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How to Choose a Camping Tent

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Camping is a favorite summer pastime for many of us at Sportsman’s Warehouse, and we think that’s probably the case for many of our readers as well. Some people go camping just for the experience, while others enjoy camping as a means to an end during some other expedition. No matter how you camp, though, finding the ideal tent is a critical part of gearing up. So today, we’re bringing you a guide to help you pick the perfect camping tent.

Sleeping Capacity


A good starting place when choosing a camping tent is to consider the size of your group. Always try to guess generously -- you never know how many extra friends or pets you might want to take along. It’s also worth noting that there is no industry standard that defines per-person tent dimensions. Some campers may need more space than a tent’s specifications allot.

A few other considerations to have about your companions when deciding on a tent size:

  • Are your companions large or small people?
  • Is anyone claustrophobic?
  • Does anybody toss and turn while sleeping?
  • Does anyone require more elbow room to sleep?
  • Is anyone bringing a dog?
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Tent Seasonality


3-Season Tents

3-season tents are the most popular choice for camping, as they are lightweight shelters that can adequately protect against spring, summer, and fall weather conditions. They often feature mesh panels which boost airflow and keep out insects. When paired with a rainfly, 3-season tents can also withstand downpours, but are not considered the best option for long-lasting, sustained rainstorms or snowstorms.

3-season tents are designed with three functions in mind: keeping you dry during light rain, shielding you from bugs, and providing privacy.

Extended-Season Tents

Extended-season tents are designed for slightly prolonged 3-season use, and are slightly more robust than standard 3-season tents. They can generally protect well against early spring and late fall weather conditions like moderate snowfall. Extended season tents offer the same ventilation and privacy as 3-season tents, with added durability and warmth retention. They do this by including 1 or 2 extra support poles and fewer mesh panels.

Extended-season tents are a great choice for those who outdoorsmen who make frequent trips to high-elevation campsites. And although they are very sturdy, extended-season tents are not as robustly built as 4-season tents.

4-Season Tents

4-season tents are the most robust mountaineering tents available to consumers. They are engineered to withstand fierce winds and significant snowstorms and inhospitable conditions.

They typically include more support poles and heavier fabrics than 3-season tents. 4-season tents also often feature a rounded dome design to prevent snow from collecting on the roof of the tent. They have very few mesh panels (or none at all) and rainflies that extend to the ground. This can make them very stuffy in less severe weather, but when the snow starts coming down, you’ll be happy you’re in a 4-season tent.

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Tent Seasonality


Peak Height

The peak height is the tallest measurement of the tent’s roof from the ground. If you are a taller camper, or are just looking for more headroom, try looking for a tent with a tall peak height.

Cabin-style tents are engineered to maximize peak height, through the use of vertical or near-vertical walls. Cabin-style tents provide a focus on livability, often featuring things like room dividers and awnings.

Dome-style tents are also popular, offering superior strength and wind shedding features. They are less livable than cabin-style tents, as dome-style tents only stand particularly tall in the center.

Tent Floor Length

Taller campers, or those looking for additional space, may consider a tent with an extended floor-length. The average floor-length is between 84” and 88 inches”, so try looking at 90 inch”+ options.

Tent Doors

When selecting a tent, try to consider how many doors you will need. If you’re camping with a larger group, multiple doors will help you to avoid climbing over one another. Cabin-style tents are typically built with this consideration in mind. We suggest looking for doors built with YKK zippers -- they tend to resist snagging better than other brands.

Tent Poles

A tent’s pole structure helps to make it easier (or more difficult) to pitch. But, almost all family tents these days are ‘“freestanding”,’ meaning they do not require any kind of stakes to set up. One huge advantage of this is that users can pick the tent up and move it to a different location before staking. Users can also easily shake any dirt out of the tent before disassembling.

As a rule of thumb, fewer poles allow for faster setups. It’s also an easier process to attach poles to clips, rather than threading them through long sleeves. Some tents are built with both clips and short pole sleeves to balance strength and ease of use. Aluminum poles are going to be stronger than fiberglass when used with tents, and often feature color-coded pole clips for a faster setup.

Rainfly

A rainfly is a waterproof cover designed to fit over the roof of a tent. It can be used whenever rainfall is expected, or it can be used in cold weather conditions for extra warmth retention. Roof-only and full-coverage are the two types of rainflies available. Roof-only rainflies allow more light while offering only fair rain protection. Full-coverage rainflies offer maximum protection from both wind and rain.

Tent Materials

If you’re looking for more rugged, durable tent construction, try to find higher-denier fabric canopies and rainflies. Seam tape and higher-denier fabrics on tent floors also reduce the chances of leakage.

Vestibules / Garage

Shelters and awnings are available for tents to store or shelter dirty gear and boots. They are easy to overlook, but you will surely be glad that you have one when the time comes.

Ventilation

Tents are ventilated through the use of mesh paneling in the ceilings, doors, and windows. This enhances cross-ventilation which also can help manage condensation, especially in warmer climates. For humid, hot campsites, look for tents with large mesh panels.

Interior Loops and Pockets

Tents are ventilated through the use of mesh paneling in the ceilings, doors, and windows. This enhances cross-ventilation which also can help manage condensation, especially in warmer climates. For humid, hot campsites, look for tents with large mesh panels.

Guyout Loops

Some well-built tents include loops on the outside of the tent for the attachment of guy lines. Guy lines allow you to tie down the hatches of your tent to avoid flapping fabric during periods of high wind.

Footprint

A footprint is a custom-fitted ground cloth that is placed under the tent floor. It is typically sold separately from the tent itself. Tent floors can be ruggedly built, yes, but rocks and dirt will eventually wear away any floor. Footprints aren’t indestructible, but they are far cheaper to replace than an entire tent.

Some campers opt for standard drop cloths instead of footprints, but drop cloths are not shaped to your tent specifically, and any cloth that sticks out beyond tent edges will catch water. This water will then flow into the tent and seep through the fabric. For that reason, a footprint is a more ideal solution.

  • Other Optional (But Handy) Accessories:
  • Stakes and anchors
  • Battery-powered ventilation fan
  • Inside/outside floor mat
  • Utility cord
  • Tent repair kit
  • Seam sealer
  • Broom and dustpan