What types of tents are available?
Which one is best for YOU?
As discussed in more detail on our Tents for Camping
page, camping tents are designed to satisfy one or more of their three main recreational uses.
- Backpacking / hiking. Main design feature: small and light.
- Touring. Main design feature: ease of set up and pack up.
- Static Camping. Main design feature: comfort.
Some types of tents are more suited to one of these recreational uses than others, so it helps to know (at least partially!) what you are seeking before trying to decide on a tent. A simple description of the main types of tents available on the market today is given below, along with advantages, disadvantages and suitability of each type. Some helpful camping tent hints are at the bottom of the page.
A simple design, usually consisting of a rectangular floor and two shock-corded poles. Each pole runs from one corner to the diagonally opposite corner crossing over at the apex. Available in a variety of sizes to suit from 1-8 people. You will need to crouch down in the smaller dome tents, but can stand in the larger models.
Most dome tents are "double-walled" tents. This means they have an inner tent to provide ventilation and control moisture build up, and an outer "tent" or fly which will not absorb much water and is designed to keep the tent dry during rain.
- Relatively simple to set up.
- Lots of competition in the dome tent market equals lots of choice and pricing to suit all budgets.
- The vast array of brands and models generally means that you can avoid any particular dome tent feature you don't like!
All three recreational uses. Different models on the market make this a very versatile style of tent. (Some models are small and light for hiking, some are large and comfortable for static camping).
Tunnel tents consist of tent fabric attached to flexible poles which are arranged in a series of parallel hoops. A range of available sizes to suit 1-8 people, some even enabling adults to stand unhindered.
Tapered ends can make them an excellent choice in high wind areas.
Disdvantages: No stand-out disadvantages.
Best for: Like the dome tent, different models on the market to suit all 3 recreational uses. A very versatile tent.
Hybrid Dome/Tunnel Tent
One or more hooped poles are linked by a fabric tunnel to the dome. The tunnel/s will provide a vestibule/porch or sleeping area attached to the dome living area.
Provides one or more separate spaces - either for sleeping or storage, separate to the "main space".
More set-up time when compared to a dome tent.
Best for: Touring and Static camping. More sections/poles = greater size and weight which rules out backpacking/hiking.
Pop Up Camping Tent
A pop up camping tent is a single unit tent which "pops up" in one piece.
- Takes virtually no time to set up. It is set up as soon as you can take it out of the bag!
- Only for smaller groups - 4 person maximum.
- Stored in a particular manner, and must be re-stored in EXACTLY the same way! (Can be frustrating on some models).
Best for: Touring when the weather is predominantly good.
Canvas Camping Tents
The primary feature of a canvas camping tent is that it is made from, you guessed it, Canvas.
Canvas camping tents come in a large variety of sizes, from a 2 person tent, to extremely large camping tents. They are usually "cabin-style" tents, which have the advantage of taller and steeper walls (= more usable space, especially if using camping cots) and more options for multiple rooms.
- Strength and durability. The canvas will last up to 3 times longer then 100% synthetic fabrics.
- Waterproofness. When wet, the canvas swells, blocking any small holes.
- Very heavy in comparison to synthetic tents. Especially when wet as the canvas absorbs water.
- Bulky fabric and poles.
- Greater set-up / pack-up time than many other tents.
- Generally more expensive then other tents, but due to their durability can "pay for themselves" if used consistently over many years.
Best for: Static camping.
Large Camping Tent / Family Camping Tents
Except for the pop up tent, all the other styles of tents have a large camping tent / family camping tent version. The main advantage of the large family tents is the increased comfort which comes from extra features not available in small tents. Features such as:
- Extra sections, vestibules or screened in porches
- Extra awnings to give you more undercover room around the tent.
- Some have built in lights, fans or a heat source which can be plugged into an electric outlet or a specially designed generator.
- Large enough for adults to stand up.
The main disadvantages of large camping tents/family camping tents:
- Increased purchase cost!
- Increased set-up / pack-up time.
- Bulkier and heavier to carry and store.
Now you know what types of tents are available, see our listing of
Tent Features and other items to consider when buying a tent.
Tips for Tent Camping
- Never store your tent away wet (even if it means having to set it up again to dry it out for storage...uhhhh!). Ignore this tip? Mold and fabric deterioration and a big mess will greet you on your next outing!
- It's a good idea to use a ground sheet/ground cloth beneath your tent. This will provide protection from rocks, sticks, tree roots and general abrasion for your difficult-to-replace tent floor. (It will also mean a cleaner/drier tent floor for pack-up time!)
- If using a "two walled" tent system (ie, an inner tent covered by a fly), always have an air gap between the fly and the tent itself. This is needed for ventilation and for waterproofness of the system.
Tent Buying Tips
- If you have settled on a brand/model of tent that you love, but are scared off by the price, consider buying 2nd hand.
Lots of people buy tents and then never use them or only use them once or twice before deciding that camping isn't for them. Check eBay, or your favourite trading website, and you may just pick up a bargain on a new or hardly used tent.
- Another option to consider, especially if you are unsure about whether you will enjoy camping, is to borrow a tent from a friend. Or even hiring a tent to "try before you buy" may be a choice you feel comfortable with.
- For American visitors to this site, you might benefit from visiting www.camping-tent-reviews.com where the coleman camping tents, eureka camping tent, and tents by Columbia, Kelty, Marmot and North Face are reviewed in an independent, unbiased manner.
Need help narrowing down what YOU need in a tent?
OR advice on what to consider when buying a tent?
For a checklist of camping tent equipment see our tent camping checklist.
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