How To Buy A Camping Tent


I have camped so many times in a tent that I cannot even begin to count the nights.   I should sub title this post "Tents That You Should Never Buy".  My love for tent camping started by camping out in our back yard in an authentic canvas Army green button up tent with no floor.  Mosquitoes would fly in and out all night buzzing in our ears and stinging us.  This and many other tents still for sale today should never be used if you want to have an enjoyable tent camping experience.

I have hitch hiked tens of thousands of miles across the US, spent 9 months living on a bicycle and camping out, numerous back packing and camping trips.  If you are searching for information on how to buy a camping tent I can let you borrow my 40 years of camping experience and help you out. It's really not a complicated process as long as you can define your budget, the size of the tent, the type camping trip that you're going on, and the level of comfort that you are seeking.

Personally, I would rather sleep under the stars without a tent. I enjoy hearing the night sounds, watching shooting stars, and feeling the fresh air on my face. However, certain natural factors that are out of my control usually prohibit me from doing so. These uncontrollable factors include mosquitoes attacking me all night, morning dew that leaves my sleeping bag feeling like a wet limp noodle, nocturnal thunderstorms, and sometimes an occasional morning frost. I love comfort. High quality tents provide you with almost as much comfort as you get inside your home.

5 Benefits That A Good Camping Tent Must Deliver

  1. Warmth so you can be comfortable sleeping.
  2. Protection from snow, rain and dew so you can stay dry.
  3. Keeps from strong winds from flowing through tent.
  4. Protection from mosquitos and other critters.
  5. Privacy from people looking in so you can change your clothing in complete privacy.

The REI Base Camp 4 is a good example that gives you the 5 basic benefits of a great camping tent.   Click on the tent to read the reviews and see the specifications at


How To Choose A Camping Tent By Asking Yourself A Few Simple Questions

  • Where are you going?
  • How many people will stay in the tent?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • Is size important to you?
  • Do you need a lightweight camping tent?

Determining Your Camping Needs

A great camping tent is what stands between you and experiencing a great trip.  I am not going to give you a conventional tent review or guide.  There are thousands of models available and giving you every choice is going to make you end up being more confused.  The tent is going to be for you.  Are you looking for comfort or just a basic shelter?  Do you need a tent that is easily set up?  Is weight a factor for you?  I will only recommend tents that I have personally used or know a lot about.  If I don't know anything about a certain tent, the best advice that I can give you is to seek out real customer reviews at REI and Amazon.

How Many People Will Sleep In The Tent?

This is an extremely important consideration.  Tents are rated for average size people.  I have 2 young kids and and my wife.  We fit comfortably in our 4 person REI Base Camp 4 tent.  If the 2 boys were teenagers, we would be reasonably comfortable.   If we were 4 adults, then I would use our 6 person Base Camp 6 tent.  Since we only go car camping, we like comfort and lots of room.  Back packers would consider our tent too large and heavy and I would agree.  If the manufacture says a tent will sleep 4 adults, it will with certain limitations.  Car camping tents are usually give you plenty of space to move around and back packing tents give you enough room to lay out your sleeping bag and "squeeze" in.

Where Will You Be Camping?

I have found that a 3 season tent works well for most geographic places and weather conditions.  I have camped many times in the snow with a 3 season tent.    Once, I left my 3 season Eureka Timberline 2 person tent un-attended in a field covered in snow for 3 days.  We got real comfortable staying in a cabin and we found no need to brave the cold winter weather in a tent.  The tent was intact when we returned.   Unless you plan on doing some extreme winter camping on a high mountain like Mt. Everest, a 3 season tent should suit your needs.

Will You Be Car Camping Or Back Packing

If you plan on back packing, then you will need a mountaineering tent.  While people car camping can be perfectly comfortable in a mountaineering tent, back packers cannot afford the extra weight of family camping tents.   For example, when I go back packing with my friend, we use a 2 person tent that weighs approximately 6 pounds.  My REI Base Camp 4 weight close to 20 pounds!  I find that even a 20 pound tent for car camping can be cumbersome to pack.  My recommendation is to use buy a camping tent that is as light weight and small as possible to fit your needs because packing and ease of set up is part of the over-all camping experience.

Companies like REI specialize in all types of tents and have done all the research for you so you can choose the most appropriate tent.  What I find extremely useful are the consumer product reviews at REI. Personally, I think they are more helpful than the marketing information that both REI and the manufacture provide. Well-known companies like REI include the good, the bad, and the ugly consumer reviews.

3 Things You Should Never Do When Buying Your Tent

  1. Never buy a no-name or big box branded camping tent.  If the price is too good to be true, then believe your gut instinct.
  2. Never buy a tent because it's the cheapest model available.  Buying a cheap tent may be the most expensive mistake that you have ever made in your camping life because you may end up in a motel for a price higher than you bargained for.
  3. Never buy a tent that is not symmetrical in design.  Our family bought an odd size tent for a family camping outing and it was a nightmare to set up.  The best tents on the market are symmetrical for many reasons including ease of set up, stability, and protection from the elements.

The Best Places To Buy Camping Tents

I like to buy all my camping gear from big-name companies like REI, L.L. Bean, Cabela's, and any other well-known store because if and when you have issues with your equipment these companies will back you up nearly 100% of the time. I know for a fact that REI places the customer and their reputation as their number 1 priority. REI has a 100% satisfaction guarantee for life meaning it.

Don't forget Amazon and Walmart.  Amazon will give you the widest selection and often free delivery to your home.  Just remember that online retailers do not have as generous of a return policy as REI.  When you buy anything from REI, you are getting built in buyer satisfaction insurance.  Manufactures usually offer limited warranties.  REI offers life  time satisfaction.   When you spend a few hundred dollars on your next camping tent, I think  you will feel more comfortable knowing that if for any reason you do not like your tent, you can return even if the tent is just thrown in a bag and you politely say "It just did not work for me."  In my 40 years of camping, I have only returned 1 tent from  a  big box retailer because the tent was nearly impossible to set up and it ripped on the first and only outing.


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