Tent Buyer's Guide

No matter if you're staying at your favorite campground or deep in the backcountry, your tent is your home away from home. And the right tent can make your stay more enjoyable. Whether this is your first tent or you're looking to upgrade, there are a few things to consider when choosing which tent to buy. Let's take a look at some things to consider.

Tent Type

First, decide what kind of camping you’ll be doing. Will you be camping on the trail? Are you camping with friends and family, or staying in the backcountry for a while? Or are you headed up the mountain? This will affect what kind of tent you’ll get.


Best tent for backpacking

Backpacking Tents

These minimalist tents prioritize portability, making them lightweight and easy to fit in a pack. Ultralight tents are even lighter, and some models allow you to use your hiking poles to pitch the tent. Since these tents are both so light, there isn’t much elbow room.

Family Tents

Accommodate a larger number of people with plenty of space for gear. This design is great for families of all sizes as well as large groups of friends. They’re well-suited for car camping, but not a good choice for extreme conditions.
Best tent for a family camp
Best tent for long campouts

Mountaineering/Expedition Tents

These tents withstand harsh conditions, such as high winds, snow and cold, so they’re ideal for camping at high altitudes and during the winter. However, they’ll most likely be too warm in warmer weather and condensation will build up inside.

Outfitter Tents

These tents serve as base camps for extended stays in the backcountry, which makes them an excellent choice for hunting or fishing trips or even family getaways. However, their size also makes them heavier.
Best large tent for hunting
You can find alternative shelters like screen tents, hammock shelters, bivies and tarps that are specialized for certain conditions or camping styles.


Tent Size and Weight


Tents are sized by person capacity (i.e., two-person tent, six-person tent). There is no industry standard for determining capacity, but manufacturers typically allow 20 to 25 sq. ft. per person. This means you’ll most likely be lying right next to your tent mates with your sleeping bags touching or even overlapping. If you want more room, upsize “one person”. Also, look at the floor plan. Some models only allow room for campers, while others have nooks and crannies for storing gear and clothes.


If you are car camping or have additional help hauling your tent such as an ATV, horse, or eager friends and family, weight is not a large factor. However, if you are carrying it on your back with a week’s worth of gear, every ounce counts, so look for a lightweight tent.


Tent Shape

Tent shape makes a huge impact on square footage and overall space. The interior volume of a tent is gauged by floor dimension, floor area and peak height (only at the top point, not consistent throughout). In addition, the more vertical the walls, the more livable space you'll get.


A-Frame Canvas tent buyer's guide

A-Frame Tents

The original A-frame tents, based on pup tents, were lightweight, simple to set up and fairly inexpensive. They had rectangular floors with sloping sides and ridgepoles. However, they had low headroom and little elbow room due to the sloping sides. The modified A-frame improved upon the original by adding a center hoop pole or diagonal center poles. This causes the sidewalls to curve outward, increasing space. Lateral stability also increases to help the tent hold up better in the wind

Cabin/Outfitter Tents

Near-vertical walls maximize interior space. This means plenty of room for cots or air beds as well as everyone's personal belongings – and you'll still have room left over to stretch out. Some models even feature room dividers or space for a wood-burning stove. However, Cabin tents are bulky so they're not well-suited for on-the-go campers. Plus, they rely on stakes and guy lines in order to maintain their shape.
Best cabin tent for family camping
Best dome tent

Dome/Geodesic Tents

While starting out as true domes, these tents, with up to 50% more room than A-frame tents, now come in numerous shapes slightly resembling curved domes. Curved sidewalls shed rain and snow before it can accumulate. They’re also very strong in windy conditions or inclement weather. They often have good peak height for headroom, but sloped walls reduce interior space.
These three are some of the most common tent shapes, but you’ll see other types like Lodge tents, which combine the structure of a Dome tent with the near-vertical walls of a Cabin tent. You can even find fast-pitch tents that allow you to set up the footprint, pole structure and rain fly without the main tent body (essentially a tarp). Whichever tent you choose, it’s important that it meets your space needs.


Tent Construction

Free-Standing vs. Non-Free-Standing

Free-standing tents can stand on their own without the use of stakes or guy lines. As such, you can easily move them around once you've set them up, and you can always stake them down for added stability. Dome tents are the most common examples. Non-free-standing tents rely entirely on guy lines and stakes for support. Cabin tents often use this structure to ensure near-vertical walls.

Three Season vs. Four Season

Three-season tents are designed for camping in moderate conditions spring through fall. They often feature mesh windows or panels to maximize breathability and air circulation. Four-season tents are built to withstand high winds and heavy snow loads. This is the type you need if you’re camping in winter or scaling mountains. They’re less breathable but retain heat really well.

Single Wall vs. Double Wall

Double-wall tents feature a main tent body (waterproof floor, breathable roof) plus a rain fly. Single-wall tents are designed to shed snow rather than rain and are constructed of breathable fabrics that allow water vapor to escape.

Perimeter Floor vs. Bathtub Floor

With a perimeter floor, the waterproof floor sections and sidewalls are stitched together at the perimeter. This creates straight, taut edges along the tent’s borders, which maximizes floor space. A bathtub-style (or seamless) floor features rounded perimeter edges with no stitch marks that could possibly leak. However, edges may curl up on all sides in a loose manner, resulting in less floor space.

Pole Clips vs. Pole Sleeves

Pole clips and sleeves are used to set up a tent. Pole sleeves distribute tension across a larger area, resulting in less stress and a stronger pitch. However, it can be tough to thread poles through the sleeves in wet or low-light conditions. Pole clips are easy to attach and create larger gaps between the tent body and the rain fly, which improves ventilation and minimizes condensation. If you want a tent that is truly easy to setup, be sure to look for models that say only one person is needed to set up.


Tent Poles

Poles are the foundation and frame holding up your tent. There are three important characteristics to consider when choosing tents poles: weight, strength and durability. Of course, you'll want to consider price as well. The pole material that is best suited for you will depend on what kind of camping you'll be doing.

Fiberglass Poles

The biggest benefit of fiberglass is the price point. Tents with fiberglass poles are more affordable and will still serve you well for seasons to come. They won't rot or corrode, but they are heavier and weaker than aluminum.

Aluminum Poles

Aluminum poles are lightweight, durable and strong. However, aluminum is subject to corrosion over time. If you are going to get aluminum poles, be sure to look for anodized aluminum, which makes the poles more resistant to corrosion.

DAC™ Aluminum Poles

There are many different types of DAC poles, but they are all incredibly lightweight. Featherlite SL (Sleeve) poles are 15% lighter than comparable aluminum poles and have a high strength-to-weight ratio. DAC NFL poles are the lightest aluminum poles on the market but are limited to high-end backpacking tents.
You can also find combination-pole tents where large- and small-diameter poles are used together to maximize strength and minimize weight.

Tent Fabrics

Tents come in a range of fabrics. Understanding the differences between them will help you choose the right tent.


Nylon is very light yet strong and has a natural resistance to abrasion, chemicals and mildew. However, it has the capacity to absorb moisture and colors tend to fade when exposed to UV rays over time.


Polyester is commonly found in rain flys. It resists wrinkles, water and UV rays – giving it superb durability.


Canvas tents are usually made of cotton or linen. It’s heavy and strong. Plain-woven canvas features increased flexibility with use, while cotton-duck canvas is exceptionally tear- and abrasion-resistant.


Mesh is typically made of nylon or polyester and used for increasing ventilation in a tent. No-See-Um mesh, which is often used, is finer mesh than screens in homes to keep out small insects.


This fabric weave pattern resists tears very well.


This fabric weave pattern resists abrasion but doesn’t handle tears well.


Denier is not a fabric. It’s a measurement and is used to determine fiber thickness. Lower deniers result in sheer, soft and lightweight fabrics. High deniers result in thick, sturdy and durable fabrics.


Tent fabrics can be waterproofed with either polyurethane or silicon coatings. Silicon is often used on low-denier fabrics to boost tear resistance. Polyurethane is cheaper and considered to be slightly better than silicon. Both of these methods are measured with millimeter (mm) ratings. This simply denotes the amount of water in a column for one minute before a single drop of water will appear through the fabric (1,500mm rating means 5” of water in the column).

Other Tent Features

There are other important features to consider, which will allow you to get the most out of your tent.

Tent Color

Lighter colors keep the interior bright, which is great for visibility. Darker colors absorb heat from the sun – great for camping in cold weather.


Vestibules are the front or back porches of camp life usually created by an extension of the rain fly. They provide additional dry areas to store packs, boots and other camp items, especially when they’re wet or muddy. Some are more elaborate and roomy with additional support poles that actually create a small second room. Vestibules also allow thorough ventilation, even when it’s raining, by providing enough coverage to leave your tent door unzipped without getting wet.
Other features to think about include multiple doors, pockets, gear lofts and special ports that allow you to run extension cords into your tent. You can find a wide selection of vestibules, replacement tent poles and other tent accessories here.