Camping gives you the chance to venture into the great outdoors to relax and unwind. But that’s hard to do when your tent leaks. To get the most out of your camping experience, get the right tent.
Your “home away from home” needs to accomplish many things. It should be easy to set up, and it has to fold up nicely to fit in yourvehicle. Your tent has to stand up to wind and keep you dry. It has to be large enough to fit however many people plan to sleep in it. In short, your tent should be lightweight but strong, sturdy yet collapsible, durable and oh so comfortable! Is this too much to ask?
Not at all. Technological advances in designs and materials have produced some pretty spiffy tents. Today’s camper has a wide selection to choose from. Ask yourself these questions before you pick your tent.
What climates will I camp in?
If you’re planning to camp during the summer only in warm or hot climates where temperatures don’t drop much at night, then a lightweight summer tent with plenty of airflow is what you need. Mesh is worked into the tent material for maximum ventilation. A summer tent typically weights 4 to 8 pounds. It protects you from bugs and gives you the sense of security that comes from having a roof over your head.
Three-season tents are also made for warmer climates, but they’re good for spring, summer, and fall. They’re built to stand up to rain and wind, and they can even withstand some snow. Typically they weigh 5 to 10 pounds.
All-season tents are even stronger. If you plan to camp in the winter too, you’ll need one of these. Designed for versatility, they have more zippers and removable components. For this reason they’re also called convertible tents. You can configure an all-season tent for added ventilation in hot weather or for greater protection from precipitation during rainy months. These tents weigh 6 to 12 pounds.
None of these tents, though, are built for extreme conditions. If you plan to camp in extreme winter conditions – for example, high up in the Rocky Mountains in April or in Alaska in November – then you’ll need a winter or mountaineering tent to protect you from heavier snows and wicked winds.
Who will camp with me?
Will you camp by yourself? With a friend? With your family? Where will everyone sleep? How will everyone fit?
If you’re going by yourself, a one-person tent will do unless you’d like to store some of your belongings in your tent. In that case, get a two-person tent. Likewise, if there are two of you, opt for a three-person tent so you have room to store your clothes and supplies.
A four-person tent for a family of four is do-able, but may be a little tight. If your kids are older, consider multiple tents – one for mom and dad, and one for the kids or teens. Or perhaps a large tent for mom, dad, and baby, and individual one-person tents for each of the other kids. Another option is a large multi-room tent. It takes a little longer to set up, but it accommodates a large family well.
How much room do I have in my car?
Generally, the larger the tent, the bulkier the package when you roll it up. If you have a small car, be sure you can fit your folded or rolled up tent and other camping supplies. Or, consider buying a small trailer to tow your camping gear. Just be sure your car has enough power to pull the load!
Will I be able to carry my tent?
With many camp sites, you simply back in with your vehicle, pull the tent out, and set it up just a few feet away. But there are campgrounds where you have to park in a common area and walk a long distance to get to your site. You’ll have to carry your tent that distance. In this case, the lighter the tent, the better.
Is the tent big enough?
When you see the tent of your dreams set up in the store, never buy it without going in first. Remove your shoes and any sharp, pointy objects you might be carrying and carefully step into the tent. Lay down and stretch out. Do you fit? Is there enough room, or do you have to curl up to fit? You need to be able to fit comfortably inside, without having to stick your feet out the tent door.
What’s it made of?
Generally, tents are made of a lightweight nylon material. Tent poles are made of aluminum or fiberglass. Ask your sales clerk about the strength and durability of the tent of your choice.
How much am I willing to spend?
You can spend anywhere from $15 to $600 or more for a tent. Figure out your budget and your camping needs to narrow down a price range.
One more thing – before you leave the store with your brand new tent, make sure the sales clerk shows you how to set it up. It’s not rocket science, but it sure helps to watch an expert before trying it yourself!