How to choose the perfect tent

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How to choose the perfect tent

If you’ve never bought a tent before, it can be hard to decide which to choose from the vast range available today. Below are some points to consider before you make your decision.

Type of camping

One of the first things to think about is where and when you will be using your tent, and the type of camping trips you plan to do. For example, if you’re mainly going to be camping at summer music festivals, you might want to choose a cheaper tent than if you’re planning to take the family for a two week summer holiday. For short trips such as weekend festivals, it is also important to have a tent which is quick to put up and take down, whereas for longer trips you may prefer to allow more time for pitching the tent, which would be time well spent because of the additional space and features which you gain. At a festival you will probably spend very little time in your tent other than to sleep, whereas on a longer holiday you may want to relax in your tent for part of the daytime or evening, particularly when the weather is wet, so a comfortable place to sit and more storage space are invaluable.

Size and layout

When you start to browse tents, you will find that the description usually includes the number of people the tent is designed to accommodate. Most tent manufacturers err on the side of exaggeration when it comes to describing how many people can sleep in the tent. For example, many tents described as seven-man or seven-person will actually only comfortably sleep five or six people. A typical three person pod may be perfectly adequate for three young children, but would probably be a tight squeeze for three adults.

If the campers in your group prefer some privacy, you should choose a tent which is divided into sections or pods. These are usually used for separate sleeping arrangements, but are also convenient for getting changed discretely. If you like an open plan living space, a bell tent may be the ideal choice for you.

Wherever possible, it’s a good idea to choose a tent with a covered porch area separated from the main tent living space. This will serve as a useful storage area, for example for keeping wet shoes and coats out of the rain but without having them create puddles in the main part of your tent. This can also be a good place to store outdoor activity equipment, such as bikes.



Traditional tents are supported by folding rigid poles, and made from metal or in some cases from carbon fibre. Pole tents come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny one person shelters to spacious 10 person tents with several bedrooms. Many people prefer separate poles because they are a tried and tested means of support. Some of the larger tents with poles can take half an hour to pitch, but people tend to find they can pitch their tent quite quickly after a few camping trips, as they become familiar with the tent. Some manufacturers, such as Outwell, even have instructional videos online on how to pitch the tent in the most efficient way. The quality of tent poles varies by manufacturer and budget. Poles in a very cheap tent will inevitably be more flimsy and prone to breaking than the hard wearing poles provided for a superior quality tent.

Air tents

Air tents, or inflatable tents, are becoming an increasingly popular option with campers. Even a large family tent can be inflated within just a minute or two using a manual pump. Instead of traditional poles, the tent is supported by inflated beams. The risk of a beam being punctured is minimal, particularly if you choose a good quality air tent. Look for air tents with plenty of isolation valves which allow you to seal off the air within the beams in sections, so that if a puncture were to happen, it wouldn’t affect the whole tent. Another advantage of an air tent is that you will never need to worry about forgetting to bring the poles (sadly not unheard of).


It’s important to consider the material which the tent is made from. The majority of tents are made from polyester or nylon, but tents made from cotton and a polycotton blend are also available. The key advantage of polyester and nylon is that these fabrics are lightweight, by contrast with cotton, which is much heavier to lift, and will take up more space in the boot of your car. However, cotton benefits from far better insulating properties, so your tent will remain noticeably cooler on a hot day and will lose heat less quickly at night. It is also a breathable fabric, so condensation will not be a problem in a cotton tent. On the other hand, cotton takes longer to dry out and it must be completely dry before being stored in order to avoid mildew growth. A polycotton mix offers some of the benefits of each type of fabric. It is a medium weight fabric, and is more resistant to mildew than cotton.

Tent fabrics vary in their level of water resistance. The hydrostatic rating indicates how waterproof the tent is – the higher the rating, the more water resistant the fabric. Whatever the hydrostatic rating of your tent, you can enhance the waterproof properties of your tent by applying a waterproofing product such as Fabsil.

Other considerations

Useful features to look for include:

Footprints: a separate groundsheet which protects the integral groundsheet in your tent and provides a little extra insulation.

Vents: plenty of easy to access air vents for those wonderful sunny days when the temperature starts to soar inside the tent.

Loops and pockets: loops are perfect for hanging up lamps in the dark, and pockets can be useful for storing small items so they don’t get lost or trip you up in the night.

Carpets: not an option for the back to basics camper, but something to consider if glamping is more your thing. They add a touch of luxury to what is essentially a simple lifestyle holiday.

Gazebo: a gazebo or event tent can be a very useful addition to your camping equipment for longer holidays, particularly if you will be camping with friends and want a shared space for eating or relaxing in.

Taking the time to choose the ideal tent for you will help you to get the best from your camping trips.