Are you interested in buying a tent?
Let me be the first to tell you that a quality tent is well worth the money. You don’t want to learn this the hard way.
Buying a tent for $20 from Walmart might seem like a steal. And, sure, it might hold up okay – until the rain hits.
Fast forward 20 minutes to a soaking wet sleeping bag. A trip that should’ve been enjoyable is now miserable. Don’t make this mistake, especially if it’s your first time camping with your family.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete newbie or a seasoned vet, a car camper or a backpacker, a solo camper or a family camper, buying the right tent is an investment you want to make. Not only will it keep the rain and wind out, it will last much longer, providing fun camping experiences for years to come.
Below is Beyond The Tent’s complete guide to buying a tent for camping and backpacking. Our comprehensive guide contains everything you need to know to find the best tent for your needs and preferences.
TENT BUYING BASICS
Buying a tent starts with evaluating your budget. You don’t need to buy the most expensive tent, but it is important to think of your tent as an investment. A good rule of thumb is to “always buy the best you can afford”, it will save you money in the long run.
Think about it like this: a cheap tent might work well when the conditions are pristine, but as soon as the rain or wind starts, you’ll be miserable.
Invest in a quality tent right off the bat and you won’t have to worry. Your tent will stick up to harsh weather (leaving you cozy inside) and hold up to all the abuse the great outdoors can throw at it.
You should also consider what you’ll be using your tent for and how often you’ll be using it. Family camping and backpacking require vastly different types of tents. In addition, camping in a rainforest like Olympic National Park requires a much different tent than camping in a desert like Death Valley National Park.
Keep your needs, preferences, and budget in mind as you go through our tent buying guide below. Now here’s how to buy a tent!
BUYING A TENT FOR CAMPING
If a normal campground is your destination, a tent for car camping is for you. Consider the following factors when buying a tent for camping.
CAMPING TENT CAPACITY
Start your search for the best car camping tent by narrowing down your options based on tent size.
How many people will use your tent on a regular basis? Will you ever have additional campers staying? What about dogs? Will you store any gear inside?
It’s safe to assume that tent capacity ratings provide a snug fit. For example, a two-person tent will fit two people, but you’ll be sleeping close together.
In addition, there isn’t an industry standard for tent capacity ratings. What is considered a two-person tent by one brand is likely much different in size than a two-person tent from the next brand.
Other factors to consider include the size of the occupants. Children naturally take up less space than adults. Larger adults might need more space than the average adult.
And then there are sleeping habits. Some people are claustrophobic in small spaces, others toss and turn violently at night, and still others need a little extra elbow room to sleep comfortably.
Expert Tip: Size up your tent capacity by one-person to ensure everyone has enough space.
CAMPING TENT SEASONALITY
You have four main options when it comes to tent seasonality.
These are 2-season, 3-season, 3-4-season, and 4 season tents. Though you can buy 1-season tents, they’re little more than mosquito nets and shouldn’t be considered by most tent buyers.
2-Season Tent – Designed for good weather only. Won’t hold up to more than very minor wind and rain.
3-Season Tent – Designed for use in spring, summer, and fall (3 season). Will hold up to heavy rains and strong winds.
3-4-Season Tent – A little more rugged than 3-season tents. Will hold up to colder, wetter, and windier conditions (as well as moderate snow). Designed for early spring and late fall.
4-Season Tent – Designed for use in all conditions. Extreme weather conditions like snow storms don’t affect this tent. The choice of mountaineers for basecamp camping.
Expert Tip: A 3-season tent is the best choice for most car campers and family campers.
CAMPING TENT WEIGHT
Tent weight isn’t as big of a factor when buying a tent for camping as it is for backpacking.
Yet it should still be considered. If you often camp at campgrounds that require a hike to access, a lightweight tent is a smart choice.
Expert Tip: Heavier tents aren’t always sturdier. Lightweight materials are often just as strong and durable.
CAMPING TENT LIVABILITY
Tent livability refers to the interior design of your tent. Even tents with the same capacity ratings have very different interior layouts.
Volume – The amount of space inside a tent. Steeply-angled walls mean less room (but also less weight).
Floor Dimensions – The layout of the floor space. Most car camping tents are rectangular but some are tapered to reduce weight.
Peak Height – The highest point of a tent. Use this as a starting point for how tall the tent is on the inside.
Wall Shape – The shape of a tent’s walls is generally the best indicator of its livability. The more vertical the walls, the more vertical space available.
Room Layout – The division of a tent’s interior space. Some family camping tents come with room dividers to create separate living areas.
Doors – How many doors do you need? While small families can get away with one, those camping in larger groups might want a tent with more.
Windows – Tent windows do more than give you a view of the great outdoors. They also let in light and improve ventilation. The light let in from windows can make a tent seem larger.
Ventilation – Packing a lot of bodies into a tent makes it get stuffy quick. Many car camping tents come with mesh windows, ceilings, and doors to allow for improved cross ventilation.