Choosing a Camping Tent

A man setting up the tent

Imagine being awoken by sunlight, birds chirping, and the brisk wind. Choosing a camping tent is the precursor to having these positive and relaxing experiences in the great outdoors. Tents come in a variety of sizes, styles, and features that can vary greatly from one tent to another. Our SCHEELS experts have compiled a list of considerations that will help you choose a camping tent and prepare you for any adventure.

Types of Camping Tents

Sleep Capacity

The most common type of camping is going to a designated campsite and setting up your tent, which is often considered "car camping." With this traditional type of camping, you don't have to be concerned with weight as you would be if you go backpacking. There are two main types of camping, and depending on which type of camping you're planning will determine which style of tent you choose. When looking for a tent for car camping, you won't need to worry about weight, and you'll be able to invest in a more spacious tent. 

The second type of camping is done when backpacking over multiple days. Backpacking tents are compact when packed and are oftentimes described as “ultralight”. The material of the walls is very thin, and the tent poles are very lightweight, but they are often stronger than the car camping heavier options. It is important to note, backpacking tents generally have a higher price because of the material and the compact design they are engineered with. However, many serious hikers believe the price is well worth it for the significant lightweight characteristics. For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on car camping tents. Take a look at our article on backpacking if you would like to learn more about what to pack for backpacking

Camping Tent Features to Consider

When you are choosing a camping tent there are some details that are easy to overlook. Our experts have done the research for you so you can make an informed decision faster and enjoy your time making memories with your friends and family.

Camping Tent Size & Capacity

When you are choosing a tent, the tent size and capacity is the main consideration that people look at. A general rule of thumb when choosing a camping tent based on size would be to plan for one less person than the recommendation. For example, a four-person tent will comfortably sleep three people. This gives you additional room within the tent for pets, coolers, bags, and more. (i.e., a 4-person tent comfortably sleeps 3 people). In addition, you will want to size up your tent if you are over 6 feet tall or if you will be taking up more space by using a cot or air mattress.

3-Season Tent vs. 4-Season Tent

The time of year you intend to camp during and the weather conditions you expect to encounter can influence how you choose your tent. Three-season tents, which are the most common type, typically have fewer poles and are good during spring, summer, and early fall. Four-season tents, on the other hand, are great for wind, snow, and heavy rain. These tents are best for rough weather or high-altitude camping conditions.

Rain Fly Cover

Tent Poles

The two primary types of tent poles are aluminum and fiberglass. Aluminum poles are lighter and stronger than fiberglass poles, allowing them to be thinner while supporting the same amount of weight. Fiberglass poles are thicker and tend to be heavier, but they are also fairly easy to replace if they break. A tent’s overall pole structure helps determine the shape of the tent and the level of difficulty to set up. Similarly, a tent with fewer poles allows for quicker setup, and tent poles that attach to clips are quicker than ones that need to be threaded through pole sleeves.

Tent Doors

The number of doors and orientation of where they are located is offer a feature that's overlooked when choosing a camping tent. During the night when you have to go to the bathroom, having two doors compared to one will save you from having to maneuver over top and around your family. If you really want to get into the small details, take into consideration the type of zippers that the tent has. We recommend YKK zippers because they are more durable.

Rain Fly and Vestibule

Weather is difficult to predict, but you can always be prepared for it. A rainfly lies on top of the tent and adds an extra layer of protection against rain. Rainflys oftentimes reach past the doors and windows, allowing for rain to fall past the openings of the tent so you aren’t getting moisture inside. Similarly, a vestibule is a covered extension of the exterior of the tent that allows you to save space inside the tent. You can place coolers, shoes, food, and other camping essentials in the additional covered space that a vestibule provides you. 

Tent Vestibule

Recommended Tent Accessories

Tent Accessories

There are a few additional tent accessories to consider having when you go camping: additional tent poles and stakes, a tent repair kit, a battery-powered fan, and a tent footprint.

  • Additional Tent Poles & Stakes: Most tents come with basic tent stakes; however, depending on the style of tent you purchase, you may want to add more-durable stakes for added structure and security.
  • Tent Repair Kit: Holes may develop for a variety of reasons so it is always better to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared which is why we recommend having a tent repair kit on hand.
  • Battery-Powered Fan: A fan is great to get airflow throughout the tent on hot and humid nights.
  • Tent Footprint: A tent footprint adds a layer of protection underneath your tent’s floor to prevent holes from being poked underneath by rocks or twigs. These are essential if you have a family that moves in and out of the tent frequently. It is important to note that tent footprints are made to match the dimensions of your tents so make sure your tent size and footprint are the same.

With the right tent and accessories, car camping with your friends and family can be a great way to create long-lasting memories. Whether you’re planning on traveling to a campsite or just want to experience the adventure of the outdoors in your own backyard, SCHEELS has a variety of tents to choose from. If you have any questions about how to start camping be sure to check out our blog or stop by your nearest SCHEELS and speak with one of our Camping Experts.