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Choosing a tent

Whether you’re buying your very first tent, or upgrading to bigger and better things, choosing a tent can be daunting.

As we’re experienced campers with years of practise in camping as a couple and as a family we can help you to choose the best style and make of tent for you and your family. Here we’ve put together our top tips for choosing a tent…

If it’s at all possible, try and have a look around at a tent display, especially if you’ve got no ideas at all as to your preference. Our tent display is usually up during spring and summer (keep an eye on our social media for exact dates) and we erect many different styles and sizes of tents.

choosing a tent - our tent display in Barnstaple
A small part of our Barnstaple tent display

Look closely at the differences between air tents and poled tents – with an air tent the steel or fibre glass poles are replaced with a beam that is inflated with a pump. 

Air tents come as a single unit that you plug in a pump and in a matter of minutes you have a solid free-standing structure to peg out and you’re done. 

Traditional tents usually take a little longer to assemble, after you’ve built and threaded all your poles and strung out the guy lines to keep it standing. 

In terms of pitching, the benefits lie with the air tent as one person can take care of it with relative ease. The downside is the weight.  As the air tent is a single unit, the single bag will be heavier whereas your poled tent will be split across two or more bags making it easier to handle and transport.

  • We advise that you ignore the number of berths suggested by the manufacturer and look closely at the size of the bedroom areas instead. For a comfortable space, allow approximately 80cm width for a single air bed and 140cm for a double. 

When you’re choosing a tent, think about how many people you’ll be sleeping, allowing for a bit of extra room to move around too.

  • Where are the bedrooms? Do you want them adjacent to each other or separate? If the bedrooms are separate then each area has a bit more privacy but adjacent is good if you have younger children and might need to get to them quickly in the night.  Often adjacent bedrooms mean that two bedrooms can be opened up so that you have one large room – a useful option if you’re not sure how small children will cope on their first camping trip.

Some tents now have blackout bedrooms, which make them very dark – so dark that you really can’t see very much at all!  If your family have a habit of waking early in the mornings, this may be an advantage.

  • Storage is an important consideration, especially if you are camping with the family. Extra bedrooms and annexes are good for keeping items like clothing, rucksacks and toys out of the way.
  • What’s the standing height like? Unless you’re very restricted on pack size and weight, there is no reason to have a tent that you can’t stand up in. Check that the inner height of the tent (not the outer figures which are sometimes shown) is greater than your actual height. The height in the sleeping areas is sometimes lower which is usually fine, as you’re lying down for the majority of the time.
  • What’s the inside space like? If you are able to take a look around the erected tent in advance, go inside, zip it up and imagine you and your family all inside when it’s raining outside. Is it big enough? Will you feel claustrophobic or can you sit the family down around a table and play some board games to keep yourself entertained? 

Also have a look and see whether the tent you like has a canopy or doors that can be used as a canopy. This can then be left open during a shower and will help with that feeling of being stuck inside, especially important if you’re planning to use your tent for longer than a few days.

  • We never advise cooking inside your tent.  Safety must come first, so a good-sized porch or a separate day tent is a sensible idea for your camp kitchen.
  • Think about how you’ll transport your tent from home to the campsite. Take a look at the packed size and weight.  Will it fit in your car along with all your other camping equipment, clothes and food. 
  • You may want to consider the size of tent you need compared to the size you want!  You can pay more for a bigger pitch at certain campsites.
  • Do you need to be able to pitch the tent on your own?  If so, you may want to consider buying a smaller more manageable tent, or consider buying an air tent.  These can be pitched very quickly and easily by one person.
  • Most family tents pitch outer first.  But if you are looking at buying a small tent, consider whether it is inner or outer pitch first.  If it’s inner first, then it’s harder to keep the inside dry if it’s raining whilst you’re pitching it.
  • Water resistance or proofing in nylon and synthetic tents is rated in HH figures i.e. HH3000, HH4000 etc. We advise that anything over 3000HH will be adequate. Don’t get confused by the rating of the groundsheet which is sometimes given (this is usually much higher) – it is the flysheet HH rating that you need to check.
  • Nearly all bedroom pods have a built-in groundsheet to keep bugs and draughts out while you sleep. In most modern family tents this is extended to the living space as well and is called a sewn-in groundsheet or SIG. The other option is a loose or removable groundsheet in the living area which might not be quite so cosy. 
  • A porch can be a godsend if you need to keep wet and muddy pets or things like pushchairs and bikes out of the main tent. Porches usually have removable groundsheets so you can take them out to clean them or just leave them out altogether.
  • In the UK it’s important to think about rainy weather when you’re choosing a tent but it’s also a good idea to give some thought to really hot weather (we do have some occasionally!)  Look for good ventilation to avoid too much condensation.  This is unavoidable at times when the weather is particularly cold and damp at night, especially if your tent is full to capacity with people and pets.  Good ventilation also helps keep the tent cooler in summer.  Fly mesh on doors can also help reduce condensation, as doors can be left open, but insects will be kept out.

Canvas and cotton tents are more breathable than polyester and so stay cooler in the summer and are also more insulating in cooler weather.

  • Is your tent of choice from a reliable and reputable manufacturer? There’s a good reason why some companies have been around for many years and that’s because they produce good quality products that will give you the best time on your precious holidays. 

Read the reviews! You’ll find invaluable information and first-hand recommendations from real life people, not just the company hype will be helpful when you’re choosing a tent.

We understand that choosing a tent can be an investment, and with so many different types, shapes, sizes and features on offer it can be quite daunting. Our experienced team are here to help whether it’s in store or online – you only have to ask!

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