Tents buying guide

Off on a family holiday, or an epic camping trip on the road? There are a wide array of tents to choose from these days, and getting the right shape, size and material is an important part of making the most of the outdoors.
Consider why you are buying a tent. The perfect tent for a festival weekend won’t be the same as the best tent for a challenging hiking holiday, so once you’ve identified your camping needs, you should have a much narrower easier task.
Whether you want a one-person backpacking tent that you can take across the Alps or a six-person dome tent that will keep the family happy during those unpredictable holiday showers, think about how much space you need, how long you’ll be using the tent for and what the weather conditions are likely to be. The type of tent you buy really depends on whether you want a long-term investment or something affordable for a one-off camping trip.
So if you want to find the tent that will suit you best, follow Tesco Direct’s tent buying guide and find the right one for you.

Basic types of tent

Tents come in varying shapes and sizes, but there are some main types to look out for. Consider things like ease of assembly, sitting and standing room and whether you want an attached ground sheet. Also be aware that larger models may need two or three people to put them up.

Ridge tents

The traditional formation in an ‘A’ frame, ridge tents are constructed with a main central pole and traditionally made of canvas. They have reduced sitting room, due to the sloped sides, but are fine for a one-man camping trip.

Pop-up tents

An easy option for last-minute weekends away, instant tents come with a flexible pole structure already inside, so that when you shake or pop them out, the tent erects itself and you only have to peg it down. A popular choice for no-fuss festival tents.

Geodesic tents

In ‘geodesic’ tents, the poles are angled across the surface so that they’re more stable in stormy conditions and there’s less stress on any particular part of the structure. This makes them more suitable for active campers and anyone who likes exploring the great outdoors.

Dome and tunnel tents

A lot more modern in design, dome tents are now the most common type of tent, using flexible poles which cross each other in the centre. The tunnel design is an extended version of this, but with the poles forming a series of hoops. These often have good porch areas which can be used for cooking or storing wet gear and they tend to be lighter than geodesic designs, so may be less suitable for windy conditions.

Vis-à-vis and pod tents

Family holidays often demand more space and separate rooms, and new tents have emerged that combine different structures and styles. Vis-à-vis usually means those which have facing compartments, while pod-style tents can have four or five sections coming off the middle. As large family tents, they can provide a lot more flexibility in terms of living space and are better if you’re camping for a week or two weeks at a time, as they can be a lot more pleasant to hang out in. However, the pitch size will obviously be bigger and you might want to check for campsite restrictions before taking a larger tent away with you.

Tent capacity

Tents can range from 13 square foot for a capsule backpacking tent, to a six-person tunnel tent that covers more like 100 square foot. However, size is not necessarily the same thing as tent capacity.

You’ll notice that manufacturers state ‘two-man’ or ‘two-berth’ when describing a tent, but you should examine the actual measurements of the tent to decide if it’s big enough for you. Most people will need around 2.5ft width and about 7ft length to be able to sleep, but also factor in enough ‘living space’ to be able to store clothes and other items, move around and sit up comfortably. You may find that you need a four person tent for just the two of you, especially if you want to bring extra comforts like air beds.

When travelling with children, a large family tent may need to accommodate things like a travel cot and changing mat, so you might want to allow an extra ‘berth’ for this. As children get older, they will probably want separate rooms or even their own tent. Think about how much privacy you will want when you’re all living in close quarters – do you want separated bedrooms and living areas, or is an adjacent sleeping section with a mesh wall enough for your family?

Don’t forget to check the ‘peak height’ – that is, the tallest point inside the tent. However, this height may not be reflected across the rest of the tent, so check whether you’ll have room to stand up in different spots, according to the design.

Tent ventilation and material

It’s important to stay cool in a tent, especially as a warm, enclosed environment can create lots of opportunities for condensation to build up and get damp into your gear.

As far as materials go, natural fibres like cotton and canvas are the most breathable and also the lightest. Modern canvas tents are now made with cotton fibres, and are warmer in cold weather. The material also insulates against noise and is less prone to flapping in the wind. However, as the fabric is heavier, this adds to the weight you will be carrying while on the move. Cotton canvas is not waterproof until it has been ‘weathered’ or soaked with water first. You will also need to take care to dry/air it properly after camping.

Tents made with nylon or polyester can be equally cool, although this usually means they need to have two layers – an inner tent and an outer tent – which should have a good gap in between. The inner layer will be made of mesh fabric or have low-level ventilation panels to let the air circulate, while a fly-sheet protects the tent from the weather. All the condensation should then settle on the inside of the fly-sheet, well away from your gear.

Waterproofing and wind protection

One of the biggest considerations when buying a tent is protection against the elements. Stormy conditions can make or break a camping trip, so look for high-quality tents which have a good waterproof rating. This is the ‘HH’ or ‘Hydrostatic Head’ number which should be detailed on the product description.

If you’re buying a standard polyester or nylon tent, they should be no lower than HH1000mm to be classed as waterproof, and this is generally ok if you’re looking for a three season tent to use in spring, summer and autumn in the UK. However, if you want to avoid the risk of leaks, are thinking of camping during winter or tackling more extreme weather elsewhere in the world, you should look for a rating of 2000 – 3000mm for a highly waterproof tent.

Tent weight

Tent weight is crucial if you’re going to be transporting your tent on your back or even just setting it up and dismantling several times on holiday. Light backpacking tents should be around 3 to 4 pounds ideally, with anything over 5 feeling a lot heavier. Large family tents can be around 8 pounds for a four-person, and up to 26 pounds for a six-person, depending on whether you have split compartments.

You’ll notice that minimum and maximum weights are often given. Minimum means the weight of just the tent itself - so the canopy, fly-sheet and poles. Maximum weight includes things like guy ropes and stakes that you will generally need to take with you. If you’re taking a separate groundsheet, or tent footprint, this will add extra weight (up to 1 pound).