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How To Buy A Tent

One of the first steps in enjoying the Great Outdoors is buying a tent. The key to making the adventure even more enjoyable and safe is buying the right tent. To do this, first determine your camping needs. Then, decide which features you must have and which you can do without. The type of tent you buy should ultimately depend on climate, geography, activity, and personal taste.

Determining your camping needs

One of the first steps in selecting a tent is determining the type of camping you will be doing and the time of year you will be doing it.

Time of year you will be camping

  • All-season (convertible)
    • All-season tents can be used year-round but are not designed for harsh winter mountaineering
    • Weight is in the 5 to 10 pound range
  • Summer
    • Summer tents are designed for hot climates only
    • These usually weigh 4 to 8 pounds
  • Winter/Mountaineering
    • For winter camping under extreme conditions, a mountaineering tent can withstand much of the worst nature has to offer
    • They generally weigh 5 to 10 pounds
  • Three-season
    • A typical three-season tent is built to withstand light snow, warm climates and a variety of conditions in between, and is versatile enough to be used much of the year
    • These usually weigh between 5 and 10 pounds

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Choosing a tent

Tent Components

Besides stakes and a stuff-sack, there are three basic components of a tent: the poles,body and rain fly.

  • Poles
    • They are the support structures that hold up the tent
    • Can be made of aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber
  • Body
    • It is the tent itself and is usually made of nylon
  • Rain fly
    • This is like an umbrella for your tent
    • It protects the tent body from UV rays and precipitation
    • Sometimes used as a tarp or its own tent when basic, ultra-light shelter is desired

Types of tents

  • Summer
    • Summer tents are designed only for hot weather
    • Lots of mesh in the tent body for ventilation
    • A rain fly that stops several inches above the ground to provide maximum protection while improving ventilation
    • Light-weight, two-pole construction
  • Three-season
    • Three-season tents are designed for versatility
    • Three-pole high-strength construction to withstand wind and rain
    • A full-coverage rain fly that extends to the ground
    • Sometimes have a large vestibule to accommodate gear
    • Skylight window in the rain fly to let in additional light
  • All-season
    • All-season tents (convertible tents) can be used year-round
    • Skylight window in the rainfly to let in additional light
    • Four aluminum poles
    • Removable vestibule for weight savings
    • Mesh with zip-out panels that can be used for ventilation when open, or for protection when closed
    • Rain fly that can be set up by itself, offering light weight for those who prefer to deal with a minimum of gear
  • Winter/Mountaineering
    • Winter tents are designed for use in extreme winter conditions
    • Four or five aluminum poles with optional free-standing construction
    • Full-coverage rain fly
    • Steep sidewalls to shed wind and snow
    • Tow doors on opposite ends or sides of tent, with vestibules, to provide easy entrance and exit as well as gear storage
  • Single-wall
    • Single-wall tents are for those who want an ultra-light shelter with minimalist features
    • They do not require a rain fly to protect against moisture
    • High and low ventilation ports afford maximum air flow
    • Vertical sidewalls shed rain and maximum interior space
  • Dome
    • Dome tents are aerodynamic and stable
    • They are designed to shed wind and all types of precipitation effectively
  • Cabin
    • Cabin tents are best suited for established campgrounds or base camps
    • They feature a large, square design with high ceilings and vertical walls to accommodate cots, chairs, coolers and other creature comforts
  • Hoop (tunnel)
    • Hoop tents available in two- and three-hoop varieties. Three-hoop models are especially popular with long-distance hikers.
    • They are lightweight (3 to 5 pounds)
    • Their low profile offers weather-resistance as well as a spacious interior

Materials

Tents come in a variety of materials and colors, and your choice also depends on how you plan to use it.

  • Polyester fabrics
    • Withstand UV exposure better than nylon
    • The best choice for long-term campsites
  • Nylon
    • These tents are generally lighter than polyester ones
    • Most tents intended for any camping beyond the back yard will be made of nylon

Ventilation

  • Look for breathable sidewalls and roofs to minimize condensation
  • Mesh windows, doors and panels allow air in, keep creepy crawlies out, and provide views

Size and weight

  • The size and weight of your tent should coincide with your planned activity, number of people using the tent, and amount of gear you'll be bringing along
  • A tent's weight includes tent body, rain fly, poles and stuff-sack
  • Hikers and cyclists look for light weight and compactness. A hoop (tunnel) tent would be appropriate.
  • Family campers usually choose the comfort afforded by larger shelters such as dome or cabin tent. Family and expedition tents can add as much as 10 to 20 pounds.
  • A three-season tent (to accommodate two or three people) generally weighs in at four to nine pounds
  • Small, ultra-light tents (bivy sacks) can weigh as little as one or two pounds

Other key features

Many features are built into many modern tent designs.

  • Collapsible tent poles of aluminum, high strength aluminum, carbon fiber or tubular fiberglass
  • Internal storage pockets for easy organization
  • Steep walls to increase usable interior room, shed precipitation better and help vent out humidity
  • Gear loops inside the tent
  • Stake loops made from strong nylon webbing
  • Larger family tents often offer partitions for improved privacy
  • One-piece floors for added waterproofness

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