Buying a camping tent can be a difficult decision, especially if you’re a beginner camper. There’s an endless number of shapes, sizes, and types out there, and it’s hard to know which one is the best for you.
Fortunately, our team of experts has put together a tent-buying guide that will answer all of your questions. From how much you want to spend, to the types of trips you’ll be taking, to all the features you might want, we cover it below. Continue reading to learn how to choose your next tent.
Type of Camping Trip
The type of camping trip you go on will have a big effect on the tent you purchase. Camping with a large family vs backpacking on your own has completely different demands and picking the wrong tent will make your trip much worse.
Below is a short overview of the most important things to think about for the most common types of camping people do.
If you’re going backpacking, you’re going to have to carry your tent with you everywhere you go. This means that the most important factors to think about are size and weight.
You’ll want something nice and light that can easily fit inside your backpack. Fortunately, most tent manufacturers make dedicated backpacking tents for this exact purpose. We recommend getting one of these if you’re taking a real backpacking trip.
Car camping is best described as the traditional kind of camping you’d do with a few friends. Drive a car out to a campsite and set up anywhere from a few feet to a few hundred yards away.
This kind of camping is the broadest in terms of the types of tents you can choose, and we’ll describe in more detail what you might want to look for later.
If you’re camping with your entire family, you’ll want to choose a tent with plenty of space and comfort, especially if you plan on bringing small children. We’d start by looking for tents that are rated at least 2 people larger than your group. You can also find tents that are specifically sold as family tents too.
Other important criteria for a family camping tent include:
Having multiple rooms or vestibules so that people can get their own space on a long trip
Being relatively tall so that you can freely move around, cabin tents work great here
Simple setup so you can quickly get to spending time with your family
Durable, as kids and animals won’t always take perfect care of the tent
Camping Weather Conditions
Depending on what time of year you plan on doing your camping, there are two different types of tents we’d consider getting. While we know season ratings range from 1 to 5, 3 and 4-season tents will be the right fit for 99% of people.
1 and 2-season tents aren’t fit for any camping beyond a summer night in your backyard, and 5-season tents are meant for extreme weather conditions that range well beyond even a typical winter day.
3-season tents will be the best choice for most campers. They’re designed for summer, fall, and spring weather, and will hold up in any weather conditions besides the extreme cold.
Camping tents with a 3-season rating typically are two-sided, with a tent body that is partially solid and partially mesh, and a rain fly that can easily attach. They are far more durable than 1 or 2-season tents and you can expect one from a good brand to last multiple years with proper care.
If you plan to do lots of winter camping, a 4-season tent will be a better choice for you. Their thick walls and low ventilation are designed to keep you warm in cold temperatures.
This also means that you’ll overheat if you bring this kind of tent in warm weather. It is meant for winter camping only. A 4-season tent is also usually more expensive than a 3-season, so make sure you need it before purchasing.
No matter who you are, the price tag will be an important item on your list when buying a camping tent. Tents exist across the price spectrum, ranging from as little as $20 to over $1000.
While you can find more information in our camping tent cost guide, as a general rule casual campers (most readers of this article) should expect to spend $75-$200 on a solid 3-season tent. If you’re camping with a larger group, you can expect to come in on the high end of the range, and if it’s just you then you’ll spend on the low end.
The kinds of features you want to include, the brand, and overall quality are other factors that will affect tent prices.
Camping tents come with an endless variety of different features, each of which will have different levels of importance to different people. Below we describe a few of the most important features you should look at when buying a tent.
The rain fly is one of the most important tent features in our opinion, and any tent you buy should have it included. If you camp enough times, you’ll eventually find yourself caught out in the rain, and you don’t want water pouring into your tent with no protection for yourself.
A good rain fly will make sure you stay nice and dry inside your tent no matter the weather conditions. Make sure that it’s easy to set up and is larger than the tent itself so it will cover the entire area.
Tent footprints are designed to act as an added layer of insulation and also protect your tent floor from wear and tear. While not necessary in every situation, they are important to have if you’re a frequent camper or will be camping on tough ground like in the mountains or forest.
Using a footprint in these situations will significantly extend the lifespan of your tent. Not all camping tents have them included, so check before purchasing. They’re also relatively cheap to purchase separately, or you could use a tarp as a homemade option.
Tent Poles and Stakes
Many tents will come with poles and stakes included, but some will be of much higher quality than others. Tent poles are typically made of either aluminum or fiberglass. Fiberglass poles are usually looked at as more of a budget option, as they’re cheaper but break somewhat easily. Aluminum poles are more sturdy and you should expect to get these when buying a high-quality tent.
Most tent stakes will be made of aluminum or a similar metal. For these, thicker is better. If reviews say that the stakes bend when securing the tent, they’re probably lower quality.
Lastly, make sure to always bring spare poles and stakes with you. It’s no fun to have one give out and put your tent in an awkward position for the rest of your trip.
If you’ll be camping a lot in warm weather, good ventilation is a must. Your body heat can warm a tent quickly, so allowing air to flow in and out will be critical to keeping the tent cool.
Ventilation is important in other weather conditions as well. Without good airflow, tents get humid fast, which can make a tent feel very uncomfortable in the rain or cold. Plenty of mesh and a window or two will be the most important things to look for if this matters a lot to you.
You should have enough room to store all of your equipment inside your tent, even if you’ve brought a lot of outdoor gear with you. The alternative is leaving it outside, where it could be damaged by animals or the elements.
A good camping tent will have plenty of pockets, clips, and overall ground space to keep your gear inside.
While not necessary for backpacking trips or camping with smaller groups, a vestibule or two can be an excellent addition for family camping trips. It creates more room inside the tent and gives you a hybrid outdoor space to relax with your group.
Vestibules are most often specific to the tent they come with, so we’d advise purchasing a tent with one included if it’s something you want.
Type of Tent Designs
The number of tent designs you see in stores has skyrocketed in recent years. While we’ll focus on cabin and dome tents, as most tents you see will have those designs, we’ve included short descriptions of all the different structures you can buy today.
Dome tents are the most traditional tent design and are probably what you imagine when you think of a camping tent. They are tallest in the middle and the walls slowly slant downwards as you get to the edges, making it difficult to stand up straight in most spots.
While there are exceptions, the average dome-shaped tent will be cheaper and easier to set up than a cabin tent. You can get them in almost any size, but dome tents typically run on the small to medium end of the spectrum.
The other popular tent style is the cabin tent. Cabin tents are meant to feel like a room inside a house, and are great for camping with large groups. They have flat ceilings and walls, which allow you to stand up straight anywhere inside the tent.
There’s plenty of interior space for sleeping bags or even cots, and some even have multiple rooms. While they’re generally more expensive and difficult to set up, they are well worth it in the right situations.
Other Types of Tents
A-Frame Tents – A classic type of tent similar to the dome style
Tunnel Tents – A tent with a tunnel-type structure, kind of a hybrid between cabin and dome
Instant Tent – A newer type of easy setup tent, typically a bit expensive
Pop-Up Tent – A tent that pops out of the bag ready to go, perfect for kids or a single night in the backyard
Teepees – More of a novelty type tent, inspired by Native Americans
Freestanding Tents – Usually dome-shaped, these make for great mountaineering tents because they can stand on their own without stakes
Homemade Tent – If you don’t want to buy a tent, you can always make a homemade one with a couple of tarps and other materials
Other Criteria To Consider
We’ve covered most of what you need to know when tent shopping above, but don’t forget about the factors below when you make your decision.
When shopping for tents, you’ll notice that most come with an “x-person” rating attached. Many people don’t realize that this rating describes the number of people a tent could fit while laying in a sleeping bag shoulder to shoulder. Not exactly the most comfortable arrangement.
That’s why we generally recommend getting a tent rated for 2 people more than the amount you plan to have sleeping in it. There are some exceptions to this rule that you can read about in our tent size guide.
Tent weight is highly important for backpackers but not so much for anyone else. If you’re planning on taking a long backpacking trip, you should look for backpacking tents that are marketed as lightweight, or even ultralight if you’re a seasoned pro.
You should generally shoot for something under 3 pounds, but this can vary based on the duration of your trip and the distance you’re walking.
Ease of Use
When you go camping, you want a tent that you can easily set up and take down so that you spend most of your time doing the fun camping stuff. Check out the online reviews to see if there are any complaints about this before buying a tent.
Unless you’re only planning on camping one or two nights a year in your backyard, a cheap tent is not a good investment. They’ll quickly fall apart with any normal wear and tear, and don’t stand up well to the weather.
There are plenty of affordable 3-season tents that are also high quality. By spending a little extra money now you’ll get something that lasts for years rather than having to be replaced every season.
Now that you’ve read through this tent-buying guide, you know everything you need to make a smart purchase. Remember that tent shopping should be fun and that there are plenty of great options out there. There’s no need to stress now that you know how to look for one!
If there’s anything else you think is important to know when buying a tent, please let us know in the comments below. Happy camping!
Carl is a content writer for The Camping Buddy, specializing in informational camping articles and product reviews. Carl has been a freelance writer for outdoor news sites while spending his time backpacking across the world. His favorite camping spot is Malaekahana Beach in Hawaii.