Tuesday, June 7

Tent Buying Guide

Tent Buying Guide

A tent is the most important piece of camping equipment you will ever pack for your adventure.  Whether hiking in the mountains, a weekend at a Big4, 4WDing on Fraser Island or taking the family to a bush campground, you will need a good tent to bunker down in if the weather turns.  A good tent will protect you from the weather, insects and even wild animals.  It can also be used to protect your food and other gear.

There are many types of tents and they have many features.  Some may be relevant to you and others not so much.  Give some thought to what type of camping you will be doing, where and how often.  A good tent when cared for and stored properly will last you 10 plus years easily. It is also important to remember that a sleeping bag is what keeps you warm, not your tent.

We can’t cover all the aspects of tents and their varieties in one feature, so we will only focus on the primary aspects:

  • Ventilation
  • Price
  • Size
  • Fabrics
  • Weight
  • Types of tents
    • Swags
    • Domes
    • Geodesic Domes
    • Cabins
    • Fast Pitching Tents
    • Roof Top Tents
Ventilation is probably the single most important feature of a tent to look at. Ventilation controls a tent's waterproofing, temperature and reduces condensation.  For the last reason, it is important to allow some ventilation in your tent.  Different degrees of ventilation can be achieved through utilising the vents and netted windows.  Closing or opening some, or all of these will result in different ventilation of your tent.  Ensure you have pegged out your tent properly and left a gap between the inner tent and fly, or you can expect to be wet in the morning! 

The degree of ventilation you require will depend on the environment you camp in. If you do adventure camping in cold regions, less ventilation is best as you will be warmer and more waterproof.  However, the average Australian camper will most likely prefer greater levels of ventilation.

The Anatomy Of A Tent
The anatomy of a tent.  Many features often escape the untrained eye!

Price is usually what controls our choice.  Thankfully, there is a great array of good quality, budget tents on the market to suit all types of camping.  It is important to note that some of the less expensive tents are only suitable for nice weather camping.  They'll cope with mild rain and wind, but anything heavier could push them beyond their design.  These tents will suit the average weekend campers or festival goer.

If you are planning extended outback Australia travel or North Queensland trips, where you might need to ride out big winds or heavy rain for a couple of days or more, you may find it better to stretch the budget a little further.  Most of the better quality tents should hold up without any problem at all and are usually well worth the money.

Tents range in price from $50 - $1,200 for a basic tent set-up.

Size is the next thing you will need to consider.  Are you camping solo, with a friend or is it for the family?  If so, how many adults and children?

Double Swags are great for a couple or even a single person traveller looking to have a bit more room.

If you are camping solo in your tent, you will want something lightweight, easy and fast to assemble but strong and durable.  A 2-man will house you and your gear.

2 man dome tent
Many of us start our tenting lives with a simple 2-man dome.

If you are heading into the mountains or snowy regions, you will not want extra space inside your tent. Smaller tents are usually warmer, so remember to keep a vent open so you don't create too much condensation.

Extreme adventure is a pretty involved topic as weight, pack weight, extreme cold and wind, waterproofing, pole construction and many other things come into play.  When carrying a tent on your back, different considerations are relevant, which would not concern most campers.  These aspects may encourage you to spend the extra money to buy a good quality hiking tent This topic is worthy of a feature of its own.

hiking tent design features
Hiking tents are designed to be lightweight and easy to assemble,  often sacrificing in space and features.

If you are simply looking to solo tent in a Queensland bush campground, you can go to a basic 2 -man tent or a  swag.  If camping in an Australian summer, you may even want to go to a 4-Man, simply for the additional air and ventilation, not necessarily for space.

If you are car camping and sharing with a friend or partner, you will want at least a 4-man tent.  When a tent says it is a 4-man tent, it means that when you lay 4 sleeping bags on the floor of the tent, they will cover most of the floor space.  4 people in a 4-man tent will definitely mean climbing over the top of other people to get out and will leave absolutely no room for gear.  I would suggest that a 4-man tent is suitable for 2 adults and their gear.  They will be very comfy.

If you want extra space to keep your esky and kitchen supplies than you'll require a good vestibule or you will want to go to the next size which is a 6-man tent.  This will give you the added storage space.  You could also buy an inexpensive 2-man tent to keep your esky, food and kitchen bits and pieces in.  It would also be a great place to store firewood so it stays dry.

If you are a family, I would highly recommend a tent with rooms.  A 6-man tent will house 2 adults and 2 small children comfortably but your growing family will outgrow your tent quickly.  Rooms also give you added privacy and allow for your family's growth.  Once children are old enough to have their own tents you can create a tent village.  Teenagers will likely prefer and appreciate this independence.

Multiple room family tents are popular with young families in particular.   

Fabric composition of your tent is also worthy of a noting – both the upper portions and the floor tub. The upper portions of most tents are made with either canvas or polyurethane coated fabric. Canvas is much more durable and it allows heat to escape, but it is much heavier and more expensive. Polyurethane coated fabric provides waterproofing and makes them strong, durable and lightweight in comparison to canvas. As a result, most dome tents are made out of this fabric. The quality of the polyurethane is exceptionally good these days and the products are long lasting – maybe not as long lasting as canvas though. The things that really come into play when you choose between the two fabrics is whether you can afford the weight and price. If you can, the investment in canvas is well worth it and will potentially see that you have a resalable product in the future.

The fabric and construction of the floor tub is critical.  Check to see that it is of good quality and that it will keep the moisture out.  Anyone who has been in torrential rain whilst camping will understand - it's the difference between all tent contents being soaked or being able to go inside and read a book in comfort while the storm passes.  Many of the newer models have heavy duty PVC waterproof flooring and come up at least 5 or more centimetres from the ground.  You can’t go wrong!

Weight of a tent should not be overlooked.  If you have someone to help you get your tent up and down from the roof of the 4WD, or help to carry and erect the tent, this may not ever be of concern.  It is also noteworthy, if you’re pushing the weight restriction of your vehicle.  It is safe to say that some of the fixed frame and canvas tents do lean a bit on the heavier side but the quality and durability of these tents is most definitely superior.  In saying that, the quality of the polyurethane flies and aluminium poles in some of the domes are of exceptional quality and it is hard to believe that these lightweight tents can be as strong and long lasting as they are.

Types of tents Swags, Dome tents, Hiking Tents, Cabin Tents, Fast Pitching Tents, Roof Top Tents.  This article only covers a few.  So many choices!

Swags these days range from the traditional canvas bag style to double swags with stretchers underneath them which is why I included it in the tent options.  Some are nearly as big as a tent, with enough room to sit up.  I am a huge fan of the swag for touring. Nothing better after a long day of driving and exploring, than to simply unclip, roll it out, pitch a pole (or clips depending on brand) and lie down.  They are definitely worth checking out.

Dome Tents are by far the most resilient tent.  The design provides for wind to roll straight over and rain to roll off.  Dome tents generally have flexible poles which crossovers at the top and give it strength.  They are easy to pitch, light and durable. Domes come in all shapes and sizes, including single rooms, single room/vestibules, multiple rooms, and awning add-ons, which are great if you don’t want to pitch tarps or other shade structures.  As a result, they are highly suitable for a single person, a couple or a large family and are by far the most versatile tent.

Geodesic Dome Tents (sphere like dome) refers to a tent that has criss-crossing poles, forming triangles in the frame. These tents are even more stable than the standard dome and well suited to extreme weather conditions such as on mountains or windy, exposed areas.

Cabin Tents are another great option for the couple or family.  Cabins are large and spacious, with plenty of room to stand up.  They tend to feel roomier than a dome because the straight walls and the larger windows give the cabin a homier feel.  They are a little more involved to pitch, so more suited for longer stays.  The cabin is often made with heavier fabrics, thus, can take a little longer to dry out than the standard dome.  This also makes the cabin a bit heavier and bulkier so if you are planning on putting it in the car, it is handy to measure the car and note the pack length of these tents.  But if 'home-away-from-home' is what you are looking for, then this could be the answer.

Fast pitching tents are by far my favourite because I am usually pitching them by myself.  The real difference between these tents and other types is the attached frame.  Pull your tent out of the bag and push the legs up or out, depending on the brand.  Presto, it is up!  Due to the ease of assembling these tents, they are often referred to as ’30-second’ or ‘2-minute’ tents.  However, this time does not include adding the fly (if required) and/or pegging the tent down.  Most of these products have numerous awnings and extras you can add if you choose.  Some don’t require any extras to be ready for a quick roadside stop though.  I regularly don’t peg out my tent when camping for the night, which is great if you are touring.  It is free standing as long as the weather is not giving me grief.  Some would say fast-pitching tents are not as strong in strong winds.  I would never say anything could beat a dome but, by geez, I have been in some pretty cyclonic winds and not had any problems.  Once again, it is important you note the pack length of these tents if you are wanting to throw them in the car.  Most will fit fine but some of the larger may struggle and need to go on the roof.  It is at this point you might need to revisit the weight aspect.

The Oztent is one of the traditional fast pitching tents.  Often referred to as the 30 second tent.

Roof Top Tents offer heaps of advantages and especially suit the harsh Australia environment.  If you are chasing that elusive breeze, want up off the wet ground, away from the crocs and snakes; and want to wake to a view as far as the eye can see, this is the option for you.  Not the least, all that extra space in the car.  The basic overnight set up is really easy and your bed is already made.  On the negative side, if you need to move the car, you have to pack it up.  Most folks simply make sure they have done everything before they set up.  They are simple to put down and break camp.

The roof top tent is fast becoming the go to tent for many tourers.

When I did the Cape, I spoke to many folks with rooftop tents and most were very happy with them, especially when others were jumping at things that went bump in the night.  A factor that may be relevant to some, is that you may not want to remove them after your camping weekend.  If you are like me, you will never get that much height in the garage and I would not want to be taking it off regularly.  For those that have the space or are touring, they definitely have their appeal.  Personally I think they are a fantastic touring option but not as good for long-stay camping.

There are lots of other features to look at when deciding on the right tent ie types of poles, guy ropes, zipper construction and many add on features for various tents.  We have only touched on the primary aspects in this article, so keep posted for more.

Please if you need help choosing your next tent, feel free to give us at Tentworld a call, email, live chat or drop into your local Tentworld Camping Store!

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