Most tents now come with bathtub floors, which keep seams several inches
above the ground, and "no-see-um" mesh to keep out the tiniest
insects. Double-track door zippers let you unzip the fabric door while leaving
a screen in place for insect protection. Color-coding makes setup easier,
though experts still recommend practicing with a new tent at home before
taking it on a trip. Reviewers say to look for the following additional features
when buying a tent:
- Consider your priorities. For family
camping, allow plenty of space for playing inside on rainy days, and
look for good storage to keep everyone's belongings neat. For backpacking,
balance light weight with size; a tent that's light but cramped may not
provide a good night's sleep.
- Bigger isn't always better. A tent
that's too big or too oddly shaped may not fit onto the tent pads at
many campgrounds. Also, the bigger the tent, the harder it may be to stay
warm during cool weather.
- Full-coverage rain flies are best. Quite a few tents increase ventilation by providing only partial-coverage
rain flies that include little awnings over the windows and doors.
Reviewers say these are adequate in a light rain, but can let in driving
rain. It's better to have a rainproof tent that increases ventilation with
cleverly placed vents.
- Factory-taped seams are important
for rain protection. However, tent experts recommend using seam sealer
on a tent periodically anyway. Some inexpensive tents need seam sealing
before the first use.
- Look for plenty of storage pockets
and loops. Both owners and professional reviewers say that built-in
storage makes a big difference in tent livability. Some tents come with
plenty of interior storage, while others make gear lofts available only
at extra cost.
- Ventilation is crucial to minimize
condensation. Look for mesh placed both low on a tent wall and high in
the roof for good airflow. Ideally, you can open and close vent covers
from inside the tent even with the rain fly on. Tents with a rain fly,
known as double-wall tents, usually provide the best combination of ventilation
and storm protection. Single-wall waterproof fabric is usually used only
on tents designed for ultralight backpacking, where a little condensation
isn't as important as light weight. Some hybrid backpacking tents are partly
double-wall, partly single-wall, to balance these factors.
- Double doors are a big convenience. They add ventilation and minimize having to climb over someone else
to enter or exit the tent. They also make it easier to decide how to pitch
the tent to get good views, privacy and resistance to wind and rain.
- Two vestibules
are better than one. You can store gear on one side and cook on the
other if it's raining outside. Large vestibules also let a dog sleep in
protected space, yet outside the tent. Experts recommend a vestibule of
at least 6 square feet, so you can store a pack in it as well as boots.
poles, color-coding and quick clips make for fast setup. Shock-corded
poles fold into sections for compact storage, but unfold quickly to full
length. Clipping the tent to the poles is faster than having to thread
the poles through sleeves. Color coding means that the pole tips are matched
to specific tabs around the grommets where they're supposed to go. Some
tents have the setup instructions printed right on the carry sack, especially
useful for large family tents with lots of pole parts.
- Even lifetime tent warranties
don't cover sun degradation of the fabric. To prevent sun degradation,
canvas is the best tent material, polyester next. Plain nylon has the
least resistance to ultraviolet rays. If a tent is used only a week or
two a year, pitched mostly in the shade, this is less important.
- Aluminum poles are stronger
-- but heavier -- than carbon-fiber poles. Some family tents use steel
poles, which are heavy and eventually rust. Reviews don't recommend tents
that use fiberglass poles, because they're prone to splintering. Variable-diameter
poles are designed to minimize tent weight, putting the largest diameter
where the most strength is needed.
- Single-wall backpacking tents are
lightest. These eliminate the rain fly, making the tent body either
from breathable rainproof fabric or from silicon. Most breathable fabric
tents can't be treated with fire retardant, so they can't be shipped to
some states or to Canada. Silicon fabrics have an electrostatic attraction
to pollen, sand and dust.
- Square footage doesn't tell the whole
story. This measurement is a starting point to help you decide if a
tent is big enough, but also check length to be sure your sleeping bag
or cot will fit. Total interior space (measured in cubic feet) depends
on the tent's shape. A-frame tents less interior space than hoop, dome
and umbrella tents. Within types there's still variation in available space,
so look for a design that maximizes it.
- Headroom is important. For a family
tent, make sure the headroom allows the tallest person in the group
to stand up inside. For a backpacking tent, make sure there's space for
everyone to sit up. It's possible to get dressed without sitting up, but
it's not comfortable. Being able to sit up comfortably also makes rainy
days inside the tent much more tolerable.
- Stakes and guy lines that are brightly
colored are easier to see. Some tent stakes even have a reflective
coating so you can move around the tent site with a flashlight without
tripping over guy lines. Colored stakes also make it easier to avoid leaving
some behind when you pack up to leave. We found many owner-written reviews
recommending replacing cheap metal stakes (which are prone to bending)
with heavy-duty plastic stakes.
- A footprint or groundcloth protects
the tent floor. Most tents have an optional footprint you can buy,
that's already shaped to fit under the tent with a margin of a few inches
all around. (Counter-intuitively, the tent footprint must be a little smaller
than the tent, not larger.) To save money, you can make your own out
of Tyvek or 4-mil black plastic.