Getting the Most Tent For Your Buck

One of the joys of tent camping is the simplicity—just a humble shelter stands between you and the wonders of nature. Then again, today’s tents aren’t necessarily all that humble.

Generally speaking, you pay more for a tent with additional features, advanced materials or one in which you can stand up.

Prices can range from about $50 to more than $500, and as with most things – you get what you pay for.  There are huge differences between a 10×10 which costs $99 versus one that costs $500.  To choose the best tent for your camping style, first answer a few questions:

How many campers does your tent need to accommodate?

Tents are sized by sleeping capacity: A two-person tent will fit two average-sized adults sleeping shoulder to shoulder. In other words, cozy. If you want room for gear, pets, sleeping cots or simply getting dressed, opt for a tent that accommodates the campers plus one or two more.

The tent’s shape also affects interior space. More vertical walls and generous peak heights will feel roomier than a tent with sloped walls. The latter will be more resistant to wind and snow loading but can feel a bit cramped around the edges.

What kind of camping will you be doing?

If you’ll be pitching your tent near your vehicle, you can get a tent with additional features without fretting over the pounds they’ll add. You might want to consider extras like multiple doors.

Where will you be camping?

Choose tent materials to suit the climate. Mesh and ventilation are key in warm and humid places like the Southeast; if you’ll be camping in winter, look at four-season tents that provide extra resistance to snow, wind and cold.

Everyone wants a dry tent, so pay special attention to the roof and floor construction.  Factory tape-sealed seams indicate a high level of quality in construction.

I also recommend styles that elevate the floor seams a few inches off the ground. This is referred to as a bathtub style floor.

Care and Maintenance

Give your tent a little love, and it should last for a decade or more. Follow these five tips:

Waterproof the seams. Even if your tent has taped seams—and it should—take the time to apply seam sealant, which fills in those little stitched holes. Do it when the tent is new and reapply at least once a year.

Protect the bottom of your tent from abrasions with a durable footprint, which can be purchased as an accessory for most tents.

Always stake down your tent and tie rain flys with guy lines. Flapping fabric—or worse, tumbling tents—causes rips and damages tent poles.

Pack it dry. Store a damp tent and you’ll forever have a mildewy tent. Mildew will then rot your fabric, destroying your tent.  Air-dry it completely when you get home.

PITCH PERFECT: Foolproof tips for setting up a tent

Practice. Pitch a new tent (or one you haven’t used in a while) in the backyard before you head out. Most tents are easy to erect once you’ve done it a time or two.

Bring the instructions. We sew our instructions into the pole bag, so they are ever handy and not to get lost.

Choose a location—carefully. Search out a flat spot, preferably one that sits on higher ground. Avoid or move sharp objects. And be sure to look up, too; don’t camp under hazards such as dead branches.

Lay out the groundcloth. Then lay out the tent, poles and stakes.

Orient. A tent facing east will give you more early morning sun through the tent door.  To sleep later, turn your tent to face west.

Assemble the poles. Some poles slide through tent sleeves first, others clip to the tent once it’s assembled.

Stake it. Pull tent corners outward and stake them into the ground. Follow directions to erect the tent and attach it to the poles.

Add the rain fly. This protects the tent from showers. Use guy lines and stakes to ensure that it’s taut.