Top tips for buying a tent
The first thing to decide is the kind of tent you need and there's a couple of types to consider
Tending to be larger, with all kinds of family in mind, but generally designed for longer tem pitching than just the occasional night. Likely to have at least one bedroom (also known as inners) and a large living area. Their design also means they’re most suited for transporting by car. Most are a form of tunnel tent, but you can also get larger dome tents. Many are now inflatable.
Also known as a tourer, adventurer or festival, or indeed just smaller tents generally. Also included under this title are instant-pitch tents. Also known as quick-pitch or pop-ups, these literally do just pop into shape as soon as they’re taken out of their bags; after that, they just need pegging out.
There are other kinds of tents – notably lighter and smaller designs for backpacking and mountaineering.
Bigger is better?
Yes and no. Of course, it’s great to have all that extra space when you’re on site. But, bear in mind there are pitch size restrictions on some campsites, and – again generally – the larger the tent the longer it takes to put up, take down and look after. Bigger tents tend, also to be heavier as well as bulkier when packed. That’s something to think about in terms of how much luggage capacity you have to spare, also taking into consideration other items of gear you want to take with you when you go camping.
Different tents offer different ways of pitching. Typically, most tents are flysheet-first or as-one – the latter term referring to the way the whole tent (including groundsheet and any inners) pitches as a single piece. If a tent is inner-pitching first, that means you connect the bedrooms etc to the frame before adding the flysheet. Not ideal when it’s raining!
Separate, sewn-in or zipped-in. Again, the exact terms will vary with manufacturer. A lot of people prefer to have some kind of fitted ground sheet because, although it makes things bulkier for packing, it can mean there’s less chance of any unwelcome creepy-crawly visitors getting into the tent.
Typically, the poles for a modern tent will be either steel, alloy or glassfibre – or a mix of any or all of these. Alloy poles tend to feature on the more expensive tents mentioned in this supplement. Steel poles are heaviest. Glassfibre can be very cost-effective but are arguably most prone to damage.
Some form of colour-coding – where you can match the right pole to the right sleeve on the flysheet – is always helpful when it comes to putting up a tent.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Standing room/head height
Not just maximum height, but over how much area of the tent is such headroom maintained.
Living room space
How much room is there for seating, possibly around a table?
Number and location of entrance doors
Where possible, check how doors open and close, and their systems for keeping the folded back when required.
Number and location of windows
PVC windows can really brighten up and improve the feel of your tent, especially if you are stuck inside during the day because of the weather. Panoramic windows let you sit inside and watch the world go by.
Condensation, as created by any humans, is more noticeable in an enclosed space such as a tent. Hence the need for good ventilation (at the expense of becoming downright draughty, of course). Check out for good levels of low- as well as high-level ventilation, as well as whether it can be sealed off as required.
Quality of materials used
Not the easiest to assess, but simply looking at materials used, for example, will give you a clue to their quality. Is the material even? Can you see pinholes where there’s any stitching. Are there areas where it’s overstretched? Are guylines, pegs etc of an acceptable quality?
Want to know your stuff? Here’s a brief run-through of some of the terms worth knowing if you’re thinking of buying a tent
Awnings and Extensions
You can add a whole extra room, or even some additional shelter, to many tents by opting for an awning or an extension. Well worth considering at time of purchase.
Just like at home, a carpet for the tent floor is an ideal way of adding extra comfort and insulation. Increasingly popular, it’s usually offered as an extra.
This is the term for the tent’s main fabric covering.
The name for an additional section of groundsheet-type material that goes under the whole tent. Very useful if you’re pitching on harder ground and don’t want to damage the tent’s actual groundsheet, a foot print also offers a bit of valuable extra insulation.
An official form of measurement of the waterproofing qualities of the tent’s flysheet. It’s a measure of the amount of pressure a column of water has to reach before it breaches the tent material. Expressed in millimetres.
Inner tents – or extra rooms, usually bedrooms – that can be set up within the tent itself.
A breathable flysheet material that promises to offer the best of both worlds in terms the better long-term waterproofing abilities of man-made materials and the superior ambience offered by cotton. Initially, in wet weather, such material actually absorbs some water then subsequently becomes water tight. As it dries, the fabric actually opens up, hence the term breathability.
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