How to choose a camping tent


April 14, 2022


Facebook Email
How to choose your tent

A tent is one of the main purchases a camper will make. So of course, you’ll want to get it right! But how can you choose the right tent for your style? From tent sizes to season ratings, from weight to ventilation and everything in between, there are many factors to consider. Fortunately, SAIL camping expert Bruno Clavette is here to help you narrow down your choice.

In this article, you’ll learn more about:

Shop camping tents

Choosing the right tent for your camping style

The type of camping you go for will of course influence which kind of tent you’ll need. Here’s why.

Recreational camping

If you are able to drive to your campsite, you can go for a heavier, robust and spacious tent. Recreational camping tents tend to have more living space and a good balance between fabric and mesh panels. This should yield more options when it comes to the weather as your tent will not be too stuffy in the summer, or too cold if camping during the shoulder seasons. Recreational camping tents are also more durable than backpacking tents, which are mostly made of mesh panels and can be easily ripped. Brands SAIL and MSR make good recreational tents.

Backpacking, hiking, canoeing

Weight and size will be the top considerations for backpackers and thru-hikers. Choose a light tent that can be easily compacted into a backpack. However, bear in mind that lighter tents have a higher ratio of mesh panels over fabric (roughly 70/30). This can make them more fragile and easier to rip, so pack your repair kit or look for a model manufactured using Ripstop nylon.

Most backpacking tents will come with a separate rainfly, but some integrate the rainfly as part of the tent. If you like to fall asleep watching the starry night sky, these may not be for you. Brands Marmot and Big Agnes offer some good backpacking tents.

Car camping

Demand for car tents has increased considerably for the past five years, but there are lots of factors to consider before taking the plunge. Rooftop tents are in the more expensive bracket and can range anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000. They are indeed easy to set up and made of very durable fabric, but they are also not for the faint-hearted as you’ll be sleeping quite a way off the ground. If you plan to use your car during the day, you also cannot leave your tent set up, which makes day trips a bit more complicated. It’s important to note that not all tents can be installed on all vehicles, so check if your chosen model is compatible with your car. Start your search by looking at Tepui’s rooftop tents.

How to pick the right size for your camping tent?

While the sizing system is fairly straightforward (you can’t go wrong with a labelling system that uses 1, 2, 3 or 4 person as a reference), there are a few things to consider before choosing a tent size. First, the rating is based on the number of sleeping bags (not people) that can fit into a tent, so assume a tight squeeze. Then, consider whether you’d like a bit more wiggle room, want to stash your gear inside your tent rather than outside or whether you’ll be taking a dog, a small child or anything else that could make your tent feel a bit smaller. If that’s the case, add one person to your chosen tent size.

It’s also worth remembering that your camping weekend could be a rainy one: make sure your tent feels big enough in case you have to spend a lot of time in it.

The right season rating

Most tents are 3-season tents. These feature lots of windows and larger mesh panels to ward off the summer heat. However, if you’re planning to go camping early in the spring or late in the fall, you may want to consider a 3-4 season tent. Their design uses a few extra poles in case of heavy snow showers, and fewer mesh panels.

For those winter camping enthusiasts, Bruno recommends a winter camping tent (as opposed to a 4-season tent, which will be very stuffy during the summer). Winter tents have no ventilation and use sturdier poles in order to withstand heavy winds and snow. Your usual pegs may be hard to install in the snow, so make use of your walking sticks to hold the guylines at the front of the tent, and pack bags full of snow for the back. Use them as weights to secure your guylines and compact lots of snow on top of them for a solid set up.

Have a look at our winter camping guide for more tips and tricks.

What else should you consider when choosing a camping tent?


A footprint is a piece of protective material used under your tent to protect you from the humidity. Your tent may come with one, but if not, do buy one separately as they can make a big difference. Or use a tarpaulin to create a larger area for your tent to rest on.


If more than one person is sleeping in your tent, having more than one door makes it easier to move about or get out without stepping over anyone in the middle of the night.


Vestibules are useful for stashing your gear outside your tent, which will free up a bit more space inside. They can also be lifesavers on rainy days as sitting on a chair under a vestibule often beats being stuck inside the tent.

Storage and pockets

Gear lofts and side pockets can be used for extra storage. Use them for things such as flashlights, books, earplugs and warm socks, so you can easily reach them in the middle of the night.

Other things to bring with you

Have a look at our camping gear list to make sure you don’t forget anything on your next outings, but do take a small broom and dustpan with you, as well as some extra pegs and a repair kit. You could even splurge on a tent fan or a tent heater!

How to clean and repair your tent

While your tent is still up, use a small broom to get the dirt out. Once you’re back home, let it dry out for as long as possible. Use your clothesline to hang it up if you have one. Once your tent is fully dry, fold it and store it away.

Your tent should come with a basic patch repair kit you can use if the fabric rips while you’re out camping, but it’s also worth taking a pole repair split with you in case of a break which you can’t fix while at the campsite. After a few years, your tent may not be as waterproof anymore, so you will need to treat it. Use this opportunity to check if your zippers are still waterproof and apply sealant if not.

Storing your camping tent

You can use your tent bag, but Bruno recommends using a plastic tub for storage. That way, you avoid the hassle of trying to fit it back into a small bag each time and all your tent accessories can be kept together so you don’t forget anything.

A few pro tips

  • If your camping tent is new, practice setting it up in your backyard or a park before your trip. You don’t want to do this for the first time when you arrive at the campsite in the rain or when it’s dark.
  • Make a list and check you have everything before you set off; don’t assume it’s all in the tent bag. And bring a few spare pegs for luck. Check out our camping guide to ensure you are as ready as you can be.
  • If backpacking or hiking, skip the tent bag and use a compression bag to carry the fabric part of your tent. This should use up less space, and you can then redistribute the other parts of the tent (such as pegs and poles) throughout your backpack in a more efficient way.


You might also like