01.Tents buying guide
A tent is there to keep you dry, to store your gear and to give you a relatively good nights sleep out of the weather. For this, you need to be sure that the tent you buy is what you need. Whether you are looking for a solo tent, a two-person or a palatial tent for family and friends, make sure you take into account your needs first.
When CHOICE last tested tents back in 2001, we looked at four person dome tents. The design of dome tents out at time of testing were geodesic and crossover: we found the geodesic had more room, but the crossover were easier to assemble.
We also found that a four person tent is easily big enough for two people to move around so if you plan on spending some time (apart from sleeping) in the tent, then you might want to upsize.
Please note: this information was current as of April 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
What to look for
- If you’re after a family-size tent, your two main choices are a cabin-style or a dome model. Dome tents are more popular because they’re lighter and easier to put up and take down. Cabin-style tents were better suited to the days when the family camped in one spot for three to four weeks.
- If a dome tent is what you want, your choice is either a crossover or geodesic style. Geodesics generally have more usable space and greater stability, but are heavier and a little slower to put up (and are more expensive).
- If you’re going to spend a fair bit of time in the tent, make sure it’s high enough to stand in. Also make sure the walls don’t slope in too much, limiting your usable space. Ideally, see it erected in the shop to be sure.
- Look for a model with assembly instructions attached to the carry bag: this can be very useful if you haven’t put the tent up in a long time.
- A vestibule floor is handy, and those that peg down are easier to secure than those that clip on or attach by Velcro because you don’t have to line the tent up so precisely.
- A large, strong carry bag is essential, but note that what appears to be an adequate size in the shop may be too small when you try to fit the tent back in it: it never rolls up as small as when you first got it.
- Pegs should be a good length (at least 20cm) and thickness (around 5mm) and preferably made of steel: plastic ones, with their flatter profile, are good in very sandy soil, but break more easily.
- Ropes should also be a good length, thickness (a minimum of 3.5mm to 4mm diameter) and easy to adjust.
- Peg-down points should be heavy-duty and securely attached to the tent.
- Windows are essential for good ventilation, and should be large and easily secured when rolled up. Zipped windows are best, but there should be good wide flaps over the zip to keep water from entering the tent.
- A door on either side of the vestibule, as well as the front, is convenient, as it allows you to keep the weather out if it’s coming from one direction, but still have ventilation. Vestibule doors that roll upwards rather than sideways are handy, because they can be pegged out as awnings.
- Internal pockets in the inner tent are useful for storing small items.
- Power cord access through a small zip in the inner tent wall is useful if you’ll be using power (for a light, say).
- With portable rechargable lanterns widely available these days, its also useful to have a hook from the ceiling to hand the lantern from.
- Sunroofs in tents are usually clear plastic panels that let the light in, but can be zipped up with an opaque flap when night falls. Look for a good seal around the sunroof so as to avoid any unfortunate weather incidents.
- Doors should be large, with adequate height at the entrance, and have a flyscreen. Some tents allow you to zip the screen and the door together, so it becomes a single flap. You can then use just the one zip to open and close the flap, and it’s a lot more convenient than zipping the door and screen separately. But if you want the door open and the screen closed — to let the breeze in and keep the insects out — you can unzip the door and screen so they’re separate again, and then simply zip the screen closed.