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A roof over your head: tents

Buyer’s guide to outdoor tents


A roof over your head: tents
At least you have a roof over your head

A tent is supposed to be your home away from home, so it’s important for you to feel comfortable in it. But, how are you supposed to decide between all the different models? I mean, there are so many different designs, sizes and materials! Not to mention the fact that they’re all so complicated to put together! What to do?

Well, it’s always a good idea to take your time when looking into buying a tent. There are so many different kinds of tents nowadays that it can be quite overwhelming. So, again, do take your time. Besides, there’s nothing worse than realising your tent is unfit to withstand storm right in the middle of one, right? Right! So, here are some helpful tips!

What size do you need?

When deciding on a size, it’s important to consider the number of people you plan on travelling with and how much gear you think you’re going to have with you. In other words, do you really need to have all your gear in the tent or can it stay in the car? Another thing you should consider is the amount of extra room you need. When manufacturers say “two-person tent”, they really mean two people, so your kit will either be lying at your feet or outside. If you like it a bit more spacious and don’t mind the extra weight, “add” another person and get yourself a 3-person tent, even if you’re travelling in a group of two. Believe me, it’s worth it.

The interior dimensions are particularly important for taller people who require a longer layout. It may go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: larger tents weigh more. So, if you’re planning a multi-day walk and need to carry your tent in your rucksack, do take this into consideration, as they can be rather cumbersome. Oftentimes, individual parts of a tent can be divided up among your fellow travellers, but this obviously only works when you’re travelling in a group.

How many walls?

Tents usually have one or two walls. The double-wall tents consist of three parts: an inner tent, an outer tent and poles. As always, both designs have their advantages and disadvantages:

A roof over your head: tents
The double-wall MSR Hubba HP – 1-person tent


+ easy to set up, especially in the rain
+ light

– less insulation as a result of direct contact with the outside
– if vents are missing, condensation on the interior can be an issue


+ better air circulation between the inner and outer tent
+ the fly can be left off in the summertime (not all tents have this feature)
+ less expensive

– depending on the construction of the poles, some tents can be kept dry when pitching in the rain.

The construction

The shape of a tent is determined by the pole design. For us outdoor enthusiasts, the most common designs are the following: the dome tent, tunnel tent and geodesic tent.

Try to remember this as a rule of thumb: the more poles there are and the higher the number of pole intersections, the sturdier the tent will be. But this also means, the sturdier the tent is, the more difficult it will be to set up as well. In order to determine the best design for you, consider the following first:

  • Who’s carrying the tent? You or your vehicle?
  • What’s the weather going to be like? Rain, strong winds, snowfall, sand, how hot?
  • How quiet would you like your tent to be? Would it really bother you if the tent were to flap in the wind?
  • How experienced are you at pitching tents?

Tunnel tent

A roof over your head: tents
Nordisk – Halland 2 PU – 2-person tent

The tent gets its name from the non-intersecting arches the poles of the tent form. This pole design makes the tent look like a tunnel. As a result of this construction, the tent has serious issues with strong winds and snow from above. However, the tunnel shape makes the tents themselves pretty spacious, since the walls are relatively steep. Thus, tunnel tents usually have a high space-to-weight ratio.

Areas of use: trekking and camping

+ good use of space
+ light relative to its size

– not freestanding
– issues with stormy weather and heavy snowfall

Dome tent

A roof over your head: tents
Vaude – Campo Compact 2P – 2-person tent

Dome tents have two pole arches that cross in the middle. They are easy to deal with, making pitching a doddle. The strength and the material of the poles determines how sturdy the tent is. Dome tents are indeed freestanding, but they should be pegged down for extra stability.

Those double-wall dome tents, whose poles lie between the outer and inner wall and only have to be clipped in, are easy to pitch in the rain, since you can pitch the outer tent first.

Today, there are several dome tents that deviate from the basic tent structures. These tents are often called hybrids.

Areas of use: camping, trekking and high-altitude mountaineering

+ light
+ good stability in wind
+ freestanding
+ can be set up in rain (some)

– come in all sorts of different designs

Geodesic tents

A roof over your head: tents
Ortik – SWAT 21 – 2-person tent

These tents have at least three poles that intersect at several points, making the tent much more structurally sound and minimising the amount of unsupported fabric. This pole design makes these tents sturdier in snowy conditions and strong winds.

The geodesic shape is self-supporting, so it can theoretically stand on its own without you having to guy it out. However, this is not recommended. Pitching this tent is somewhat more complicated than the other two designs. But, once you get the hang of it, it’s fairly easy.

The tent’s high stability in snowy and windy conditions makes it great for expeditions, even though the larger number of poles does increase the tent’s overall weight.

Areas of use: expeditions

+ plenty of stability
+ self-supporting

– relatively heavy

Some other designs

A roof over your head: tents
MSR – Zing – Tarp

Tarps are basically a solid sheet of fabric, which can be rigged to trees or poles. They have neither walls nor floors. Tarps are geared toward those who will do anything to save some weight, people travelling in places where weather protection is not as important or just outdoorsy folk who love to sleep as closely to nature as possible, despite all the creepy-crawlies.

Pop-up tents have poles that are already built in and can only be folded down under pressure. When you unpack the tent, it will basically unfold itself and erect right before your very eyes. However, due to the thin poles, pop-up tents are not very sturdy in stormy conditions and cannot withstand very heavy snow loads. Due to their construction, they’re more suitable for light camping, festivals and the like. The good thing is that they are very inexpensive.

Other kinds of tents (pyramid/teepee tents) aren’t used all that often in our neck of the woods. In terms of stability in stormy conditions in particular, the two types mentioned above have proven to be quite effective.

Pyramid or tepee tents are often used by groups of people, such as boy scouts. They’re also quite popular in Norway.

What about my kit?

Tents are usually equipped with a vestibule or a porch in which you can store your gear. If you run out of room, you can always take your pack with you in the tent and use it as a pillow.

The size and the shape, and thus the usability of the porch, can vary from model to model. Many provide plenty of storage space and can even serve as a small kitchen, whilst others are hardly big enough for you to store your shoes in.

For reasons of comfort and convenience, certain designs, such as geodesic and dome tents in particular, are much better if they have two entrances. That way, you won’t have to wake up the whole tent if you need to go outside.

Hydrostatic head

All tents are basically waterproof. A hydrostatic head of 1500mm is the legal requirement for calling a tent’s outer fabric ‘waterproof’. But, there are even tents that have a hydrostatic head of 20,000mm, but are they really more waterproof? The hydrostatic head refers to the amount of water pressure required to penetrate a given fabric. Since the pressure applied to a tent is usually not very high, it doesn’t need a hydrostatic head of 20,000.

However, the pressure on a tent’s floor (a hydrostatic head of 2000mm is considered waterproof) can be significantly higher, seeing as we kneel, sit and lie on it.

It’s always a good idea to use a groundsheet. These serve to provide extra waterproofing. But, always be sure that no water can get between the groundsheet and the tent floor. In addition to providing extra waterproofing, a groundsheet serves to protect the tent floor from sharp objects as well.


A roof over your head: tents
There aren’t always enough stones to go around

There are all sorts of other features that are supposed to improve tent life. Be it the reflective guy lines (if you’ve ever destroyed a neighbouring tent on your way to the ‘loo’, you know what these are good for) or fluorescent pegs to protect your feet.

As you can see, many are quite useful. Another such example is that you can often choose what colour you want your fly to be. Why not? It’s fashionable and makes your tent easy to identify. If you’d prefer not to stand out from the crowd, don’t pick orange. But, if you’re planning on spending time in the mountains, a brightly coloured tent could save your life. When choosing a colour, you might also want to consider how much light you want to shine through your tent. For Scandinavian summers, for example, a dark tent would be a great choice, but a yellow or orange tent will brighten up the mood (and the interior) on cloudy days. Some colours tend to attract mosquitos as well, so if you choose one of those, always remember to close the mosquito net.

The perfect tent for you >>

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