Choosing a Tent

Having the right tent can make or break a camping trip!  Here are some questions to ask yourself before you buy:

  • How many people do you think will normally sleep in the tent?
  • What type of sleeping pads will you use? …Ridge Rest-type foam, self inflatable, air mattresses…? (They take up different amounts of space.)
  • Do you think you will ever take it backpacking or just car camping? (Weight and ease of use could be important.)
  • Do you plan to camp in the winter or in cold conditions? (Make sure you have guy lines [to help anchor your tent down nice and tight in wind], a full-coverage rainfly, and vestibule [like a covered porch].)
  • Will you be camping in varied weather conditions– rain, humidity, wind, dry, heat? (Mesh ventilation, full-coverage rainfly, higher-denier fabrics [for durability and rain protection], seam taping, and vestibule)
  • How important is it to be able to stand up in the tent? (Comfort/claustrophobia)
  • How often do you plan on going camping?
  • What is your budget?

I have used several tents over the years–  I’ve had a teeny tiny 1-2 person tent from LLBean, some generic dome tents from WalMart and Academy Sports, and tents from big name brands like Sierra Designs and Big Agnes.

The tiny LLBean tent was ok for one night when it was just me and my husband camping in good weather.  But the ventilation was terrible so that any humidity, and even our breath, caused condensation– which makes all of your clothes and sleeping gear damp and yucky.

A rainy camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2011

A rainy camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2011. Our old generic tent–the rainfly was NOT waterproof so we had to rig a tarp.

The generic dome-type tents from WalMart and Academy have been just “ok” too.  They tend to use lower-denier (which just means lighter weight) materials that let rain seep in through the fabric (sometimes even through the rainfly), and the seams aren’t well taped.  Condensation has been an issue with most, but not all, of them.  I have never had the poles break, but these tents usually have less expensive and less durable fiberglass poles. Finally, I have had zipper issues with these tents– either the zipper easily gets caught in the fabric, or the zipper has actually broken during a camping trip– so be careful when getting in and out of the tent!  That being said, if you want a tent for occasional car camping in good weather, or if you are on a tighter budget, these definitely are a good way to go.  

  • Look for a “dome” type tent that has only 2-3 poles for the easiest set up and take down.
  • Don’t get a 3 room tent “mansion” for 2-3 or even 4 people– When you camp in an established campground you sometimes have to fit the tent on a “tent pad” which may just be 10 feet x 10 feet.
  • But DO check the dimensions of the tent and the dimensions of your sleeping pads to make sure the fit is good!
  • Look for a tent that has plenty of mesh, but also a full-coverage rain fly.
  • Make sure you can get your preferred sleep pads or air mattresses in the tent door!

These are things I looked for when I bought my most recent tent (which I LOVE!):

Yosemite 2013 003tent

Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Backpacking in Yosemite National Park with our Big Agnes Big House 4 Tent. 2013


  • It had to fit 3 people plus full sized-self inflating sleep pads, plus backpacks or bags plus shoes.
  • It had to have lots of mesh, but also a full rain fly.  We camp in lots of conditions–heat, humidity, rain, cold, dry– and for extended periods of time– and staying comfortable is IMPORTANT!
  • We wanted a tent that we would typically use car camping, but that we could split up and take backpacking too, so we wanted to keep the weight under 10 pounds.
  • We prefer a dome tent that gives some headroom.
  • We do A LOT of camping so we wanted an excellent quality tent that was EASY to set up and take down.


We ended up getting a Big Agnes “Big House 4” even though we usually have 3 people in our tent.  I looked carefully at the dimensions of the tent and the dimensions of our sleeping pads, and determined that we actually needed a 4-person tent for comfort.  If you plan to do a lot of camping, and you can afford the extra cost, it is a good idea to go with a “brand name”  that gets good user reviews.  I have found that you definitely get what you pay for!

Happy Trails,


Originally posted on January 13, 2014 by Ginger.

One thought on “Choosing a Tent

  1. Pingback: Planning For Yosemite Summer 2017! | A Flatlander's Guide to Nature

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