If you are new to camping, or even a dab hand at it, you may be baffled by what to look for when buying a tent.
The following has been put together for you whether you are buying second hand or brand new and holds many useful tips, so why not print out a copy and take with the next time you are going to view a tent.
1. Look in the flesh – If you havent got a clue where to start, try and look at as many tents in the flesh, find a show or a large tent retail outlet which has many different types of tents erected
2. How transporting? – look at the packed size (and weight if you are carrying this) as well as the pitch size – some of these can be real space eaters in your boot. You might need a trailer, top box or even a new new car!
3. Inside height – unless you are hiking and saving weight, there is little reason to get a tent where you are on your knees at the time. Standing up in a tent is a must really if you are going to spend a bit of time in it. So check your height and the “inner” height of the tent (not the outer figures sometimes quoted). Some tents have lower heights for the bedrooms, which is fine unless you do want standing height all the way through.
4. Size of bedrooms – ignore the number of berths suggested by the manufacturer, as they base it on very narrow hiking mats. If you want some comfort, then calculate your own requirements based on a width of a std air bed being approx 80cm and a double being 140cm. This quickly leads to you realising that a “4 berth” tent is actually more suitable for 2/3 people and an “8 berth” for 4-6 (depending on the make and model).
5. Bedroom placement – do you want the bedrooms adjacent or separated. Separated gives you a bit more privacy; which is useful with older kids or other couples for example. Adjacent (usually separated by thin material with a zip or not) works well with younger children, as getting out in the middle of the night to get to crying children, through 2-3 sets of zips, and across the middle of the tent with chairs etc in the way, can be a right pain!
6. Inside space if raining – when you see the tent in the flesh, shut the door and ask yourself what would it be like in here if it was raining? (Preferably go to the shop when it is, there will be less people). Some tents can be claustrophobic or just too small to sit around a table and play games. Also look to see if it the tent has a canopy, or the door(s) can be used as a canopy, which could be left open in a shower – again a good way not to feel trapped in a tent. Not a big issue for a weekend tent – you can always nip down the pub; but could get to you for longer week holidays.
7. Cooking – same as above, go inside and ask “where am I going to cook?”. Cooking in tents obviously has to be done carefully; especially in synthetic/nylon tents (canvas/cotton is a bit easier). It is why a good sized porch or a separate day-tent can be a godsend. Again, not a big problem for weekend camping, but more important for weeks away.
8. Space for storage – don’t forget to think “where am I going to store my things…?”. Extra bedrooms or alcoves can be very useful for keeping items/clothes etc. out of the way.
9. Pitch size – some of these tents can pitch over a massive spread, which can make them a bit of pain to pitch; but more importantly, not accepted at some sites – thankfully still the minority of sites, but it is till worth checking. 7x7m is a good rule of thumb, spread bigger and you will need to ask before turning up.
10. Pitch Solo or not – how many people will be pitching the tent. Always find out how many it takes. Some tents can be easily pitched by one person; others need 2, possibly 3. Although there might be two of you, who will be looking after the kids at the time? Some tents, although more expensive, are specifically designed to be pitched solo, fast and with the minimum of effort, so look out for these if it is a big requirement for you. Generally, modern day tents are not that difficult, some can just take more time, so don’t worry about how they pitch, just the number of people required.
11. Pitch inner or outer first – depending on how the tent is designed it will either pitch inner-first or outer-first (sometimes also called “pitching as one”). Inner-first means that if it is raining it is harder to keep the inside section dry; outer-first (the flysheet) obviously gives more protection with the rain. Outer-first is, therefore, more desirable in most peoples’ opinion, especially with big tents where there could be longer with the inner-exposed to the weather. It tends to be less of an issue with smaller tents, as they can be pitched quickly or with a lose flysheet over them for temporary cover.
12. HH – the level of water resistance/”proofing”, usually for nylon/synthetic tents, is rated in “HH” figures – HH 3000, HH 2000 etc (note: this tends not to be used for cotton/canvas tents as their water resistance principal is different). There is always debate on the minimum requirement, but really it depends on the climate you are expecting and how it is going to be used. The army are happy to use small field tents with a low figure of 800HH, but they have a different purpose in mind. Generally stick to anything above 1500HH and you will be fine. Also don’t get confused between the rating of the groundsheet (which is usually very high – as it sits on the ground) and the flysheet. It is the flysheet that you need to check. Most reliable make UK tents are 2000HH and above, so there is little to worry about; however, some import tents from hotter climates are rated less well and could just get you wet in the middle of the night!
13. To SIG or not to SIG – Virtually all bedroom pods have the groundsheet connected to the sides of the compartment, to keep bugs and draughts out while you are sleeping. With some tents this is extended to include the living area as well, and sometimes the whole tent – this is generally referred to as a sewn-in-groundsheet (SIG). The alternative is a living area, where the groundsheet is lose/removable – potentially not as effective against the elements (but there are ways to make them very cosy), it is easier to be cleaned. There are also groundsheets that have the best of both worlds and can be zipped out. In the end, it is preference thing with each type of tent – there is a lot on the forum on pros and cons of SIGs, so it is worth reading the various views.
14. Storm or mud flaps – where the flysheet is not connected to the groundsheet it leaves a gap with the ground – which can be good for ventilation for some tents; however, it can also be draughty (in non-SIG tents). Good/big mud flaps, also called storm flaps, can be tucked back inside and under the groundsheet jutting out the elements. Poor quality/cheap tents, or where there is a specific need to save weight, tend to leave such flaps off – hence, it is worth checking if a tent has them or not; especially if it is a non SIG tent.
15. Porches, dogs & prams – a porch is a very invaluable feature if you want to keep muddy/wet pets and items, like prams, out of the main dry and clean tent. Porches tend to have removable groundsheets (not SIG), so can be easily taken out and cleaned or just left out.
16. Hot climates – although we consider the rain as an issue when choosing a tent, also consider if you are going to use it in really hot weather. A synthetic tent with little ventilation, can not only give you condensation problems in damp conditions, but get oppressively hot in summer situations – in fact too hot to even sleep in. Canvas/cotton has a big advantage, over synthetic/nylon material, in being breathable and staying cooler. If you are going to hotter climates seriously consider a canvas/cotton tent. However, if you are going to use a synthetic/nylon tent then a double skinned tent – where there is a flysheet over a separate inner (as opposed to an all-in-one flysheet and SIG) – should be cooler and warmer when it is cold. Some smaller tents that are pitched inner-first are able to be pitched without the flysheet, so on hot nights (if certain it won’t rain!) the tent is really one giant insect net, allowing lots of cool air to circulate.
17. Ventilation – similar to the needs of hot climates, look at the ventilation in the tent, especially if nylon/synthetic (canvas/cotton has an advantage in it can breath). A poorly ventilated tent will give you condensation problems. Look for windows and doors that can have a meshed cover, as well as a zipped rain cover, and that allow for a flow of air through the tent. Big doors can produce good ventilation, however, without an insect net are useless as at night the inside light will attract everything!
18. Consider all types – most people go straight for the synthetic domes and tunnels and don’t consider traditional canvas frame tents or other less marketed designs. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages (especially when you find out the advantages of breathable canvas, pollycotton or gortex), so don’t necessarily just go with the crowd have a look at all the different types.
19. Consider a second tent – although you can be charged more for a second pitch, a day-room or pup-tent can be very useful over one very large tent. A pup tent is a small tent for the kids or guest to go in – some of them can be just thrown up at night, to make things easier. A day-room, or day-tent, is a second tent designed for cooking, eating and socialising in – a bit like a portable gazebo with more cover. These make for better cover and ventilation from the sun; plus in an evening you can sit away from the rain or insects with less chance of waking up the kids asleep in the main tent. Finally, having a day-tent means you do not need such a big main tent; therefore, for weekends you can just take the main tent and for longer weeks away you can take the day-tent as well – all very convenient.
20. Reliable make – why risk ruining your precious holiday time with a cheap ‘tat’ tent. There are plenty of reliable manufacturers, whose tents you can get cheaply if you hunt around. Get a list of the good makes and don’t risk your precious holidays. Even a S/H good make tent is better than a new piece of rubbish.
21. How much to spend? – you can spend a lot (£1,000+) or a little (£20-30) so don’t be suckered into spending more than you are happy with especially with your first tent. Most people try out for one season and then, with the experience behind them, choose the tent they really want.
22. Most Important – read the reviews! Invaluable information and first hand recommendations from other tent users. The tent showcase also includes thousands of tent photos uploaded by members, so you don’t have to rely on the manufacturer’s website images.