Never bought a camping tent before? Don’t have a lot of experience with tents?
Then this article might help cut the crap for you. Even if you’ve tried most of these tents (like I have) it’ll give you a laugh.
It’s OK to know nothing about camping or tents because just when you think you know everything… you learn something new.
Here’s my unbiased and hard-won experience.
It’s like a rant… but nicer.
I’ve been putting up tents for at least 25 years and I’ve sold thousands of them. I know all the materials. I know all the tips and tricks. I’ve seen people make every single mistake you can make with a tent.
Your tent can make or break your camping trip. Imagine it’s the middle of the night and you’re warm and tangled up in your sleeping bag, loving the comforting sound of rain just the other side of the fabric. Then you get that sinking feeling when you hear an ominous dripping sound inside your only shelter for miles. Or the horrifying sound of a pole snapping as the tent collapses around you and your family.
Some of these tents are really stupid and won’t suit everyone. Some of them are gimmicks too.
It’s a ground sheet or a tarpaulin, just thinner, lighter and stronger. When you add some mozzie mesh and hang it from a tree, you have a Jungle Hammock. Don’t forget hoochie cord. That’s how you hang it in a tent shape over you, by tying the cord from tree to tree.
The original flimsy and obnoxious tent style. From back before the days of fly sheets when the slightest movement inside the tent would bring drips of your own breath moisture showering down. If you can’t tension the only two guy ropes properly, it pretty much falls apart. Historical value only.
Tunnel tents used to be those big old army green canvas things that they parked trucks in, or had a kitchen in. There are some questionable interpretations though.
Old army tunnel tent
New style tunnel tent
The dome tent was the great leap forward for tent styles and is the most common. They’re widely available, albeit sometimes with cruelly cheap and nasty materials and components.
Thankfully there’s a wide variety, from the cheap and nasties right up to dome tents made from materials developed by space programs (with a suitably orbital price tag).
3 season hiker
Four season hiker
Nylon dome tents come in too many different configurations to cover in detail.
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One of the original styles of tents and not much has changed. They’re heavy, and range from basic one pole, 3 metre square styles… to multi-room, ‘built-like-a-brick-shithouse’ types that you need a team of people working on to set up. It’s not worth bothering with the big ones if you’re staying in one spot for a few days at a time. Remember, canvas needs to be seasoned (initial treatment with water) but is waterproof after that.
Also available in ‘lite’ versions made with nylon but… not so inherently waterproof.
You can get canvas instant up tents too (covered later).
Just like pop up sun shades for car windscreens. These tents have come a long way and they’re easier to pack up than when they were first introduced.
Pop up shower tents are still useless, but the recent crop of two and four person tents are pretty good.
I bet people still bring them back to camping stores after weekends spent sleeping in the car with blank looks on their faces, saying ‘I don’t know how it happened….’ Yet somehow the tent looks like a crashed weather balloon and goes straight in the bin.
Practice at home first.
These tents are for backyarders, festival campers and caravan park camping.
Most of them are pop up or swift pitch. Swift pitch is the best option, there are some really spacious and shady beach tents, and they pack down well.
Pioneered here in Australia by Blackwolf. Featuring sturdy aluminium legs and a central push-up hub.
They’re big and heavy, but set up and pack down really easily, and are popular with regular campers who move around most days.
Oz Tent make very quick to set up and sturdy tents with a completely different take on design.
Canvas is stronger and lasts longer but it’s expensive. If you’ve got space and cash, canvas instant up tents are the winners.
Nylon instant-up tents are getting larger all the time and really complicated. They can withstand heavy weather but are easily broken during set up or pack down.
Now, we’ll move on to the really ‘interesting’ tents.
These keep popping up around the internet like they actually exist.
They’ll also sell you a solar panel and battery kit, but calling it a solar tent is a bit of a stretch.
Yurts obviously take up a lot of space due their framework, but the design and the philosophies behind these have driven the rest of tent evolution over time. If I was considering large canvas tents, maybe these could be an outside option.
Like yurts, but with class. They ooze sophistication and glamour and are completely unsuitable for camping. Having said that, as a luxury outdoor sleeping quarters they make a very compelling option.
If you have a gazebo, and you want to lug that around, then a hub tent which hangs off the gazebo frame is an option worth considering. Also available for the new ‘Event shelter’ style.
Featuring internal air poles that you have to pump up. People are slowly becoming aware of them. Spare air poles? Forget it…they’re just not that popular.
Now for the really weird tents….
Isopod and connecta tents
These tents connect to each other through little corridors you can attach. ‘Social camping’ is the term. In reality, these have been tried in Australia in camping stores and they didn’t sell. I’m unsure as to why they’d sell now, at three times the price of the ones that didn’t sell.
These would be cool in a really secluded spot. Obviously impractical.
*LATE EDIT* – you’ll hear a lot about darkroom ‘technology’. This is simply an inner tent fabric that has been treated to stop light getting through so that the inside of the tent is darker. Not a bad idea.