The tent you buy will depend on the activity (hiking, fishing, family camping, biking, kayaking, horseback riding), the climate, and the terrain.
Weight versus comfort is one of the significant issues with outdoor equipment. Nowhere is this more obvious than when choosing a tent. It’s comfortable to curl up in a nice roomy tent (especially when on a family camping trip, and most especially when the weather is foul and you are tent-bound for a few hours or more). But what is comfortable in camp may be very uncomfortable on the trail if it is heavy and you have to carry it.
Matching Your Tent to Your Trip
Before choosing a tent, consider whether you will carry it or be carried for you. (And if you are going to bring it, how many hours a day will you be walking?) Depending on the kind of trip, you might choose a light, small tent (comfortable on the trail, but a bit tight in camp) or a heavy, roomy tent (nice to live in, not so much fun to carry.)
- Hikers and backpackers need the lightest possible tent that meets their requirements regarding climate and terrain.
- Trekkers using porters can take a heavier, more giant tent. Note, however, that the porters you hire will have a load limit; the more weight you take, the more porters you will need, and the more money you will spend.
- Cyclists and kayakers can get by with something a little heavier, but don’t go crazy: Your tent still has to pack nice and small to fit in the panniers or the hull.
- Equestrians or trekkers on a stock-picking trip are in luck: They can take the latest version of camping’s Taj Mahal.
- In or near car campgrounds, family campers can choose large tents for comfort and room for the kids to move around and play games in bad weather.
How Climate and Terrain Affect Choosing a Tent
Other issues to consider when choosing a tent include the climate and terrain you will be traveling.
- In a small number of tent sites, campers must pitch tents on wooden platforms to protect fragile ecosystems or give campers a dry place to sleep on the ground that can be soggy. Free-standing tents are more accessible to pitch on wooden media than tents that must be staked.
- Free-standing tents are also easier to throw on rock and on hard surfaces such as scree and gravel, where it is impossible to put a stake in the ground, and they are easier to pitch on sand (kayakers take note) because stakes can be hard to fix into the soft sand. (Of course, there are other options for staking in soft ground, such as sand-bags, but they are cumbersome).
- A low-profile, rounded tent with three poles is more stable in strong winds than a peaked tent with only one or two bars.
- A tent with lots of ventilation (large areas of mosquito netting) is lighter to carry and allows air to circulate in hot, humid conditions. But it lets heat escape so that it wouldn’t be a good choice for winter.
- A tent with a vestibule gives you a place to put wet gear and keep it out of the weather without having to bring dirty boots, and we rain jackets inside.
One good rule of thumb
Choose a tent that offers the most comfort for what you will be doing most of the time. It means that If you are spending a lot of time in camp and fishing on a lake, you should get a big comfortable tent. If you will be spending eight hours a day carrying the tent, forego the in-camp comfort and choose the lightest tent possible so you are comfortable when walking. And if your tent will be taken (by bike, kayak, horse, sag wagon, or porter), be sure it will fit into the bags and packs available for carrying it.