Talk to any survival expert and they’ll tell you shelter is one of the most important factors when it comes to living healthily and happily in the outdoors. For most people, this will mean acquiring a tent.
Not too long ago, most tents were made from heavy, awkward materials that were difficult to pack down into a small volume. Many people will remember having to waterproof their canvas tents with sticks of wax at home in to prevent water seeping through the material when in the field – and that’s before having to spend hours lugging it into position and setting it up...
Today, with advances in materials and design, these portable shelters have evolved a long way from the tarp-andcord or simple canvas constructions of years gone by. Understanding the wide variety of options available and how they might best suit individual needs is critical when purchasing a new tent. In this guide, we’ll discuss some of the key types of tents available and the specific purposes they’re designed for. We’ll also highlight key features, technologies and define a few specialist words to ensure you’re armed with the best information, before you speak to a Rays Outdoors staff member.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty, you need to consider a few questions in order to figure out what you’re looking for in a tent. Each model will have pros and cons that may make it more or less suited to your needs, so best figure out what they are to begin with.
Does the style suit my intended use? You may find that certain types of tents are better for certain activities. Consider how you wish to use your tent and ensure this fits with the style you end up buying. There’s more information on the fit-for-purpose nature of different tents later in this guide.
Is it big enough? Not only do you want a tent that will be comfortable for you, but you may also need to consider travelling companions or family members, as well as gear. Floor space and internal volume are both important characteristics to be compared.
Will it keep me dry? Not all tents are constructed equally. Some are intended for summer-only use, while on the other end of the scale there are tents designed for snowy, high-altitude conditions. Read on for details regarding how to interpret a tent’s waterproofing so that you don’t get left out in the cold.
Is it simple enough to set up? Not only do we recommend practicing the correct set up and pack-down of your tent in the backyard before its first actual use, you may also like to consider how simple the tent is to construct prior to purchase. Some tents use a self-erecting, pop-up design, while others may use multiple poles, joints and guy ropes.
Dome: Ideal for camping, dome tents tend to maximise space and comfort. Dome tents come in a wide range of sizes from 2 up to 10+ people. The larger styles often have the ability to be split into separate zones.
Family: Your family's home away from home! There are a range of family tents available - from the every popular traditional dome tent style to newer generation instant-up designs which make set up a breeze. Both come in options with either a single or multiple sleep/living zones. Family tents are generally classified as ones that sleep from 6 up to 10+ people.
Hiking: Packed size, durability and Weight are the key factors. These tents are designed to be carried all day long. Usually ranging from 1 to 4 people Swag: Simplicity, durability and portability when internal space isn’t a concern. In most instances, swags feature a built-in sleeping mat. Compact design catering for 1-2 people.
Touring: Ideal for long-stay camping and touring. Touring style tents feature more heavy-duty fabrics. They tend to be less compact in size, and heavier in weight.
Instant: Need it set up in a hurry? Instant tents feature a pre-assembled pop-up or hinged frame that eliminates steps to setting up, enabling setup in a fraction of the time. Sizes range from 2 up 10 people.
Find Your Tent
1. Inner Tent: The inner tent as the name suggests, is the inside layer of the tent which comprises the main living/sleeping area. It is usually comprised of lighter-thickness fabric and insect mesh.
2. Outer Tent (Fly): The outer tent or fly is the waterproof fabric layer which extends over the inner tent and frame down to the ground. The fly is designed to be slightly larger than the inner tent surface area to enable it to be suspended slightly above and eliminate contact with the inner tent. The oversized fly often also creates a vestibule area.
3. Vestibule/s: A vestibule is defined as a space provided by the tent’s outer wall, but which still lies outside of the inner. They are commonly found at door openings, but some tents will offer a door on one side with vestibules on both. Consider vestibule space as a handy place to store boots, trekking poles and anything else that won’t mind getting a bit cold and damp overnight.
4. Pockets: Today, many tent designs include internal pockets that offer another form of storage. While it may be tempting to stuff these to the brim with as much gear as you can, keep in mind these pockets aren’t designed to carry much weight, they can warp over time and can impact on the amount of sleeping space left over.
5. Hybrids and Modularity: Some tents, often those in the dome/family camping categories, may provide multiple options on how they can be set up, depending on how many people have come along for the adventure. For instance, a four-person tent might be expanded into a six-person tent with the addition of another section, requiring some additional poles before zipping it all together.
6. Vents: Vents and ventilation are useful in regulating the internal temperature of your tent, as well as the build up of condensation. Check to see how many and where the vents are placed, as well as whether they’re covered by bug-proof mesh or not.
7. Skylights and Windows: Like vents, some tents may offer the ability to reveal a window into the outside world, whether it be in the form of a speciality sky-viewing window, or perhaps simply in the form of one-way mesh on the inner doors (allowing you to peer out without anyone being able to see you inside).
8. Instant set-up: Some tents are described as ‘instant’ or ‘pop-up’, as they have a design that either automatically unfolds itself, or has a quick pitch frame. These tents are usually designed for ease-of-use. If you’re considering an instant tent, make sure you know how to pack it up. They may set up very easily, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find it just as easy to put away!
The fabrics used in a given tent will provide answers for many of the ‘getting started’ questions we considered earlier. Most important among these is waterproofing, but weight is also important for many users. Read through the below notes on tent materials to gain an insight into what to be on the lookout for.
Sleeping wet is one of the most uncomfortable experiences a person can have and it’s guaranteed to turn any first-timers away from ever going camping or hiking again – especially if they become ill in the process. As a result, waterproofing is one of the more critical factors in choosing the right tent.
The degree to which a tent is waterproof is usually dictated by the materials it’s made out of and whether an additional waterproofing finish is added. By looking at the product details, or by asking a Rays staff member, you will be given an indication of the ‘water head’ rating for the tent. Separate figures may be provided for the fly and the base.
Please note: The water head may also be referred to as the water column and it’s given in millimetres (mm). It’s a measure of how much water pressure would need to be applied in order to force water through the material. The higher the figure, the more waterproof the tent.
In some products, such as swags, canvas is still commonly used. As an organic, cottonbased product, canvas acts differently to synthetic textiles and may require special care. Be sure to ask a Rays staff member about how to best look after a canvas swag, if you decide this option is best for you.
It’s important to note that while we’re broadly discussing five tent types in this buying guide, these are not necessarily starkly defined. For instance, it’s possible to have a dome tent that fulfils all the requirements of a hiking tent.
There are also many details in the design of each tent that can differ from model to model. Regardless of whether you’re looking at a swag or an instant tent, the following information will help you understand what goes into the individual design of a tent and how that impacts your usage.
The construction of the tent often dictates how it may be used as well as how strong it is to heavy weather. The construction of a tent may also indicate what style it is, so be sure to consider the following:
Fabric Layers: Generally speaking, the more pieces a tent has, the more durable and weatherproof it’s designed to be.
Poles and Joints: Most tents are designed as simply as possible, but there can still be large differences in the number of poles, pole placement and joints (if any).
Peg downs and guy outs: How is the tent secured to the ground?
Besides the water head rating provided, there is some other jargon that comes into play when considering the more technical aspect of tent construction and materials.
Denier(D): This is the thickness of the individual threads of the fabric, with higher numbers resulting in heavier, more waterproof and more windproof materials. Expect a four-season tent to be made with materials that have a higher dernier rating, e.g.: 75D fly and 150D floor.
Thread count (T): The thread count may also be quoted, however this can sometimes complicate matters, as the number of threads has an impact on the material weight, but doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on waterproofing. Consider this value more important when considering how breathable the mesh panels of your tent are.
Pole construction: Not all tent poles are made equally. Each pole manufacturer uses a different blend of metals to create their alloy and this will impact on how flexible the poles are, or how often you might need to replace them. Be sure to ask a Rays staff member about the quality of the poles for any given tent as well as how easy it is to seek a repair or replacement should the worst occur.
At Rays, there are many options to choose from across all of the popular types. While this may make the decision-making task a little confusing to begin with, it also means you’re bound to find the perfect product once you work your way through this buying guide. We hope you’ve found the above information useful and, if you have any others concerns or questions at all, be sure to ask our friendly staff for their advice.