Different Types of Tents And Their Uses
Modern tents come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials. If you’re looking to choose the perfect tent for you, it can be more than a little confusing – especially if you’re trying to pick out your first tent.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the options that are available for you to choose from.
The basic ridge tent is instantly recognizable and will, for many people (depending upon their age to some extent), conform to what a “proper” tent should look like.
The standard design has a vertical tent pole at either end and a horizontal cross pole is supported on these. This is the “ridge” which gives the tent its name. The tent material is draped over the ridge and held in place using guy ropes, sometimes with additional poles for larger tents.
Ridge tents vary hugely in size, from tiny little single person tents to units which are big enough to house a large group of campers.
They are reasonably easy to pitch and very stable in breezy conditions.
The main disadvantage of this style is that, once you move even a short distance away from the center line, headroom becomes very limited. However, that may not be a huge problem if all that you want to do is sleep in your tent.
Another disadvantage is that, once you strike camp and pack up, ridge tents tend to be quite bulky and heavy to carry around – although modern tent materials can certainly reduce this problem to some extent.
Dome tents are very popular these days and you will see them all over the place – at the campsite, by the lake and on the beach. They use flexible poles which curve over the top to support the tent body. The poles will often be sectionalised and reassembled using push-fit joints to make transportation easier.
If two poles are used, the dome tent will have a square base. If three poles are used, the base will be hexagonal.
As you can see from the image, the tent walls slope up closer to the vertical than a ridge tent’s – so there is fairly decent headroom across a wider area of the tent’s floor space.
Dome tents are pretty easy to set up. Since many of them are free-standing, you can even move them around without taking them down – which can be handy if you change your mind about position at a campsite, or if you need to adjust because the wind position has changed.
On the subject of wind, smaller dome tents are very stable in breezy conditions – but stability reduces as size increases – mainly due to the increased height. As a rule, dome tents with three poles will be more stable than those with two poles – so 3 poles are definitely good if you want a larger dome tent.
Geodesic, and semi-geodesic, tents are similar in structure to dome tents – but they have additional poles which criss-cross the tent fabric, forming small triangles and providing superior support.
The criss-cross structure distributes stresses more evenly across the tent fabric and makes geodesic tents very stable and ideal for use in extreme weather conditions. Of course, this added strength comes at a cost due to the added materials used in the support structure.
Semi-geodesic tents operate on the same principle, but use fewer poles. Cost (and weight) is reduced, with a corresponding decrease in stability. Nevertheless, they are a good choice for windy conditions – especially in smaller sizes.
Pop up tents are very popular these days. They’re lightweight and, as the name suggests, they just pop up when you unfold them. They are ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time faffing around with a complex tent when they get to the campsite.
They have coiled springs sewn into the fabric. All you have to do is take your tent out of its carry bag, the spring uncoils and – hey presto – your tent is up. Secure it to the ground with pegs and ropes and you’re all set!
Here’s a quick video which demonstrates the principle:
As you can see, it pops up very easily indeed. Some tents pop up very easily, but are just a little more difficult to take down and fold away again – so check for customer reviews if you’re in the market for one. It’s also worth checking that the carry bag is suitably sized – stuffing a tent which keeps trying to pop up again into a neat fit bag is not a great deal of fun, especially if it’s cold, wet and windy.
Assuming you choose one that’s easy to fold and which has a decent carry bag, the main drawbacks are size and stability. The construction means that there’s a definite size limit, but you can still find pop up tents that will sleep 4 or 5 people. If there are more in your party, just take two, or three, tents.
In windy conditions, because of the flexible, springy construction, they can be just a little flappy. However, as long as you guy them down securely, the main problem will be noise.
Quick Pitch – Easy Up Tent
These are a variant on dome tents. The subtle difference is that the support structure is like an exo-skeleton on the outside of the tent.
It’s a nice arrangement as they are easy to set up and there are no poles or supports inside the tent to catch, snag or otherwise interfere with.
In fact, they don’t have to be dome shaped – although this is a common design. Some of these tents have almost vertical sidewalls and flattish roofs – so headroom can be very good.
Here’s a short video showing just how easy set up is, even with a fairly large model:
These tents are more stable than dome tents due to the more rigid poles. However, they can be a little bit more expensive and a little heavier.
Inflatable tents are a relatively new innovation. The technology has certainly been around for a while, but these tents are now becoming affordable for leisure campers.
The basic theory is that the fiberglass or steel support poles are replaced with air-filled arches that support the tent.
That makes them very easy to set up. You just connect your air pump – hand or electric – and the tent pretty much grows up for you!
Another advantage is that, since there aren’t any poles, the tent weight is reduced. You do need to carry a pump of course, but these can be very small and lightweight.
These are available in a variety of sizes, from smaller 2 person units, such as the one in the video above, to 8 person tents. However, as these are still fairly new, they are a little more expensive than similar sized tents of different designs.
Tunnel tents make use of a series of curved poles to produce a long, tunnel-like structure. The “arches” offer reasonable headroom and you can get these tents in a range of sizes, including some very large ones which would be suitable for a family outing.
They are quite heavy, especially the larger ones. Although they are easy enough to set up, an extra pair of hands is a definite bonus for all but the smallest models.
They are best set up lengthwise in the direction of the wind. Many models have a tapered end, which helps with stability – as long as they are lined up correctly.
Vis-à-vis tents are great for families and larger parties.They often consist of two side rooms which open onto a central communal area – but other combinations are possible.
The side rooms can be used for sleeping and the central area can be used as a sitting room or for storing gear. the two bedrooms face each other, hence the name, vis-à-vis – or face to face.
These provide good accommodation for families, but the sheer size of this style of tent means that they are fairly heavy and that setup is best done with two people.
So Which Type Of Tent Should You Choose?
There’s no easy answer to that. Everybody is different and has their own particular requirements. However, here are some of the key things to think about before you pick out your tent:
You will obviously want a tent that is roomy enough for your needs – but not too roomy. Tent manufacturers don’t tell lies about size, but when they say that a tent is, say 4 person, that means that you can fit 4 sleeping bags inside – but with virtually no room for gear, packs etc.
If you want to get some gear in, and that’s a good idea if you want to keep it dry and secure, you should probably half the number of persons stated by the tent manufacturer.
However, don’t go for a tent that is too large. If you are camping in cooler climes, it will be harder to stay warm in a large tent with few warm bodies in it.
If you’re going to drive to a campsite, unload your car and pitch your tent, tent weight is probably not a major concern, just as long as it fits in your car.
If you’re planning going backpacking, then tent weight is clearly important and you will probably want the smallest and lightest tent you can get that lets you sleep in it and has enough room to stow your gear.
If all you are intending to use your tent for is sleeping in, then a low height tent that has good wind stability is a good choice.
If you anticipate spending any time in the tent during the day, then some extra headroom is definitely a good idea. Sheltering from the rain with a couple of bored young kids that can’t stand up or move about is not going to be a lot of fun for any family member.
And if you will be spending time in your tent, make sure that it has good ventilation. Otherwise things can get rather soggy, rather quickly.
Many tents are nylon these days, and that’s fine. However, make sure that the ground sheet is thicker and more durable.
Using a separate tarp or groundsheet is a good idea as it will not only prevent moisture ingress, but help you to keep warm (you will lose heat to the ground at night).
Have A Trial Run
Whichever type of tent you choose, it’s definitely a good idea to have a trial run before heading off to the campsite or the great outdoors. Apart from helping you hone your set up skills, it’s the best way to check that you have everything you need and that all parts have been supplied.
It’s also a good idea to treat seams and zippers with a water resistant coating. Even if your tent is new and claims to be wonderfully watertight, it’s better to be safe than sorry.