The Different Types of Camping Tents - Introductory Guide

Different Types of Camping Tents

Whether you've already camped many times in your life or you just love to be in contact with nature, you might have considered, at least once, the purchase of a camping tent, or you probably wouldn't be here reading this article right now.

Whether you're: going camping in the Everglades, the Hot Springs National Park, or even a little further, the Croatian coasts or the Sila mountainous plateau in the very South of Italy, is a pleasurable experience per se, but having your own tent definitively changes your experience. But -you may ask- which one to choose when the possibilities almost seem overwhelming? Well, don't panic! I'm here to guide you through the colorful world of camping tents and help you choose the type that suits you best.

What is a Camping Tent and Why Do I Need One?

Tents are three-dimensional structures, most of the times with a built-in floor, purposely thought to recreate a familiar home-like environment, a comfortable space. One of the basic human needs is having shelter to preserve body temperature and maintain a micro-climate for protection from weather conditions and annoying bugs. In general, they provide comfort and privacy in the wild.

Key Points to Consider When Choosing a Tent

Although the plethora of camping tents may look like an ocean where it's easy to get lost, it all actually comes to mainly a few things you have to be careful about.

  • Material

    This is probably the most important feature to consider when choosing a camping tent, the one that can really affect your experience. There are three main types of fabric camping tents are made of:

    1. Canvas or Cotton: Canvas is typically used on long-term types of tents that are going to have to stand the test of time. It is mostly used by boy scouts although it's been substituted, almost completely, by synthetic materials. It is very expensive and very heavy but, compared to man-made fabrics, canvas is more insulating and breathable.
    2. Nylon: expensive, stronger, lighter; commonly coated with polyurethane to be protected from UV rays and be waterproof. Possibly, the best type of material for tents. When wet, it will tend to stretch and sag, because it will absorb some water. Ripstop Nylon is a stronger variety, reinforced to be highly resistant to tearing and ripping
    3. Polyester: heavy material, it is the least expensive but yet it has a good resistance to UV rays and is waterproof, staying tight when wet. It is typically found in family tents.
  • Denier

    Denier is a unit of measure for the linear mass density of fibres. Simplifying, it is about the strength of the material: the higher the number, the stronger and heavier the material. Lower Denier is common in ultralight nylon tents and tarps where low weight is paramount. Naturally, different fabrics come with different Denier values: most lightweight nylon tents use 30D to 60D fabric, I’d suggest not less than 40D. A safe value for polyester would be 75D and above.

  • Floor

    We can distinguish two main types of tent floors:

    1. Woven Polyethylene: waterproof coating, lower cost. Over time, it starts deteriorating and the coating starts flaking off. It’s not going to last as long as a nylon floor. It is resistant to punctures, scrapes and abrasion.
    2. Nylon floor: more expensive, waterproof, very resistant.

    3. Extra feature:

    4. Bathtub floor: the waterproof and thicker floor material goes a few inches up the side of the tent to prevent water and other unwanted material from getting in from the ground.
  • Room

    Never, ever, underestimate the importance of considering room when choosing your tent. In order to pick the best, you have to take into account your needs: are you a beginner, a solo backpacker? Do you travel in pairs with someone or have a family? Remember: the bigger the tent, the lesser the stability, so try to find the right balance that will guarantee you the best possible experience.

  • Free-Standing vs. Non-Free-Standing

    Free-standing tents can be freely moved around once set up, non free-standing tents are generally larger and need to be staked out to provide the tension for the tent to be supported.

  • Quality Zippers

    Last, but not least: the importance of zippers. You've come so far, navigating through this apparently complicated, perilous path of choosing the tent of your dreams and you end up with a crappy zipper, breaking apart, letting all kinds of insects making their way into your peaceful outdoor home, ruining your beautiful encounter with nature. Nope, you definitively need to be sure the brand of the tent respects high standards, using quality materials for every single element of the product, including zippers.

Most Common Types of Camping Tents

Let's come to the most interesting part, the one you were waiting for: a one-by-one explanation of all the most common types of camping tents you can choose.

Tarp Tent
Best suited for: anyone

Tarp Tent
Photograph "Night Before Christmas" by Michael Pollak - CC BY 2.0.
This is the most common, basic type of camping tent. They come in every size, shape and material but they all are flat pieces of fabric that you can hang or tie to protect yourself from light forms of bad weather. It is not suitable for long stays or extreme conditions.

Ridge/A-shaped Tent
Best suited for: large groups

Ridge/A-shaped Tent
Photograph "Tent and storm clouds" by Karen Blaha - CC BY-SA 2.0.
This is possibly the most typical camping tent of all. If I asked you to imagine a tent, you would probably think of this one, even if you won't find many around today. Traditionally made of canvas, it is set on a horizontal pole supported by two vertical ones at its ends. These days, this old-style type of tent has been overthrown by more modern ones made out of synthetic materials; sure, it's heavy and not very easy to set up, but it still has the charm of good old camping and its reliability is difficult to find elsewhere, especially for its particular good resistance to weather conditions and its insulation capability.

Dome Tent
Best suited for: solos, pairs, small groups

Dome Tent
Photograph "Trail camp" by Mitch Barrie - CC BY-SA 2.0.
Quite popular in today's camping world, dome tents are modern outdoor shelters vaguely resembling igloos, usually free-standing and pretty easy to set up. They are sustained by two flexible poles, crossing at the top, firmly anchored to the floor in correspondence to each of the dome's corners. They're light, practical, inexpensive but, when in large sizes, not very stable against wind and bad weather.

Tunnel Tent
Best suited for: moderately large groups, families

Tunnel Tent
Photograph "Tent" by Chris Barnes - CC BY 2.0.
These tents are so called because of the series of flexible poles running across their length, giving them a shape which mimics that of tunnels. Tunnel tents provide plenty of space and endure moderate winds pretty well but keep in mind their remarkable weight and the characteristic of usually storing water on top, between the poles, when it rains.

Geodesic Tent
Best suited for: solos, pairs, small groups

The North Face Northstar 4 Geodesic Tent
Northstar 4 - available from The North Face.
The shape of these futuristic-looking tents originates from the multiple crossing of their sustaining poles: the more the poles, the more the crossings, the more the triangles formed on the tent's fly. The extremely complex appearance of the tent is needed to give an unprecedented strength to it. Because of their higher stability and quality, geodesic tents are generally more expensive and usually found in smaller sizes. They are lighter than other tents and can stand bad weather and wind -they're ideal for extreme conditions- but sometimes can be quiet problematic for beginners to set up.

Backpacking Tent
Best suitable for: solos, pairs

Backpacking Tent
Photograph "Morning" by Mitch Barrie - CC BY-SA 2.0.
Small, practical, light: they're the best if you're a newbie to camping, if you never stop for long, if you're just going to a festival for a couple days. Most of these tents are free-standing, easy to clean and to carry anywhere, easy to set up and take down, but don't expect them to be extremely resistant.

Bell Tent
Best suited for: everyone from small to large groups

Sibley 450 ProTech Bell Tent
Sibley 450 ProTech - available from CanvasCamp.
Now, now, let's turn posh for a moment. These are the fancy ones: spacious, livable, luxurious. They're durable, of excellent quality, super resistant to weather conditions and affordable, if you're willing to spend some money.

Instant/Pop-up Tent
Best suited for: beginners, lazy people :)

Pop Up Tent
Photograph "Grand Canyon North Rim Campground" by Grand Canyon National Park - CC BY 2.0.
Inexpensive and cheaply made, but if you ever dreamt of receiving an acceptance letter from a famous wizardry school when you were a kid, this tent was made for you: almost as simple as throwing it on the ground, it will open in front of you with a gesture of you hand, making you feel like you've just done some magic, just don't expect wonders.

Privacy/Shower Tent
Best suited for: families, large groups

WolfWise Pop Up Privacy Tent
WolfWise Pop Up Privacy Tent - available from WolfWise.
Also known as Privacy Shelters, these are great for camping showers, changing clothes, and for portable toilets at crowded campsites. The good ones only take up a small amount of storage space and instantly pop-up when you take them out of the carry bag, like the one featured above.

Leading Camping Tent Brands

Now let me illustrate some of what I think to be the best affordable models of each of 2018's leading camping tents' brands.

Camping Tent Types

Final Considerations

If you managed to read all this, you should have acquired a certain basic knowledge on camping tents and be able to choose one for yourself. You may not be en expert, but you surely are more consciously capable of making your experience better with enhanced awareness and maybe you'll also help a friend with this important choice. Of course your selection might be influenced by aesthetics, appearance, colour and many other non-structural features, which is absolutely reasonable but, please, remember this should never undermine the quality of your outdoor experience.

If you think you found this beginner's guide useful, please feel free to share the information you read here with all your friends and contacts!

About the Author:

What most importantly you need to consider about me is that I grew up in the countryside, in the suburbs of a small southern Italian city, with all that goes with it. The wild was my natural habitat before I even thought of becoming a scout and, when I eventually did, everything seemed to fall into place, if you know what I mean. I enjoy a good night out in the woods or on the beach around a bonfire and I love sharing my experiences with someone special: few things would make me happier. Of course, for me, the obvious next step was becoming a tour leader and guide, a wanderer willing to show others how being in intimate contact with the outside world may change one's life for the better, but I never forget to take at least a couple of special times every year to feel the thrill of adventure. I wish I could instill even just a little of my enthusiasm in everyone, through my writing.