Finding a quality backpacking tent or a family tent can be very confusing with all the different options available. We here at campknowledge.com want to make sure you have ALL the options in front of you before you make your decision. How do you know what is right for you and your family/group? How do you know if this tent you are looking at buying is going to withstand the elements and provide with a nice dry shelter all night long? First we are going to talk about some common tent lingo so you will understand everything we are saying in this article. Then we will talk about family camping/ base camping and what kind of tent you want to look for. Then later on in the article we will talk about backpacking tents and other things associated with tents.
Below you find some common tent terms and their descriptions.
Minimum Weight – This is the bare minimum weight of the tent. This includes the tent, rainfly and poles. It does not include other tent accessories like tent pegs, a footprint and other things like a vestibule. Use this weight for comparing different tents and don’t use it as a representation of the actual weight of the tent. Each manufacturer weighs their own tents and their is no standard for this so it is possible for the weights to vary a little from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Packaged Weight - This is the weight of all the tent accessories combined. It includes everything from the tent pegs to the footprint to the vestibule.
Packaged Size – This is going to represent how big the tent is when it is all rolled up. If this is too big you can always split up components of the tent between you and your camping buddies.
Vestibule – This is usually a space to keep your boots and other outdoor gear that you don’t want inside your tent. The vestibule is usually a part of the rainfly but can also be its own component.
Peak Height – This is how tall the tent is at the highest point on the inside. Since most tents have slopping walls you will need to stand at the peak height to appreciate all the headroom your tent offers.
Guylines and Guypoints – Also called Guy-Outs, these are the points on the rainfly that are reinforced, and sometimes have a reflective material on them, to attach the guyline. Simply put, the guyline is the string or rope that goes from the guypoint to the stake in the ground. The guyline is used to keep the rainfly or vestibule taught and up off the inside of the tent. This is especially useful for rain and windy environments. Using guylines keeps the rainfly tight and prevents puddles forming. It also keeps the rainfly from flapping around in the wind. Be careful when walking around your tent at night with guylines out because they are very easy to trip over.
Pockets – This one is very simple. All these are are small cloth or nylon pockets inside the tent that allows you to put your belongings in them. These work very well for storing your glasses, headlamp and other materials you may need during the night that you want to keep up off the ground. Since pockets are so convenient and so lightweight you still find them in lightweight tents. Some super weight conscious campers may cut out or order their tent without pockets because of the extra weight.
“Perimeter-cut” and “Bathtub” Floors: Most backpacking tents are now designed with perimeter-cut floors, where waterproof floor sections (sidewalls and ground-touching panels) are separate pieces of fabric stitched together at the perimeter. Perimeter cuts are alternately known as a Catenary cut, a “cut-in” floor or a “taped insider” floor. The technique creates straight, taut edges along the tent’s perimeter, optimizing floor space.
Bathtub floors have more rounded perimeter edges and, other than possible bottom-floor seams, have no stitch marks susceptible to leakage. Their downside: Bathtub floors can potentially curl up around you on all sides in a loose, baggy manner and reduce interior space.
The new REI Half Dome 2, Half Dome 2 Plus and Arete tents feature a “hybrid” floor. The longer side seams feature a perimeter cut while seamless bathtub edges are used at the foot and head ends of the tents. REI’s architecture creates a taut pitch even along the bathtub edges, boosting interior space. The redesigned Half Dome 2 door is more V-shape than D-shape, and its proximity to a perimeter-cut floor seam creates a tautness that allows the door to be zipped open or shut with just 1 hand.
Other tent manufactures like Sierra Designs has what is called a SuperSeal Floor which combines the best of perimeter seals and the bathtub seals and they say with this design you no longer have to seam seal the floor.
Ferrules and Grommets – Ferrules are the tips on the end of the tent pole. Grommets are the metal rings at the bottom of the tent that the ferrules go into to stand the tent pole up.
Ventilation – This is very important, especially in mild climates. There are three ways your tent can be ventilated.
- Mesh Screening – Many dome tents come with mesh screening at the top of the tent to let the perspiration and other moisture out the top and into the air. The mesh used in tents is a finer mesh than what is used on your home window screens. This is to keep the tiniest of insects out of your tent.
- Vented Rainfly – You probably will see this on a 4 season tent but it is still available on 2 and 3 season tents. It just is a little leg that props up the rainfly and opens it up to let some of the stuffy air out of tent.
- Multiple Doors – Getting airflow through your tent is the best way to ventilate it. Oftentimes even though you have the back window open and the front door open you still don’t get any air flow. This is because the screen mesh is finer and denser than your normal screen. One thing that can help if you aren’t worried about bugs is having a door on each end of your tent. Opening these doors will allow a great amount of airflow through your tent and cool you down.
How to find the perfect family tent/base camp tent
The privilege of bringing your car along to your campsite enables you to bring things camping that you normally would not be able to bring. This is why car camping can be a real fun time and real comfortable at the same time. You don’t have to worry about packing everything on your back you just have to pack the car and you are done! So how do we define a family tent or a base tent? We will say a 4 man tent or more is considered a family tent or a base camp tent.
4 Types of Family Tents
- Cabin Tent – The big advantage to a cabin tent is how much room you have to move around. Normally cabin tents or wall tents have straight up and down walls. This adds a bit to the complexity of setting it up the first time but normally they don’t take longer than 10-15 minutes to set up each time. These also can provide more privacy for larger families with the room divider feature. They normally have large D shaped doors for easy in and out access. They also can come with either a vestibule or an awning to provide even more storage space for your gear.
Cabin Tents are made from many different materials like nylon, polyester and canvas. Canvas is the preferred choice for warmth and durability but nylon is the preferred choice for less weight. If you are camping in extreme weather be sure and waterproof your canvas before using it for the first time.
- Canvas Tent – These tents are more for the long term camping trip. These come in many different sizes and shapes. I doubt you want to set up a tepee but if you do you can have a fire in your tent. This is obviously not allowed with the more modern tents. These tents can either have a wooden frame or a metal frame. Some of the more long standing canvas tents you find in national parks are supported with a wooden frame. Other things that make up a quality canvas tent is the type of material. If you are going to spend the money on quality make sure you get double fill canvas. This means that two threads of cotton have been twisted together to make a single thread, thus adding more durability. Just because one canvas is heavier than the other don’t automatically assume it is better quality. Request a sample swatch of the canvas from the manufacturer and take a look at it yourself. Does it have small brown spots in it? This is the outer husk of the cotton flower you are seeing. The purest form of cotton is on the inside of the flower and that is the best quality.
Here is a list of some options to look for that may come standard on your tent: stove jack, sod cloth, zippered door, ridge pole sleeves, ropes with tensioner, and steel stakes. Other options include windows, screen door, additional door, storm flap, awnings, porches etc. Additionally make sure that all the stress points have extra reinforcement. This will ensure you will get many years of enjoyment out of your tent.
- Dome Tent – These tents are usually the lightest and easiest to set up. The dome top is great for rain because the rain has no where to puddle up, it just runs right off. It is a little harder to find very large dome tents. The biggest dome tent I could find will sleep 8 and this is 6 in the main area and 2 in the smaller area. These are also great for snow and wind as the dome design makes them very durable to harsh climates. They are also very easy to set up and are often times very lightweight.
The inner shell is usually made up of lots of screen to provide maximum breathability. Then a waterproof rain fly goes over the skeleton of the tent to protect from rain and snow and wind.
- Screen Room Tents – These shelters usually cover the camp picnic table or other areas that you want to keep dry and bug free. These are usually not used primarily for tents but they can be used as shelters if the weather cooperates.
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