy, reliable camping tent.
Before we go into the features, make a list of the activities you want your tent for, the environment you will most likely encounter and whether you are going to be backpacking or driving to an established campsite.
#1 Camping Tent Size/Capacity
First, establish whether you will be camping or glamping. Decide on how many persons you want to house in your camping tent. A comfortable square footage for camping is between 16 to 25 square feet, which includes space for gear. Another aspect of the tent size you should consider is sitting and standing room. You should have enough room to at least sit in your tent. Depending on what type of camping (survival or backpacking) standing room may not be necessary.
#2 Shape and Design
Tents come in all shapes and sizes, literally. A-frame, umbrella, and dome are the typical tent shapes. Umbrella tents make great family tents since they have standing room. A-frames are simple tents to set up but are not very popular these days. The dome and umbrella designs are the more standard tent shapes. For light weight camping or hiking, I would recommend a bivy tent which usually has one to three tent poles and uses stakes to keep it stable. They are small and can weight under 5lbs.
If light weight is your top priority, this is a great shelter. The dome shape tent is a better choice for everyday camping and glamping. If you will be in a windy environment be sure that you have an aerodynamic design, sturdy tent stakes, and poles.
#3 Tent Fabric
The recommended tent fabric is one that let’s air through but not moisture. Breathable nylon and polyester do just that, but the water resistance depends on the coating the manufacturer applies. Canvas is the best waterproof tent material for long term camping on established drive to camp sites. But they are heavy and usually require help to set up.
Acrylic, polyurethane or silicone are the most popular coatings used on tent fabrics. Tents coated with acrylic are cheaper since it’s a thin layer applied to one side of the fabric. They may be waterproof when new but after some use the thin layer tends to break around to seams. Acrylic coats tend to look glossy compared to the polyurethane which is a thicker layer than the acrylic coating, and is applied to the inside of the tent fabric, unlike the acrylic. The polyurethane coated tents are more expensive than the acrylic as a result, yet in rainy conditions the fabric gets soaked since the polyurethane seal is on the inside. Thus, these camping tents take longer to dry.
Polyurethane lasts longer than the acrylic coated tent since the seal is on the inside where it protects from abrasions and the elements. If this is where your budget reaches a good rainfly can solve this problem. On the other hand, silicone is rated as the best not only because it is more flexible than the others but also because it applies to both the inside and outside of the tent. Silicone coated tents are more expensive than the previously listed coats.
The material for your tent floor should be durable, and the seam connecting the floor to the walls should be at least 4 inches above the ground to avoid water seeping inside. Ensure that your rainfly overlaps the seam to make sure water doesn’t drip inside the tent.
#4 Tent Poles and Stakes
Aluminum and fiberglass are the most common tent poles you will find. Aluminum has replaced fiberglass in most tents since they are light weight and are strong considering their size. Fiberglass would need to be much thicker to hold the same amount of weight as the aluminum poles. One reason I wouldn’t recommend fiberglass is because it shatters when it breaks making it a bad choice for freezing conditions since this can make a hole in your tent. Fiberglass poles are also harder to repair when damaged.
Pay attention to how your tent poles are attached to your tent. Are they clipped on or do you have to pass them through loops? Tents which have clips on the outside to hook the tent poles make for easier setup. Poles linked with elastic code can help prevent you from losing your tent rods since they hold together.
Stakes should be made of durable material to avoid bending when anchoring your tent to the ground.
A tent needs to allow for proper air flow in humid and/or hot conditions. Bug netting for doors and windows allow for air flow without bugs getting in.
I recommend you get a camping tent with windows/doors on opposite sides to allow for proper air flow.
A vestibule is a porch for gear you don’t want inside your tent but intend to keep out of the elements such as muddy shoes, wet socks, and clothing. A vestibule without floor can save on weight. It is usually an extension of the rainfly over the door.
Ensure your rainfly doesn’t make contact with your tent when setup. It is a good practice to prevent water from seeping into your tent in case your seams aren’t sealed properly.
The weight of a bag packing camping tent should be no more the 6 pounds. You need to consider the weight of the other items you will be carrying.
If the price is not an issue the best camping tent around is the 4 season tents. As the name suggests, they are designed for all seasons and tend to be more durable.
My principle for outdoor gear is “Better to cry once”. I prefer spending money once to have reliable gear rather than inferior gear that fails me when I need it most.
You don’t need to break the bank to buy a tent. Depending on your activities and how often you plan on using the tent you can spend under $200 for a good tent. If hiking and camping are major parts of your life, then save up for a reliable tent.
1) Allow your tent to dry before folding it away.
2) Placing a tarp or ground cover before putting your tent up helps keep it clean when folding and can also protect from abrasions.
3) Practice setting up your tent at home. Check the color coding instructions to make setup easier.
4) Visit outdoor trade shows to get a feel for the different camping tent variations. You can also ask a friend to check out his/her tent for you to understand what tent is best for you.
A camping tent is a necessary shelter for any outdoor activity. Go through the features that are important to you based on your environment and needs.