How to Choose the Best Tent for Camping

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If you’ve never purchased a tent before you are probably unaware of the gross difference between the number of people a tent’s specifications claim it will comfortably sleep and the actual number of people who can fit inside one.

This short article has been designed to help you make sense of the numbers you often see written on the packaging for a tent so that you do not purchase one, take it home, travel to your destination and set it up just to discover that half of the people you came with are going to have to try to sleep in the car.

On a quick side note, I would like to point out that it is a very good idea to set your new tent up at home, at a loved one’s house, or even in a local park before actually taking it with you to your camping destination.

The last thing anyone wants is to pack up half their belongings and travel hours away from home to discover that there is something wrong with their tent once they arrive.

How to Choose the Best Tent for Camping

How To Read The Specifications

Let’s get this part out of the way really quick before delving into the more complicated part of this article. A tent’s specifications are typically found on its packaging or listed somewhere on the website from which you are purchasing.

Obviously, if you are shopping in a store you can look at the packaging. If you are shopping online, on the other hand, you will have to find the specifications somewhere on the website.

Instead of telling you how many people can fit in the tent, the specifications will tell you how many people can sleep in the tent. More accurately, it tells you how many “average” sized people can lie down inside the tent – there are no requirements that these people must sleep.

Still, the terminology helps you understand that these people will be in a horizontal position instead of a vertical one (standing up). Typically, the specifications will say something like “sleeps four” or “sleeps 8-10.”

So, How Many People Can Really Fit?

This question is a little difficult to answer because, technically, the number of people listed on the box can actually fit inside the tent in a horizontal position. I know. You think I’m crazy.

Why am I writing this article if the numbers on the packaging are correct? It makes no sense! The number on the packaging is correct, but only in very special circumstances.

Let’s take a moment to imagine a camping trip. Let’s say that six people are going on this trip and that, together, they purchased a tent that claims to sleep six people. Can they all fit in the tent? Possibly.

The answer is really not a simple one. There are many things we will need to figure out about this group of people before we can decide. Is anyone in the group much taller than the “average” person? Since the specifications are based on averages, a taller than average person may take up more space than what the camp gear company defined as “average.”

Maybe someone in the group is much shorter than average. Perhaps there are children in the group. Children and people who are shorter than average will take up less space, allowing more room for taller and larger people.

That brings me to my next point, how large are these people? How wide is the “average” person the company used to come up with its figure of “sleeps six”?

Sleeps Three
Sleeps Seven

Assuming that everyone in the group somehow magically fits into this obscure category of “average” or, in some way, their widths and heights all make up for each other’s, all six people could fit in the tent. Well, at least in theory.

If they were to all sleep in the tent, they would be squeezed in there like a bunch of squished up sardines in a can. This works out okay if these six people don’t mind being squished in with one another.

However, what if someone rolls around a lot in his or her sleep? What if someone just doesn’t like being that physically close to other people? What if someone hasn’t showered for the entire camping trip and no one wants to sleep next to their smelly sleeping bag?

Whether or not your group of people will fit in a tent labeled with the same number of people as makes up your group will depend on all of those factors listed above, and then some.

What Size Tent Do You Need

What About All That Gear?

Now that you’ve started thinking about the size of each member of your group, their sleeping preferences and bathing habits, we will move on to discuss all your stuff. Unless you are going camping for the sake of actually living in the outdoors as if you were some sort of caveman, I am assuming that you will be bringing a bunch of stuff with you.

Some people bring more stuff than others, but we all bring stuff. Whether food, clothes, bathing supplies, camp stoves, propane tanks, or the family dog, there are probably a bunch of things you will want to keep in your tent for easy access.

I would like to take a quick moment to point out that you should not be keeping food in your tent if you are camping in area known to house bears. It doesn’t matter how big your family dog is, he or she will not protect you from a hungry larger-than-life animal. Although some bears can be rather docile at times, you do not want to take any chances – keep the food packed up and away from your tent.

Okay, so now you have all this stuff in your tent, whatever it may be. Even if you decide to keep most of your stuff in your car, where will your shoes go? Some tents have mudrooms or vestibules attached to them for the sole purpose of storing those shoes, but be advised that they usually factor that square footage into the estimation of how many people can sleep in the tent.

In other words, if the package says “sleeps eight” and you want to use the mudroom for shoes, you better have less than eight people or really enjoy snuggling.

Tips for Choosing Between Tent Sizes for Camping

Putting the Pieces Together

Now that we have considered all of these things we can pull them together to help you decide what size of tent you would like to purchase. I will lay it out in a few quick steps.

  • Step One – Figure out how many people will be sleeping in your tent on most of your camping trips.

  • Step Two – If you do not mind sleeping all squished up with everyone and have no intention of bringing extra stuff in your tent, skip steps 3 and 4 and proceed straight to purchasing a tent which sleeps the number of people in your group.

  • Step Three – If you would like to sleep comfortably but do not mind sleeping in relatively close proximity to another person, add one half person to the total number of people for each person in your group.

    In other words, multiply the number of people in your group by 1.5. For example, if your group has four people, you will now be assuming you need a six person tent. If you really like your space and each person in your group would like to sleep on his or her own single air mattress, multiply the number of the people in your group by 2.

  • Step Four – Now it’s time to consider all of your stuff. Figure out how much space your stuff will need by comparing it to the size of an average person. Remember that you will probably be able to stack some of your things. Add extra people depending upon the space your stuff will take up.

Choosing a Tent

That wasn’t too hard, was it? Well, unfortunately you’re not finished yet. There are a few other things you will want to consider before selecting your tent. Still, at least you have come to a conclusion about its size. For more information and advice about selecting the right tent for you, please take a moment to visit our Tent Buying Guide.

I highly recommend you take your time and really consider all of the things in that article as well as this one before making as large and important of a purchase as this. A tent may not seem like a lot to some people.

It certainly pales in comparison to the price of a new car, for example. What those people do not consider, however, is the fact that their tent is what will be protecting them from the wind, the rain, and the bugs while they camp.