Having trouble figuring out how to choose a tent perfect for your next backpacking or family camping trip? Use our tent buying guide and tool to adjust the filters to your perfect tent weight, price point, capacity, and tent type to find your next home away from home! If you aren’t sure what you want yet, consider renting your gear or take a look at our more in-depth tent purchasing guide below the tool!
Tent Finding Tool
Tent Purchasing Guide | How To Choose a Tent
Most Important Factors When Choosing a Tent
If you’re car camping, weight may not be a critical factor but for primitive campers and backpackers, every ounce counts. When you’re hauling every bit of supplies out to the site, a pound over a mile or three will really add up! Pay special attention to the backpacking tents if you’re looking to save on weight.
Many tents are rated as 3-season tents and shouldn’t be relied on for shelter in the winter. 4-season tents have thicker fabrics and fewer air vents to try to keep you warmer when camping in the cold and snow. The vast majority of tents marketed towards car campers are 3-season tents. 4-season tents are used for mountaineering and other cold-weather activity camping.
While we show the manufacturer’s rating for capacity, many manufacturers do not take gear space into realistic consideration. We’d recommend adding one or two people to your general capacity to make sure that you have plenty of room to make your tent a home! For example, if you are a couple with a dog or a significant amount of gear, you’ll want to think about a three-person tent instead of just a two-person tent. You will definitely want to think about jumping up a size if you are tall or uncomfortable in small spaces.
Outside of capacity, this could be the most important factor for comfort in your tent design. Higher peak heights that allow you to stand up in the middle can feel like a luxury after trying to change in a short backpacking tent for a few days. Peak height is usually easy to understand from the photos and design of the tent itself but take a look at the product descriptions to make sure it meets your needs!
Beyond the capacity, weight, and seasonality – everything else is just bells & whistles. You can find tents that have large vestibules to hold your shoes, tents with extra interior fabric to create ‘rooms’ in the cabin style tents for groups, tents with small holes to snake wires through to power your electronics, or even tents with small holes for Fido to come in and out of.
Browse the tents in our tool to find the one that meets your most important needs or check out the 10 most common tent types to start!
What to Check In-Store or When it Arrives
These days, most people will rely on internet retailers when figuring out how to choose a tent and get it to their house. While this is incredibly convenient, it doesn’t give you the opportunity to check out a tent model before purchasing. For shipping, just take a few extra steps right when the tent comes in. Be sure to set it up and check out these factors before leaving for your first trip! You don’t want to get all the way to Starved Rock to find out that your new couple’s tent has a bad stitch near the floor or is too short for the two of you to even kneel in!
Material & Stitch Quality
As your mobile fabric shelter, having high-quality materials and strong seams can make or break your fight against the rain. The seams where different materials meet (like the door zipper and rest of the tent or the floor materials to the thinner siding) should be tight and show no gaps in between. The floor of the tent should be thick enough to stand up to twigs and cot legs so you don’t puncture the bottom and wake up in a puddle!
A tent zipper breaking in the middle of the night when you’re trying to make a quick midnight bathroom break can ruin half the trip! Take time before you head out to test your zippers, get to know where they snag against the fabric, and get used to using your finger to glide the fabric away in those tough spots for a perfect escape in the dark. If you’re finding the zipper snags more than you would prefer, part of knowing how to choose a tent is knowing when a tent is not right for you!
How to Use This Tool to Choose a Tent
Step 1. Define your Needs Using the Filters
Using the four different filters at the top of the tool, first set a preference for what type of camping tent you’re looking for!
|Car Camping||Best tent type for most people – Can come in various capacities at good value|
|Instant||Subset of car camping tents – Easiest tent type to set up!|
|Backpacking/Ultralight||Low weight and intended for use on longer backpacking trips. Usually shorter peak height and lower capacity.|
|Mountaineering||Built for four seasons – Mountaineering tents are great for winter camping|
|Canvas||Highly durable but more difficult to set up – good for larger groups or winter campers|
Add in your target capacity after considering the max number of people you’ll likely be camping with, then set your weight preference. If you don’t care too much about the tent weight, just push the slider all the way to the end. This filter is especially helpful for backpackers to know how to choose a tent that will fit within their planned pack weight. We’ve included the total tent weight with bag and all so its possible that the trail weight could be a pound or so less if you ditch some of the extra fabric.
Lastly, set your target price in line with your budget and take a look at the results below!
Step 2: How to Choose a Tent from the Results
Firsts you’ll see the top three matches based on your preferences. We’ve tried to balance out all the factors while understanding how important price point and capacity can be as a priority. There are seven retailers included in the tool – just click on the buttons below the top matches or in the orange rows of the expanded table below to head straight to a store page and see more details!
Conclusion | How to Choose a Tent
Now that you understand the major factors in knowing how to choose a tent (weight, capacity, seasonality, & peak height), browse over 180 tents in our tool above to find the tent that fits your needs!