Camp and Shop Smart: 9 Key Qualities to Look for When Buying a Tent

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Did you know that psychological research indicates that spending time in nature can have a positive impact on your mental health?

It’s true. Reconnecting with nature and being in the fresh air can help you reduce stress and clear your mind. This is why camping can be the perfect activity when you’re looking for a way to relax and recharge.

man sitting in front of the tent

If you’re new to camping, buying a tent is the first step to getting started. Check out this guide to learn how to evaluate your options and get the best tent for your needs.

1. What’s Your Adventure Level?

All tents are not created equal. The type of camping you are doing will dictate what type of tent you should look for. A good way to think about your adventure level is to consider how far away from your vehicle you plan on pitching your tent.

Are you going to pull up right next to your campsite? If so, you will have a lot more leeway to purchase a large, multi-person, heavy-dut tent.

Do you plan on backpacking several miles to your campsite, or to several campsites over multiple days? If you are planning on going out to the backcountry, you will want a light tent that you can carry easily.

2. Consider Your Climate

Next, you will want to think about the type of climate you will be camping in.

Most standard tents are rated for three seasons: spring, summer, and fall. If you are going to be camping in the winter (or in the spring or fall in a cold climate), you will need to purchase a higher-rated tent that will keep you warm.

By contrast, if you will be camping in a hot, sunny climate, you will want to purchase a tent that offers UV protection. You will also want to consider whether you will be able to pitch the tent on sandy soil.

tent in winter

3. What Size Do You Need?

Next, you will want to consider the size of the tent. The size you will need will depend on how much weight you can carry, how many people you are camping with, and how large the campers are.

To maximize comfort, you may want to consider a tent that is rated for more people than you plan on sleeping. For instance, if you are going to have two people in a tent, a four-person tent might be more comfortable.

Additionally, if you have tall campers, you might want to look for higher tents. Cabin-style tents offer near-verticle walls, making it easier to stand up inside of them.

For tall campers, don’t forget to consider the floor-length of the tent. This will impact how much space you have to stretch out when lying down to sleep.

4. Keep the Water Out

One of the main reasons for using a tent for camping is the keep your crew dry when you sleep outside. A poorly constructed tent may leak, leaving you and fellow campers damp.

To make sure you will stay dry, there are two main tent features you should examine: the rainfly and the tub floor.

The rainfly is essentially the tent’s umbrella. A good rainfly comes down over the walls of the tent, rather than just over the top. This is important because while tent walls are simply water-repellant, the rainfly is actually waterproof.

Next, take a look at the tub floor. The tub floor separates you from the ground, and it prevents moisture from seeping in through the bottom of the tent.

You will want to look for a tent where the tub floor continues a few inches up the wall of the tent. If there is a seam between the floor and the walls, this leaves room for water to get in.

5. Keep the Bugs Out

If you are going to be camping in an area with lots of mosquitos, you will want a tent that adequately protects from bugs. Otherwise, you’ll be waking up with bites.

Many tents feature what’s called “noseeum meshing.” This mesh is designed to keep out both larger bugs, and the little annoying bugs that you can’t even see.

tent screen

6. Ventilation

A poorly-ventilated tent will quickly become hot and sweaty. You may even wake up in the morning to find condensation building up on the inside of the tent.

Well-ventilated tents feature mesh on the walls and ceiling to allow cross breeze while you sleep. If you are camping in a hot, humid climate, you will want a tent with more ventilation. By contrast, if you are in a cold climate, you may not want as much.

7. Look at the Entrances

Most tents have a single entrance. If, however, you will be camping with kids, you may want to look for a tent that has multiple entrances. This will make it easier for people to get in and out of the tent without having to climb over each other.

When considering the entrances, also take a look at the zippers. Have you ever had a jacket with a cheap zipper that keeps getting caught on the fabric? You don’t want this to happen with your tent, so make sure to look for a high-quality zipper.

8. Aluminum Poles

Some tents use fiberglass tent poles. These are more fragile and can break easily. As you may imagine, this can be quite a pain to try and deal with in the middle of the woods.

Instead, look for tents with aluminum poles. These are much more durable.

9. Storage

If you are going to be camping far from your car, you may want to look for a tent that has extra storage compartments to make it easier to organize your gear.

Some tents feature lantern loops, which allow you to hang a lantern at night to provide light. Others feature interior pockets to help you keep items off the floor.

From Buying a Tent to Planning Your Trip, We’ve Got You Covered

Buying a tent is the first step in planning your camping trip, but it’s not the only one. If you’re looking to get your gear together for your first trip, check out our sleeping gear and camp kitchen sections to help you check off every item on your list.

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