The 15 Minute Guide to Buying a Tent

Overwhelmed by all the different camping tents out there? Here’s everything you need to know to buy a tent in just 15 minutes of reading!


1. Tent Sizes

Tents come in different sizes, but are normally sized as One Person, Two Person, etc. Bear in mind that each manufacturer calculates sleeping capacity differently.  To get a true comparison, you need to look at how many square inches of floor space the tent has.

1 Person Tents:

These are great choices if you are going to be backpacking alone because they are the lightest weight. If you are car camping or won’t have to carry the tent far, then get a 2-person tent.  You’ll be able to use the tent when camping with friends.

This one-person tent has 21.33 sq. feet of floor area

This one-person tent has 21.33 sq. feet of floor area

2 Person Tents:

Remember that all of your gear takes up space in the tent! If you are car camping and weight isn’t such a big issue, you might want to opt for a 3-person tent so you have more room. It also depends on how big you are.  I’ve had 2 moms and 2 kids in my 2-person tent and be fine, but we are all small.

This 2-person tent has 34.5 sq. feet of floor space

This 2-person tent has 34.5 sq. feet of floor space

3 Person Tents:

Again, remember that manufacturers size tents differently.  It is really important to look at the floor surface area to get an accurate estimate of how big the tent is. If the people sleeping in the tent are larger in size, you might want a roomier 3-person tent or consider sleeping in two tents.  No one likes sleeping in a crowd!

This 3-person tent has 44.4 sq. feet of sleeping area

This 3-person tent has 44.4 sq. feet of sleeping area

Family Tents (4 to 8+ People):

I personally don’t like these giant family tents.  Why?  Because when camping in the wilderness, it is hard to find a spot of land for pitching a huge tent which is perfectly flat and rock-free.  You’ll find it easier to pitch two tents than one huge one.  One time it makes sense for a giant family tent is when you will be in a campground which charges per tent.  You can significantly reduce your camping fees by using one tent instead of two. Also, if you want to be able to stand up in your tent, have things like privacy screens, and be comfy in the tent while waiting out a rainstorm, then get a big family tent.  These come with lots of features and extras.

This 8-person tent has 104 sq. feet of floor area

This 8-person tent has 104 sq. feet of floor area


2. Tent Weight

Tent weight only matters if you will have to carry the tent for long distances, such as when backpacking to base camp.

Remember that weight is relative to size.  When comparing tents, look at floor space vs. weight.  This will give you an idea of how lightweight the tent really is.

What Is Considered Lightweight?

  • 1-Person, 3-Season Tent: 1.5-2.5 pounds is considered lightweight
  • 2-Person, 3-Season Tent: 3-5.5 pounds is considered lightweight
  • 3Person, 3-Season Tent: 4-6 pounds is considered lightweight
  • 4-Person, 3-Season Tent: 5-8 pounds is considered lightweight


3.  What Type of Tent Do You Want?

There are a many different types to choose from, but not every type will be right for your needs…

Pop Up Tents:

These tents are usually really cheap and have the appeal of being easy to put up.  But they generally suck at withstanding wind and rain.  In general, do not buy a pop up tent!

Most pop up tents are really cheap and flimsy!

Most pop up tents are really cheap and flimsy!


Double Wall Tents:

These consist of an inner tent with a waterproof floor which is set up with poles.  Then a rain fly goes over the inner tent.

Double wall tents have the advantage of being very durable, resistant to the elements, and don’t have issues with condensation building up.  The disadvantage of double wall tents is that they are heavier.

A double wall tent

A double wall tent


Single Wall Tents:

These tents don’t have an exterior rain fly.  This makes them a lot lighter in weight.  However, because they should be made of a waterproof material which doesn’t always breathe well, single-wall tents can build up condensation within them.

It is no fun to wake up to a giant puddle on the tent floor!  So make sure any single wall tent you get has good ventilation.

A single wall tent

A single wall tent


4.  Factor in the Shape of the Tent

The shape of the tent actually matters for numerous reasons.  Firstly, the shape of the tent will affect how stable it is in extreme weather.  The shape also affects how much head room you get, as well as the space/weight ratio of the tent.  Finally, the shape of the tent affects how complex it is to get the tent up.


Ridge Tents:

These are the standard A-shaped tents that we associate with traditional tents.

  • Easy to put up
  • Not a lot of head room
  • Fairly stable
  • Deflects snow and water well
Ridge tent

Ridge tent


Dome Tents:

With these tents, the flexible poles criss-cross over each other to make a dome shape.

  • Easy to put up
  • Lots of head room
  • Fairly stable
  • Deflects snow and water well
Dome tent

Dome tent


Geodesic Tents:

These tents have multiple criss-crossing poles.  There are also semi-geodesic tents with less criss-crossing of the poles.

  • Can be really complicated to set up
  • Usually have lots of head room
  • Are very stable in inclement weather
Geodesic tent

Geodesic tent


Tunnel Tents:

These tents have poles which curve but don’t criss-cross over each other.  They must be pegged down.

  • When staked down well, are generally very stable
  • Require a lot of space around them for the stakes and lines
  • Have a high ratio of interior space to floor size
Tunnel tent

Tunnel tent


Vis-à-vis Tents:

The key difference with these tents is that they have two sleeping areas which are separated by an opening in the middle which is usually tall enough to stand up in.

  • Good for privacy and small families
  • Require more space for setting up
  • Can be dome or tunnel shape
Vis a vis tent

Vis a vis tent


Cabin-Style Tents:

These tents have vertical walls to increase head space and living space.  You can also find them with lots of features like room dividers.

  • Require a lot of space to put up
  • Aren’t usually very stable
  • Have lots of room
  • Great for large groups for families
Cabin tent

Cabin tent


5. Camping in the Rain?

Even if you think it won’t rain during camping, still pack like it will pour!  Rainstorms can come very quickly in the mountains and beaches too.  To make sure your tent is rainproof, look at:


Hydrostatic Head:

Hydrostatic Head (HH) is a measurement of how waterproof the tent’s material is.  As a general rule, tents with higher HH ratings are heavier.  However, there are some ultralight backpacking tents made from hi-tech materials that are both lightweight and very waterproof.  But of course these come at a high price tag!

If it may rain when you are camping…

  • The hydrostatic head of the tent floor should be at least 3000
  • And the hydrostatic head of the tent should be at least 2000



Tents are rated as 1-season, 2-season, 3-season, or 4-season.

  • 1-Season Tents: These won’t protect you from the wind or rain at all! They are really only suited for hanging out on the beach. They will be made from mesh or mosquito netting.
  • 2-Season Tents: These tents provide minimal protection from wind and maybe a bit of rain. They are only suitable for situations like festivals or camping in mild weather when you know it won’t rain or you are prepared to sleep in the car if it does start raining.
  • 3-Season Tents: These are the most popular choices. They can withstand rain and wind well.
  • 4-Season Tents: These tents are made out of thicker materials that help keep your body heat in the tent. They also are shaped in a way so snow will fall off the tent instead of building up on top.


6. Now Look At All the Extras!

Once you’ve factored in all of the 5 main components of the tent, you can start looking at features.  Here are just some of the ones you might want:

  • Number of Doors: Some tents have a front and rear door.
  • Vestible: This is really handy so you can keep your boots and other stinky gear out of the tent but still protected from rain.
  • Pockets: Keep your tent organized J
  • Lantern Hook: A little loop at the top of the tent allows you to hang a lantern there.


7.  Price!

An ultra-lightweight, 3-season tent with a high hydrostatic head rating will cost you anywhere from $50 to $700.

Yes, there really is that much price difference in tents!

So decide how much you will really be using the tent.  And how light, durable, and weatherproof you really need it to be.  Then pick one that fits your needs and budget.

My first tent cost me about $50 and it served me well on backpacking trips in 6 different countries, various mountain peaks, and a few rainstorms.    Would I like a lighter tent?  Yes.  Do I want to worry about my tent getting stolen when I leave it pitched near a village?  No.  So I’m fine with a cheap tent!

Ready to start shopping for tents? Here are some of my top picks below!


Best Budget-Friendly Camping Tent: Coleman Sundome 4P Tent

  • 59” center height
  • Easy setup with 2 poles
  • Interior pockets
  • Good airflow
  • Buy Here

Coleman Sundome 4P Tent

Best Budget-Friendly Backpacking Tent: NatureHike CloudUp

This is the tent I have.  Read my full review of the NatureHike CloudUp here.

  • 3.8 pounds (2 person)
  • Double layer, single door
  • 4000 hydrostatic head fly and groundsheet
  • Buy Here

ultralight tent naturehike cloudup 2 review

Best 1-Person Backpacking Tent: MSR Hubba NX Tent

  • 2 lb. 7 oz
  • Double wall
  • Lots of interior room plus vestibule
  • Built-in rain gutter, cross-ventilating rainfly
  • 40 denier ripstop nylon
  • Buy Here

MSR Hubba NX Tent


Best 2-Person Backpacking Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2

  • 3 lb. 2oz.
  • 29 sq. feet floor space, 42” head height
  • Vestibule
  • Made from ultralight silicon with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • Quick and easy setup
  • Buy Here

big agnes tent


Best 3-Person Backpacking Tent: North Face VE 25

  • 9 lbs. 8 oz.
  • 4-season
  • 48 sq. feet floor space, 48” head space
  • 40 denier canopy and floor, 70 denier rainfly
  • Buy Here

North Face VE 25


Best Cabin Tent for Family Camping: Coleman Weathermaster Screened Tent

  • 6 person, two room
  • 17×9 foot floor space, 6 feet 10 inches center height
  • WeatherTec System will keep you dry
  • Floorless screened patio area
  • Buy Here

coleman weathermaster tent


Best Tent for Extreme Weather Camping: Mountain Hardware EV 2 Tent

  • 5 lb. 4 oz.
  • 2-person, 4-season
  • 33 sq. feet floor space
  • 5 welded adjustable zippered vents with mesh and canopy panels for ventilation
  • Integrated vestibule

mountain hardware ev 2 tent

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How to Buy a Tent


Featured image credit: “Campsite near mountain peak” (CC BY 2.0) by  Kitty Terwolbeck 

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