Choosing a tent

Various tents at a festival
It's a minefield... figuratively obviously, no one with any sense pitches up on an actual minefield.

There are so many styles of tent, so many sizes, so many prices, to choose the right one for you? Because there are so many types of people too! Those that like natural materials and minimalist camping, those who like space and an Electric Hook Up (EHU) for their TV.

I cannot show you every tent, not can I tell you which is right for you but I can tell you (from bitter experience) some of the questions you should ask, and give you some of my answers.

How long will you use the tent for at a stretch? A festival tent for a single person or a (friendly) couple can be very small indeed. No need for standing room or a space to eat, you just need a waterproof, relatively private space to sleep in. Grab a cheap festival tent for under £20 and you are sorted. A longer holiday or a holiday away form a festival and you will need a bit more space to stretch. If you are spending much time in a tent and don't need to actually carry it with you (tents for hikers is a whole other ball game) you need to be able to stand and ideally have some space outside of the sleeping area. Very Important if it rains and you are stuck inside all day reading.

And light! My first tent (which was free so no complaints) had no windows. Great in the evening, or on a sunny day, but during the day if it rained and all the flaps had to be fastened it was miserable. So I'd suggest a window (or two).

How large is your family? How many separate bedrooms do you need? and remember a bedroom that sleeps 2 will only just fit 2 beds into it, so if siblings are sharing it could be a tight squeeze. There are tents with pods that can add on as your family grows, or maybe you'd like your teen to have his own smaller tent. Keep in  mind that some camp sites charge per person, some per tent and some by a 'pitch' which can vary in size. The Camping and Caravanning Club have recently brought in a new larger pitch size to accommodate the newer larger tents and they charge extra accordingly. Check your 'foot print' so that your 'cheap' hobby doesn't turn into an expensive one.

nylon dome tent sleeps three 3
'Nigel' my nylon dome tent, sleeps 3
What material should you choose? My first tent was nylon. They are light and waterproof. But they can be chilly as they are very thin, or very hot when the sun beats down on them! My canvas (100% cotton) tent is better for temperature control. Cotton needs to weather in to become waterproof, the strands absorb water and swell to close the gaps, don't touch the canvas on the inside or you will wick the water in! (maybe not the best if you have an inquisitive toddler). Canvas smells best.

What shape tent should you look for? Dome tents with flexible poles are fairly common as are tunnel tents. As the poles are bendy they will flex in the wind, I've seen poorly guy roped tents blowing almost flat in a storm! Though of course they spring back, could be weird in a nighttime gale though.

Cabanon pyramide IV pyramid 4 tent
'Wilfred' my canvas Cabanon Pyramide IV, sleeps 4
In contrast my pyramid style (Dutch style) tent stands up to a real hurricane with out moving, once when we camped a tree blew down near the tent, while we staying strong! There are no guy ropes at all on the pyramid style and I rather favour it's sleek good looks.

So, look for height, can you stand and sit in a chair in the tent?
Materials - canvas is very strong, good for hot or cold but heavy, nylon is light but doesn't 'breathe' so you can get condensation  in the cold, it won't last as long as canvas and can be hard to repair. Nylon is cheaper. There are polycotton mixes available.

Look at style, 
  • Tunnel - gives you lots of inside space. I have little knowledge of how they perform in 'the field' though.
  • Dome, easy to put up, lots of height in the centre, check where the living area is vs the sleeping area! No one needs to stand up in bed, Tie your guy ropes tightly.
  • Pyramid - heavier poles, often canvas, heavy and can be very expensive. Last well, are very easy to erect.
  • Tepee - I know nothing, they look nice, I suspect they would be like the pyramid, though standing room awkward as pole in centre.
  • Bell tent. Terribly lovely. Very expensive and heavy.
bari 3 tent hand painted
'Barry' my cotton Bari3 tent, sleeps 3
Look at space. Do you want a bedroom each? Space for 'living'? and extra room for storage or the kids to play in?
Windows, where and how many. Also how easy is feeding an EHU in if you need one.
Inner tent. Some tents are single skin, except for a few drunken nights at a festival, or for those camping in warmer climes I wouldn't recommend them. I prefer a sewn in ground sheet as it gives some protection from spiders.
Erection (finally you can snigger) some tents erect outside first with the inner hung inside afterwards (my preference as you can quickly pitch in the rain and then sort out the inner in the dry) other tents have an erectable inner and then the other skin is pulled on over the top. It's personal preference but something to consider.

I won't go into extras like carpets...that's for another post.
Are you armed with questions? Full of ideas, go buy a tent!! And feel free to ask extra questions or add your own advice below. Thanks

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