Camping tents: a complete guide
If you're considering buying a camping tent, whether it's your first time or you're a seasoned camper, making the right choice is essential for a comfortable and enjoyable outdoor experience
This comprehensive guide will help you understand the various types of tents, their designs, and factors to consider when making your selection.
- What are the different types of tents?
- Tent designs
- Poled tent or inflatable tent?
- What to look for when buying a tent
- Final thoughts
- About our magazines
Words by Iain Duff
What are the different types of tents?
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Family tents are ideal for extended trips with larger groups. They come in inflatable or poled versions, accommodating four to ten people. Most have separate living and sleeping areas with sufficient headroom, providing comfort for longer vacations. Some even feature front porch areas for added utility.
Also known as touring tents, weekend tents are perfect for short breaks. They are quick to pitch, designed for couples or small groups, and offer ease of transportation due to their compact size. Consider the headroom when choosing, as taller designs provide convenience.
For adventure enthusiasts, technical tents designed for trekking, backpacking, and similar activities are the way to go. Lightweight and quick to pitch, they accommodate one to four people and use specialised materials for portability.
Trailer tents are towed behind your vehicle, offering convenient mobility and set-up.
Roof tents mount on your car's roof, making them suitable for on-the-go campers who value simplicity and speed.
(Photo by Iain Duff)
Tunnel tents are popular for families. They provide spacious living and sleeping areas with almost upright side walls. Extended porch sections can be used for various purposes, such as cooking or storage.
Vis a vis tents
These tents have two inner bedrooms facing each other, separated by a central living section. They offer privacy and flexibility, allowing for increased living space by removing one inner tent.
Dome tents use flexible poles to create free-standing structures with reasonable headroom. They are stable in smaller sizes but less so as they get taller. Some feature extended porch sections.
Quick to pitch by unleashing the frame from its bag, pop-up tents are perfect for festivals and small groups. Keep in mind that they can be challenging to pack back into their bags.
Pod-style tents offer personal space for everyone, making them suitable for family camping. However, their large footprint can lead to extra charges at campsites, and they may be challenging to set up.
These designs are favoured by mountaineers and expedition enthusiasts due to their exceptional stability. They use multiple poles to create a dome-type structure.
Classic triangular tents with A-shaped poles and a ridge pole between them are called ridge tents. They are straightforward in design and set-up.
Tipis and bell tents are fast and simple to pitch, making them ideal for weekends away. They lack separate inner tents but work well for short trips.
Poled tent or inflatable tent?
Traditional poled tents come with two, three, or four poles, offering spacious living and sleeping areas. They are lighter and pack smaller than inflatable tents, but they take longer to set up.
Inflatable tents rely on air-filled chambers for support, allowing for rapid set-up, even with large models. However, they can be heavy and bulky, with higher costs.
What to look for when buying a tent
(Photo courtesy of Sierra Designs)
Size of tent
Consider the size that suits your needs. Larger tents provide more comfort but require more set-up time and storage space, and can incur extra charges at campsites. It's often better to choose a tent with a berth size larger than your actual group.
Most modern tents have sewn-in, waterproof groundsheets to keep out insects, animals, and weather. Some have "bathtub" designs, and using a tent footprint can protect the groundsheet.
Traditional cotton tents are heavy and take time to dry. Most modern tents use man-made materials like nylon and polyester, which are lighter and more compact. Polycotton combines natural and synthetic fabric for better waterproofing and breathability, but it's more expensive.
Waterproofing is measured by the hydrostatic head rating, with higher values indicating better performance. Most tents have ratings over 1,500mm, making them waterproof. Consider seam sealing for added protection.
Tent prices vary. Budget-friendly options start at less than £100, while higher-quality models range from £300 to £800. Premium models, especially canvas or polycotton tents, can cost up to £2,000. Poled tents are generally more affordable than inflatable ones.
Selecting the right camping tent is crucial for a memorable outdoor adventure. By understanding the various tent types, designs, and key factors like size, materials, and waterproofing, you can make an informed decision that suits your camping needs.
Whether you're planning a family holiday, a weekend getaway, or an adventurous expedition, having the perfect tent ensures comfort and enjoyment in the great outdoors. Take your time, do your research, and find the ideal camping tent that becomes your home away from home.
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