Buying a new tent can be incredibly difficult. There are so many choices out there that it can be very confusing if you don’t know what to look for. As the northern hemisphere heads into spring, and camping becomes a comfortable alternative to the B&B again I wanted to share some tips on how to chose a good tent.
I made a little video about choosing a tent which you can watch at the bottom of this post, or over on YouTube.
1. How far from help are you?
Before you decide how much you want to spend, work out why you’re buying the tent and how far away from shelter you are. If for example you’re travelling in a Land Rover, then your tent – whilst being your primary shelter – is not as important as it is if you’re camping 10 miles from anything else on your own. Ask yourself, how near shelter am I if the tent fails? The further from help, the more you want to spend, and the more consideration needs to be taken.
2 . Materials
Simple enough, do some research on what materials work best in which senario. Are you going to be spending time in the desert? What about rain? A good tent for northern Europe, may not be the best bet for the hot climbs of central Afrrica. A swag bag works wonderfully in the dry conditions of Australia, but is simply not suited to a wet trip in Canada.
3. Size, weight and dimensions
Are you carrying the tent on your back, on the back of a motorcycle or in a car? If you’re carrying a tent you’ll need to explore high-tech options with suppliers like Exped and Tatonka. Both companies offer options with light-weight short poles and highly compressible materials – ideal for hiking and the motorbike.
If you’re in the car you have a greater range of options – consider a tent that goes up in seconds from Quecha or something designed to fold out from your vehicle in a few simple steps from people like Oz Tent.
You’ll be amazed how many tents don’t come with the essentials. Make sure you have:
- Ground sheet / footprint
- Good quality pegs
- Strong poles / pole repair kit
- Material repair kit (for fixing holes)
The ground sheet will really help with keeping condensation to a minimum – they also act as a barrier between the cold ground and your butt, but most importantly they protect the material of your tents bottom from sharp stones on rough ground. A good ground sheet means you can keep your ventilation vents open in most weathers.
Pegs are so important – many tents ship with really weak simple pegs that will not drive into hard ground and have no grip in soft ground. Try a v shaped titanium peg from people like Alpine Kit – they don’t have to be expensive! Make sure you drive the peg in at a 45 degree angle.
There are really three major tent designs. Geodysic, dome and tunnel. Depending on what type of camping your doing you’ll need to consider the different types.
Tunnel tents generally pack up very small, they also tend to have very short poles and are quite often very easy to erect. They do however require some thought when pitching – they can be badly affected by wind and you should try to pitch with the front or back facing into the wind – if you get caught side on in a gale it can not only end in a very noisy night- but can also bend the shape of the tent inwards, affecting it’s thermal capabilities and how much rain it can deal with. This is the type of tent that it is really important to buy the best of – money really does have an impact here and the more you spend generally gives you a very sturdy, tough option with all of the benefits.
Dome tents tend to be the cheapest option. You’ll see them in the supermarket for very little cash and for many applications are the ideal option. Their pack size is small, they generally only have two poles and can be purchased as an inside up first option or a fly up first option. In wetter climates the outer (fly) up first option is ideal, but in dryer hoter climbs you’ll find the option of being able to pitch the inner tent without the outer ideal – it keeps the bugs off, and lets the heat escape more efficiently.
Geodesic tents can be rather complicated to erect – but once you’ve worked out the knack they are without doubt the most stable shelters around. They tend to be more expensive and they’re what you’ll see the professional expeditions using as they head out into the great wilderness. They deal with very bad weather well, will see a gale through with hardly a twitter, these are the best options to ensure you’re safe and snug inside.
Finally I’ll come back to that first tip when choosing your tent – remember that it’s your primary shelter – if you can sleep somewhere else if it flys away or gets soaked through then don’t stress it – if you HAVE to get a good, warm, dry nights sleep then spend some money.
The best place to start is with a reputable supplier – I recommend Travel Dri-Plus – call and ask for Les – he’s the most knowledgeable person I have ever talked to about tents – if he doesn’t know it – it’s not worth knowing about.