Seminar: Pick the Perfect Tent

Tent Introduction

  • Different tents for different purposes
  • Small & lightweight are intended to be carried
  • Large tents can almost be used as portable cabins
  • Most are somewhere in between
  • Accurately access your requirement to choose the right tent
  • Before discussing specific types of tents…
    • Discuss of tent users
    • Environmental requirements for the tents
    • Types of tents available

Tent Users

Just different people require different types of vehicles, different types of campers require different types of tents. Let’s start by discussing the different types of tent users.

  • Outfitters
    • Many host outdoor events: wilderness, hunting, extended research, etc.
    • Normally require large 4-season tents that can handle severe weather
  • Group Campers
    • May require larger 3-season tent for families or groups
    • Want comfortable tent where users can stand
    • May be into “Glamping” or Glamorous Camping
  • Family Campers
    • Larger tent for a small to medium sized family
    • Want some comfort but don’t mind “roughing it” a bit
    • May have smaller children and need extra room for supplies, toys, etc.
  • Minimalist Campers
    • Basic tent for weather protection and a place to sleep
    • Does not need much in the way of space or comforts
    • Tent is normally small
    • Bikers are normally limited by space first and weight second (space is critical)
    • Can distribute your tent to spread the load
  • Casual Backpackers need strong and lightweight tents
  • Serious Backpackers need an extremely lightweight shelter


  • A tent provides protection from the environment (wind, rain, pests(,/li>
  • 3-season tents work best in moderate conditions
  • Most campers use 3-season tents
  • 4-season tents can handle more extreme conditions (heavy snow/rain, higher winds)
  • Outfitters, hunters, and some serious backpackers may require a 4-season tent

Types of Tents

Now, let’s discuss the major types of tents and shelters. I will present them from largest to smallest.

  • Outfitter Tents
    • Large, very strong, 4-season tents for multiple people
    • Some resemble a soft-sided cabin
    • Some offer a range of accessories (vestibule, floor liner, footprint, wood stove, roof protector)
    • Built for harsh environments and heavy duty use
    • May be used as a basecamp
    • Some have vertical walls and high roof for more room and comfort
    • VERY heavy and may weigh 60 pounds or more
  • Cabin Tents
    • Larger tents with vertical or nearly vertical walls and higher roof
    • May be 3- or 4-season
    • Variety of materials (denier polyester, ripstop nylon, canvas)
    • Normally smaller and less rugged than the outfitter tents
    • Some have multiple rooms
    • Good for car camping
  • Dome Tents
    • Available in a variety of sizes and shape variations
    • Square or rectangular floor with poles that form an “X”
    • Tent sides then attach to the poles
    • Stable and strong for their weight
    • Larger domes have cross member poles for added strength
    • Most include a rain cover (more on this later)
    • Most tents that you will see are domes or variations on a dome
  • A-Frame Tents
    • Still widely used — simple and reliable
    • Free-standing or use guy wires
    • Large, rectangular walls less tolerant to snow and can be very noisy in wind
  • Solo Tents
    • Normally small to very small and designed to be very small and light
    • Some are large enough to sit up in
    • Some are not much larger than a sleeping bag
    • Designed for easy carry with minimal size/weight
  • Bivy
    • A larger bag for your sleeping bag
    • Protects you and your sleeping bag from moisture and wind
    • Normally has a zip closure with mesh to allow airflow
    • NOT comfortable but they are small and light
  • Hammocks
    • Fabric sling suspended between two points
    • Very lightweight
    • Options: mesh to protect against bugs, sleeping bag, rain covers
    • Not insulated well

Tent Features and Accessories

When choosing a tent you need to decide what features you need. Here is a list of common tent features and accessories.

  • Single Wall Tents
  • Double Wall tents have mesh on tent with rain cover
  • Vestibule: area or enclosure attached to the tent entrance
  • Footprint: additional layer used below the tent to protect the floor
  • Floor Liner: used over the floor larger tents
  • Wood Stoves can often be added to the outfitter tents
  • Roof Protectors provide added protection around the stove jack in the roof

Selecting a Tent

When selecting a tent use a process of elimination. Start with the items in this list to eliminate the tents that will not work and then decide between the tents that remain.

  • 3-season or 4-season
  • Size: rated by the number of persons that it can accommodate
  • Style: outfitter, cabin, dome, A-frame, lightweight, bivy, hammock
  • Free Standing or supported
  • Weight
  • Other Features: vestibule, wood stove, floor liner, etc.

Tent Care and Maintenance

Tents require some care and maintenance. If you take care of your tent then it can last a very long time. One of my tents is a Eureka A-frame style that I purchased in probably late 1970s and it still work just fine. To keep your tent in good shape be sure to give it some routine maintenance.

  • Clean and Dry
  • Seam Seal along the stitches
  • Water Seal
  • Patch Holes
  • Setup and Inspect


This section contains some miscellaneous tent information.

ALWAYS setup your tent prior to using it. Some tents can be a bit tricky setting up the first time. You should be able to setup your tent with minimal light. Remember that it often takes longer than expected to get to your camping destination so be prepared.

Have repair materials including patches, sewing kit, pole splint, and tape. You should be able to make tent repairs in the field. A pole splint is a hollow cylinder whose inner diameter is slightly larger than the outside diameter of a tent pole. If a pole is bent or broken a pole splint can temporarily repair the pole (they cost around $5).

Carefully position the tent so that it is away from any fires and look for branches that could fall on the tent if you had unexpected rain, snow, or wind. Be sure to stake tent to the ground in case the wind increases.

Protect the tent floor using a footprint or tarp under tent. This is optional if you have to pack extra light.

If space is critical you can separate tent components. For example, bikers may fold the tent and rain cover separately so that they can distribute the components between paniers. You could also have one backpacker carry the tent and another carry the rain cover to distribute the weight.

Tent Alternatives

Bivy sack and sleeping bag can be a lightweight alternative to a tent. These are not as comfortable but they could be significantly lighter.

Emergency bivy: can be used to protect you from the elements in an emergency situation. There are breathable and non-breathable emergency bivies. The breathable ones are more comfortable but offer less protection against water and wind. The non-breathable ones are small, less comfortable, but offer better protection against the elements.

Hammocks are lightweight, small, options include sleeping bag, enclosure, screen, etc.

A Vehicle can be used as a shelter. Vehicles work particularly well in bad weather or severe cold. They may not be comfortable but they offer a good degree of protection.

A Tarp anchored by paracord can become a makeshift shelter. You can also find materials and construct an improvised shelter if you have nothing else.