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Tent Buying Guide

Tents can be complicated things, and with so many options available, it can be hard to know which is the right one for your adventures. We've explained the different types of tents and their features below, but if you're still not sure what to go for, visit us in-store for tailored advice from our experts.

How many people are going?

First things first: tent sizes are not as simple as they look. Tents are labelled to indicate how many people they can fit – not people with luggage. This means that a “4-person” or “4-berth” tent will likely only fit two people plus luggage, unless they have a living space which can be used, so it’s important to bear this in mind when you’re selecting your tent. Not only that, but there is no standard for the size of one person, so the individual sizes of the people in your group will affect the size of tent you need. Add at least an extra person to your group when choosing how many people the tent is for, and consider whether you’ll be bringing adventure kit, need lots of stuff to care for a baby, how big your airbeds/sleeping mats are, etc. It all adds up, and it’s always better to have excess space than to have too little.

Types of tents

Tents are classified into two main categories: backpacking and family. Backpacking tents are designed to be smaller, more lightweight and able to stand harsher weather conditions than family tents. Family tents tend to be larger and have various additional features to accommodate larger groups with young children, since weight is often not a primary concern.

 

There are more specific types of tents, too:

 

Geodesic tents – geodesic tents feature multiple tent poles which cross over each other for extra stability. These are perfect for backpacking because they’re able to stand up to stronger winds. It’s worth noting that how ‘geodesic’ a tent is depends on how many nodes it has (points at which tent poles cross), so some tents may be classified as ‘semi-geodesic’.

 

Dome tents – dome tents are spacious and easy-to-pitch. Their construction makes them a good choice for those wanting a bit more space, although they’re not as technical as geodesic or semi-geodesic designs.

 

Bell tents – bell tents are a great choice for groups or families. They have one large area which you can customise to the needs of your group, offering the most home-like camping experience. 

 

Tunnel tents – tunnel tents rely on guylines and ropes to keep them stable, so take longer to put up and put away, but once pitched, they’re a great option for families. They often feature separate compartments for privacy – great for kids wanting their own space - and great standing room in the ‘living’ area.

What to look for when choosing a tent

Flysheet

Most tents have a flysheet: the outer cover which protects those inside the tent from getting wet. Flysheets tend to be coated with a waterproof layer, and the material used to make this layer will affect the tent’s price – but this is one area you don’t want to cheap out on! Flysheets are usually made from polyurethane (PU), which offers the best waterproofing, or polycotton, which is excellent for breathability in temperate climates, so your material choice should be influenced by where and when you will be using the tent. It’s also worth noting that whilst a polycotton flysheet will give the tent much better light, it does require extra care.

Groundsheet

Tent groundsheets can be sewn-in or linked-in. Sewn-in groundsheets mean the tent comes as a self-contained unit, whilst a linked-in groundsheet will have to be attached to the tent. It’s also worth considering an extra layer of protection, such as a footprint, to aid the tent’s durability and your comfort.

Poles or air?

Air tents, or inflatable tents, are a recent development, and use inflating beams instead of tent poles to form their structure. They offer equal stability and strength to tents with poles, and are much easier to assemble. Air tents also offer better wind resistance to tents with poles, which make them great for camping along the coast or in vast open spaces.

 

If you choose a tent with poles, look out for what the poles are made of. More basic tents often use fiberglass poles, which are suitable for mild conditions as they can break under excessive strain – but are cheap and easy to replace. Tents intended for harsher conditions often have aluminium or steel poles, which are stronger but more expensive, and more difficult to assemble.

Vestibules

A vestibule is an area at the front of the tent which is covered, but separate from the main area. It’s great for storing wet or muddy kit away from the sleeping area, and if the tent you choose doesn’t have one already, an add-on vestibule is definitely worth investing in. 

Hydrostatic head

A tent’s hydrostatic head is an indication of how waterproof it is. A hydrostatic head of 1500 is the legal minimum for a tent to be classified as waterproof, so a rating of 2000-3000 will be plenty to cope with the varying British weather.

Ventilation

Ventilation is key to preventing condensation from building up in your tent, and leaving a pool of water for you to wake up to! Condensation is particularly a problem when the temperature outside is much cooler than inside the tent, so making sure your tent is well-ventilated with the option to also leave the door or windows slightly open will make sure your trip is a comfortable one.

Tent accessories

From tables, chairs and carpets for comfort, to structural add-ons like awnings and windbreaks, there are plenty of great accessories available to make your tent a true home under canvas. Whilst these are a great way to add space and functionality to your tent, do bear in mind that there will be a resulting increase in weight and how long it takes to pitch/take down your tent, so it’s all about finding balance.

Still not sure which tent is right for you? Visit us in-store for advice from our experts.