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Choosing your camping tent can be a real headache. With all the shapes, structures, and technical specificities available on the market, you can quickly feel a little lost. Fortunately, we will see together how to choose your tent according to your camping habits. It all starts from there. Backpacking or car camping? Night on the shores of a lake in the middle of summer or expedition in the mountains in winter? Solitary hike or family weekend? If you are able to answer all these questions, you will have no trouble finding the model that is right for you!
Bruno Clavette, camping specialist at SAIL, shares all his tips for choosing the best camping tent, whether you are a hardened adventurer or a beginner camper.
In this article, you will learn more about:
There are almost as many types of camping as there are campers. Between those who travel the Gaspé Peninsula with their tent on their back and those who only camp once a year, the possibilities are endless!
What are your habits?
If you are able to drive to your campsite, you can opt for a heavier, sturdy and spacious tent. The weight and size of the tent do not really matter if you only have a few metres to go!
Recreational camping tents tend to offer a nice living space, with a good balance between fabric panels and mosquito nets. Your tent will not be too sweltering in the summer, and not too cold if you are camping in the shoulder seasons. Recreational camping tents are also more durable than backpacking tents, which are made up of many easily tearable mesh panels. The SAIL and Eureka brands offer good recreational camping tents.
Hikers going on long hikes have two main tent concerns: weight and size. Especially lightness! The tent must also be able to be compacted easily in a backpack (we speak of “compressibility”). Be careful though: lightweight tents have a higher ratio of mesh panels (around 70/30). They can therefore be more fragile and susceptible to tearing. Bring your repair kit or opt for a RipStop nylon model.
In terms of size, choose a hiking tent adapted to your real needs. If you are always the only one lying under it, you have two options. The first will be to opt for a one-person tent, to save weight. However, some will prefer a 2-person tent, in order to have room to keep their equipment close during the night.
Most backpacking tents come with a separate rainfly, while some models incorporate it. If the idea is to fall asleep while contemplating the starry sky, these may not be for you. The Marmot and Big Agnes brands offer excellent tents suitable for hiking.
The demand for car tents has increased dramatically over the past five years, but there are several things to consider before taking the plunge. Rooftop tents are in the higher price range. Count between $1,000 and $3,000 for equipment that will hold up.
The roof tents are easy to pitch and made of very durable fabric. However, they are not for the faint-hearted! Not everyone likes to sleep a good distance from the ground.
If you plan to use your car during the day, you will not be able to leave your tent pitched either. This complicates day trips a bit. Also note that not all tents are suitable for all vehicles. Check if the model you have chosen is compatible with your car. Do not hesitate to start your search by taking a look at Tepui rooftop tents.
The capacity of a camping tent is expressed according to the number of people who can sleep under it. There are therefore 2-person tents, 3-person tents, 4-person tents… and much more.
You cannot really go wrong with such a system. The ranking is actually based on the number of sleeping bags/sleeping pads that can fit inside the tent, with minimal space between each. If you are four in a 4-person tent, you can say goodbye to your freedom of movement. All these people will be squeezed under the canvas, and your equipment will have to stay outside or in the vestibule.
As you will have understood, it is more comfortable to take a camping tent with a greater capacity of at least one or two people. Especially if the chosen model does not have a vestibule. You will move more easily under the tent, will be able to accommodate a dog, keep your equipment with you… To find out which size to choose, you can also look at the surface area (floor area, expressed in square metres) on the product label. This will give you a good idea of the available space.
Also remember that your camping weekend could be rainy: make sure your tent is big enough in case you have to spend more time in it than expected.
Another element that impacts comfort under the canvas: the height of the roof. Some tent shapes are better suited to “comfort” camping. The chalet or tunnel type forms are generally a little higher.
Suffocating heat, strong rain, wind, falling snow… Your camping tent is your shelter from the elements. Choosing the right tent is a matter of seasons and temperatures. So the first question you need to answer is: when are you going camping?
There are three main categories of camping tents:
If you only camp in the summer, be sure to choose a model with at least 2 mosquito net panels. The objective here is to chase away the summer heat and ensure good ventilation.
If you plan on camping from early spring to late fall, consider a 3-season or 4-season tent. Most tents are 3-season tents. They often have wide mesh windows and panels. Their design is toughened up with a few extra poles in case of snow showers. And during the rainy season, it is better to have a tent with a flysheet that goes all the way down to the ground. The materials are stronger than those of summer tents, and their overall structure is stronger in order to withstand the elements.
For winter camping enthusiasts, Bruno recommends a winter camping tent (as opposed to a 4-season tent, which can be stifling in the summer). Winter tents have no ventilation, and they use sturdier poles (often aluminum) in order to withstand high winds and snow. Your usual pegs might be difficult to set up in the snow, so use your trekking poles to hold the tension ropes in the front of the tent, and packs filled with snow for the back. Use these as weights to secure your guy wires and pack plenty of snow on top of them to get a solid mount.
Check out our guide to winter camping for more tips and tricks.
If more than one person sleeps in the tent, having at least two doors makes it easier for everyone to get in and out. This will save you from stepping on someone in the middle of the night! Be careful though if you want to save a few grams: tents with two doors are a little heavier than those with only one. The more spacious models, where weight is not an issue, can also be equipped with windows.
The presence of a vestibule also increases your general comfort during camping weekends. It allows you to store your equipment outside your tent, while protecting it from the weather. This frees up space inside, especially if the capacity of your tent exactly matches the number of occupants. Vestibules are also lifesaving on rainy days: sitting under them is still more pleasant than being stuck inside the tent.
A few minutes saved on setting up the tent means more time to enjoy the surrounding environment. Ease of assembly is therefore an important criterion when choosing your camping tent.
Some tents provide ultra-fast setting (self-setting, instant setting, etc.), which is convenient if you want to quickly set off on an adventure the next day. But some models still have a classic system, with poles to connect. Strong point of the latter: compressibility once the tent is folded up.
Camping tents can also be classified according to their shape and structure. There are different types, for all uses (trekking, glamping, backpacking, etc.). In 2023, most tents are freestanding, meaning they stand up on their own. These are more “tolerant”, in terms of terrain, than traditional tents, which require a ground where you can firmly plant the stakes (difficult on deep snow or rocky ground)… Freestanding tents can also be moved a little further without being dismantled. This is not the case with traditional tents.
In terms of form, you will be spoiled for choice. Choose according to your personal camping experience. Tunnel and chalet tents are generally higher, and therefore more comfortable, but their wind resistance is lesser. Dome-shaped tents (the most common) are resistant to winds and bad weather. And at the very end of the spectrum, we find geodesic tents, designed for the most extreme conditions.
If you go backpacking or hiking for several weeks, the question of weight is central. It is much less the case if you camp right next to your car.
The weight of a tent depends on many criteria: capacity of the tent, materials used, number of poles, presence of a vestibule, several doors…
Your tent should not be a burden on you. Rest assured, a good tent for 2 or 3 people generally weighs less than 3 kg (6.5 lbs.).
There is nothing worse than a tent that leaks. You really do not want to sleep in a humid environment, especially if the night is cold. Waterproofing is therefore a crucial point to observe when choosing your tent, especially if you are camping during spring or autumn.
Models with flysheets are the most suitable. Ideally, the rainfly will come down to the ground to keep you dry. Opt for a tent with a coated outer layer and taped seams. If necessary, you can also use waterproofing coatings yourself.
Note that the waterproofness is indicated on each model, according to an international standard. It is therefore quite easy to compare several tents regarding this element.
A ground sheet is a piece of protective material placed under your tent to shield you from moisture. Your tent may come with a ground sheet, but if not, buy one separately as it can make a big difference. You can also use a tarp or what we call a footprint to form a larger surface on which to put your tent.
The presence of storage and pockets in the tent saves you from having to turn everything over to find your flashlight or your warm socks. These small additions allow you to store everything easily. It is convenient to no longer have to search during the night!
The amount of storage space varies greatly from one model to another. Of course, the more comfort-oriented the model, the more pockets there are.
Fortunately, not everyone practises camping in the same way. There are those who go canoe-camping, those who walk the trails to the north, those who are tempted by a weekend of fishing…
Whatever your next destination, you are now able to choose a tent made for your camping habits! Whether you are a backpacker or an occasional camper, the “right” tent is the one that best meets your needs at the best price. Ideally, you will make as few compromises as possible.
Also remember to take a look at our list of camping equipment to make sure you do not forget anything on your next outings. You can even treat yourself to a tent fan or tent heater!