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Tent Buying Guide

A true family tent.

How to choose the right tent for you? It is a complete minefield - from oh-so-tiny featherweight one-man tents, to tents so large they could double as a detached house, the breadth of tent sizes and choice is awe-inspiring. Whilst it might seem pretty obvious that a four-man tent will suit four people, that is actually not the case, a four man tent is more ideal for 2 - 3 people, as you'll want a little bit of extra storage space. Firstly, figure out how many people you are looking to accomodate, then look for a tent one - two berths larger.

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Simple Guide

For those who do not want to read the waffle, see the condensed guide to make life simpler:

  1. Decide a Budget
  2. Decide a berth, how many you want to sleep.
  3. Pick between poled, steel poled or Airbeam
  4. Pick a fabric - polyester or cotton.

Budget

The first consideration is budget, how much money do you want to spend? Tents can be as cheap or expensive as you like, as with anything you will get what you pay for, so don't go too cheap, and be sure to check product reviews before committing. Also be wary of second hand tent sales, and try to see the tent pitched before purchasing - as many second hand tents may have mould, mildew, or simply be worn out from UV Degradation.

If you are a first time camper, my recommendation would be to start lower down the tent ladder, so to speak. The first purchase might want to be a cheaper tent, to make sure camping agrees with you. Once you know for sure, maybe it's time to invest in a decent, longer-lifetime tent.

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Things to Consider?

Do you plan to carry your tent with you to your camping spot, or will you be driving to your campsite and unloading directly from car to pitch? You’ll need to consider this, because if you are carrying the tent, it would be preferable to go for a lightweight, compact pack-size tent. Other considerations can be seen below:

  • Weight and Pack Size
  • Do you want to be able to stand inside the tent?
  • Do you want a poled tent / or an Airframe tent.
  • A Trial Run before going away.
  • How many people do you want to sleep inside the tent.
  • Climate of area you are visiting - make sure you choose a tent adequate for the elements.

Useful Tent Features to Consider:

  • Many people like to be able to stand up in their tent, so look out for maximum height details in the floorplans.
  • If you plan to spend a lot of time hanging out in your tent and cooking, choose one with a good-sized living area and ventilation. Remember never to cook with a BBQ inside your tent, and to use extreme caution cooking inside a tent. Cooking inside the tent should be a last resort, always try to cook outside the tent.
  • If you like the idea of a blow-up mattress, single or double, make sure you choose a tent with the right bedroom space.
  • Also check the details of the tent to make sure it is the right one for coping with a range of conditions. For example, if you’re planning a trip to Mount Everest, you’ll want a very robust tent that can withstand high winds! Most tents sold today will be great for windy and rainy conditions since they are waterproof and designed to be sturdy, but each tent has its limitations of use.
  • Would you like to be able to see outside when you are indoors? If so, choose a tent with “windows” and privacy curtains for night time privacy.
  • If you’re going somewhere with mosquitoes or midges, make sure the tent as an anti-bug mesh nets built-in and a sewn-in groundsheet.
  • A built-in ground sheet is a good idea, especially if you want to keep the wet ground away from your sleeping quarters.

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What Type of Tent Should I Buy?

There are many different tent formats, sizes, shapes and designs, picking the right one for your camping trip can be a weary task. The main thing to ensure is the tent meets the following criteria:

  • Has space to accommodate the amount of people you are sleeping.
  • Has a decent waterproofing level.
  • Style is adequate for manner of camping.
  • Design is adequate for climate

Different Formats Available:

  • Adventure
  • Weekend
  • Family
  • Poled
  • Air
  • Tipi
  • Backpacking or Mountain

See our full blog on different tent types, and their advantages and disadvantages.

Read Tent Types Blog

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What Size of Tent Should I Buy?

Tent sizes are measured in berth / man / person, referring to the amount of people the tent can sleep. However, it can be slightly confusing as a four berth tent for example, is more likely to be ideal for 2-3 people. Always jump up one size to ensure that you have enough space within the tent. If you are a larger family, you might even want to jump up by one to two berths.

  • Figure out how many people you want to house.
  • Go a size or two up.
  • Make sure the weight and pack size is ideal
  • Check the comfort rating on each tent, as often it will suggest the tent is comfortable for a max amount of people.

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Inflatable or Poled?

There's a huge argument around which frame of tent is better, Air or Poled - both have their positives and negatives - though the pattern seems to be shifting towards Air tents as a more popular choice. Air tents certainly have their benefits, but there are also drawbacks, such as increased condensation.

Inflatable Pro's

  • Easy to pitch
  • Time Saving
  • Can handle higher winds without damage.
  • Perfect for touring campers.
  • Large Sized Tents
  • Easier to set up / take down alone.

Inflatable Con's

  • Increase in condensation inside the tent.
  • Harder to pack away without the correct methodology.
  • Larger Pack Size
  • Heavy weights

Poled Pro's

  • Can split poles and canvas for lower weight, and easier portability.
  • Inexpensive
  • Less Condensation inside the tent.

Poles Con's

  • Harder to set up
  • Can suffer pole breakages in wind
  • Can suffer accidental damage pitching in wind.
  • May need several people to set up.

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Fabric Types

Polyester - Polyester is favoured for most tents because it is a lightweight, durable tent fabric, which is easy to treat for waterproofing and affordable. There are different deniers within polyester (thicknesses), but most tents start at around 70-Denier. The thicker the fabric, the longer it will last, before fading or degrading in the sunlight. Polyester is not naturally waterpoof, so it is treated with a waterproofing agent at the point of manufacture - and will have taped seams.

Polyester Taslan - Taslan is a high-quality, woven polyester, designed to have a longer lasting durability than that of polyester. Usually Taslan fabrics are far superior to a regular polyester fabric, and will be more durable.

Polycotton - polycotton is a mix of polyester and cotton - usually 35% cotton / 65% polyester. The purpose of the polycotton is that is will be a lighter weight cotton tent, offering a breathable, durable tent fabric, designed to last longer. Furthermore, the polycotton fabric will be more ideal for a range of different climates, as it will be warmer in cold weather conditions, and stay cooler in the warm weather conditions. Most TC Air tents are made with polycotton, as it helps reduce condensation encountered by the internal beams - and offers a good weight balance also.

Cotton - 100% cotton tents are rare, due to their weight, and pack size. Furthermore, they are incredibly expensive. However, if it is a permanent pitching tent, then cotton is the right way to go, as it is far more durable, and maluable to the weather conditions. 

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Tent Accessories

Footprint Groundsheet

A footprint carpet is an essential piece of kit, and should be the compulsory accessory purchased for your tent. The footprint will offer protection to your investment, and will offer an array of benefits such as:

  • Keeps the tent clean and dry for packing away.
  • Marks out an intended pitching space for the tent.
  • Adds a layer of insulation to the base of the tent.
  • Protects from boggy, muddy weather conditions.
  • Easy to clean
  • Cut to fit the size of each tent.

Carpet

Tent carpets are another important accessory, usually designed to cover the living space of a family tent, and offering comfort and warmth to the tent's interior living space. Typically, the carpet is a cut-to-fit picnic rug, and there are varying degrees of quality of carpet. However, the main features of the tent carpets are:

  • Provide warmth to interior of the tent.
  • Provides a homely, comfortable feel to living space.
  • PVC backed for insulation from the cold ground.
  • Protects sewn-in groundsheet from table legs and chairs scratching / damaging the groundsheet.
  • Perfect for bare-foot campers.
  • Great for early / later season campers.

Skyliner

Skyliners are fitted internal tent liners, usually found on Airbeam / Inflatable tents in the living space, with the purpose of reducing condensation, and also hiding the internal Airbeams. Manufacturers will often argue that they create a thermal barrier inside the tent, however mainly their purpose is to provide a more comfortable feel to the tent, whilst reducing condensation.

Sky Shield / Dual Protector

Sky shields and Dual Protectors are new innovations, and offer protection to the roof panels of the tent, by offering a protective layer to the roof panel, to prevent UV degradation, and external elements from damaging the tent, such as bird poo, or tree sap. The shield usually sits on top of the tent's roof panel, and clips onto the tent for a secure fitting. Furthermore, using a sky shield has proven to reduce condensation, making the camping experience more comfortable. Perfect for heat wave style weather, where the UV rays will damage the roof panel. These shields should be removed in the event of high winds, as they can act like a kite, and damage the tent. The shield is for use in sunny weather conditions / rainy conditions - wind is not an ideal time to be using a sky shield.

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Tent Jargon Explained

  • Hydrostatic Head - a measure of waterproofing and how much water pressure a fabric can take before it starts to bleed water through the fabric.
  • Denier - denier is a measure of thickness of fabric, and there are different thicknesses, from 70 Denier to 600 Denier.
  • Sewn-in Groundsheet - a groundsheet which is stitched to the flysheet to create an enclosed living space for protection from the elements, and bugs.
  • Berth - refers to the amount of people the tent can comfortably sleep.
  • Double Skin - refers to the amount of fabric layers the tent has - for example the outer flysheet would be the first skin, and the inner tent inside would be the second skin.
  • Cable Entry Point - a zipped entry point into the tent, to allow mains access for a camping hookup - to provide electricity to the inside of the tent.

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Reputable Brands

  • Vango
  • Outwell
  • Robens
  • Kampa Dometic
  • Lichfield
  • Outdoor Revolution
  • Coleman
  • Force 10
  • Olpro
  • Khyam

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Trial Run

All good quality tents should come with straightforward instructions, and once you have erected a couple of styles of tent, you’ll realise that they all follow similar formats. However, it’s a good idea to practise putting up your tent in the garden if you have the time or space, before you head off on holiday. This will avoid the common “build your tent domestic” that can so often cause a camping holiday to get off to a bad start!

Categories: Buying Guides