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Tent Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Outdoor Tent for You

Finding the right ten for your trip can be the difference between a great holiday and a bad one. But with so many things to think about, it can be tricky to know where to start. Whether you’re camping with family, backpacking alone, or going to a festival with friends, your tent needs to be able to withstand the elements while providing you shelter and comfort.

We’ve put together this in-depth guide to help you gain a better understanding of the tents on the market, so you can purchase your tent with confidence.

Contents:

Types of tents The best tents
Size and shapeTent terminology 
How to choose a tent Tent accessories
Understanding your tent Other Buying Guides 

Types of tents 

There are actually a lot more tents out there than you might think, so gaining a basic understanding of them all is key before you purchase a tent for your camping trip. 

Backpacking tents

Pavillo Active Mount 3 Person Tent – £69.95

These tents are usually small, lightweight, and easy to set up, making them perfect for self-supported adventurers who will be moving around during their camping trip. They come in a range of designs and sizes. Some will be more spacious than others while remaining light and comfortable to carry around. They’re also usually designed to withstand harsher weather conditions, which is important for backpackers exploring various terrain. 

Campsite/family tents

Pavillo Family Ground 4 Person Tent – £119.95 

Campsite tents are designed to suit families and groups of people. They have large living spaces, are created to emphasise practicality and comfort, and come with extra features. The larger size usually makes them heavier compared to a backpacking tent, so they aren’t suitable for carrying long distances. However, this isn’t a problem if you’re setting up in a campsite where your car will be parked near the pitch. They’re easy to set up and offer reliable shelter. 

Festival/weekend tents 

When it comes to a festival tent, most people are looking for something that’s relatively cheap and does the job, so they come in a range of shapes and sizes. You should always allow for one extra person on the berth as this will give you plenty of room for your luggage. The unpredictable weather throughout the year means your festival tent should be waterproof in case of rain, but breathable in case of sun. A built-in porch is also recommended for dirty shoes. 

Inflatable tents

Inflatable tents, also known as air tents, aren’t like bouncy castles in appearance. However, instead of steel or glass poles, the beams of the tent can be inflated with a pump, which means it takes shape quickly and easily. This tent is becoming popular with families, weekend campers, and even backpackers. However, if you were backpacking you should bring along a repair kit in case of any damage to the inflatable areas. 

Pop-up tents

Bestway Adventure Chasers Puppy Play Tent – £29.95 

Pop-up tents take away the struggle of pitching and fighting with poles. They’re also a popular design for kids’ play tents. However, if you’re taking a pop-up tent for camping, then make sure you have pegs to keep them tied down to the floor. These tents are great for keeping the kids entertained without having to go through the hassle of pitching a tent, and since they’re so easy to set up, they’re good for back gardens and festivals.

Size and shape

How many people are going?

The size of your tent will be determined by how many people are going on your camping trip, the amount of time you’re going for, and the amount of luggage and equipment you plan on bringing with you. The tents are labelled to show how many people they can accommodate, but this doesn’t take luggage into account. 

For example, if you go for a 4-person or 4-berth tent, it will likely only fit two people and their luggage. Unless there is living space or a car nearby for storage, you’ll need to bear this in mind when you choose your tent. There is also no standard size for one person, so the sizes of people in your group will play a role in the tent you should buy. 

Other things to take into consideration include; additional furniture or luggage, the size of airbeds or mattresses, extra kit for backpacking trips, and if you’re bringing along any pets. All of these factors add up and it’s always better to have more space than to not have enough, especially if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in or around your tent. 

Tent shapes

Bell tents

A bell tent is a unique designed multi-purpose shelter that has a canvas exterior and a single pole in the middle of the inner tent. They have a similar appearance to a yurt and their roomy, open interior make it a great place for socialising — perfect for groups and families. 

Bell tents have one large area that can be customised to meet the needs of your group and their cosiness means they offer the most home-like camping experience. They’re perfect for those planning an extended trip to a campsite. 

Dome tents

Pavillo Family Dome 6 Person Tent – £189.95 

Dome tents are large, spacious and quick and easy to set up. They have a lightweight, stable structure that consists of two main poles that cross at the highest point of the tent. Their design makes them a great choice for those who are after spacious accommodation. 

Dome tents come in a variety of sizes and are great for short backpacking trips, campsite visits, or general campaign use that won’t be taking place in extreme weather conditions. They’re not as strong or technical as other designs, but they still make the perfect all-rounder. 

Geodesic tents

Pavillo Active Mount 3 Person Tent – £69.95

Geodesic tents have more than two tent poles that cross over each other multiple times. This provides a strong and sturdy structure and extra stability. These tents are ideal for backpackers because they can tolerate strong winds well. 

Fully-geodesic tents will have five or more nodes (points where the poles cross) which offer strength and stability. Tents with less than five nodes are classed as semi-geodesic. These tents are still stable and are generally more lightweight. Both types don’t need guylines to be kept up. 

Tunnel tents 

Pavillo Family Ground 6 Person Tent – £169.95

Tunnel tents are quick and easy to pitch and they have a separate space from the main sleeping compartment. One to two-person varieties is great for trekking, while larger tents are great for campsites and are a perfect choice for families who are after some privacy. 

These tents are good for a quick pitch and will protect you from bad weather. However, they tend to be more vulnerable to stronger winds, so they should be set up on soft ground using guylines to keep the structure in place. 

How to choose a tent 

Set your budget 

Your budget will play a huge role in choosing the right tent for you and your camping experience. Tents can range from under £100 to thousands of pounds, depending on the type of tent, the size, and the material it’s made from. When setting your budget, make sure it’s realistic: don’t skimp on quality if the tent is going to experience heavy use. 

Watch a tutorial 

Watching a tutorial is one of the best ways to fully understand what you’re buying. It’s a great method of research and gives you a realistic expectation when it comes to shape, size, setup, and how many people it could comfortably fit during your trip away. Taking notes on pitching tips and other advice while you watch the tutorial is also recommended. 

Learn about the build 

Depending on the type of tent you go for, the set-up can be tough for some, especially if you’re planning on camping alone. Another great way to learn about the build is to read or watch reviews from people who have used the tent. This can make things easier for you on the big day. To be extra prepared, you can set up the tent in your garden so you know what to expect. 

Choose the right material 

All tent materials have their own properties, so selecting the right tent material for your camping trip is essential. Your location, the weather and temperature, and whether you need to move it around will determine the best material for you. There are three to choose from: 

Synthetic – Consisting of nylon and polyester, these tents are lightweight, affordable, low maintenance, and quick to dry. They’re a common choice for families and backpackers alike and are one of the most popular tent materials. 

Cotton and canvas – One of the less common materials, cotton and canvas tents are best for weather extremes because they keep cool in hot weather and stay warm in cold weather. The material is also breathable and durable, reducing condensation and making it last longer.

Poly-cotton – This material is a hybrid of polyester and cotton. Just like cotton tents, this material is durable and offers good temperature control; and just like polyester tents, they’re lightweight and mildew resistant. 

Understanding your tent 

Types of poles 

Steel 

Steel tent poles are the most expensive variety and they are the heaviest tent poles you can purchase. They generally come with large family tents, as they offer additional strength and stability to a large structure. They don’t bend easily which means they form a rigid skeleton that stands up to high winds and can hold up against a heavy canvas. 

Fibreglass

Fibreglass tent poles are the most common tent poles. They are flexible and split into sections that are held together by elastic. These poles are lightweight and affordable, but they can snap or split when put under a lot of pressure — either due to harsh weather conditions or when being bent too far when pitching. Luckily, replacement poles are easy to purchase, but they’ll need to be cut to size. 

Inflatable 

Inflatable sleeves or beams replace the poles in inflatable tents. All you need is a foot pump to create a firmly inflated beam that holds up stronger than you may think. This technology is becoming more common over time — it’s a brilliant alternative to steel and fibreglass poles due to their stability and ease of pitching. 

Doors 

Tent designs that feature a single door are normally lightweight, whereas models with multiple doors are more practical for trips with more than one camper. Tent doors will have a fine mesh covering which provides ventilation while keeping unwanted insects and bugs out at the same time. 

Vestibules

A vestibule, more commonly known as a porch, is an area of the tent that’s covered by a flysheet but remains separate from the main inner area. They’re perfect for storing muddy or wet kits away from your sleeping or living area, or they can act as an extra living space during bad weather. Vestibules can be added to some tents, which is worth the investment.  

Weatherproof and ventilation 

A weatherproof tent is important for all kinds of tents and camping trips. You never know when the weather’s going to change, so making sure your tent is waterproof and pegged tightly to the floor will protect your tent in wet and windy conditions. 

Ventilation is also key as it prevents condensation and makes your tent more comfortable to stay in during hot weather. The type of material will affect ventilation, but you should also leave a door or window slightly open to keep your tent well-ventilated. 

The best tents

Best tent for playtime 

Bestway Adventure Chasers Puppy Play Tent 

RRP: £29.95 

With the Bestway Adventure Chasers Puppy Play Tent, you can get your kids in the mood for camping while having fun at the same time. This pop-up tent takes seconds to set up and features a cute design loved by children of all ages. It can be used for playtime, as a shelter on a trip to the beach or park on a hot day, or as an additional space for your kids at the campsite. 

Best tent for large families 

Pavillo Family Dome 6 Person Tent 

RRP: £189.95

If you have a large family, finding a tent that offers plenty of room is essential for comfort and privacy during your camping trip. The Pavillo Family Dome 6 Person Tent sleeps up to 6 people, making it a roomy option for your outdoor adventure. It’s a strong tent that has been designed to cope with various weather conditions. It also has plenty of indoor space for quality family time. 

Best camping tent on a budget 

Pavillo Family Dome 4 Person Tent 

RRP: £99.95

A budget-friendly option for a family of four, the Pavillo Family Dome 4 Person Tent allows the entire family to experience the great outdoors like never before. The dome provides plenty of space for dining and entertainment, and a sleeping room makes it easy to relax and unwind after a long day of exploring. This tent is also weatherproof, sturdy, and easy to store. 

Best tent for adventures 

Pavillo Active Mount 3 Person Tent 

RRP: £69.95

A light, waterproof, and double roof tent is key for backpackers and hikers alike. The Pavillo Active Mount 3 Person Tent is perfect for festivals, outdoor adventures, or even your back garden. It can sleep up to three adults, comes with an insect net and waterproof seams, and is lightweight to carry but sturdy, so it can be used in all kinds of weather and environments. 

Tent terminology 

Term Description 
Berth This shows the number of people a tent can accommodate. Please note that this is calculated as people without luggage, so don’t forget to include your bags and camping gear as a berth/person. 
D of E recommended kitRefers to the Duke of Edingburgh Award Scheme and indicates that the tent is recommended as suitable for these expeditions. 
Dome tentUsually seen in smaller tents, dome-shaped tents have good stability due to the poles crossing in the centre. 
Flysheet The outer fabric of a tent. 
Geodesic/semi-geodesicVery stable against rough weather conditions depending on how the poles cross. This design is most suitable for backpackers and mountain climbers. 
Hydrostatic head The rating of a tent’s waterproof coating, also known as PU. The legal requirement for a tent to class as waterproof is a Hydrostatic Head of 1000, so many start at 2000. However, 2000-3000 should cope with standard rainfall well enough. 
Polycotton A material consisting of polyester cotton and a specific Hydrostatic Head. The fabric works like a sponge; absorbing water and closing up to create a fabric that allows water to run off. When it dries, the fabric opens up and becomes very breathable. 
Sewn-in groundsheetThe groundsheet (bottom) of the tent is sewn onto the walls, preventing anything from crawling in or out of the tent. It also protects campers from drafts. 
Tunnel tentUsually seen in taller tents, this design has several arched poles. 

Tent accessories to take with you

Food prep and dining 

Having plenty of camping cooking equipment consisting of:

– Cooksets

– Utensils

– Portable stoves 

Are essential if you plan to cook during your camping trip. Being organised and prepared with the right ingredients and cooking accessories is a must before you set up camp. Having seating and tables to dine, rest and play games are also highly recommended. 

Sleeping equipment 

From sleeping bags to blow-up mattresses, having the right sleeping equipment during your camping trip is important for comfort and support while you rest. Blow-up mattresses protect you from the hard ground, while sleeping bags, inflatable pillows, and additional blankets for colder weather offer you warmth and solace while being lightweight and easy to pack or carry around. 

Comfort items 

Comfort items can consist of practical items such as first aid kits, a water purifier, and a portable cooling fan or heater. Or it can contain homely items like an outdoor rug, a portable speaker, and a hammock. As long as it doesn’t disrupt your holiday in the great outdoors, bringing comfort items and accessories can make your camping trip much more enjoyable.  

Windbreaks and awnings 

Items like windbreaks and awnings are practical pieces of kit that you should consider bringing with you on your camping trip. Windbreaks provide shelter and protection against the wind, which can be extremely useful when camping on hills, mountains, or near the beach. Awnings add an extension or canopy for your tent, to provide extra sheltered space while you camp. 

Tent spares

Nothing is more frustrating than bending a tent peg or snapping a tent pole, so being prepared with spares for your tent will make your camping experience much more enjoyable and hassle-free. Spares for your tent may include:

– Tent pegs – Maintains the shape of your tent and holds it in place against the wind. 

– Tent poles – Creates a rigid skeleton that stands up to high winds. 

– Tent repair kits – For sealing and repairing rips and holes in your tent and inflatables. 

– Mallets – To maintain and keep your tent pegs in good shape. 

– Guy lines – A piece of rope to tie a tent wall or tarp to the ground. 

– Tent cleaner and proofer – To keep your tent clean and waterproof. 

Buy the best tent for you 

Now you know everything from the different types of tents and materials, to construction and accessories, you can now browse through our selection of tents and choose the right one for you and your next adventure. 

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