A tent is your portable palace, so it's important to take your time and pick one that you'll actually look forward to staying in at the end of the day.
1. Make a list of needs
Use: Car camping or multi-day backpacking? Four-season or summer only? Be realistic: are you actually going winter camping? Keep in mind that cramming into a backpacking tent at a drive-in campground gets old just as quickly as that 12-pound monster will on a five-day hike.
Size: Manufacturers seem to size tents using skinny people who like to spoon. If you want extra wiggle room, go for a tent rated one size bigger (e.g., a three-person tent for a party of two). Aim for 10 square feet of vestibule space per person and a bathtub-style floor with a heavy-duty fabric. Wall angles and floor layout are more important for determining "living space" than overall floor measurements.
Weight: On the trail, every pound counts. Overnight hiking, canoe camping and bike touring calls for significantly lighter tents than car camping: ideally three pounds or less.
Style: Cabin-style tents typically have high ceilings and more space for families; dome-style tents usually have a "peak" and walls that slope downward, making it more difficult to stand in. Pop-up tents will work for festivals, but most campers will want something sturdier. Single-walled tents have tent walls with waterproof fabric; double-walled tents have a separate tent wall and rain fly. The first is appealing to lightweight packers; the latter offers better ventilation and the option to remove it in nice weather.
Price: If you can only afford a $100 tent, your options will be limited, so adjust your expectations. Lightweight backpacking tents cost anywhere from $400 and up. If you're not ready to commit, you can also rent a tent.
2. Shop around—and test it out
While online shopping has made our lives more convenient, you don't always get what you click on. If you have to e-purchase, go to a dedicated retailer (not Amazon) and double-check the return policy.
In store, ask the staff for help choosing a tent. They know the available products best. Once you settle on one, ask to set it up in-store. It might be a hassle, but crawling inside and checking it out could save you the cost of returning it—or ending up on an adventure with a tent you dislike.
3. Consider the details
One door or two? Does it have multiple rooms? Are there ample storage pockets? How hard is it to pitch and take down? How much does it weigh? Are there windows?
Ask all these questions and more. A tent is an investment; your tiny home in the wilderness. Look for bonus features such as gear lofts, anchors and footprints (custom-fitted ground tarps). These might come at an additional cost.
Finally, take some time to read reviews before purchasing your tent. While not every customer review is helpful, a poorly rated tent should be a red flag. Once you feel ready to buy, search for sales and deals. Then, get out there and go camping!
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