All of these groups will follow some main criteria, but the specific use will help tell you what features are most important. With all that said, we talked to a variety of different tent experts, from tent designers to hard-core thru-hikers to tent testers, to get the dirt on what features to look out for and how to test for them. With their expert direction, we’ve established these criteria to use when testing tents for our own product reviews; you’ll want to consider these features in your own tent-buying journey. Here’s how to shop for a tent.
Tent Evaluation Criteria
When testing, we evaluate tents we review by using them in the situation they’re made for as detailed above.
This measurement is most important for backpackers. You don’t want to be lugging around a 20-pound tent on a backpacking trip, but there is a limit to lightweight. “It doesn’t matter if your tent weighs less than a pound if it leaks water on the trail,” says Reed. “So look for tent materials with ripstop nylon additives to help prevent tears.”
Along similar lines, more tent space generally leads to a more comfortable camping experience, so sometimes it’s worth taking on a little extra weight for more room.
If you’re looking for a lightweight tent, aim for a tent you can at least sit up in. “The average person’s head is about three feet above the ground when sitting down,” Rosenbrien notes. If weight isn’t your highest concern and you plan to spend more than a few days at a time in your tent, you may want to go for a heavier tent that you can stand up in.
For our testing method, we’ll measure overall weight, packed size, floor space, vestibule area (extra space the rainfly covers), height, and total interior volume.
A good tent should last you at least four or five years with moderate use. You’ll want a fully waterproof layer, taped or treated seams, and sturdy materials. Rosenbrien also recommends looking for aluminum poles and nylon or polyester fabrics.
To test durability, we’ll note the materials and spend at least two nights camping in the field with the tent, ideally more. Unfortunately, this won’t perfectly measure long-term durability, but it’ll give a good idea for overall durability.
Ease of Setup and Takedown
A tent that’s easy to set up and take down makes a world of difference for new and experienced campers alike. “[With a quick setup,] if you find yourself in a storm, you can quickly throw up your tent and get in without everything getting wet,” says Deirdre Denali Rosenberg, a wildlife photographer and Backpackers gear reviewer.
To test this, we’ll practice the tent setup beforehand (which you should always do before adventuring with a new tent), then time how long it takes to set up and take down the tent. We’ll time how long it takes with one person and with two (or up to however many people the tent is supposed to hold).
One of the least pleasant experiences to have while camping is waking up to find a puddle in your tent or having water drip on you all night. Unless you plan to entirely cancel your camping trip if there’s even a 5% chance of rain (no judgment, you totally can), you’re going to want a tent with a good rainfly or integral waterproofing. Even if you have no intention of camping in wet conditions, let’s be honest: shit happens. Good waterproofing means that even when you do get a sprinkle (or downpour), it’s not going to ruin your camping trip.
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