The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Camping Tent – Foundry Outdoors
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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Camping Tent

Choosing a camping tent is a breeze if you follow these simple guidelines.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in central Montana on a spring bear hunt 50 miles from the nearest town. The drive yielded beautiful vistas and open country. It was paradise if I’ve ever seen it. Green grass in all directions, flowing creeks meandering through the prairie, and snow capped mountains in the distance. Needless to say my hopes were high as I pulled off the state highway onto the minimum maintenance forest service road. After arriving at my camp site, I arranged what gear I had brought for my week’s stay. With a crackling warmth of a fire and the smell of pine in the air, it was one of those nights that cleanses the soul. Little did I know how my night was about to change.

At some point that night it began to snow. Keep in mind that back home my tomatoes had been planted for a few weeks. It may be redundant to say snow was not on my mind as I headed north. By the end of the night snow was surely on my mind, and on my hat, sleeping bag, and boots. Poor seams and tent too well-worn for this type of adventure attributed to the leakage that would keep me awake in the wet cold. Even after rising to start a fire things didn’t get much better. Eventually my tent collapsed beneath the weight of the snow and all my gear was soaked. The near heaven of the previous day had disappeared beneath a blanket of heavy snow.

After analyzing the situation, I fully realized the snow had not ruined my trip. Snow is part of the experience and something you have to deal with in the mountains. My trip had headed downhill because of the gear I had decided to take along, specifically my tent. Had I brought one of my more robust tents I would not have had any problems. As it was, the tent I decided to take was too worn out for the adventure, and taught me a hard-earned lesson on the importance of inspecting my gear.

Although this misadventure doesn’t necessarily embody my typical camping experience, it does show the importance of choosing a camping tent that fits your situation. Not all tents are created equal, and knowing what to look for may help you avoid a situation like I encountered in Montana. Whether you are looking to buy your first tent, wanting to upgrade, or looking for a specific tent for a new set of adventures, hopefully you will find this guide to choosing a camping tent useful.

Weight

Perhaps the first aspect of your new tent you’ll want to consider is its weight. Tents come in a variety of weights and you’ll need to find the tent that weighs the correct amount for your activities.

For backpackers the obvious choice is to buy a lightweight tent. Today there are a variety of tents that can accommodate the lightweight needs of backpackers. In fact, many tents now weigh less than 5 pounds, and are compact enough to stow away in a pack. These tents are generally smaller, and offer less protection from the elements. One thing to look for in a small tent is adequate ventilation. Ventilation is particularly important for small tents because condensation from your breath will have a bigger impact in less space. In poorly ventilated tents you can wake up thinking it rained only to find out your breath had condensated and moisture had collected on the inside of your tent.

If you are camping closer to your vehicle you don’t have to worry about weight quite as much. While you may not find enjoyment in tossing around a 40 pound canvas tent, many tents in the 10 pound range are available. With heavier tents you generally get more room and more protection from the weather. They also may offer perks such as multiple rooms or porch areas. The porch areas are extremely handy since they allow you to kick off muddy boots and shoes before entering your tent. However, the heavier your tent is, the more you will be bound to established campgrounds and roadside camping. 

Party Size

After deciding your weight range, you’ll need to decide on the number of people you’d like to accommodate. Will you be heading off to the woods solo? Maybe you’ll be bringing the family along? These days they have every size of tent you can imagine.

Large TentFor a single person the pup tent, or scout tent, isn’t a bad option. They are generally light, easy to setup, and can provide for a cozy night’s rest. On the other hand, some tents are built to sleep up to 8 people. These tents are heavy and take extra setup time, but if you are inviting a large group to camp out, they might be worth the hassle.

Probably the most popular tent option is the 4 person tent. These tents generally provide a nice mix of portability and room.They are ideal for the family weekend getaway to your local hot spot. You also may be able to haul one into the backcountry if you need the extra room. The size you can haul will depend on your physical endurance, the terrain, and the available space in your pack.  

Season

The final consideration when choosing a camping tent is the season you will be camping in. While many people believe camping is solely a summer activity, the truth is any time of the year is good for sleeping outdoors. In fact some of the best camping can be done in colder weather as long as you have adequate gear.

For a good summer tent, look or one that provides good ventilation. On a balmy night, a cool breeze can really help put you to sleep. Good summer tents also need plenty of nylon netting. Netting not only lets the breeze it, but will keep pesky bugs out as well. Nothing takes the fun out of a night out like swarms of mosquitos.

Many tents on the market make good 3 season tents. These tents have enough ventilation for summer, but can be zipped up trap some extra heat on cool spring and fall nights. As the story in the introduction mentioned, when camping in these seasons you must have a tent that can stand up to not only rain, but snow as well. Here is where more poles come in handy. More poles in the tent’s structure can provide more strength against snow build up. On the other hand you may opt for an A-frame style tent. This design is best as shedding snow so you won’t have to worry about snow crushing your sleeping quarters.

Several companies also offer winter camping tents. These tents are robust and must be able to withstand cold and snow. Personally, at this point I choose to go with a heavy duty canvas tent. They may be expensive and heavy, but I have slept comfortably in them with temperatures dipping below 0. Winter camping is a blast but requires the right gear.

All in all, choosing a camping tent isn’t a huge hassle. Finding the right tent for your pursuits is the trick. Backpackers balk at the heavy tents, while some folks may need more room or amenities. Everyone has their own Goldilocks zone. Before deciding on what tent you’ll buy, make sure to think about the weight of the tent, the number of people you’ll sleep, and the season it will generally be used in. If you do, you’ll avoid the pitfalls of taking a tent that will fail when you need it most. Doing so can help you avoid a poor night's sleep and a misadventure. Happy camping!

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