Camping 101: Choosing a tent

Camping 101: Choosing a tent

Family camping tents come in many shapes and sizes. The one that suits your needs may not be the right one for someone else. This is why there is such a wide variety produced for the outdoor enthusiast market.

    Designing your choice of tent

Tents come in four basic forms: A-frame, umbrella, geodesic or “dome” and wall. The A-frame is the traditional shape of an old-style tent, but it can also be quite large. The umbrella is a commonly used family tent with plenty of standing room, including large windows and a rain cover. The geodesic dome has many variations, with different combinations of connected triangles. A wall tent is like an A-frame tent, but is usually much larger and has vertical side walls, and is most often used in army applications and scout camps (they are usually set up on permanent decks).

Tents with a square floor shape are more efficient for sleeping and gear placement. If you decide to buy a tent with a round or oval floor, you need to plan for extra floor space to compensate for the less efficient layout.

    Size matters

Tents are sold as two, four, six person, etc. At best, this describes the most people you can cram into a sleeping tent with no room to store your personal belongings. This sizing is fine for backpackers who pack light, but it doesn’t make sense for the average camper.

Why be shoehorned into your tent? Count on using the tent at half its rated capacity and you should have enough room for two adults and most of their gear. Each person must have a minimum of 24 square feet of floor space; enough room for your pad, sleeping bag and gear. If you’re packing for a long trip, you may want to increase the square footage depending on the amount of gear you’ll be carrying.
Be sure to buy a tent that will be wide/long enough that you can spread it out when sleeping… a 6′ tall sleeper will be very cramped in a 6′ wide tent; leave at least 1 foot of legroom. You will need a minimum of 30″ of tent space for each sleeping bag just for sleeping.

Adding a ‘dry’ place to store your gear and enough room to get out of your tent without tripping over your tent mate will make for a more enjoyable outdoor experience. With that in mind, an 8′ x 8′ tent would work well as a 2 person family tent. This gives each camper 32 square feet to set up their gear and sleeping area. BUT, a 10′ x 10′ tent is much more suitable for two adults (seems too much, right?). A tent this size will have plenty of room for air mattresses, cots or pads AND still have plenty of room to stand up when changing.

Be careful when purchasing a tent larger than 10′ x 10′. First, finding a suitable place to put such a large object will be a challenge. You need as flat a place as possible. Second, large tents are extremely heavy and bulky to carry. Finally, it might be better to have several smaller tents so that everyone doesn’t share the same sleeping, changing and living area.

The height of the top is very important for your comfort. For most trips, try to have a tent that is tall enough to stand in. Plan for the taller people in your group. A top height of six or seven feet is required for adults, and a top of four feet is suitable for children. Remember that the tent slopes down at a sharp angle, so the actual space you can stand up in will be small. Larger spaces will be provided in tents with higher tops.

Children can stay comfortably in smaller tents. Once they’re old enough, around seven or eight, they’ll probably want to sleep in a separate tent anyway. Parents will also appreciate the privacy this arrangement provides. A five-by-seven-foot tent is suitable for young people. Teenagers should be considered adults when pitching a tent.

    Support your local tent – poles

The poles included in most tents available today are made of aluminum or fiberglass. Better quality tents usually come with specially made aluminum stakes, with a high degree of flexibility. Fiberglass poles are included in most everyday camping tents. The posts are usually connected to each other with an elastic shock cord. This speeds up the setup process (important when doing it in the rain!). Poles, when mishandled, can bend or break, so many tent manufacturers provide repair kits to carry with you on your trip.

    It’s important for me

Seams should be reinforced with nylon tape and double stitched. The tape is sewn into each seam, which reinforces the seam and contributes to weather resistance. Any waterproof seams on the bottom and floor (or tub) are usually factory waterproofed with seam sealer. Place the tent in your yard before using the tent for the first time to test the setup process. You can also use this opportunity to go to your local sporting goods store to buy some seam caulk and waterproofing spray. It’s always a good idea to do this to ensure a dry ride. Make sure you let the tent dry before packing it back up.


Almost all modern tents are now made of nylon. Coated nylon is used for waterproofing. Nylon mesh is used for interior walls and gear pockets. An invisible mesh is used for the window screens. Better tents use thicker fabric and tear-resistant fabric.

    Hey!!! Buckle it up!!

Make sure when you go out to buy the tent…test the zippers. They should open and close easily and not catch on the fabric of the tent. Zippers should be rust resistant.

    Hot and cold waves and “Why is my tent shaking?”

Changes in weather will place many demands on your tent.

Windy conditions will require strong poles, stakes and anchor lines. Dome tents perform exceptionally well in wind. Their rounded design reduces the effect of the wind, and their rod arrangement provides great strength.

Rain causes two problems to appear. Keeping yourself and your gear dry comes first. Second, you need enough room for all tent occupants to be comfortable should “weathering the storm” become necessary.

The floor should be made of waterproof coated nylon, covering the floor and turning the sides up for approximately six inches, creating the tub. There should be a minimal amount of seam (the more you have, the greater the potential for leaks). It will keep water from running down and under the tent.

Make sure your tent has a waterproof rain fly made of coated nylon. The fly should wrap around the tent and extend to the sides, leaving only a few inches of space between it and the ground. This should keep the rain out, even in windy conditions. The fly should extend far enough above the door to keep out rain when you open the door to enter or exit. Some tents even come with a vestibule that allows for this.

Sunlight and the accompanying heat create a great need for shade and air flow. A rain fly will provide shade. Mesh windows on opposite sides of the tent or a screened window opposite a screened door will allow air to flow through the tent.

Long excursions in cold weather require a special, durable 4-season tent. Unless you plan on winter camping, you can use a “three-season” tent that has the features mentioned above. The most important features will be a rain fly that completely covers the top and sides to keep out snow and other precipitation, and an inner layer made of open mesh fabric to allow water vapor to exhale outside the tent. In cooler weather, water vapor inside the tent from moist outside air and exhaled breath from the occupants will condense on the inner surface of the tent. This can be prevented by allowing airflow through your tent or by passing through the mesh fabric.

Tent size is also a consideration when camping in cool weather. The smaller tent will stay much warmer than the larger tent with your body heat.

    You get what you pay for

Generally, more expensive tents are made with stronger fabric, poles and seams. They are built to withstand stronger wind and heavier rain. A good tent that is well cared for can last for many years.

Remember that not everyone will need this amount of stamina. The milder the weather you’re camping in and the closer to home you are, the better solution the cheaper tents are likely to be.

If you’re just starting your camping trip and don’t know if you’ll like it, you might want to start with a cheaper setup. Your first trips will probably be when the weather is warmer, and you probably won’t venture deep into the wilderness until you’ve gained some experience and decided whether you like camping or not. Remember, you can always upgrade your equipment later.

For more information you can visit us at Birdseye outdoor delivery where you can get more tips to help you with your camping needs.

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