Guide to Buying a Tent

When it comes to buying a tent, it can be difficult to know which is the best choice for you and what the different terminology means, so this tent buying guide will help you to decide.

Firstly, you need a tent that is suitable for the climate you will be using it in, and in the UK, this means a 3-season tent is the best choice. You also need to consider how easy is it to pitch, how much room you would prefer (even as a solo walker) and for buying a backpacking tent – how much it weighs.

Tent Designs

Ridge Tents (A frame)
These are not so popular these days but are a sturdy design. They consist of two vertical poles at each end and sometimes a crossbar. They use a number of guy lines to stabilise them, but the sidewalls still tend to sag and can flap in the wind. An example of a ridge tent is the High Peak Minilite Two Man Tent – a lightweight tent at only 1kg but it is more of a summer tent.

Dome Tents
These are lightweight, quick to pitch and have good headroom. They usually consist of two flexible poles that cross over the roof of the tent. The drawback is that they are not sturdy enough for full 3-season use and probably fit into the 2-season catagory. They don’t perform brilliantly in windy conditions and are better on low ground. The Coleman Crestline Two Man Tent does have some good reviews however, and if you are looking for a budget tent, it might be worth considering.

Tunnel Tents
Tunnel tents are sturdier than dome tents and are a good choice for 3-season use. Two or three flexible poles are fed through sleeves over the length of the body – creating the tunnel effect. They are light and easy to pitch but will need guy ropes. They can flap a bit and are not fantastic in high winds, but overall they are a good buy when you consider the internal space they offer for their weight. They will withstand a lot and perform well. The Coleman Caucasus 2 Backpacking Tent comes in at 3.15kg and when the weight is shared it would be a sound choice.

Semi Geodesic Tents
A little more sturdy than a tunnel tent but can be slightly heavier. They usually have three flexible poles that criss-cross over the tent. They keep their shape well and tend not to flap too much; they can even withstand snowfall without losing their shape. They are a good compromise when it comes to weight and stability. At 3kg, the Vango Hydra 200 Trekking Tent is a nice example of this kind of tent, but again the weight would have to be shared.

Geodesic Tents
Geodesic tents are the tough guys when it comes to tents and good for 4-season use. They have four or more poles with multiple intersections that create their shape and makes them very stable. They can also be free standing which is useful on rocky ground. The 4-season Husky Extrem Zelt FIGHTER would easily get you through a winter night in the Cairngorms. It’s described as a 3-4 person tent but be aware that tent manufacturers are always on the optomistic side. A smaller version of this tent is the Flame 2.

Should you buy a single or dual skinned tent?

In damp climates – the UK being one of them, you can get a lot of condensation with single skinned tents. Some manufacturers try to combat this with vents and mesh panels but with mixed results. They are lighter and this is a major plus but are just not practical in this case. Therefore, I would always recommend choosing a dual skinned tent.

Different materials and features found in tents

The flysheet is usually made from nylon treated with a PU waterproof coating and the seams are taped for extra waterproofing. The ground sheet is sewn into the tent and made from polyester or nylon.

A tent that lets you pitch the flysheet first is useful in wet climates – you can quickly get the flysheet up and then work in the dry fixing the inner tent. Some even come with the inner attached to the outer (but can be seperated) and this makes for fast pitching. The downside is that when packed away in wet weather, the outer will make the inner quite damp. Not too bad if it’s dry when you pitch again because everything will dry off fast, but not so good otherwise.

Many tents come with some kind of porch area, where you can store your rucksack and boots. To be honest – I often cook in the porch but you have to be very careful when doing this! I wouldn’t buy a tent without a porch because I find it an extremely useful addition. Some tents overcome the lack of a porch with a wide space between the flysheet and inner tent – but of course, you wouldn’t be able to cook in this space if it was pouring with rain.

Consider the weight

If you are planning to use your tent for backpacking, it is essential that you consider the weight of the tent. I would suggest that you try to keep the weight to not much above 2kg (4.4lbs). There are tents on sale that claim to be backpacking tents, but the weight sometimes exceeds the optimum, so always check this before buying.

There are some super lightweight tents available but you have to pay for that lighter load. A nice example is the Terra Nova Laser Competition 2 at just over 1kg. It’s heavier version the Terra Nova Zephyros 2 comes in at just under 2kg but is at least half the price. As you can see, it can be a tough decision deciding what you are prepared to pay for that lighter option.

Different types of tent poles

There are three types of tent poles used in tents – fibreglass, aluminium and carbon fibre.

Fibreglass poles are found in cheaper tents but they can break and splinter, especially in cold weather. If they do splinter, you can fix them temporarily and they are easy and cheap to replace.

Aluminium poles are used in lightweight tents and are more flexible than fibreglass poles. They are lighter but stronger and don’t tend to break. They also keep their shape well.

Carbon fibre poles are very expensive and super light but can be quite stiff to bend into shape.