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How to Buy a Tent

How to Buy a Tent: Camping Guide

Whether your have decided to upgrade and replace your current tent, or are new to the world of camping and looking to purchase your first ever tent, there is what can be a bewildering range available on the market.  They differ in all manner of ways, from size to features, and the costs can also vary wildly.  As with any such purchase, of course a general rule of thumb is that the more you spend, the better quality you will get, but you do have to consider your needs, capabilities and practicalities just as much as budget.

You can literally buy a small, 1 man affair from some of the biggest chains from £15, or go right through the specialist suppliers into the £1,000 range, so do your research.  Choosing the right tent for your needs will make the entire camping experience pleasurable, easier and more fun, but select the wrong model, and your trip may well turn into the holiday from hell.

The first thing to consider when looking at tents is capacity and portability.  Obviously a family holiday will require comfort, likely be driven to your holiday spot, and need the space (and therefore size, weight and bulk) of a large, multiple person tent.  A hiking trip or trek on the other hand will warrant something lighter and smaller that is easy to transport!

It makes sense to look at purchasing a tent with a slightly higher people capacity than you will generally need to ensure you have enough space for storage and general living as well as sleeping accommodations.  Sleeping spaces do tend to be measured by the size of an average sleeping bag, so do allow breathing space if you feel it will be necessary.

Depending on the size you require, there are several types of tent to choose from:

Dome tents:

Easily available, these are strong, dome shaped structures usually consisting of crossed over poles covered in tent fabric.  They can be single domes, or more complex structures with different ‘rooms’ for family holidays.  Usually relatively simple to erect, they have become increasingly popular in recent years, and are easy to find.

Pop up tents:

A smaller design which does what it says on the tin – almost instant to pitch, easy and light to transport, and often available in a variety of designs and colours.  These are popular with the festival, hiking and fishing campers, and can be a good introduction to camping for the beginner.

Tunnel tents:

This is a more classic style of tent, and often seems to be the choice of more serious campers.  Using fewer poles, they are lighter than dome tents, but their design can make pitching more complex, as they usually need guy ropes for shape and support.  Less useful for extreme weather conditions, tunnel tents can make an excellent option for all round family holiday camping.

Geodesic tents:

Similar in appearance to standard dome tents, the geodesic or semi geodesic tent is a strong, modern design usually consisting of an aerodynamic shape made up of mutually supporting poles.  These can be heavier than tunnel tents due to the increased number of poles, but this does tend to make them sturdier in extreme weather if more difficult to transport. 

Teepee/novelty style tent:

A range of different shaped tents, children’s tents and awnings are also available.  Some stockist supply multi purpose tents for storage, changing or personal use.  Teepee tents are now more readily available, in a range of sizes with doors and windows, and given their shape and size, can provide extra headroom for those who feel cramped in a more traditional style tent, and judging by general reviews, seem to be excellent for casual camping, children’s sleepovers or fun weekends away.

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Features and parts:


These are the fabrics which make up the outside layer of your tent.  They can be made from traditional, heavier canvas, or more lightweight polyester.  Most modern tents have a flame retardant treatment, but it is wise to check this as it is not guaranteed.  They are usually waterproofed to a degree, and some manufacturers also use a process to cut harmful UV light.  More traditional canvas is very durable, but heavier than polyester which is often considered to be strong and well lasting.  Some tents have a separate inner tent, a light, breathable fabric not intended to provide any protection while others are built in and provide a break between the flysheet and interior.  They can also offer a certain amount of extra insulation.


This is the ground layer, protecting the tent and you from damp ground, dirt and creepy crawlies.  These are often integral in smaller tents, and it important to ensure they have deep enough sides to keep moisture out.  Waterproof and heavy, a really good groundsheet is absolutely essential to any comfortable camping trip.


These can be manufactured from aluminium or fibreglass, often depending on the type of tent purchased.  Fibreglass is lightweight, and offers the flexibility needed for dome or geodesic tents, while aluminium is more rigid and used generally in more structured, traditionally framed tents.

Inner Tent

This is the part of the tent immediately inside the flysheet.  As they are not required to provide any waterproofing protection, they are generally made of light and breathable fabrics.

Tent pricing:

Pricing varies, like any product of this size, but the old adage holds true – you get what you pay for.

For a small, two man tent which is sturdy, lightweight and easy to carry and assemble, you could be looking in the region of £100 to £200.  This will be something probably more useful for backpackers than holiday tents, unless you really don’t mind minimal ‘indoor’ space!

For most of us, holidays will involve a family sized tent with a bit more room to move.  Again, pricing structure varies, but for a good brand, sleeping 4 – 8 people, expect to pay £300 - £900.  At the top end of the scale, this should include an easy erection tent, with versatile sleeping space which can altered to increase living space or create multiple sleeping areas.  Made from top of the range materials, these should have lots of storage space, good options for storing the tent itself, and good water proof abilities.

Less expensive options should still offer value for money with quality build and space, but may not include quite so many options to alter the space, or less spacious living areas.

Technology in this area moves pretty quick, so slightly older models can be available at a good discount – but treat your tent well and it can last your family many, many outdoor holidays making even an expensive option very cost effective.
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