Never bought a camping tent before? Don’t have a lot of experience with tents?
This article will help you and 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. 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 and 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 a camping trip. In the middle of the night when you’re warm and tangled up in your sleeping bag, you’ll love the comforting sound of rain just the other side of the fabric. You might, however, get that sinking feeling when you hear that ominous dripping sound inside your only shelter. Or the sound of a pole snapping and the tent collapsing around you and your family.
Some of these tents are really stupid and won’t suit everyone. Some of them are gimmicks but then again there are different purposes and frequency of use.
ALL tents go back into the bloody bag! Have some patience!
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. Shop early or buy this cord in bulk, because every bloody camping store I worked for could never supply hoochie cord consistently for some stupid reason or another.
The original flimsy and obnoxious tent style. From back before the days of fly sheets, when the slightest movement inside would bring drips of your own breath moisture showering down on everyone. If you can’t tension the only two guy ropes properly it pretty much falls apart. Probably best for kids in the backyard in cartoon designs… even then… 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. Thanks to China, expectations have been lowered. Anything called a tunnel tent in Oz will fall under one of these descriptions:
Old army tunnel tent
New style tunnel tent
The dome tent has been the biggest evolution in tent styles, and the most common. They are widely available with cruelly cheap and nasty materials and components. Thankfully there’s a wide variety, right up to dome tents made from materials developed by space programs (with a suitably orbital price tag).
There’s a few to think about. I like the middle no nonsense ground.
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 really 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. Only bother with the big ones if you’re staying in one spot for a few days at a time. Canvas needs to be seasoned (initial treatment with water), but is then inherently waterproof.
Also available in ‘lite’ versions made with nylon but… not so inherently waterproof. You can get canvas instant up tents too and these are covered later.
Just like pop up sun shades for car windscreens, 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 would 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 first at home.
These are interesting, based on a tensioned frame where you simply pull a string through a hub at the top, well…originally, but they’ve managed to complicate them all over again lately…somehow. 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 (the design of which was once famously stolen by a rival retailer).
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 ups are getting larger all the time and really complicated. They’re great and 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 with smooth ‘look at me’ writing, like they actually exist. They don’t.
Cinch has really good quality pop up tents. They will 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.