How To Choose The Best Tent For You

How to choose a tent
Ryan the authorResearch by Duncan
Updated: August 11, 2019

A tent is a critical part of your camping adventure.  The quality and utility of your tent could make or break the whole trip. There are many options that can seem overwhelming. There are a few big things to consider when looking for a tent that can vastly affect what style or size tent you may be looking for.

  • How you will use the tent
  • How big of a tent do you need
  • What time of year will the tent be used in
  • What are the key features you are looking for in a tent

How will you use the tent?

How to choose a tent

Be honest. Will it normally be mere feet away from your minivan? Will you be roughing it in the backcountry? The type of camping you will be doing will certainly affect the type of tent you will need. People headed to the backcountry will need a light and easily compactible tent, however, if it will not make it more than 100 feet from a vehicle, perhaps weight will not be an issue. Will the tent be normally used in the summer? Or will it also get a lot of use in late fall and winter as well?

Honest answers to these questions will help you not only focus your search, but also help you purchase a tent that will actually suit your needs. Do not buy a tent that is rated for winter temperatures because you MIGHT want to go camping in the winter once. For those occasional exceptions to your normal camping routine (such as camping in the winter) it may be best for you to borrow or rent gear rather than waste money on a tent with features you will only use one or twice.

How big does the tent need to be?


Tents are always given a rating for how many people can fit in the tent. Most commonly, you will find them in even numbers. 2 -10 person tents are pretty standard and can be found at many outdoor retailers. When choosing a tent, it would be wise to choose one size larger than you need. This is especially true if you have a particularly hyper group, are bringing a dog, or have people who are larger. So if you plan to most often have 4 people in your tent, finding one rated for 5-6 people will give you a little more elbow room when in the tent. If you get an exact number (i.e. 4 people sleeping in a 4 person tent), you will fit, but like sardines. You will sacrifice any extra room for your things in there and it will honestly not be the most comfortable for anyone.

There are different tent shapes that will actually offer more room than others as well. The most common ones are the cabin and dome shapes. Cabin shapes have more vertical walls which gives you more space. They will more commonly also feature things such as room dividers to give more privacy to the occupants. Dome style tents tend to be a bit easier to set up, and because of their curved shape, they can typically stand up to wind and weather more easily.

What time of year will the tent be used in?


This is another time for honesty with yourself. How likely is it that you will be using this tent in late November or December? If you are actually going to, then it is something you are definitely going to want to plan for, if not, save yourself the hassle.

On top of the “person rating” tents are given a “seasonality rating”. The most common type of tent is the 3 – season tent. These are lightweight shelters meant to be used through spring, summer, and fall. They tend to have more mesh on their walls to allow for air flow. The 3-4 season tents (sometimes called 3+ season) are made for the normal 3 season usage, plus some colder early springs and late falls. They are more rugged and sturdy than the 3 season tents and this makes them a bit heavier.

The 4 season tent is made to withstand harsh snow and storms. These tents can be used by mountaineers and campers during any season. Commonly they are used by people headed into the mountains. The fabrics and frames used by these builds are significantly more rugged and durable than the 3 season tents also making them quite a bit heavier. Because they are built for colder climate capabilities, in the summers they can become very warm and stuffy.

Key Features To Look For


There are several key features to consider when getting a tent. These are little add-ons that can make your experience more comfortable and convenient. Some people, for example, need a taller tent to not feel as claustrophobic, others want more pockets for storage. Whatever features you may find critical, here are some common ones that you may want to consider.

  • Tent height – Most tents, especially more compact ones, are not designed to be stood up in. Mostly, they are meant for crawling in and out of instead of walking in. This is something to consider so you know what you are getting into before your purchase your tent. Most average height people can comfortably sit up in a tent with a 3.5 ft height. If you are a significantly taller person, it may be smart to consider a taller tent height.

  • Vestibules – These are floorless storage spaces made by staking out the rain fly from the tent. They are extremely convenient for backpackers to store their packs during the night, giving them additional space in their tents.

  • Tent doors – Decide on the number of doors you may want in your tent. More doors mean less climbing over each other at night or in the mornings.

  • Tent poles – Tent poles can determine how easy it is to pitch a tent. Fewer poles typically mean easier setup and tear down. Color-coded poles and sleeves can further ease the setup process and take out any guesswork of what pole goes where. One note about tent poles – you will want to get aluminum poles over fiberglass. Although they tend to be more expensive, they are lighter and will last much longer than their fiberglass counterparts.

  • Ventilation – There are mesh panels that are used to help manage temperature and condensation within the tent. The hotter the area you will be camping, the more mesh you will want.

  • Gear lofts and pockets – Additional storage within the tent for any of your small gear you do not want to leave in your pack such as flashlights and multi-tools. For me, the more lofts and pockets the better. I like having storage within the tent.

While this is not a comprehensive feature list, they are some of the features that I consider when looking for new tents and ones that I think are among the most important. Everyone has their own opinion and some may find other features more useful, but at least consider what is listed when looking for your new tent.

Everyone is different


The best tent for your friend may not be the best tent for you. Everyone has different needs and will use the tent in different ways. It is important to do your own research and figure out what you are looking for in a tent. It is something you will not necessarily want to just buy with no thought. It is amazing how much a bad quality tent can turn a fun trip into a nightmare. Be diligent and find the best tent for you!

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