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.
Some of these tents are just gimmicks so this article is meant as a lighthearted explainer and covers a lot of ground. We’ll start with the real basics and go through to the modern tents and even see some avant-garde concepts -some of which actually exist.
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 the 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 inside of or were used as camp kitchens. There are some questionable interpretations of the tunnel tent appearing these days.
The advent of the dome tent was a great leap forward for tent style and technology and it’s now the most common type of tent. They’re widely available albeit some of them come with 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).
Nylon dome tents come in too many different configurations to cover in detail so if you have any questions you want an honest answer to just email or comment.
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.
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 pop up 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. They come back with blank looks on their faces, saying ‘I don’t know how it happened….’ Yet somehow the tent looks like a crashed weather balloon.
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. Now they are available in a range of brands with a range of quick setup pole systems.Oz Tent make very quick to set up and sturdy tents with a completely different take on design.
They’re big and heavy but set up and pack down really easily, and are popular with regular campers who move around most days.
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.
Let’s move on to the really ‘interesting’ tents...
These keep popping up around the internet like they actually exist. They don’t.
Some brands will sell you a tent with 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 a large canvas tent, 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.
Why? Because no one said they couldn’t.
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 of gazebo.
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. 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.
So thanks for reading to the end. I hope you enjoyed. Comment or get in touch with me if you have any questions about these tents. I’m happy to share my knowledge.