Camping Tents: How to Choose the Right One for You

Published on 02/08/2024 · 12 min readFind your perfect outdoor shelter: Learn how to choose the right camping tent, considering size, weather resistance, and ease of setup for your adventures.
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Hunter Reed

Photo by Mariia Korneeva

TLDR: There’s a lot to consider when choosing a tent, from size to type of camping to features and more. By narrowing down the specifics of your needs and situation, you can ensure you get a tent that will make your camping experience the best it can be without breaking the bank.

As a Camping and Hiking Expert here on Curated over the last three years, the most common question I’ve gotten from Curated customers is, “How do I decide on a tent?” And with all the tent options out there, I can absolutely see why this is a commonly asked question! As an avid lifelong camper myself, I know that the difference between a stressful camping trip and an awesome camping trip is having the right gear, including a great tent. In this guide, I’ll go over everything you need to know when choosing a tent for your camping trips!

Key Considerations When Shopping for a Tent

The first step in figuring out which tent is right for you is zooming in on exactly what you need out of a tent. Here are some key questions to think about before you go tent shopping!

What size and weight do you need?

The size and weight of the tent are going to be the two biggest factors in narrowing down the exact tent for you. Think about how many people you will be sleeping in your tent. A 2-person tent may be lightweight and compact, but a 4-person one offers more comfort and can sleep more people. The bigger the tent, the more it will weigh. If you are primarily planning on using your tent for backpacking, you'll want something small and more minimalist, so it isn't too heavy and doesn't take up too much room in your pack. For car campers who like to do trips with large groups, weight might not be much of a factor for you, and it would be more important to get a larger tent that's more comfortable.

What weather do you primarily camp in?

The weather conditions that you will most likely be camping in will also influence your tent choice. If you camp in humid areas or areas that get a lot of rain, look for tents with good ventilation and higher waterproof ratings. If you plan on doing any winter camping, you’ll need a 4-season tent that can withstand strong winds and heavy snow. For most casual campers, a 3-season with a removable rain fly and mesh panels that allow for air circulation is going to be the perfect fit.

How much should a tent cost?

Tent prices can vary wildly depending on the size, material, and features of a specific tent. If you just want a basic, inexpensive tent without all the bells and whistles for the occasional camping trip, you can expect to spend around $100.

Mid-range ranges, between $100 and $300, are going to be more durable in the long term and have better weather resistance. Mid-range tents will fit the needs of most campers the best since they can handle some wear and tear without an overly technical design.

For campers who want an ultralight tent, a winter camping tent, or something super fancy, you can expect to spend closer to $500 and even upwards of $1000 on the super fancy tents. These higher-priced tents have more technical features but sometimes aren't the most versatile. For example, winter camping tents are super durable in heavy snow, but they aren't going to have enough ventilation to be comfortable for summer camping trips.

Overall, the amount you should spend on a tent will be determined by how often you camp, the type of camping you do, and the weather and terrain you primarily camp in.

Different Types of Tents

There are a few different tent designs out there that you’ll see when shopping around for your next tent. Each type of tent has its perfect use case scenarios and some pros and cons. Understanding the differences between these types of tents will ensure you get the right type of tent for your camping trips!

Dome Tents

Photo by Fahd Almadany

Dome tents have a simple structure, typically with two poles crossing at the top to form a dome shape. They offer a good amount of headroom and are easy to set up.

Benefits:

  • Good stability in wind due to the shorter height
  • Typically the easiest to setup since they have fewer poles compared to other types of tents
  • Cheapest type of tent compared to the others

Be Aware:

  • Limited interior space because of the shorter ceiling height
  • Less headroom than cabin style tents

Cabin Tents

Photo by Surachart Jessadanont

Cabin tents have nearly vertical walls to maximize interior space, making them ideal for families and groups wanting comfort, enough space to comfortably hangout inside, and room to stand up. They are the heaviest type of tent, so primarily used as car camping tents.

Benefits:

  • Spacious interior with room to stand
  • Often they have included room dividers for privacy
  • Usually have excellent, full wall ventilation, and they don’t get as stuffy at night since there’s more air within the tent due to their size

Be Aware:

  • Heavy and so not a good option for backpacking
  • More complicated setup process than dome tents
  • Less stable than other types in high winds due to the vertical walls and taller frame

Tunnel Tents

Photo by Sander van der Werf

Tunnel tents are elongated and supported by a series of parallel hoops, offering good space-to-weight ratio and efficient use of floor area.

Benefits:

  • Excellent space-to-weight ratio
  • Good headroom throughout
  • Usually have a large vestibule, which is great for extra storage

Be Aware:

  • More complicated setup compared to dome tents
  • More stakes required to be stable in windy conditions
  • Heavier than dome tents due to the extra poles and stakes

Geodesic and Semi-Geodesic Tents

Photo by Photographer of Nature

Geodesic tents use intersecting poles to create a highly stable, dome-like structure, ideal for extreme weather conditions. They are similar to dome tents, just with more intersecting poles for added stability.

Benefits:

  • Best stability in harsh weather because they have more intersecting poles to hold the frame up in wind or snow

Be Aware:

  • More complex and time-consuming to pitch
  • Most expensive tent type
  • Not as well ventilated as other types of tents (more about ventilation later)

Backpacking Tents

Photo by Simoly

Backpacking tents prioritize weight and packed size without sacrificing weather resistance. These tents are designed for hikers who carry their gear over long distances.

Benefits:

  • Lightweight and easy to carry
  • Compact pack size
  • Designed for a range of weather conditions

Be Aware:

  • Smaller interior space and lower headroom
  • Can be expensive, especially ultralight models

Features to Look for in Tents

Now that you understand the different types of tents, let’s take a look at some other specific features that are important to pay attention to when comparing different tents.

  • Waterproof Rating: All tents come with a rainfly that offers some protection from rain, but some tents are more waterproof than others. When trying to figure out which tents are more or less waterproof than others, check out the waterproof rating on the tent. This is rated in millimeters (mm), and a higher number means the material is more waterproof. Generally, a 1500mm tent will keep you dry in most rainstorms, but if you frequently camp in areas prone to downpours or tend to encounter a lot of wet camping days, look for a tent with 2000mm or more.
  • Taped and Sealed Seams: This is another water-resistant feature on tents. If your tent does end up leaking through during a rainstorm, it will almost always be in the seams where the threads make tiny holes in the fabric to sew the tent body together. To avoid this issue, look for taped or sealed seams. This just means that an extra layer of material was mounted over the seams to add an extra barrier in those weak spots to prevent water leaking.
  • Ventilation: Good ventilation is often overlooked, but it's also an important piece of keeping your tent comfortable and dry. It's important during warm camping trips so you can allow airflow in and out of your tent and prevent it from feeling hot and stuffy, but it's also important on colder camping trips to allow hot air to get out of the tent so it doesn't cause condensation on the inner walls of the tent, which can drip down and soak your gear while you're sleeping. Good ventilation is often incorporated into tents through mesh ceilings, large doors, and windows, or vents on the upper part of the tent.
  • Tent Material Strength: The fabric of tents is measured in what's called 'denier.' A higher denier fabric is more abrasion-resistant and will last longer. Higher denier fabrics can also be a bit heavier than lower denier fabrics, so it's a tradeoff of finding something durable enough that doesn't weigh you down.
  • Pole Material: Tent poles come in several different materials, the three most common being aluminum, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Aluminum is light and strong, fiberglass is cheaper and heavier but not as strong, and carbon fiber is the lightest and strongest but also the most expensive. My personal recommendation is aluminum poles because of their strength-to-weight ratio and the fact that they are more likely to bend under high stress rather than break entirely. Carbon fiber and fiberglass poles will snap in half if put under enough stress, which can be a lot harder to fix in the middle of a camping trip if you don't have the right tools.
  • Ease of Setup: Some tents are easier to set up than others, thanks to features like pre-attached poles, quick clips, or color coding on poles and sockets. Though these features aren't totally necessary, they can save you a ton of time and frustration when the time comes to set up your tent.
  • Footprint Compatibility: A tent footprint is a custom-fit ground sheet that goes under your tent to give you an extra layer of protection between the ground and your tent. Some tents are sold with them, and others are sold separately. Footprints can drastically extend the life of your tent by preventing holes or tears in the floor of your tent from sharp rocks, plants, or even small pieces of trash that you didn't notice when you were initially setting your tent up (I've never been more disappointed than when I realized there was a mostly buried aluminum can under my tent that ended up cutting through my tent floor!).
  • UV Protection: Last but not least, ensure the tent you choose has some sort of UV protectant coating on the rainfly. This coating prevents the material of your tent from degrading when exposed to the sun and ensures your tent will be around to go on many more camping trips with you!

How to Choose the Right Tent for You

We’ve covered a lot in this article, but if you’re still not quite sure which tent is the correct option for you, don’t worry just yet. Below are three examples of Curated customers that I’ve helped find the right tent for their camping situations. I’ve listed a bit about their camping type, what they need in a tent, and three examples of tent options that would suit their needs.

Leon: the Fun Camp Dad

Leon is excited to share his love for camping with his wife and two young children this spring and summer. Since the kids are still young, all of their camping outings will be car camping trips, requiring a tent that's spacious enough to stay comfortable during rainy days, with enough space for gear storage.

Features to Look For:

  • Room divider option for privacy and to create separate sleeping areas if the kids need to go to bed before Leon and his wife
  • Front vestibule or awning so the kids have an area to sit outside that shelters them from the sun
  • Easy setup to simplify things so he can start enjoying the trip and minimize setup time
  • Enough storage pockets and a gear loft for organizing small items

Tents That Would Be a Good Fit for Leon: Nemo Aurora Highrise 6 Person, The North Face Wawona 6 Person Tent, Eureka! Copper Canyon LX 6 Person Tent

Sarah: the Solo Backpacker

Sarah loves solo adventures around her home in Colorado. She needs a compact, lightweight tent that's easy to carry on long hikes but still offers protection against the elements. She typically brings her 40 lb dog along with her, who is a bit of a bed hog, so she needs a 2-person tent to comfortably fit both of them and their gear.

Features to Look For:

  • Low weight, ideally under 4 pounds for easy carrying
  • Two-person capacity for enough room for her and her dog to be comfortable without excess space
  • Waterproof, wind-resistant, and high-quality materials so nothing breaks while shes in the backcountry

Tents That Would Be a Good Fit for Sarah: MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2, Nemo - Dragonfly OSMO 2P

The Johnson Family

The Johnsons are planning a big family reunion and need a large, communal tent for gatherings and meals and as a central hub for their campsite. They probably won't sleep more than 5 people in the tent at night, but they also want enough square feet of floor space that they are able to host people in their tent for games or hangouts if it's bad weather outside.

Features to Look For:

  • 8-10 person capacity to ensure enough room for group activities
  • Multiple doors for easy access by multiple people
  • Near-vertical walls and high ceilings with a peak height of at least 6 feet so people can stand inside the tent

Tents That Would Be a Good Fit for The Johnson Family: Eureka! Copper Canyon LX 12 Person Tent, Alps Mountaineering - Big Horn 5 + SR, Coleman Skylodge Instant Camping Tent with Screen Room

Find the Right Camping Tent for You

Photo by Anek Soowannaphoom

Having the right gear, including a solid tent for your camping trip can make all the difference between a fine camping trip and an awesome camping trip. Hopefully by following the steps in this guide you have a pretty good idea of what to look for in a tent, but if you’re still not sure which tent would be the best camping tent for you, we’ve got you covered! Our team of Camping and Hiking Experts here on Curated is ready to offer free, personalized advice based on your exact needs. Reach out today and let us help you get set up to be well-prepared for your next trip to the great outdoors!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Camping & Hiking on Curated

Nemo Aurora Highrise 6 Person Tent · Atoll/Oasis
$499.95
Coleman Skylodge Instant Camping Tent with Screen Room
$439.99
The North Face Wawona 6 Person Tent
$475.00

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Eureka! Copper Canyon LX Tent
$329.95
Eureka! Copper Canyon LX Tent
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Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL Tent
$549.95
MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent
$199.93
Nemo - Dragonfly OSMO 2P
$499.95
Nemo Aurora Tent w/ Footprint
$185.00$359.95

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Written by:
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
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Hunter Reed
Camping Expert
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103 Customers helped

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