Tips To Read Through Before You Head Out Shopping For A Tent

If you are thinking of choosing a tent, whether it be a first time purchase or an upgrade to a bigger, more modern tent, we believe that there are some tips you should follow to ensure your money is spent wisely.

The wrong tent, could turn your camping trip into a not-so-happy camping adventure.

Below, hopefully you will find some practical and informative advice to help you with your choice. Read through these tips before you head out shopping. Think about your needs in advance of paying out any money.

1.       Number of people using the tent

Always, always, ignore the concept that a 4 man tent, sleeps 4.   It does not. It might just sleep 3, but for a comfortable experience, 2 would be best in such a tent.

The specifications of say a 4 man tent, means that 4 people would be a tight fit, with no space for baggage etc.     So, a family of 4 should look at a tent that is a 6 person tent.  This will give your room for bedding and smaller areas to store clothes etc.     Should the weather be poor, that extra space will be a godsend with all of you in the tent.

Think of what space you will need in that tent, and what you want stored in the tent with you.

Think about the height of the adults who will sleep in it – very tall people are going to need to sleep without being curled up in a ball.   Know your measurements and that of the tent you are looking at.

With tents, size does matter.     

You might think that  a 4 person tent looks roomy when it’s empty.  And it does.   But then you need to think about the gear that is going in there – and how you will fit.    Are you going to be on self inflating mats?  Or stretchers?    That will make a difference.

2.       Conditions you will use the tent in

Some tents are better suited to different environments.

A summer tent will be lightweight material, have a lot of ventilation and not designed for harsh conditions.   A three season tent will be more likely able to survive heavier rain and winds, and provide protection from the cold.      It’s a good choice for your tent purchase.

True winter tents are probably not very common in Australia as our conditions are more mild.    But if you are planning on camping in snow, then your tent needs to be a winter tent – not a 3 season tent.       Shop carefully to get the tent that suits the weather.

If you are “fair weather” camper only, meaning you want to camp when its a calm and sunny day, your tent doesn’t need to be top of the range, but even the most perfect weather can change rapidly, so you need to think about your tent and how it would go, should a storm arise unexpectedly.  Some of the really cheap tents don’t hold up in poor weather as well.

3.       Ease of use

I have seen in the shops, this fantastic tent, with lots of rooms and storage areas – sleeps 10.    But how long did it take to set up?  Was a small army required?     You need to consider that when purchasing a tent.   The salesperson told me it took a long time and a group of them – and they were the experts!

You do not want to spend hours upon arrival at your camp location, trying to put a tent up (whether you are alone or have enlisted your unhappy children who just want to play, not pass you poles and pegs).

Ease of use is imperative.   

If possible, try and do it in the shop though this may not always be a realistic option.     It’s nice idea, but many tents we have liked and purchased, we haven’t had that chance to look at them in a shop.     We have had to do our research online and hoped for the best.

Remember also – the bigger the tent, the bigger the campsite you will need.

Some campsites are just not designed for big tents, and you will need to find a large, level spot, away from overhanging tree branches.

Not sure how to pitch the tent?  Then YouTube is going to be a great source of information for you. Search for the tent  you are thinking about purchasing, and see if there is a YouTube video showing it put up.

Look for independent reviewers as opposed to the manufacturer video (they have a vested interest in ensuring it looks easy).    A reviewer who is not associated with the company will point out the pitfalls more readily!  (Like we do here at this site)

4.       Materials of tent

Check closely what the tent is made of because that could influence your choice.

Tents that are canvas (cotton) are waterproof, but become very heavy when the water is absorbed.  They are long lasting though and don’t deteriorate as much as say, nylon.

Nylon/Polyester  is waterproof as well, but sunlight will cause deterioration over time.    With these tents, you must check that the seams have been sealed to ensure they are waterproof.

Need to know more about canvas vs. nylon?    All tips and a guide can be found here.

Many tents say they are waterproof, but we have found that the cheaper ones are not as waterproof as you hoped for.   Good tents will have rip-stop fabric.

Tent poles come in all sorts of materials.       We have upgraded some of our tent poles to better quality ones to ensure they work when we need them to work.

Also, look at the zips of the tent.  This is a key part of the tent, and is frequently overlooked, but should that tent zip fail, you could have things in your tent that you don’t want in your tent.

Check that the zip is a quality one, moves easily, doesn’t catch on fabric, and non rusting.

The fly needs to be be nylon waterproofed with polyurethane or polyurethane and silicone coatings.  A fly should ideally cover all of your tent including windows and doors to provide maximum protection from the rain.

Once again, much of the above is great if you can see it all in a shop.       But if you can’t, read up on the materials, and reviews.

5.  Weight

Will you need to carry this tent great distances?

Is it for car camping?   Some of the larger tents are extremely heavy to carry – even from the car to the campsite.     Can you manage this on your own?

Some family tents are so large when packed up in their bags, we could not fit them on our roof rack.

So check that out before you commit to purchase.  Plus you need some serious muscles to get that tent up on the roof of your car.

Whilst weight for car camping is not as big as consideration as weight when hiking, I believe you really need to look at your own capabilities about moving that tent around.

If you are hiking with your tent you will need lightweight tents, and that is an extensive area to cover, so you need to study hiking tents separately to this story.

6.    Ventilation

If you haven’t camped before in a tent, you may not be aware how horrendous it is to wake up in the morning to everything being damp.

Your clothing has touched the sides of the tent and now its wet..your bedding is damp and condensation is all over the tent.

That is why ventilation is paramount.

  • Look for well placed vents to minimise condensation issue.

To help minimise condensation in any tent, read the story  on how to stop condensation in a tent (or can you?)

 7.    Additional Features

What are you looking for in a tent, apart from the factors listed above?

Some points you might want to consider include:

  • Number of doors (2 doors are ideal – saves clambering over someone else)
  • Number of windows (important for ventilation – see point 6.)
  • Storage pockets (keeps the tent less cluttered, and key items easy to find)
  • Size of awning (added protection from elements)
  • Ability to purchase accessories to suit tent and your needs (eg. Extra large canopy, additional rooms)

“Work out what is important to you and your camping experience” 

8.     Flooring

For a family tent, that gets a lot of use, you need a good strong floor.   Ensure the floor is made of something durable.

The flooring should protect you and your belongings from any poor weather seeping in to your tent, but I would advise to use a footprint on every tent you use (ie. Footprint is a piece of  specifically designed and shaped fabric, or tarp that goes under your tent to protect it from the ground and will protect your tent from abrasions).

We have a story on Groundsheet/Footprint for Tents which will help you understand their importance – it will be an added backup to the flooring of your tent.

9.    Price

This is the big decision for everyone.  How much to spend on a tent?      We all have different budgets, but I will stress that quality costs.  

Buying cheap will cost you more in the long run, when the tent fails you.  Of course, not everyone can spend a huge fortune on a tent.

Sometimes the really, really cheap tents are cheap for a reason.

Think to yourself before you buy, “why is this tent so cheap compared to others with the same features?”      It might just come down to the materials, and manufacturer.

Another factor to consider, is  the conditions you expect the tent to survive in – if you are going to spend your time camping in extreme conditions, with ice, snow and high winds, then spend as much money as you can on that tent, because you will need a reliable piece of equipment to save you from misery.

When you decide on a specific tentshop around.     

Like everything, camping gear prices vary greatly between stores.

Watch out for sales too – tents can be discounted up to 40-50% by some manufacturers at certain times of the year.     We picked up our family tent in such a sale.   We couldn’t have afforded it at full price.  So we waited!

Depending on what sort of tent you are after, buying from overseas might be the best option.     This is especially so for some of the smaller tents, like dome tents.      Not all overseas retailers have big shipping costs to Australia either.   Once more, shop around online to find a retailer that sells what you want at the best price.

Purchasing from overseas does have some drawbacks of course, but the range of tents available to you increases if you don’t just consider ones locally.      That is why the next point is so important.

10.    After Sales Service

So you have purchased this great tent, and something goes wrong?

You go back to the manufacturer and they don’t want to know you……

That is why after sales service is more important than the service you got buying the tent.   Lots of places are very happy to sell you the tent, but they don’t want to actually see you again.

Before you purchase, read up on the manufacturer of the tent you are considering.   See what their website says about faults etc.

Read reviews on blogs and forums about people who have had experiences with the company.

So, look for manufacturers who provide warranties on their product, and stand behind the products they sell.       Read that fine print too, which states what any warranty does and doesn’t cover. Many of the quality manufacturers of gear are so confident in their product they give lifetime guarantees on their equipment. Look for a tent maker who stands by their product.   Once again, research on the internet will help you determine that.

We hope that the above helps you with making some choices on the tent you purchase. Remember, to read reviews and learn as much as you can before you buy your tent.    Forums and other websites are a great source of information.

Happy Camping.

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