What Are the Different Types of Tents?
Camping & Hiking Expert Eric Bergdoll runs through all the different types of tents to help you find the right tent for you and your group.
On a camping trip, your tent is your shelter! And even on a picnic or BBQ, at a festival, or spending a day at the beach, a tent is a great item to have to provide a home base and protection from the elements. Tents come in all different shapes and sizes, from bivy sacks and bivy tents weighing only a couple of ounces to massive cabin tents ideal for larger groups weighing 50lbs or more. Initially, tents were made out of thick canvas, but these days, they can be created from many types of materials, contributing to their weight and durability and making some tents better than others for bad weather or high winds. Many modern tents boast tons of features, including large vestibules, electric hook ups, gear lofts and pockets, room dividers, and vertical walls to increase headspace. With so many different types of tents, there is a perfect tent for any application!
1. Dome Tent
The dome tent is the most common design today. It has two flexible tent poles that cross in the center and are anchored to the corners of the tent with stakes, creating a dome shape that makes this tent easily distinguishable from other types. Dome tents come in a range of different sizes, with capacity ranging from a single person up to about eight people, making it an option for both backpacking and car camping, and for a solo camper or a family camping.
In double-wall tent designs, there is a breathable inner tent, usually made of no-see-um mesh to provide ventilation (and protection from mosquitos and other bugs!), and a waterproof floor. The second wall comes in the form of a rainfly resting on top of the poles. Sometimes a footprint is included with the tent as well, which is an extra layer of fabric underneath the tent. Single-wall tents have an interior that is waterproof throughout, which does sacrifice some breathability, and oftentimes, condensation can form.
Pro Tip: If it's not raining, use trekking poles and your rain fly or a tarp to create an awning over your tent door—this will provide sun protection and a shaded area to hang out!
Dome tents are lighter than other tent options, can have a lot of headroom depending on the floor area you go for, and are easy to pitch. Vestibules (the area around the tent doors that’s sheltered by the tent’s rain fly) are often included and provide plenty of gear storage space, but not all dome tents include them. A downside of dome tents is that they tend to catch in the wind and be flattened or blown away.
2. A-Frame Tent
Formerly very popular with campers due to its simple design, the A-frame tent (also known as the Ridge tent) looks like a capital A, as its name suggests. Originally made of canvas with metal or wooden poles, modern options of this tent are composed of lightweight fabric such as nylon and polyester and have aluminum poles. This tent is easy to set up and surprisingly stable, but it is heavy, bulky when packed, and lacks headroom.
3. Multi-Room Tent
The best option for large families with kids, the multi-room tent is closer to a house than a traditional tent. The primary advantage of this type of tent is privacy, created by room dividers. The multiple rooms also offer gear storage. These tents are typically large and have the interior space needed to provide enough room for a large family or group. The main drawback of this style of tent is its weight and size, and pitching takes more practice and time. Windy conditions will also be a major issue for large, multi-room tents. Although they have some drawbacks, multi-room tents are the preferred choice for large family gatherings, as they will provide comfort and plenty of space - you could even fit multiple cots or air mattresses (in some tents even a king-size mattress) inside!
Pro Tip: If you are camping with a big group with multiple large tents, look for a campground that offers a few "group spots", and make a reservation! These spots have multiple tent sites and provide extra space so that even a big party can spread out.
4. Backpacking Tent
If a multi-day hike or a long-distance trek to your campsite from the car is to be expected, a lightweight tent or an ultralight tent is the best choice. Generally, backpacking tents are smaller than other options and may have a significantly lighter packaged weight and an extremely light minimum trail weight, since hikers may be carrying them for many miles into the backcountry in or attached to their backpack. Their design tends to value small size and their material quality tends to directly impact the price point. Since backpacking tents typically have fewer poles, a small packed size, a lower peak height, and limited square footage, they are usually one-person or two-person tents, but three-person and four-person backpacking tents do exist. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall, the MSR Hubba Hubba, and the NEMO Hornet are examples of lightweight backpacking tents.
5. Geodesic and Semi-Geodesic Tents
These tents have all the advantages of a dome tent with increased support, durability, and stability. The poles of these tents cross many times, intersecting to form triangles along the tent top, giving it a lot of stability. They are better than dome tents at holding up in heavy rain or storms but are larger to pack and more challenging to pitch.
6. Pop-Up Tent
Relatively newer and also known as "instant" tents, pop-up tents are spring-loaded and pop into shape in just a few seconds. These tents are not meant for extreme weather conditions; there are better options for camping in inclement weather. Ease of use is the key perk with pop-up tents.
7. Tunnel Tent
Similar to a dome tent, but longer and more cylindrical, these tents tend to use guy ropes (ropes that go from attachment points on the outside of the tent to the ground for added stability) to pitch, meaning they are typically non-freestanding tents. They offer a great space-to-weight ratio and identical pole length, so you don’t need to worry about mixing up poles. The biggest issue is they must be pitched properly or else they may sag in the middle.
8. Inflatable Tent
Another newer design, these tents come with inflatable poles. This makes for an easy one-person setup, but the inflatable tent is heavier than other models and requires an air pump.
9. Teepee Tent
The teepee (or tipi) is the original, often cotton, canvas tent. Also referred to as a bell tent, this type of tent tends to have a high peak height, is easy to pitch, and only needs a single central pole. Traditionally, teepee tents were heavy and bulky, although the modern models can be lightweight and are similar to a minimalist, tarp-style set-up. These tents have a high pitching point (the point where the pole meets the tent, creating the peak of the tent), which allows for plenty of headspace when inside the tent, but may pose a challenge when setting up. Flooring is often not included.
As you can see, there are many types of tents, and this list is not all-inclusive! Pyramid tents, canopy tents, hammock tents, car-top tents, and truck bed tents are other tent types, and the list goes on! When planning a tent camping trip or outdoor adventure, there are many options to take into consideration, which can be overwhelming! If you still have questions about which tent is right for you for your next camping trip or outdoor adventure, reach out to me or another Camping & Hiking Expert here on Curated. We're happy to be a source of free advice and recommendations.