Buying the Right Tent

There are many considerations and features to weigh when you look to buy a tent that; fits the type of camping you are going to do, the conditions you’re likely to encounter, the number of people you need to accommodate and how much bulk and weight you are willing to carry.

Seasons and Conditions
Three-season tents are designed to offer good ventilation in spring, summerand falland provide sturdy protection for everything but heavy snow and very high winds. Many three-season tents have mesh inner bodies, which helps reduce condensationand can be used without the fly for cool, bug-proof shelter on hot nights. Three-season tents are airier, less expensive, lighter and usually more compact than four-season tents. This versatility makes them popular with backpackers, paddlersand cyclists.

Four-season tents are built to protect you in heavy weather. With heavier or more numerous polesand low, curved shapes designed to shed high winds and reduce snow build-up. Extra guy-points and lines give you more staking options. Fabrics tend to be heavier, have thicker waterproof coatings, but are less well-ventilated and are more susceptible to interior condensation. All this additional protection means greater weight and packed size. Four-season tents may be overkill for anything other than ski touring, winter camping or mountaineering adventures.

Single wall tents are suitable for expedition and four-season use. Their ‘no fly’ design means their per-person weight is comparable to a bivy sack. Without a separate inner canopy, they provide more headroom and useable floor area with the same exterior size. Single wall tents are made of waterproof-breathable fabrics, so they function best in the cooler, drier conditions found above the snowline. Unfortunately, they don’t function as well in the heat or high humidity of summer or sea-level locations.

Tent Types
If you crawl into a tent at bedtime and crawl out again in the morning, a two-person tent fits two. But if you end up spending days inside due to bad weather, consider a tent built for one or two more than the actual number of occupants.

Free standing tents assume their basic shape (usually domed) once you add the poles. This allows you to pick them up to adjust position or shake out dirt. Free standing tents usually have more usable floor space and headroom than tunnel tents. With more poles to brace them, they are usually quieter in wind and less prone to swaying. Even free standing tents must still be staked out for proper ventilation and to prevent being blown away.

Tunnel tents hang from hoop or arch-shaped poles and need to be staked down to form their shape. They are lighter and less bulky than free standing tents of similar size. In light conditions, they require as few as three pegs; in rougher weather, they can be braced with additional guy lines and anchors.

Two tents with similar area will feel different depending on how the space is laid out. Tunnel tents have efficient, elongated floor shapes; dome shapes provide more room for groups to sit and socialize while waiting out storms. Steep walls provide more useable floor space and shed rain well, but catch the wind.

Tent weights are described as “minimum weight” and “packaged weight.” The minimum weight includes the tent and frame and the fewest pegs and guylines necessary to properly set up the tent. Packaged weight includes the full tent, instructions, stuff sacks, repair swatches, plus all guy lines and pegs. Conditions permitting, you can save many grams by leaving some pegs and components at home and improvising with materials available at the campsite.
The further you carry your tent, the more carefully you should consider its weight. For short, occasional portages or day trips centered on a basecamp, you might be willing to go with a bigger, heavier model. If you carry your tent all day, you’ll definitely want a lighter shelter. Features like dual doors and vestibules add a degree of comfort, but also add weight, so you’ll have to decide which ones are most important to you.

Feature List

  • Vestibules are an excellent way to increase the livability of a tent. Useful for storing gear or, if large enough, to peel off wet clothing or put on your boots. A pole-supported vestibule will be heavier, but generally larger and more storm-proof.
  • Pole sleeves distribute force over a larger area and create less stress on the canopy fabric than pole clips. They are also generally easier to operate when wearing mittens or gloves.
  • Pole clips allow more air to circulate between the canopy and the fly, so improve ventilation. Plastic clips can be difficult to deal with if you’re wearing gloves and can freeze and break in very cold temperatures.
  • Hooded vents allow you to keep vents open in any weather.
  • Gear lofts let you place damp gear at the top of the tent to aid drying.

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