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Tent Buying Guide

How big does it need to be?

Generally get a tent designed to hold at least one more person than you need.

Four-berth tents often work really well for two adults, and larger tents can work well for families. Children will often be much happier if they’ve each got their own sleeping compartment. But don’t go mad, the bigger the tent, generally the harder it is to put up and the more space it will take up in the car (and it might cost you more in pitch fees…). 

Some large tents are heavy so whether you’re backpacking, using a car or towing a trailer, make sure you’re happy with lifting and carrying the tent you intend to buy.

Can I stand up inside?

A most important aspect of size is headroom. Smaller tents don’t offer standing headroom but it’s great to be able to stand up straight in the morning.  If you’re ‘just’ sleeping in a tent, then a low or slanting roof is fine. If you need to spend any real time in there you’ll probably want to get a tent which you can either sit up or stand up in.

What shape tent should I get?

Dome tent

Dome tents are a good compromise between stability, pitching time and weight. The basic shape bends a flexible pole into a half circle with both ends fixed to a strong tape or webbing strap running across the base of the tent, often as part of the groundsheet.

Two flexible poles crossing in the middle give a square dome, three poles a hexagon. The sides are more vertical so overall headroom is better across a wider floor area. Stability is good in smaller models but, unlike the ridge tent, domes can get less stable as they scale up in size.

Inflatable tents

Inflatable tents can be expensive and surprisingly heavy. However, when all you need to do is peg out the corners, switch the compressor on and sit back to watch the tent erect itself in just a few minutes you’ll understand why they're so popular.

Tunnel tents

Domes don’t necessarily give the largest amount of useable space, so another way of using flexible poles is to bind them into semi-circles and stand them up in a line to create a tunnel tent. Other tunnels use sturdy, rigid poles to form their structure.

These come in a huge variety of sizes and styles and are perhaps the most common form of family tents found today.

Vis-à-vis

Once domes and tunnels started to grow, tent designers added extra rooms to the basic structure.

The trend started in France where a large central part of the tent would offer standing headroom, and an annexe room off each side would offer two sleeping compartments. These two compartments faced one another. They were face to face, hence the French description vis-à-vis. Vis-à-vis tents can be domes or tunnels.

Frame tents

They use a rigid framework of straight poles (usually steel) with angled joints and can still offer lots of space including good headroom, plus stability when properly erected. On the down side, frame tents tend to be heavier and take somewhat longer to put up than other tents.

What should my tent be made of?

Polycotton canvas tents

This natural cotton blended with polyester can give a lighter fabric with the same strength. Like cotton, it can be used uncoated but normally will be treated to make it repel water.

In order to seal the fabric, as cotton naturally has fabric flaws in, weathering is suggested. This is where you put the tent up in your garden/or where you can, and drown the tent in water. This allows the fabric to soak up the water so the fabric swells and seals the tent.

Polycotton tents have 1 main distinct advantage over polyester tents in that they breathe. This means that they do not suffer from condensation in the same way a polyester does. They are also warmer in cooler weather and cooler in warmer weather.”

Polyester tents

This common fabric for tents comes with a variety of different coatings. Many tent manufacturers offer their own coatings with different names.  Among the factors that make it perhaps the most popular tent fabric is that it doesn’t shrink or get baggy when wet, and it is far less affected by sunlight.

Tips

  • Have a practice session pitching your new tent this allows you to familiarise yourself with the pitching process of your tent and in the unlikely event of a defect, you will have the opportunity to resolve this before going away.
  • Condensation happens in most tents & is often confused with leaking. To minimise condensation ensure all available vents are fully open and shake off or wipe away any moisture inside the flysheet.
  • You should buy the best tent that you can afford... buying a cheap tent that will be used on a regular basis can often be a false economy, as it won't be as durable as a more expensive tent.
  • Prepare the ground before taking the tent out. Remove any small rocks or sharp pieces of wood and make sure the ground is relatively flat and even.
  • Always try and pitch your tent with the back to the wind or where it will catch the least wind. Make use of natural features to shield your tent from the wind.
  • After returning from a trip, hang or pitch your tent in a cool dry area, even if it has not been wet, to reduce the chance of mildew forming. Clean all pegs and ensure all poles are undamaged.
  • We always suggest you take a dry towel with you for your holiday as you will need it for condensation.

Terms explained:

Flysheets

This is the outer layer of the tent that protects everything inside from the conditions outside. They can be made from a variety of materials and are normally coated with a waterproof layer and have taped seams.

Inner Tent

This is the part of the tent immediately inside the flysheet. As they are not required to provide any waterproofing protection, they are generally made of light and breathable fabrics.

Tent Poles

Generally either constructed from fibreglass (cheap, but not high performance), aluminium (more expensive, but stronger) or Steel (heavier, but stronger). Poles contribute greatly to the overall weight of a tent, so lighter tents have high performance aluminium poles that cost more than standard fibreglass poles.

Groundsheets

As this is the tent's main protection from soggy or damp ground, it's important that the groundsheet is seam sealed and totally waterproof. If the groundsheet is stitched to the inner tent, make sure that it has a 'bucket design' and has sides of at least 10cm.

Hydrostatic head

The rating of a tent's waterproof coating (known as PU). As an example, a  Hydrostatic Head of 1500mm is the legal requirement to call a tent 'waterproof' so most start at 2000mm.  Simply, the higher the hydrostatic head, the better the water protection you have from your tent.