Tents generally fall into four groups:
• Summer and Screen
Summer and screen tents primarily provide shade for summer outings and the large space is perfect for family camping. The roof protects against light summer rains, and large mesh panels in almost every wall keep the insects out and breezes flowing in. While good for summer, the abundant ventilation can result in chilly times in the spring and fall. Also, on models without a complete fly, a combination of wind and rain can mean a wet outing.
Three-season tents offer shelter in spring, summer and fall. Usually, they have numerous options for ventilation such as mesh ceiling panels and windows. Plus, a sturdy rain fly protects against downpours, dampens the wind and holds in heat on cold spring and fall nights.
Some three-season tents are convertible to four-season or winter tents with zippered nylon panels to block the ventilation panels. The drawback is the additional weight of the panels and zippers.
Outfitter tents are designed to be outback lodges or base camps for hunting and fishing. Most of these tents are staked out with an internal framework of poles. Because they are used as portable cabins, guy lines hold sidewalls nearly vertical to maximize headroom. Usually, windows are kept to a minimum. Removable floor panels and a stove jack for the roof allow the use of a wood- burning stove.
Size and Weight
The biggest factor in choosing size and weight is how far you’ll be carrying your tent. If you are primarily a car camper, few tents will be too big and heavy. For backpacking, size and weight need to be carefully considered.
Tent size is usually quantified by how many people can sleep on the floor. “Man” ratings can be misleading, so check the actual floor dimensions of each model. These ratings are based on positioning full-size, 20"- to 25"-wide sleeping pads side by side. Keep in mind, you’ll most likely be lying right next to your tent mates with your sleeping bags touching or even overlapping. If you want more room, select a larger model. Also, look at the floor plan. Some only allow room for campers, while others have nooks and crannies for storing gear and clothes.
If you are car camping or have additional help hauling your tent such as an ATV, horse, or eager friends and family, weight is not a large factor. However, if you are carrying it on your back with a week’s worth of gear, every ounce counts, so look for a lightweight tent.
As you look at each tent, consider if it’s worth its weight. Many three-season models have multiple doors or convertible windows, but each zipper and piece of material adds ounces or even pounds. A four-man tent may have more room, but do you want the extra weight?
Tent Styles and Designs
There are several basic designs and types of tents.
Primarily used in family and summer tents, the umbrella design offers a lot of headroom. Near-vertical sidewalls allow for great ventilation and take advantage of floor space, essentially making the tent a cabin.
Arming yourself with this information will be helpful as you begin your hunt for the right tent for your needs.