The Basic Things to Consider When Buying a Tent

When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.

A tent is a serious purchase. Even though it will not be nearly as expensive as purchasing a house, a vehicle, or even a month’s worth of groceries, purchasing the right tent is very important.

A tent may not be extremely expensive and, of course, you can usually return it if it doesn’t turn out to be what you need, but I want you to take a moment to think about what it would be like to discover that your tent isn’t the right tent while you are already camping.

What if you discover that it isn’t large enough and you do not have anywhere to put everything you need? What if you discover it isn’t waterproof enough and you are floating in two inches of water in the middle of the night? What if you discover that it simply isn’t functional for you and any of the people with whom you may be sharing it?

This article will invite you to begin considering some of the basic and extra options you have when purchasing a tent. The aim of this article is to get you to come up with a list of needs and a list of wants when it comes to your ideal tent.

Basic Things to Consider When Buying a Tent

Fabric Type

I knew that I would need to include a section here about fabric type because it is one of the most important considerations when purchasing a tent. Unfortunately, this article would become ridiculously long and difficult to navigate if I included this section and gave it all the attention it truly deserves.

As a result of that restriction and out of a desire to bring you the best information I possibly can, I decided to include a page devoted entirely to fabric types. Take a moment to check out our page for help selecting the right tent fabric for your needs.

How Many Seasons?

You may notice that very few tents are for sale on the market which boast the ability to withstand all weather or all seasons. For the most part, this is because a tent cannot protect you from extreme cold.

Honestly, I think that there is a liability issue at hand here. If companies were to claim that their tents were winter-friendly they would have to make absolutely certain that a person could survive in extreme freezing conditions without much else to aid them in staying warm. Of course, common sense tells us that we would also require clothing, a sleeping bag, and a fire to stay warm.

If you are looking for something which will help you out in winter months, you will have to look long and hard. As someone with a bit of outdoors and survival skills training and experience, I would like to caution against using a tent in cold winter months. Instead, take the time to build yourself a proper shelter for which you can insulate and create a vented fire pit.

If you are not looking to camp in the winter but are hoping to do so in the cool days of early spring and late fall, you will want to find a fully waterproof bivouac tent or a larger tent which features a full fly.

A rainfly which extends all the way to the ground around the entire tent not only protects you from rain and snow in the best way possible, it also helps to trap warmth inside. To maintain ventilation in this type of tent, you may find that the rainfly has tiny ventilation slits which allow air to flow in just enough to keep it fresh without getting overly cold.

The smaller the tent; the easier it will be to keep it warm inside. Your body and the bodies of however many people you are sharing the tent with should be all that fit inside, with the exception of one or two gear bags. You will want to find a short dome or triangle-shaped tent and steer clear of tall cabin-style tents with multiple rooms. In this instance, heat should be your primary concern, not luxury.

If you are looking for a summer tent – one used mostly in summer but occasionally in late spring or early autumn – you can begin to place luxury closer to the top of your list. Additionally, you will want to put a lot of consideration into ventilation.

Hot, sultry, humid nights will call for a tent with a lot of mesh. Look for one with plenty of windows and a mesh roof or one which is fully constructed of mesh. Of course, you cannot always avoid the rain, so a good, sturdy rainfly is also important.

Shape and Height

This is where we get into the part of the conversation where needs become less important and we begin to focus on all the things you want from your tent. A major consideration is space. You need to consider how many people will be in your tent, how much stuff you want to bring in your tent with those people and what you would like to do inside the tent.

If the tent is simply a place to sleep and/or store things you shouldn’t need a lot of space, but if you intend to hang out in there to play a game of cards at night or during rainstorms, you may want to consider one with plenty of extra space.

The amount of space you want from your tent will affect the shape of tent you may want to purchase. For example, a dome shape gives you a little more space overall than a triangle shape, because its corners aren’t as steeply angled. Still, dome tents often have some awkward, rather unusable areas due to height constraints. A cabin-style tent or one with tall walls and a domed roof will offer a lot of space to move around.

How tall would you like your tent? Are you hoping to stand up inside, or are you okay with crawling around? I often camp with my entire family. We bring a lot of things with us inside our oversized tent and, thus, have a lot to clean up after we are finished camping for the week. Being able to stand up inside our tent is very important to me, as it makes the cleaning process that much simpler.

Octagon Tent

Square Tent

Set Up

There are many different ways to set up a tent. Some of the more “old-school” type of tents are simply a conglomeration of poles and pegs which all fit together in a strange, difficult-to-comprehend pattern. Luckily, newer strategies have been developed over the years and even these complicated systems have adopted color coding to help you breeze through the process in as little time as possible.

Generally speaking, the larger the tent; the more time it will take to set it up. Therefore, if you are hoping to house eight people but do not intend to actually hang out inside of your tent, you may want to consider purchasing a few small quick-assembly tents instead of a large tent which could take anywhere from a half of an hour to an hour to set up.

Large tents take much longer to set up, because they require more poles to hold up more fabric. It is tough to create large popup tents, because they would be difficult to fold into a bag and may not provide the strength and structure required by such a large tent. Some companies are beginning to create quick-to-assemble mid-sized and large tents which utilize collapsible poles that are always locked into base positions.


First of all, I would like to begin by suggesting that, unless you have chosen a popup tent or a collapsible quick-assemble tent, you purchase a tent with shock-corded poles. Generally speaking, shock-corded poles are preferable to the older style of poles which came in a bunch of smaller pieces and required you to put them together into long poles before you could even begin to think about putting them inside of the tent sleeves or clips.

Shock-cord poles are already put together to their full lengths. They are held together by stretchy cords which have been fitted inside of them. To break the poles down, simply pull them apart a little bit and fold the cord at the opening. Not only are they easier to use, they will also withstand weather and pressure much better and you will never have to worry about losing a section of pole.

Another consideration with poles is material. Would you prefer poles built from fiberglass or aluminum? If you are unfamiliar with the differences between the two in terms of performance, allow me to quickly explain. Fiberglass poles will not rust and are much more suitable for damp environments than aluminum poles.

However, aluminum poles are much stronger, meaning that they will hold up to weather and extended pressure much better. Aluminum poles are also much lighter, making them preferable for backpacking tents. If price is important to you, you should know that fiberglass poles are much more cost-effective.

Sleeves or Clips

This is a huge consideration, at least in my opinion. Though tents with pole sleeves take much longer to assemble than those with clips, they are also much sturdier. Clips break off easier than sleeves ever could.

That being said, who wants to fight with a six-foot long tent sleeve, trying to push the pole through to no avail and finding it constantly stuck on one side or another? I have been there and it’s no walk in the park – especially when you are camping with a bunch of children and are the only adult and therefore the only person capable of actually assembling the tent.

Personally, I prefer a tent which features both sleeves and clips. The clips speed the process up when I am assembling the tent, but the sleeves give me the added peace of mind that the tent will stay well-assembled throughout my vacation.


There are many possible luxuries you can select from when purchasing a tent – especially when it comes to large tents.

I left this bit of the conversation for last because I truly believe that it is the least important consideration of all. Yes, luxury is wonderful and added features are always fun, but they are much less important than a quality tent which will keep you protected from the elements.

Examples of luxuries you may be able to select from include reflective interiors for better lighting, lantern hooks, gear lofts and pockets, vestibules and mudrooms, room dividers, multiple exits, and electrical cord ports. We will cover these topics as well as doors and windows in our family and group tent buying guide over here.