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Choosing a tent can be easy, but it can also be very difficult. (shop for tents on Amazon) It is at the same time a statement to some people (perhaps including yourself) as well as a basic protective structure that fits a need. There are LOTS of tent options to choose from, and not all of them will satisfy your needs and wants. So then, what to do? What is important in the decision process? How to choose from all the sizes, colors, structures that are available? Well, fortunately there are a few markers that are generally important to most, if not all, tent campers, whether they are first-timers or experienced. I have addressed this and many more important issues in my book “The Best Tent Camping Guide”.
Perhaps the most important issue in choosing your tent will be where you end up camping most often. The environment and associated weather conditions will provide you with a lot of reasons to stay away from certain tents, as well as provide you with a lot of reasons to move toward certain tents. For example, if you primarily are tent camping in a desert-type environment, then you will likely not need a rain fly to deflect the rain, but to shade you from the hot sun. If you are in an area where you would encounter rain regularly, or you just want to be able to stay dry in your tent if rain should come up during your tent outing, then you’ll want to be looking for a full-length rain fly that goes all the way to the ground, rather than a half-length rain fly. This will keep your side walls from getting wet, as well as anything that happens to be pushed up against the side walls of your tent. If you only go tent camping during fair weather, then the full rain fly wouldn’t be needed. Additionally, colors will play a role for the tent as some colors will create a warmer interior to your tent than other colors. So it makes sense to really think about the places you frequent for tent camping, and then look for tents that best match up to handle those environmental features.
A second concern for what tent you should end up purchasing will be the number of family members that will be using it. For a single person, their tent needs in this regard will be vastly different from a family of 4 with a dog. So, add up all of the people (adults and children) that will be sleeping in and using the tent, then add in any pets that you typically bring with you (dogs, cats, etc.) that will also be sleeping in the tent. This number will be the MINIMUM number of occupants of the tent. Conveniently, tent manufacturers have provided the MAXIMUM number of occupants each of their tents can handle. Wow, this is easy, right? Well, don’t start picking out tents just yet, because it isn’t quite that easy.
If you look at the graphic that is on many tents, the layout of the number of people that can fit into the tent make it look like they are packed in like sardines. This is nice for the tent manufacturer as they can make a tent appear to hold more people than it really can. Also, the tent manufacturers use a “standard” person size/height, and this could be larger or smaller than 1 or more people in your tent camping party. What the tent manufacturers fail to take into account is that each person will also have their own set of “gear” – this could be clothing, shoes, or other accessories. There needs to be space for this additional stuff, so where does that leave us on the tent size?
It leaves us with a rough guide for tent sizes using the following rule of thumb. Whatever the number of people the tent manufacturers say a tent can sleep, you need to reduce that by at least 2 people. This means that a 6-person tent could comfortably house no more than 4 people and their stuff. Realistically, you may even want to subtract 1 additional person, so a 6-person tent can really house 3 people/pets and their gear/clothes, plus have room for the bedding needs of the occupants. A 4-person tent could realistically hold 2 people and their gear, an 8-person tent could hold 5-6 people and their gear, and a 12-person tent could probably only hold 8-9 people and their gear (as you’ll notice, when I went up to the 12-person tent, I actually changed the rule of thumb to be at least 3 people, and possibly 4 people that you would subtract from the number that could be housed).
This is all great, you say, but what about price?! There are cheap tents that look like they would do just fine, and then there are really expensive tents that have a bunch of bells and whistles. Shouldn’t I just choose the cheapest tent and move on? Well, going cheap is a possibility, but don’t assume that your cheap tent will last many years, especially if you go camping rather frequently. One thing you’ll start to notice between the cheaper tents and the more expensive tents is the choice of material used. Those that are cheaper are made with thinner nylon versus the more expensive tents. Also, the more expensive tents have reinforcements in key areas where there is the most stress, such as where poles are used, zippers, and tent stake spots. The thickness of the material in general will also be a bit thicker, lending itself to much more resilience over many years compared to a cheaper tent. Now, this isn’t to say a cheaper tent wouldn’t work for you; there are many situations where a cheaper tent will work great and will do exactly what you need it to. Think about how often you will go tent camping each summer/year, and the more often each year you go, the more likely you should spend some extra money and get a better made tent that will last for several years before needing replacement.
So there you go, some basic rules for choosing your next tent. You can learn even more about choosing the right tent and how to best outfit yourself with the right gear in my best-selling book “The Best Tent Camping Guide”. Once you choose your new tent, send me a pic of it! I’d love to celebrate your new “home away from home”. Got some feedback on this topic? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, send me an email or share it on social media! Happy Tent Camping!