Tents 101

Freestanding Tent While car camping and backpacking are entirely different outdoor activities, they have one thing in common; in both instances, you’ll need a tent. Your tent selection will say much about the type of trip you’re planning, and will dictate whether or not you’ll have a resoundingly positive experience. So, whether you intend on setting up at a campground for some r & r, or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, strapping on a loaded backpack, this article will help you find which shelter works best for you.

Let’s begin with the different types of tents for the different seasons of the year.

Tent Types

Three-Season Tents

Designed to be used during spring, summer and fall, three-season tents are the most popular category. Built to hold up against windy and rainy conditions, three-season tents can handle snowfall in early spring and late fall, and most have plenty of ventilation features to let the air in and minimize condensation during warmer weather. They are typically supported by two or three poles, made out of either aluminum or fiberglass. More will be explained about the differences between poles below.

Four-Season/Winter Tents

While four-season tents are sturdier and built solely to withstand year-round conditions, their worth is truly tested during winter excursions. Since the poles are thicker and there are more of them, four-season tents are more resilient in extreme conditions, such as strong winds, torrential rains and heavy snow. To prevent snow from accumulating and thereby reducing the chances of a collapse, winter tents are typically a dome design. Keep in mind that these tents are heavier than their three-season counterparts.

Tent Styles

Freestanding Tents

Convertible Tents

Family/Basecamp Tents

Freestanding tents are those that stand up on their own, and don’t require any support such as stakes, guy lines, or ropes. However, it’s always best to stake down your freestanding tent if possible, or weigh it down with something inside. Otherwise you may witness your tent bouncing across a field or the desert, if the wind picks up. Some four-season tents can be converted into three-season styles by removing additional poles and panels. Although not as sturdy as a true four-season, convertible tents at least provide an option for people who enjoy camping all year long. Designed to accommodate groups of three or more people, some family tents have multiple rooms with room dividers. Others are one large room. Family tents are mainly used for car camping outings but can also be used in the backcountry, for instance on canoe or rafting trips, especially the 3 to 4-person type. If you are carrying a tent like this, then distribute the weight between all members of the party. However, larger-sized tents, such as those designed for 5 or more people can be quite heavy and bulky and are best used for car camping only. Most, if not all, family tents are considered three-season tents since they are not built to handle harsher conditions during the winter months.

Single-Wall Tents

Double-Wall Tents

Backpacking Tents

Single-wall tents are made out of a single layer of waterproof/breathable material. Lighter and more compact than double-wall dome tents, single-wall tents are mainly used for alpine base camps, since keeping weight and bulk down is absolutely critical. However, be aware that single-walled shelters are more susceptible to collecting condensation. Unlike single-wall tents, a double-wall tent uses a canopy and rainfly (to keep water out). Excess condensation has less chance of forming inside, because the ventilated canopy allows moisture vapor to escape. The rainfly blocks wind, rain and snow, and air can circulate because there is a gap between the canopy and rainfly. Backpacking tents are used for camping in remote areas that can only be accessed by hiking. Since you will be the one carrying the tent, usually for many miles over many days, a good backpacking tent is designed to be light, compact and durable. It should also pack into a relatively small stuff sack, and should ideally weigh close to or less than 5 pounds. Most backpacking tents will include a vestibule, which allows you to store your gear outside of the tent while still keeping it dry, and in a pinch can also be used as an area for cooking with a backpacking stove in wet weather. If you decide to cook under your vestibule, make sure the vestibule is open, to prevent steam from backing up into the tent and getting everything wet, and also to provide ventilation so combustion fumes will not become a hazard. Some tents do not include a vestibule, which is not necessarily a negative, since condensation will be kept to a minimum with the better ventilation.



Dome Tents

The classic A-frame style tent has been around for a long time. While A-frame tents are typically fast and easy to set up, the design renders it less sturdy in high winds, and the tent is inherently heavier compared to dome-shaped styles, which is why the dome version has become much more popular. Dome tents offer more head space than A-frame models, especially when sitting in an upright position. They are lighter in weight compared to the A-frame style, and can withstand heavier winds.

Aluminum & Fiberglass Poles

Cabin Tents

Most tent manufacturers today make poles out of either aluminum, steel or fiberglass for all shapes and styles of tents. Most family tents include fiberglass or steel poles whereas backpacking and winter tents include aluminum poles. Why? Because aluminum is more durable than fiberglass and lighter than steel. Additionally, aluminum will not crack in colder temperatures, as will fiberglass poles. Keep in mind that the price goes up on tents equipped with aluminum poles. Because of the near-vertical wall design, cabin-style tents are the most spacious, easily maximizing livable space and in or out access. Some cabin tents include internal room dividers, which allow the tent’s interior to be configured to allow for personal space. The heaviest of all designs, cabin tents are the perfect choice for car camping.

Tent Care

As with any piece of gear, tents must be cared for over time, in ways such as applying a fresh coat of repellency with sprays, or applying waterproof coatings as the coatings wear over the years. Through the wear and tear that comes with use, your tent may need some repair work. You can find after-market repair kits for such things as new grommets, pole repair, screen or fabric tears, bad zippers, etc. Please see Campmor’s vast selection of maintenance and repair items to help keep your tent in excellent condition: http://www.campmor.com/outdoor/gear/SubCategory___40000000226_200404963

Campmor has very experienced and knowledgeable staff, both on the phone, through live chats, or in person at our one and only retail store located in Paramus, NJ. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out, so our staff can answer any questions you may have, to make sure you pick the appropriate tent for your needs.


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