Tent Buying Guide

Here at Capital Outdoors we stock a huge range of tents in a selection of sizes and shapes. To help you find the right tent we have put together this handy guide, covering everything you need to know!

Whether you’re planning a family camping trip, an extreme backpacking expedition, or buying a tent for a festival, our Tent Buying Guide is here to help.

Types of Tents

Before you choose your tent it is worth considering who will be using it and where. A camping holiday with the kids will need a completely different type of tent to a backpacking trip or a festival. Decide how much space you will need for sleeping, storage and socialising, whether weight will be an important factor, and how much you are willing to spend. If you are planning a range of camping trips it might be a good idea to buy more than one tent.

Family Tents

Designed with families or larger groups in mind, family tents are spacious and comfortable – a cosy home from home. Generally, features include separate sleeping rooms, large social areas, storage space, clear panel windows and other details to make the tent as homely as possible. As a result, Family Tents tend to be larger and heavier when packed - not intended to be transported in backpacks or on bikes, and are best pitched on sheltered campsites rather than open, exposed pitches.

Lightweight Tents

Smaller and lighter than family tents, lightweight tents are perfect for backpacking, hiking trips, and biking. These small, high performance tents are ideal for extreme camping, usually featuring a high hydrostatic head, weather resistant shape and design, and a small packed size.

Festival Tents

When choosing a tent for festivals there are a few things to consider:

  • Size - Ideally, a festival tent will be reasonably small (per person: enough space to sleep and store gear). At festivals camping areas can be crowded so it is far easier to find a pitching spot for a smaller tent. You may also end up carrying gear quite far, so a smaller tent is a lot easier to handle. Generally, socialising space can be kept to a minimum (unless you want some space for hanging out) but a tent with a porch or weather protection at the door can be great for storing muddy boots and jackets.
  • Design - The last thing you want to do when you get to a festival is put up a tent, so look out for easy up styles such as inflatable and pop up construction, or simple designs with a small number of poles and features to save time. If possible, choose a tent with bright colours or a noticeable design to make it easier to pick out from the crowd!
  • Price - A cheaper tent can be a great choice for festivals. Chances are, it will only be used to sleep in, and with the muddy conditions it won’t be the end of the world if it gets damaged or dirty.

Tent Shapes

Tents are designed in different shapes for different uses and camping conditions. Again, decide where you will be using the tent and the type of conditions to expect. If you are camping on a sheltered site in the summer you can get away with a larger, less sturdy tent shape than you would camping on a mountain top in windy or extreme conditions.

Dome Tents

Dome tents feature a cross-over pole construction with a minimum of two poles.

  • Advantages - They are quick and easy to put up, while being reasonably stable and weatherproof. Most designs tend to be quite light in comparison to space, especially those designed for backpacking and hiking. Larger tents can be a great choice for families due to the simple, sturdy design.
  • Disadvantages - Generally, dome tents have limited head room, with the highest point where the poles meet. Tent walls are also sloped, with porches and bedroom having the least head space.

Tunnel Tents

Tunnel tents have a minimum of three poles, placed side by side creating a tunnel layout.

  • Advantages - Due to the tunnel shape, tunnel tents tend to be quite spacious, with the head height spanning the length of the tent. This also makes them comparatively light for their size. This construction tends to be quick and easy to pitch.
  • Disadvantages - Can be less stable than other designs, especially in windy conditions. With the height running across the centre of the tent, it is advisable to pitch with the head or tail end facing into to wind to reduce impact.

Geodesic and Semi Geodesic Tents

Tents with a Geodesic construction feature a series crossing of poles (normally 3-4 minimum), creating a dome-like structure. The exact structure and pole pattern varies, depending on style of tent.

  • Advantages - Both Geodesic and Semi Geodesic tents are extremely stable and secure (with geodesic being the most ridged). The criss-crossing design distributes load evenly, making them ideal for extreme weather conditions including snow. The rigid design withstands heavy loads on the tent without poles snapping or collapsing.
  • Disadvantages - The complex design means Geodesic and Semi Geodesic tents can be harder and more time consuming to put up. Although the additional poles can also add weight, this style of tent is ideal for backpacking and extreme camping due to the strong construction.

Easy Up Tents

Easy Up tents designed to be put up stress free in minutes. This includes Pop-Up tents, Instant tents, and Inflatable tents. Pop-Up tents feature ready in-place poles that “pop up” when unpacked, and just need pegging down. Instant tents are similar, simply requiring joints to be straightened to complete the structure. Inflatable tents have channels or pockets instead of poles, which are inflated in seconds to form the structure of the tent.

  • Advantages - Easy Up tents can be put up and taken down instantly with ease. Some tents can be quite light for their size and relatively small when packed. They are also perfect for first time campers due to the simple, easy to use design. Larger styles are ideal for family camping, offering space and comfort without the stress of poles and assembly. Inflatable tents can be more durable than pole tents, with air channels withstanding more impact which could snap or bend a pole.
  • Disadvantages - When packed, some designs can be an awkward shape or pumps may need to be included, making them a bad choice for backpacking. Certain designs of instant tents and inflatable tents may be heavier than a traditional tent design, so it is worth considering where the tent will be used and noting the weight.

Ridge Tents

The “classic” tent, Ridge tents feature a rigid pole construction creating a roof shape.

  • Advantages - Ridge tents are sturdy, stable and relatively easy to put up. The simple design can be scaled up or down, with styles ranging from basic one person tents to large family or group tents, and even vast marquees!
  • Disadvantages - Head height is limited, with maximum height running along the centre of the tent and reducing towards the sides. This may be a disadvantage for families or groups planning to use the interior for activities or socialising. However, there are many types of ridge tent with ample interior space so it is worth doing some research before you buy.

Take a look at our selection of Dome, Tunnel, Geodesic, Inflatable, Family and Cabin tents!

Weather Consideration

Weather can make or break a camping trip so it’s worth being ready for it. The season, altitude, and country you are camping in can affect what features you want in a tent, including the Hydrostatic Head, height of the tent, integrated or separate ground sheet and more. Also, how you pitch your tent can be just as important as the tent itself.

Rain

Unfortunately, rain is a familiar occurrence when camping in the UK. Luckily, advances in technology mean you shouldn’t have to worry about it! When choosing your tent take note of the Hydrostatic Head. This is the measurement of water a tents flysheet can withstand before it stops being waterproof. Anything over 2000mm is adequate for standard UK conditions; over 3000mm should keep you protected from more severe rainfall. However, pitching and maintenance of the tent is just as important.

  • If possible, try not to pitch in an exposed spot
  • When heavy rain is expected be sure to peg and guy the tent out well, and when inside try to avoid the inner fabric touching the outer (as this can let rain in)
  • Porches, sheltering and gutters around entrances provide space for storage, especially muddy or wet items, and prevent water entering the inside of the tent
  • Sewn in groundsheets help to stop moisture and insects getting in
  • Remember to keep any doors and entrance points closed during rain, and for a short time after to avoid drips

Wind

A tents ability to withstand the wind can be down to a number of factors including design, pitching and exposure. If you know you will be camping in an exposed or windy area (such as costal spots and high altitude, including hill or cliff tops) it is advisable to choose a tent designed for these conditions.

  • Smaller tents with a lower profile are the best design for windy conditions, with dome and geodesic tents being a better choice
  • If you can, choose a spot with the most shelter possible
  • Pitch with the smallest part of the tent facing into the wind to reduce impact
  • Make sure all guy ropes are used and that the tent is well pegged out

Heat

When camping abroad or in the height of summer it is vital to consider the impact of heat within a tent. Overheating in a tent can be uncomfortable, disrupting a good night’s sleep or stopping the tent being used as shade or shelter during the day. It is important to reduce condensation inside the tent to avoid internal moisture.

  • Make use of ventilation flaps and panels (most tents should have these built in to the design; be sure to check before buying). Proper ventilation within the tent keeps air circulating, cooling the tent and reducing condensation
  • If possible, keep doors and windows open during the day to increase air movement. If flies and insects are a concern check your tent has zipped mesh panels across doors and openings and keep these closed
  • Tents with a separate ground sheet are a great choice for warmer climates, helping to increase ventilation within the tent. If your tent has vents placed towards the top, keep these open to allow air to circulate

Handy Tips

Once you have chosen your tent there are a few other things to consider to ensure you always make the most of every camping trip. Here are a few of our handy tips!

Check before you pitch - Check the ground out, as this will be your bed for the night. Ideally, choose a spot with no stones, mounds, or anything which may cause discomfort come night time (this may be less of a concern if you are using an airbed, but it is still worth checking). Sharp or rough objects must be removed to prevent damage to ground sheets and gear, and rocky areas will be harder to peg out on. Stay away from boggy or wet ground, and if you are near a hill or slope pitch slightly higher than the lowest point to reduce the chance of flooding in heavy rainfall. Bear in mind the slope of the ground when choosing which end to have your head when sleeping – ideally, you don’t want your head lower than your feet!

Trial run - After you buy your new tent it can be tempting to head straight out on a trip. However, a new tent can be confusing - even to the most experienced of campers, so if you have the space and time have a go at putting it up. This way you won’t be scratching your head once away and you will have a better idea when it comes to packing up (where to fold and role to fit it back in the bag). You can also be sure you are not missing any crucial poles or pegs, there is no damage to the tent, and that the size and shape meets your needs. You may wish to do this for older tents too - especially if it hasn't been used for a while.

Maintenance and repairs - To keep your new tent waterproof and functional it must be maintained and cared for - as you would your home. When in use, keep muddy boots off floors and groundsheets, do not have any open flames or embers within the tent, and pitch carefully to avoid damage and tears from ground or weather. It is a good idea to take a repair or maintenance kit with you so any damage can be fixed straight away. For tent fabric, damage and tears must be dealt with immediately to prevent further, possibly irreparable damage. If you have to pack your tent away while it's still wet unpack it when home to let it dry properly - storing tents when wet can cause waterproofing to fail and severely damage the tent. Make sure tents and other camping gear are stored in a dry, ventilated space, and pack tents away correctly with all poles, pegs, guy ropes and additional items together. It is worth remembering a good tent can be repaired. There are a range of products on the market for repairing seams and zips or waterproofing fabric with leaks.

Check out our range of tents!

At Capital Outdoors we stock a huge selection of tents for all types of camping trips! Whether you’re on an extreme solo backpacking trip, away for a weekend break or off on a family summer holiday, CapitalOutdoors.co.uk has the tent for you!

Not sure about Sleeping Bags? Take a look at our handy Sleeping Bag Guide for more information.