US Outdoor Store
US Outdoor Store
Mick Jagger probably sang about it more passionately than this guide, but the subject matter here
is (sort of) the same: Gimme Shelter.

While most tents are a combination of poles and fabric, they come in so many different flavors, that we figured a little guidance in choosing the right one could help keep it from being an overwhelming decision. This guide will review the most common styles of tents and what activity they’re best used for, as well as sizes, construction, materials, and a few other things to consider. (Remember, this is only a general guide, so if you have more specific questions, be sure to call or come into our shop and talk to our in-the-know staff.)



For folks who like to drive up to their campsite or walk only a short distance to it, a traditional camping tent is probably best. Camping tents focus more on comfort and convenience than they do on saving weight. Because camping tents feature more space and more accessories, they’re generally heavier than backpacking and mountaineering tents. More headroom? You got it. More gear storage? Of course. Tents with showers and
bathrooms? Oh, yeah—they exist. Room to sleep your every growing family of kids and dogs? Yep, there are options for you too.


Backpacking tents are similar to camping tents, but backpacking requires carrying everything you’ll need during your trek on your back, so saving weight is a major consideration. Manufacturers keep weight down on backpacking tents by utilizing materials like carbon fiber for tent poles and lightweight synthetic fabrics for the rest. These tents don’t often feature as many convenient accessories (like dozens of clips, covers, and pockets) as car camping tents, but they make up for it by keeping the weight as low as possible.


Like backpacking tents, mountaineering tents are generally simpler and lighter weight than traditional car camping tents. Unlike backpacking tents, however, mountaineering tents are designed to stand tough in the harshest winter conditions: icy cold, heavy snow, and strong wind. They generally feature a single-wall construction, meaning the tent body and waterproof fly are one piece of fabric, rather than featuring a detachable, waterproof rainfly. This simple design is both easier to set up in difficult weather and less likely to fail.



For camping in the spring, summer, and fall, 3-season tents are generally all you’ll need. They usually feature a double-wall construction, meaning a tent body and a detachable, waterproof rainfly. Tent bodies are generally made with both lightweight fabric and mesh, offering both protection and ventilation, while the outer rainfly (in case of rain or light snow) is waterproof and detachable.


4-season tents aren’t exactly good for four seasons. They’re not even good for three. In fact, they’re pretty much good for one season: winter. Accordingly, most mountaineering tents are generally considered 4-season tents as well. As such, they share the same characteristics: protection from cold, snow, and wind. They’ll generally feature tougher fabrics, more durable poles, and if they have a fly, it reaches all the way to the ground to keep snow out.


Some tents are billed these days as extended season or 3+ season. It’s a straightforward concept: While they’re suitable for 3-season use, they can also be used (somewhat) in wintry conditions. They’ll generally have fewer mesh panels, more or stronger poles, and a rainfly that offers more coverage.



Many tents today are heavily influenced by the classic dome design, and each tent manufacturer has a unique take on it. For tents, dome designs provide a practical blend of strength, space, and simplicity.


If you’re on the taller side or prefer to change standing up, cabin-style tents might be exactly what you’re looking for. Even though cabin-style tents feature almost completely vertical walls for maximum peak height, these tents are also heavy, hard to pack and tend to be on the larger side. Perfect for car camping or family trips, but harder to carry in if your campsite is a bit of a walk.


If you’re in need an ultra light option, or just don’t want to deal with a tent, there are plenty of alternative, minimalist shelters out there for you to choose from.


Using a tarp is a great option if you’re more of an experienced outdoorsman. Tarps are lightweight, durable, easy to pack and perfect for use in a variety of conditions. If properly set up tarps are a great addition to your pack, but can be an extremely intimidating to a novice.


Originally designed for emergency situations, bivvies are made to fit over your sleeping bag to keep you protected from the elements. When combined with a tarp, bivy set ups are great for those that want to cut back on weight. But bivvies have multiple downsides to them as well. Bivvies have a narrow claustrophobic fit and though waterproof, they tend to not be very breathable which can cause condensation to build up on your sleeping bag.


Then there’s the hammock, while hammocks are a relatively new addition to the shelter category, they’ve always been one of my favorite camping must haves. No matter the terrain, if you can find a couple of trees that are close together, you can set up a hammock.


Figuring out what size tent you should get can be just as confusing (if not even more so), than figuring out the type of tent you need. Whether you’re looking for an extra cozy, ultra light one person tent for yourself, or a roomy cabin tent that can fit your entire family, the sleeping capacity on tents can be deceiving.

One person tents are pretty self explanatory, but depending on your size and the amount of gear you’re bringing, a two person tent might be a better fit. Most two person tents have enough room to fit two very snug, cuddly people, but can work better as a one person tent with extra room. I prefer to have extra room in my tents so I usually go with a two person capacity tent instead of a one person.

If you prefer roomier tents just remember to add an extra person to your capacity. For example, if two people are going camping consider looking at a three person tent for a little bit of extra space. If you’re a larger person be sure to look at the floor dimensions and height measurements of your tent as well, some tents aren’t long enough for those of us that are over or around the 6 foot tall mark.



Single wall tents aren’t as common as double wall tents but are the best choice for most mountaineering adventures. Single wall tents are incredibly lightweight with a rugged, weather proof construction and a fast, easy set up that’s ideal for precarious mountain camping. The biggest downside to single walled tents is their lack of breathability that can cause condensation build up inside the tent.


For the majority of outdoor adventures, a classic double walled tent is perfect. Double walled tents have a mesh interior wall with a waterproof fly that keeps out the weather without sacrificing breathability. Though double walled tents usually require a little bit more work to set up, their versatile design is perfect for a wide range of conditions. If the weather is hot you can position the fly for increased airflow, if it starts raining that same fly can be used to keep you and your gear dry.


When looking at tents and more specifically their construction, you’ll start to see the word denier come up a lot. Denier is a fabric measurement that lets you know how durable or lightweight a fabric is. Most ultralight weight tents use a less durable, low denier fabric that cuts down on weight, while most camping tents use a burly high denier fabric. The higher the denier, the heavier and more durable your tent will be.



Doors are an important thing to take into consideration. While the amount of doors that your tent has doesn’t really matter if you’re only one person, they can make a world of difference if multiple people are sleeping in the tent. Additional doors add weight to the overall tent, but having multiple exit options means that you won’t have to crawl over anyone if you’re the first person up in the morning.


The way that a tent’s poles are structured can make a big difference for how hard or easy it is to set up your tent. Most family or car camping tents are freestanding; this means that you don’t need stakes to set up the tent. Freestanding tents are also easy to move around if you change your mind and want to move to a smoother location. All you have to do is pick it up and move it. The fewer poles that your tent has, the faster you’ll be able to set up. Carbon fiber and aluminum poles are stronger than fiberglass poles, but they also tend to be more expensive.


Most tents have an area outside the tent that’s still covered by the tent’s fly, this area is called the vestibule and is great for storing excess gear or dirty shoes. To reduce weight, a lot of ultra light and mountaineering specific tents don’t include vestibules, but for car camping vestibules offer a great way to store your pack or put on your boots without getting dirt in the tent.


Most tents have an area outside the tent that’s still covered by the tent’s fly, this area is called the vestibule and is great for storing excess gear or dirty shoes. To reduce weight, a lot of ultra light and mountaineering specific tents don’t include vestibules, but for car camping vestibules offer a great way to store your pack or put on your boots without getting dirt in the tent.



Whether you want some extra protection from rocks, uneven ground, roots, or all of the above, a simple footprint is great way to add longevity to your tent. Footprints go under your tent and add extra protection where you need it most. While footprints cost extra, they are way cheaper than buying a brand new tent, and they’re designed to fit your tent exactly so they won’t catch water like a tarp or generic ground cloth.


Another good way to add some longevity to your tent is by getting a pawprint. Pawprints are similar to footprints except they’re designed to go on the inside of your tent. These liners are machine washable and are a great way to keep your tent protected from dogs, shoes, and dirt.


Gear lofts are an easy way to add extra storage space to any tent. While the majority of tents will feature one or two interior pockets for your small essentials like a book, snacks or phone, gear lofts function like a mesh shelf and can hold a larger volume of gear.


Many higher end tents come with loops on the outside of the tent for attaching guy lines. Guy lines allow you to tie down your tent in case of heavy winds for increased stability. You don’t have to use guy lines, but if you do it’s a good idea to set them up before night falls so that you won’t be stuck trying to figure it out in the dark.


Stakes and anchors are funny things, like pens or lighters, they tend to disappear and reappear when you least expect it, so it’s always good to bring along some spares. If you’re going to be camping in loose dirt, sand, or snow, it might be a good idea to pick up some tent spikes that are specifically designed for those conditions.

Another thing to keep handy is a tent repair kit. Whether you get a tear in your tent or snap a pole, you want to make sure that you can fix it on the fly. Coglans, Coleman, MSR, and Gear Aid all offer a variety of tent repair kits. The most important things to have in your repair kit are small fabric patches and pole splints.

Email Offers:
Sign up now to receive special offers & discounts!
Thank you for subscribing.
Please enter a valid Email address.
Hang out with us on:
  • Blog
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Instagram

U.S. Outdoor Store Inc BBB Business Review