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Gear Guide Tent Buying Guide, OutdoorPlaces.Com



 OutdoorPlaces.Com Tent Buying Gear Guide


 Picking The Right Tent


If you have never owned a tent before in your life you will be in for a surprise when looking at tents.  Most tent manufacturers take some liberty when discussing capacity.  Yes, a two-man tent will hold two people, however the accommodations may not be much better than a coach airline seat when it comes to personal space.  How large of a tent you get has a lot to deal with personal preference.  A one-man tent may have as little as 16 square feet of floor space (that is only 2’ X 8’) while a four-man tent may have 65 square feet or even more.  If you are tall or like a lot of personal space, for two people you will probably want to consider a three-person tent.  If you are car camping, bring your pets (your not going to let Fido sleep in the rain are you) or have a family you may even want to consider larger accommodations.

Size and floors space also becomes a consideration that is personal.  A four-man tent will typically have a square floor that packs you in like hotdogs on a grill.  The folks on either end will have less headroom then those in the middle.  If you can see your tent setup and get inside it before selecting, you can get a much better idea on what is best for you.


There are a number of issues to consider when selecting a tent color.  Low impact camping purists suggest getting a tent that is green or brown in color so it blends in with the surrounding terrain, and won’t be easy to see by passers by.  Conversely, search and rescue organizations recommend a bright colored tent of yellow or red for the opposite reason, so it stands out and is easy to see.

The color of a tent will affect how much light and to an extent how warm a tent is.  A light colored tent that is yellow, white, or beige will let in more light and will tend to reflect off heat.  A dark colored tent that is blue, forest green, black, or red will let less light in and will absorb more heat during daylight hours.


Tent poles come in a number of materials.  The best tent poles are strong, flexible, lightweight, and collapsible.  Poles come in a number of materials.  Popular material includes:

Solid Fiberglass:

Solid fiberglass is light and flexible but by design is typically not collapsible.  As the temperature drops the ability of fiberglass to flex also decreases.  Solid fiberglass is typically used in lower cost tents.  If a pole does break, unless it is completely splintered, it is relatively easy to fix in the field.

Tubular Fiberglass:

Tubular fiberglass is a very popular material for tent poles.  Shock corded together, the tubular fiberglass typically with aluminum reinforcement on the ends is collapsible.  The shock cords offer a little more flexibility, but again when the temperature drops the chances of the poles splintering increase.


Aluminum is also very popular material for tent poles.  Tubular and solid, they can be shock corded together just like tubular fiberglass.  As light as fiberglass, they are more durable and do much better in cold weather.  However it an aluminum pole breaks, field repair becomes more difficult.

High-Strength or Reinforced Aluminum

High strength aluminum uses different metals in its make up to make the pole stronger.  More costly it is an ideal choice if your tent will be setup and broken down frequently.

Carbon Fiber:

Carbon fiber is extremely durable material used in racecars, helmets and aircraft.  Lightweight and extremely durable, carbon fiber will continue to perform even in extreme conditions.  However carbon fiber is very expensive when compared to fiberglass, and more expensive then aluminum.


A rainfly or weatherfly is a tent over the tent.  The rainfly stretches over the tent on the top of the supporting poles.  They can be rather basic while others can extend quite a distance beyond the sides of the tent like the eaves of a roof protecting the tent and occupants from wind driven rain.  The rainfly can also be left off completely in good weather conditions to increase ventilation in your tent.


A vestibule serves as an entry way or covered front porch for your tent.  When the weather is bad, or if you took a fall into a river you can take off your wet and dirty clothes without messing up your sleeping area.  Vestibules can sometimes be large enough to accommodate an extra person that can use it in an emergency.  Some tents offer the options of a vestibule, and others give you the option of not packing the vestibule with you at all, saving weight and time.

The tent pictured to the right has a vestibule.  The vestibule is the red section forward of the main hoop (this is a tunnel tent).  In the above example this vestibule offers about 14 square feet, just enough to undress and store sloppy gear in.


If you plan to camp or backpack the weight of your tent is very critical.  Tents can weigh less than three pounds and other models can easily exceed 15 pounds.  Naturally the bigger the tent, the heavier it will get.  Because lightweight material costs more, lighter tents typically cost more than their heavier counterparts built with the same capacity and style.

If you typically hike with a significant other you may want to consider sharing the gear you carry.  Although a two-man or three-man tent is heavier than a one-man tent, a two-man tent will typically weigh less than two one-man tents (make sense???).  By sharing the gear you carry you can even out the weight and lighten your overall load.