Buying a tent is a bit like buying shoes. You can spend a shedload of money, or a pocket-full of change on something that catches your eye but if it doesn’t fit you properly, you’ll never love it.
Here’s our quick and dirty guide to things to consider when buying a tent.
1) Go to a good tent retailer (preferably one with tents erected, or a ‘tent show’) so you can get into a few tents. Make a note of what you think “ooh, that’s a good idea” to. It could be pockets in the side walls for things you’d lose, a window, or a separate bedroom for each of the kids… whatever floats your boat.
2) Size matters. Completely and utterly ignore anything that a tent manufacturer states as the number of people who can use the tent (4-man etc.). They base this on the number of single self-inflating mattresses that you can fit in a tent. They don’t consider wider airbeds, luggage or snorers who nobody wants to sleep next to. Have a read of this which is our tent size guide.
3) Sleeping or living. 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. Check this out, and consider if there are a couple of you… will you fit? And if it’s raining you’ll be spending more time in the tent which could lead to cricked necks and bad tempers if it’s too small.
4) Size matters again. How small does the tent pack down? Does the bag it comes in require some origami and a voodoo chant in order to get the tent back into it again? A good tent bag is a loose tent bag which you can add a mallet and some spare pegs to. If you’re buying a backpacking tent you want a tight-fitting, compression bag to save space. If you’re after a 6-man tent then you’re probably better off with a big, roomy bag which you can fill with kids and dogs running around your ankles.
5) Seasons. 1-season, 2-seasons, 3-seasons or 4-seasons. Which suits your needs. Don’t think that more = better. A 3-season tent will cope perfectly well with Spring, Summer and Autumn in the UK. But you might get hot in the height of Summer unless it has ventilation. 4-season tents are only really sensible for Winter and cold-weather camping… not great in summer.
6) Ground sheets take a LOT of abuse under your feet, bed and anything heavy you have in the tent. A ‘sewn-in’ groundsheet is going to give you protection from rain bouncing up under the flysheet, and wind, but if you stick a hole in it you’ll need a repair kit. Some people swear by placing a second groundsheet underneath ANY tent, which can’t hurt. Look for a groundsheet with a high HH (Hydrostatic Head) rating, and made from tough materials.
7) Feeling hot hot hot. In hot weather, a tent with no ventilation is horrible. If you’re purchasing a tent for summer, make sure it has ventilation, mesh panels or some other way of letting heat out.
8 ) Porches are unbelievably useful for storing food, wet clothes, sleeping dogs, smelly shoes and camp chairs. For anything over 2-man, I’d get a tent with a generous porch. In fact, my favourite tent has a porch the same size as the sleeping area.
9) Pegs and guylines. Are the pegs made of toffee, or proper materials? If they bend the first time you try to push them in to hard ground, what good are they? If you find your perfect tent and the pegs are useless then get a pack of decent pegs to do justice to your purchase. Wonky pegs are a nightmare.
10) Getting it up. If it’s a larger tent, can you pitch it yourself? If you have 3 kids and 2 adults, is it going to cause massive moody moments and spoil the day? And if the poles are connected to the inner-tent (called an inner-first tent), be aware that if you pitch in the rain you’ll have a wet interior. ‘Flysheet-first’ tents are better for rainy days.