Thursday, 19 July 2007 | Tags:

Camping is one of North America's most popular outdoor activities, and tents are a must-have staple if you're really planning on roughing it. (That is, without an RV!) We learn about waterproofing, warmth and what to look for in a sturdy temporary home.

The Basics

  • The quality of tents has improved enormously in the last few years, so even lower-priced models may be worthy contenders.

  • The tent should be easy to set up. Try setting it up in the store if possible. There should be as few pieces as possible, with poles, clips, and other items clearly labelled. Remember, there’s a chance you might be setting up your tent in the dark, so the easier it is to put up, the better.

  • Once it’s set up, or if there’s a floor model, take off your shoes and get inside. Imagine the space with everyone and everything in it. Are you going to have enough room?

  • If you’re camping with 4 people, it’s often better to get a 6-person tent in order to fit bags and gear.

  • Check that the door and zippers are sturdy and easy to use and not creating too much tension when done up.

  • Push on the walls to ensure that poles are stable and won’t collapse or bend too easily.

    • Aluminium poles are tougher, lighter and stiffer than fibreglass-carbon fibre poles.

    • Fibreglass-carbon fibre poles are very light and strong, but expensive.

  • Check to see that the canopy and fly are taut.

  • If you’re hiking with your tent on your back, weight is important:

    • The minimum weight includes the tent, frame, the pegs, poles and guy-lines necessary.

    • The “packaged” weight includes full tent, instructions, stuff sacks, repair swatches, and all guy-lines and pegs. vKeep in mind that lightweight tents often cost a lot more and can be less durable in nasty weather.

  • Fabric is usually lightweight, durable nylon or polyester with a breathable, water-resistant coating. Hold the sides and seams up to the light to look for flaws, loose threads, stitching glitches, rips, and irregularities.

  • Light coloured fabrics are cooler in the summer and dark colors absorb solar energy, making them better for cold weather.

  • There are a variety of activity-specific tent designs available. Pick a tent according to what you plan to use it for mainly, the number of people, weight limitations, climate conditions.

    • The most common types of tents are three- and four-season tents, but the range goes from 1 to 5.

    • Three-Season tents are used in the moderate weather of spring, summer and fall, and are designed to provide good ventilation with plenty of mesh in the interior canopy for venting in hot, humid climates. These tents do not hold up well under heavy snowfall and high winds. Good for recreational backpacking, paddling and cycling.

    • Four-Season tents, also referred to as winter/high altitude/mountaineering tents, are designed for extreme weather conditions, made from tougher fabrics, and should always come with a full-coverage fly (which makes them more weather proof but less breathable). They are usually heavier and bulkier but roomier than three-season tents.

    • Convertible tents are a hybrid that lets you strip it down for casual summer trips or bulk it up for stormy winter adventures.

    • Tunnel tents are light, flexible and strong, with as little as 3 anchor points (which must be strong). Designed with an elongated, efficient floor plan, they are less bulky but often noisier and less wind-sturdy than domes.

    • Freestanding tents are strong and roomy shelters. They rely less on anchors, use more poles, and must be pegged out to properly tension the tent body and flysheet.

Other Considerations

  • The shape of a tent suits different weather conditions:

    • Steep walls shed rain well, but catch the wind

    • A flat roof may give more headroom, but allows snow to build-up.

    • The dome tent is a design that incorporates both rain-shedding and more headroom.


We took our crew camping to try out 5 tents to see which stood up best. We tried:

  • Generic 3 Person Dome Tent: $49
  • Arctis 2 Person Tunnel Tent (lightweight for backpacking): $339
  • FastPitch 4 Person Tent (poles already attached for simple set-up): $150
  • Coleman 5 Person Dome Tent: $179
  • Yanes 8 Person Pavilion Tent (2-room, family size): $299

Shelter Test

  • The generic 3-person tent barely fit two of us. Whenever the wind picked up, you could hear the zipper clanking.

  • The Arctis tunnel tent was definitely the lightest to carry and was comfortable enough inside.

  • The Fast Pitch was just tall enough to stand in, but remember, neither of us is six feet tall.

  • The Coleman Dome tent felt very spacious, like one big round room.

  • The Yanes Pavilion tent was the only one that gave us a real sense of privacy, as well as size.

Wet WeatherTest

We also sprayed the tents with water to mimic rain to see how they stood up to the elements:

  • Water came through the mesh of the generic 3-person tent

  • The FastPitch got damp

  • The Coleman dome tent leaked at the zipper.

  • The Yanes Pavilion tent stayed totally dry

  • The Arctis tunnel tent also stayed totally dry.


Overall, then, our favourite was the Coleman dome tent, even though the zipper leaked a bit in the fake down pour. It was very roomy and easy to pitch.

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