Summertime camping is a way of life for many who enjoy spending time outdoors. Some even extend their camping window to include the spring and fall seasons, while a few hardy souls prefer to go camping year-round, regardless of the climate. No matter what your seasonal preference, there are tents available to keep you and your family protected from the elements. The important things to consider when purchasing a tent are the purpose of use, quality, size, accessibility, weight, ventilation, and, perhaps most importantly, the cost. Choosing these things carefully will result in finding the best tent that meets your individual requirements at a price that fits your budget.
To begin your search, make a list of what your needs are. Do you primarily backpack to a secluded spot, occasionally camp in a campground, or spend lots of time outdoors? Are you a seasonal or year-round camper? Most importantly, are you willing to spend a little more for quality, or will a budget model with only the basic options suit your needs? Casual summer campers generally start out choosing a budget model tent. They are commonly constructed using heavier fabrics, and although moisture resistant they don’t stand up well in stormy weather. Higher-quality models use more mesh for ventilation and often have an added rainfly to help keep the inside of the tent dry. The tent poles are also stronger and hold up better in windy conditions. Regardless of price, remember that a poorly ventilated tent will be hot, muggy, and just as uncomfortable as a rain-soaked tent.
If your interest is backpacking, you probably want to consider dome tents. While they don’t provide much headroom, they are lightweight and are designed more for sleeping than for standing and moving around on the inside. Smaller size domes are perfect for one or two people, with larger models capable of sleeping three or four. Most use fiberglass poles to form an exoskeleton or dome to which the nylon tent fabric is attached. Some also have a rain fly which fits over the dome to keep the tent fabric dry. These tents fit nicely into tube-shaped storage bags and don’t add much weight when lashed onto a pack frame.
No matter what type of tent you purchase, make sure it has a floor and add a ground cloth or tarp to separate you from the chill that comes from sleeping on bare earth. Just be sure the tarp is slightly smaller than the tent dimensions so it doesn’t direct rainwater underneath the tent floor. It is also a good idea to use sleeping mats since no matter how carefully you clean the area under the tent footprint there are always a few missed sticks or rocks that will make sleeping uncomfortable. The foam pads will smooth the uneven surface and absorb the lumps beneath your sleeping bags.