Guide to Buying a Tent

Buying a new tent is never an easy task, there seems to be so many technical features these days that it can be more than a little bit confusing. So to cut the daunting task of buying a tent down to size, here is the CheapTents buying guide.

This article on buying a new tent is by no means exhaustive but is meant as a starting place by which you can get an idea of what features and requirements you have for a tent. Once you’ve read this article, if you have any questions or need some more advice simply leave a comment below or if you are looking for more detailed advice visit our blog posts on choosing all-round 2 man tents, tents suitable for wild camping and family tents. For advice about specific tent models take a look at our product reviews.

What size tent do I need?

Capacity in general is measured by the number of people a tent sleeps, based on the number of standard size sleeping bags it can fit. This does not account for elbow room, storage room etc. Therefore tent capacity can also include square footage in addition to “sleeping” numbers. As a rule of thumb, if you are taking a holiday where you need to share a tent, as opposed to a hiking or running holiday where your tent travels with you, you should consider getting a tent that can accommodate a sleeping capacity of  2 more people than you need. In doing this you will go some way to giving yourself some extra elbow room, adding to the comfort of your holiday. After all, who wants to be spending time in a sardine tin on holiday.

lightwave camping tent floor plan from cheap tents
Floorplan of a Lightwave T20 Trek XT

Another consideration for capacity is the usage of the tent, some argue this is the most important capacity factor. For example, if you are going hiking you aren’t going to want a bulky 6 man tent on your back, and similarly if you’re a family of 3 going on holiday for 2 weeks you aren’t going to want a single man tent designed for mountain expeditions. Also finally, if you are a family you may want to take a look at multi-room family tents, this will increase privacy and is also likely to help stop arguments when someone is snoring.

How will I use my tent?

In my experience one of the most overlooked factors when choosing a tent are the requirements that most users will have for a specific type of camping. As mentioned above, if you’re hiking you want lightweight materials and a small pack size, however a family travelling by car probably won’t care so much about weight. The use of the tent will also more than likely determine which type of tent you buy, there are various types including; tunnel, dome, geodesic, pyramid & there are hybrids of various kinds.

Going on a Backpacking Adventure?

So you’re off on a hike, up a mountain, around a few lakes, through some swamp land … and not going back to a campsite? That means one thing, you need to carry your accommodation (the tent) with you.

To ensure your comfort and ease whilst on this hike you will need to consider 3 main requirements for your tent; weight, pack size, ease of use.

  • Weight – This is never an easy thing to judge, but generally the lighter the better. Judging weight is awkward because although the size-to-weight ratio has improved a lot over recent years with new technologies and materials, it is still hard to get the balance between the room you actually require for comfort and the weight you can carry, on top of your other equipment.
  • MSR Hubba 1man tent from - review
    MSR Hubba Ultralight Tent
  • Pack Size – It stands to reason if an item is smaller more things can fit into a space, so the smaller the tent the more extra items you can carry, as long as weight allows.
  • East of Use – This refers to the pitching of a tent and just how simple it is to put up. If you’re hiking in the UK you may want to consider the weather as a huge variable. If you are suddenly hit by a storm you may be lashed by rain and gale force winds … could you still put up your tent in these conditions, if not maybe look for an easier tent to travel with.

Fixed-Pitch Holiday Camping

If you’re off on holidays then this is probably the bit you need to read. This is for those who are going away for sometime, travelling usually by car to a campsite where you will be pitching your tent and leaving it in-situ until a few days or weeks later when you are leaving to go home. Again the same 3 requirement types apply with an additional requirement of privacy.

  • Weight – With larger tents it is generally accepted that weight doesn’t play that much of a role, however the motto of “lighter is better” still applies. In general bigger tents in the past have been made from canvas. With a whole raft of new materials in use, tent weight has plummeted, so weight is not an issue for most campers these days. You should be considering weight as a partial requirement but not letting it dominate any decision you make.
  • Vaude Badawi Tent 4 man tent
    Vaude Badawi Family Tent
  • Pack Size – Again this is a lesser factor for this kind of tent. However you should just double check that the pack does fit into your car comfortably and still leaves room for clothes, food and other things you are taking camping.
  • Ease of Use – Again as with the backpackers tent it stands to reason that the easier a tent is to pitch the better. However, unlike the smaller tents, expect this to be a little more hard work, not least because its a bigger tent. Also at this point a consideration maybe the area of ground taken up by the tent. Many campsites are not completely flat, so having a larger tent increases the chance of pitching on uneven ground and, on a busy campsite, it may be difficult to find somewhere to pitch.
  • Privacy – Now obviously with smaller tents with no windows this isn’t an issues so much, but with larger family tents it may well be, even if it has no windows. If you require a certain amount of privacy on a family holiday, consider a multi-room tent with an inner tent wall and zipped doorway.

Top Tent Features to Consider

Now that we’ve addressed the main requirements for your tent, lets take a look at some of the other features that all buyers of a tent will need to consider. This again is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you’ve any questions please leave a comment below.

  • Fly Sheets – These are the fabric that make up the outer most wall of your tent. They are waterproof (whereas inner walls are water repellent), they may also have been treated with fire retardant chemicals, so if this is important ask. There are 2 major materials in use; 1 – Canvas, noted for it’s durability but generally quite heavy and these days in the minority. 2 – polyester, both durable and extremely water resistant, this is the choice of most campers these days.
  • Seams – Ensure seams are folded and double stitched, also ensure they are taped. In general if you can pull the 2 sides of the seam and see through them, then water will get through.
  • Ground Sheets Protectors – This may seem like an extra expense you don’t need, but using a ground sheet can save you a lot of money and hassle in the long run. A groundsheet protector acts as an extra barrier between the base of your tent and the ground. This prevents damage from sharp objects, reduces general wear and tear and makes cleaning the tent much easier.
  • Poles – The main choice for poles in modern tents are fibre-glass and aluminium poles. Fibre-glass tent poles are generally found in the cheaper tents. Whilst they are light and flexible, they do lack strength. Another problem is that they can delaminate and splinter if incorrectly cared for. Aluminium poles can be found in better quality tents. Aluminium tent poles are strong and unlikely to break, even in strong winds.

As this isn’t an exhaustive list of factors and features of tents and is an “essential guide to buying tents”. If you can’t find an answer to any questions you have – simply leave a comment below and one of our experts here at CheapTents will get back to you shortly.


2 thoughts on “Guide to Buying a Tent

  1. You are absolutely right, camping equipments are never easy to buy and choose. So if anyone of you is planning to go for a camping trip — and it is your first time, you will need to allot time to choose camping equipments and gears will be of good use and something that will make you comfortable throughout the trip.


  2. When you are planning to go camping, think about the tent you will bring with you. Are you going alone or will you be with friends? The area is important – make sure that you or your group will fit inside. Also think of the quality because you might use it again one time.


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