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Tent Buying Guide

Shopping for a tent is like shopping for a home: there are dozens of styles, designs, sizes, and features to consider. In this guide, gear editor Kristin Hostetter shows you how to pick the right one for any outing.
Gear School 09 Tent illo 445x260Gear School 09 Tent illo 445x260

Tent Features
Here’s the lowdown on the most common features you’ll find on tents.

Structure: Freestanding vs. Non-Freestanding
Freestanding
Freestanding tents can be erected without the use of stakes, which makes them easier to pitch and move around camp to find the perfect flat spot. (Note: All tents should be staked down to prevent them from blowing away, and to achieve maximum performance.)

Non-Freestanding
These tents rely on stakes to create the structure, so pitching in sand and snow requires special attention. They’re typically lighter than freestanding tents and can often fit into tight spots.

Doors: One vs. Two
One
A tents with just one door is lighter than a double-door tent, but unless it’s positioned at one of the ends, one person will be crawling over the other to get in and out of the tent.

Two
Two doors really boost the comfort/livability factor of a tent, especially when each door is protected by its own vestibule; this allows each camper to have their own storage space.

Pole Material: Fiberglass vs. Aluminum vs. Carbon Fiber
Fiberglass
These are found on inexpensive, light-duty tents. Compared to the other two types, they are cheaper, heavier, and less durable.

Aluminum
The vast majority of good backpacking tents use aluminum poles, which are strong, light, and easy to replace.

Carbon Fiber
Found on ultra-high-end tents, these are super-light and super-strong, but not as durable as aluminum. They’re also more expensive.

Pole Connection: Sleeves vs. Clips
Sleeves
When poles feed into continuous sleeves along the tent body, a very solid structure is created that is best equipped to handle wind. But, setup can take longer and airflow between the tent body and the fly is impeded, so condensation can become an issue without proper ventilation.

Clips
Setup is fast and easy with plastic clips that attach tent to poles. Airflow is superior, but stability in high winds is sacrificed.

Wall Construction: Double vs. Single

Double-Wall
A traditional double-wall tent uses an inner canopy (to sleep in) and a rainfly (to keep water out). Double-walls tend to be less expensive, drier in wet conditions, and have better ventilation.

Single-Wall
Single-walls use one layer of waterproof/breathable fabric, which makes them lighter and often easier to set up. Condensation can be a problem, so look for vents or a hybrid design (that uses a partial rainfly, often over the front door) to help reduce condensation.

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