How to Choose a tent

Types of tent, Buying a tent, Tent buyers guide, Choosing tents, Tent materials, Tenting

We are guessing you have got to this page because you are thinking of shelling out a load of cash on a tent. Before looking at our arsenal of tent comparison and reviews, lets start with a bit of an introduction so that when you do your internet research you will sound like a pro and know what to get!

Components of a Tent

Let’s start with the different parts of the tent (I haven’t included guy lines and tent pegs as I think that this is fairly self explanatory):

Types of tent, Buying a tent, Tent buyers guide, Choosing tents, Tent materials, Tenting

1. The tent fly sheet, outer, or canopy (yellow bit)

2. The tent poles

3. The tent inner (seen here as the meshy bit)

4. The tent floor, sometimes also referred to as ground sheet or footprint

We will now explore these areas in a little more detail.

Materials Used in Tents:

Tent Poles:

Cheaper poles are made of fibre glass. They are not durable and will break under pressure, your feet and the wind. For durability, most of the high end tents come with aluminium poles.

Aluminium tent combination tent poles (1 section slots into another) really came of age in the early 1990’s when DAC started to construct poles specifically for tents and developed the DA17 aluminium pole. One of the key problems with combination poles was joint failure and there were various developments made during this time that strengthened this weak area.

Concurrently, there was a drive to make lighter weight, stronger aluminium alloys culminating in the DAC Featherlite tent pole in 2000. This has been revamped over the last decade and various capital letters added onto the end culminating in the DAC Featherlite NSL which has a tent joint that is 20% stronger than the pole and is as light as it gets. Most high end tents will have these poles.

A recent development is the use of carbon fibre tent poles. Easton seem to be developing many promising new technologies and tell us that their carbon tent poles are twice the strength of aluminium poles.

Tent fabric:

There are a variety of different materials on offer and companies will bombard you with various names and numbers. Generally speaking most tents are made from either nylon or polyester. Nylon is softer and stronger than polyester but polyester is more UV resistant. As a result many nylon products are treated and dyed with UV resistant chemicals to improve longevity. Nylon can be strengthened by weaving nylon in a cross hatch pattern. This is called ripstop nylon and, as the name suggests, stops the nylon from tearing further once punctured which can literally be a life-saver. Another type of high strength nylon that you may see is type 66. The number refers to the tensile strength (strength under tension- the higher the number the stronger).

You will often see nylon and polyester measured in deniers (D), which refers to the fibre thickness. Thicker fibres tend to be stronger (and heavier) so many companies use it as a marker of strength; the higher the number the stronger the fabric but the weightier it is. This is an important concept because a 100D polyester fabric will have a lower strength to a similarly thick 100D nylon fabric.

The Hilleberg Akto (left) is well regarded in the camping world as a 4 season, bombproof tent. Its fly sheet is  30 denier (D) ripstop nylon treated on both sides with three layers of silicone and UV treated, giving a hydrostatic head of 3000mm. The groundsheet is 30D poylurethane coated ripstop nylon giving a hydrostatic head of 5000mm. You can use this as a benchmark to compare other tents to.
The Hilleberg Akto (left) is well regarded in the camping world as a 4 season, bombproof tent. Its fly sheet is 30 denier (D) ripstop nylon treated on both sides with three layers of silicone and UV treated, giving a hydrostatic head of 3000mm. The groundsheet is 30D poylurethane coated ripstop nylon giving a hydrostatic head of 5000mm. You can use this as a benchmark to compare other tents to.

 

Another measure that you may see is taffeta’s (T) This refers to the number of threads (threadcount). More threads should give more strength (and waterproofness).

Another material that is often mentioned is cordura. Cordura is a brand name that refers to a collection of fabrics that have been tested by a company called Invista, to meet mininum standards of “bombproof-ness.” The fabric most commonly used is nylon but it can be a combined with other fabrics such as polyester or cotton. The best way to understand cordura is to think of hotels. Some hotels have a Best Western stamp to show that they meet the minimum criteria of awesomeness set out by Best Western. Invista in this case is Best Western and giving nylon its stamp of awesomeness which suddenly morphs it into Cordura.

These products are often given a polyurethane (PU) or silicone coating to make them waterproof. Nylon coated with silicone is often referred to as silnylon.

The hydrostatic head is the measure of “water-proofness” that companies use. The tent designer will fill a column with water and see how high it gets before the material starts to leak. 1000mm means that a column of water 1 metre (1000mm) can be put on the material before it starts to leak. Generally speaking 1500mm will withstand a shower and about 3000mm is needed to withstand a blizzard. Groundsheets should ideally be about 5000mm thick to stop water getting in.

DWR (durable water repellent) is a coating that is sometimes added to the nylon/polyester inner tent to make it more water-resistant (or hydrophobic). DWR degrades over time and becomes less effective which means that the fabric will need another DWR coat. DWR is not waterproof, merely water resistant. However, this should stop the condensation that forms on the fly sheet getting into the tent.

Cuben Fiber is a branded product made from ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). It is manufactured by Cuben Tech Corporations. It is perhaps the lightest weight material on the camping market and is extremely durable. It is breathable and waterproof. Terra Nova have taken UHMWPE and branded it ‘Ultra Fabric.’ . However, this material comes with a BIG price tag attached.

Types of tent, Buying a tent, Tent buyers guide, Choosing tents, Tent materials, Tenting

Consider the Climate you Will be in

If you are no stranger to the website you will be familiar with the following diagram:

Types of tent, Buying a tent, Tent buyers guide, Choosing tents, Tent materials, Tenting

​If you are planning to camp primarily in Summer in the UK lowlands or the tropics where its sheltered, then remaining cool is more important than keeping warm. A primarily mesh tent might be quite useful to allow air to circulate. If you are in an arid region and rain is extremely unlikely, you may find that all you need is the tent inner.

If you want to extend your camping trip to the Spring and Autumn and want to do some Winter camping in sheltered parts of the UK, a three season tent would be perfect. Three season tents are pretty versatile, lightweight and with the right kit can keep you cool in the Summer and warm in the Winter. They can also take a little bit of punishment if the weather nose dives.

If you are in the wilds in the US or Scandinavia, or in an exposed part of the UK or Scotland where the temperature gets cooler and weather is wilder, a more study 4 season tent would be best. If you are in the Arctic circle or expecting blizzard conditions then a strong geodesic tent would be best.

Consider Your Activities in that climate

Types of tent, Buying a tent, Tent buyers guide, Choosing tents, Tent materials, Tenting

We come back as always to the Triangle of Feistiness (TOF). What do you want out of your tent?​ There are three key considerations:

1. How much weight do you want to carry? The lighter the kit the easier it is to carry but it is often less durable and smaller.

2. How “bombproof” or durable must it be? If you are camping in Snowdonia in a storm you need something that is up to the task. Durable materials will allow you to survive but there is nearly always a weight penalty.

3. Will you regularly be camping with the same friends or family? How much room/other features do you need? Extra room/features generally equal more weight. However, you can often offset this by splitting the kit which can sometimes make things lighter than all buying individual items.

Some Examples to Assist Your Cogitation

1. If you are a climber and doing it in the Winter, perhaps something lightweight such as a bivvy bag might be more your thing. In this instance you will come in at the Lightweight and Bombproof part of the triangle

2. If you are contemplating polar exploration or are likely to face very windy conditions, a 4 season geodesic tent would be best. There could be nothing worse than spending a three day blizzard in a small tent so comfort/roominess and bombproof are going to be where you fit on the TOF

3. If you are contemplating camping in three season weather in the lowlands and will be doing a lot of walking, you may be in the “mostly lightweight but with a bit of bombproof and comfort.” Some walkers may add on a few hundred grams for a bigger more comfortable vestibule. Your camping style will dictate this

4. If you drive to campsites and have a massive family, you will want something that is roomy and comfortable.

5. Think about what you want to do in your tent. Do you want to lie down, sit up, sit on a chair, or stand up/walk around? More space can equal a better quality of life but there will be a weight penalty for this comfort.

6. Think about how much kit you have with you. More kit equals more storage, which equals more weight.

How many people will be with you and how big are they?

This is where the terms 1 person, 2 person, and 5+ person come into play. Decide how many people you will be with. Bear in mind that some tents say that their tents are “2 person” but these definitions are fairly loose and all to often you hear of stories where two fatties are co-habiting in something that would be better classed as a roomy 1 person tent. Therefore our advice is check the dimensions. It is also useful to check the dimensions to see if you will actually fit in. Ideally you want about a foot of space minimum at your head and feet so that your sleeping bag doesn’t touch the outside. However, some ultra-lighters might get a more cramped tent to shave weight.

Also bear in mind that you can choose to live in a two person tent on your own and have a bit more space. You don’t need to have a one person tent!

The price

Now that you know roughly what sort of kit you need, you can then decide on a budget. Sadly high spec tents can become rather expensive but we have tried to put in some good value cheaper stuff as well. If price is a key consideration for you then why not check out our section called Feisty Camping for under £100.

Now that you are suitably infused with knowledge, why don’t you take a look at our tent comparison tables and detailed reviews in the relevant categories. Happy hunting!

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One thought on “How to Choose a tent”

  1. Very nice and detailed article!
    I find the triangle of feistiness accurate and helpful. We all want a super robust tent that can stand even the fiercest weather conditions, but it is lightweight, and has all the space we need. However all of those things can not be achieved. As with most things in life, the key is knowing what you want 🙂
    This website helps a lot with that, thank you!

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