A tent provides one of the most basic needs in life, shelter. While we’ll never truly know the exact date the first tent was used, it’s safe to say that they have been in use for a long, long time. Chances are that the first tent dwellers would have happily traded in their simple cloth structure for a little Netflix and chill.
Today’s tent dwellers do so by choice, often on the weekend and have a wide range of tents to choose from. You can find an ultralight tent designed to handle every weather condition or a multi-room tent fit for a king.
For years canvas was the only option but nowadays there are so many choices that it can make your head spin. If you can imagine the perfect tent, chances are it already exists. Here is a comprehensive guide to 9 different types of tents available and their specific features to take into consideration.
9 types of tents
Tents come in all shapes and sizes and there’s no one size fits all solution. The perfect tent is unique to each individual and things like where you plan on camping, how many people you’re with, and what type of weather you expect all come into play. Here’s a complete list of 9 tent styles you’ll find out in the wild.
1. Dome Tent
Dome tents are the most common design today and are shaped like a dome. They have two poles that cross each other in the center and bend down to reach the corners of the tent. A rainfly rests on top of the poles for added protection from the elements.
This style of tent is easy to set up and a has a relatively high center point giving you a decent amount of room and headspace. The rounded edges allow the tent to shed water and rain, preventing build up on the top. Some dome tents have a vestibule in front of the door that acts as a makeshift mudroom to keep dirt and muddy gear dry and out.
- Lighter than other tents
- Decent amount of headroom
- Easy to pitch
- Tend to catch wind
- Not all include a vestibule
- Limited on size
2. A-frame or Wedged Tents
These tents were extremely popular back in the day and are a simple tent design. As the name suggests, they are shaped like a capital A or wedge and have become less and less common. They were originally made of canvas and supported by a steel pole on both ends, the durable materials would ensure the tent lasts for years.
The main structure of an A-frame tent is the beefy poles that hold it up on both ends. Ropes are then ties to each corner of the tent and staked into the ground, giving the tent its shape. Occasionally you’ll find a support that goes between the two poles in the center of the tent, giving the tent its signature look, this is referred to as the wedge.
- Easy to setup
- Surprisingly stable
- Come in all sizes
- Not a lot of headroom
- Bulky when packed
3. Multi Room Tent
Multi room tents are more similar to a house than a traditional tent. They’re designed to have more than one room for added privacy, extra gear storage and all your friends and family. The rooms are separated by a divider inside the tent and some have 2 rooms while others have up to 5 rooms.
These tents are significantly larger in size making them harder to pack and heavier to carry. Pitching these tents takes more practice and more people, it’s definitely not a one person job. A multi room tent is perfect for large groups and families and provides added privacy that you won’t find in other tents.
- Plenty of space
- Multiple rooms
- Unstable in high winds
- Challenging to setup
4. Backpacking tent
If a long distance trek is on your agenda, finding an ultralight tent that easily withstands all types of weather is critical. Backpacking tents are smaller in size, lightweight, and extremely durable. They don’t necessarily have to set you back hundreds of dollars, however, the materials are typically high quality which has a direct effect on pricing.
Generally, backpacking tents have a lower profile than other tents and are designed for 1 or 2 people. After all, if you’re planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail the last thing you want is to lug around a heavy a cumbersome tent. With their low profile design and durable materials, they’re better suited for any and everything that mother nature throws at them.
- Fewer poles
- Limited mesh panels
- Small packed size
- Low ceiling
- Limited capacity
- Only made in small sizes
5. Geodesic and Semi-Geodesic Tents
Geodesic tents are a demonstration of the natural progression of tent product design. The dome tent came first and the geodesic tent is a variation of the dome tent that offers increased support and stability. The tent poles cross over each other multiple times and intersect to form triangles, this gives the tent maximum stability from wind and weather.
Semi-geodesic tents have a similar design just with fewer poles and aren’t as strong. These tents are used by climbers and long distance backpacker who expect to encounter high winds, heavy rain, and snow.
- Extremely stable
- Self supporting
- Adequate headspace
- Large packed size
- Challenging to pitch
- Limited sizes
6. Pop Up Tent
Pop up tents are relatively new to the tent game and have grown in popularity in recent years. These tents are designed with spring loaded poles that “pop” into shape in just a few seconds. They are made to be lightweight, super convenient, and quick to set up.
They are great for a spur of the moment adventure like a festival or camping. Keep in mind that these tents are not designed to handle much in terms of weather and rain, so plan accordingly. Pop up tents are super convenient and great to use in a pinch or on a whim, however, for more serious camping a dome or geodesic tent are more practical options.
- Super fast set up
- No poles to mess with
- Small packed size
- Can’t handle wind
- Lack stability
- Not for extended camping
7. Tunnel Tent
Tunnel tents are similar in style to a dome tent, however, they are extended in the middle section and end up resembling a tunnel. They are held up with a series of poles that wrap from one side of the tent to the other giving them a rounded shape.
Their stability comes from the tent stakes, guy lines, and pole structure. These tents are almost never freestanding and rely on a large number of attachment points, mainly because of their large size. They have high ceilings and more room than a standard tent, making them a great fit for larger groups of people.
- Identical pole length
- Good space to weight ratio
- Must be pitched properly
- Can sag in the middle
- Struggle in high winds
8. Inflatable Tent
Inflatable tents are another newcomer to the camping game and the inflatable poles are a radical design shift from standard tent poles. Rather than having aluminum or plastic tent poles that hold the tent up, they have air beams that you inflate to support the tent structure.
They require an air pump or someone with an insane lung capacity to inflate. They are still in the relatively early stages of product design and depending on the manufacturer their durability and ability to handle extreme weather varies greatly.
- Easy to inflate
- 1 person set up
- No metal poles
- Heavier than other models
- Most are smaller in size
- Require an air pump
9. TeePee tent
TeePee tents in their original form bring up memories (from movies) of triangular covered shelters used by indigenous people all over the world. They are cone shaped tents with a central support, material draped around the center, and guy lines for support.
The teepee tents of today are similar in design, however, they are made of modern materials. With a central pole acting as the main support, guy lines and stakes play a critical role in giving this structure its form. The taller they are the less stable they become.
- High ceilings
- 1 pole
- Easy to pitch
- Flooring not always included
- High pitching point
Tent features to consider
All tents serve one main purpose, a portable outdoor shelter to keep you “sheltered” from the outside world. While shelter is the main goal, here are some other features to consider when choosing your tent.
The first factor to consider is the number of people that are going to be sleeping inside. You want to choose a model that comfortably fits you and however many people that are going to be sleeping with you.
An important thing to remember here is that there isn’t an industry standard when it comes to tent sizes. Each manufacturer has their own idea of what a 2, 3, and 8 person tent is in terms of capacity. A good rule of thumb for smaller tents is to subtract one number from the recommended size, so a 3 person tent is most comfortable with 2 people.
Tents are rated for 3 and 4 seasons. Different tents are engineered for different times of the year. A 4 season tent is a terrible idea for summer and a 3 person tent is a terrible idea for winter.
3 season tents
3 season tents are the most common type of tent that you’ll find. They’re best suited for spring, summer, and fall. These tents are designed to protect you from light wind and rain. 3 season tents strive to have adequate ventilation and a durable build while performing well most of the year.
Typically they come with a rain cover, otherwise known as a rainfly. They have mesh windows that provide a nice breeze in the summertime which include zippers that cover the mesh if it gets a little chilly. They are easy to pitch, usually only taking a few minutes once you get the hang of it.
4 season tents
These tents are designed to be used in all 4 seasons, in other words, they are made to handle much colder temperatures. Despite the 4 season name, they are really made for winter camping only. Try and camp in one of these in the summertime and your tent is going to feel like the inside an oven.
Designed to protect you from high winds, extreme cold, and snow. 4 season tents often have more tent poles, no mesh windows, and have a dome or wedged design that prevents snow from building up.
Tents vary in height and size, if standing up is important to you then a tent with a good peak height is what you’re looking for. Every tent will have the height listed in the specifications, so take a close look and make sure it works for you.
Windows increase airflow which gives the tent ventilation. A tent without ventilation is muggy inside and causes condensation to form. The number of windows varies on every tent and smaller tents typically have fewer windows.
Not all tents are waterproof and the rainfly is similar to an umbrella for your tent. It’s a separate piece of material that is designed to cover the tent and protect it from the rain. Use a rainfly whenever you expect rainfall and it can double as a shade when the suns out.
A vestibule is a covered area just outside the tent door that is kind of like a mudroom for your tent. It’s a place to store your wet and muddy gear so you don’t end up tracking a bunch of dirt inside. Not all tents offer vestibules, however, you can always make your own with a tarp and a little ingenuity.
Ventilation, or airflow, is an important factor when choosing a tent. It usually comes from the mesh panels that are strategically placed on the sides of the tent allowing air to flow throughout the interior of the tent structure. Ventilation is especially important in the warmer months of the year when heat and humidity is a real concern.
Always take the number of doors into consideration. Climbing over people on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night is a nuisance for you and everyone else involved. Some tents have one door and others have two, so make your decision based on the preferences of everyone involved.
A tent has to have poles to support it, whether they are made of steel, aluminum, or air. Most tents these days are freestanding which means that they stand alone with only the support of the tent poles. The basic idea is that fewer tentpoles lead to less stress and fewer curse words, so choose a tent wisely.
A footprint is either a custom made cloth or a standard tarp that is placed underneath your tent. The flooring of most tents is reinforced, that being said, debris in the underside of your tent will eventually cause damage. The footprint protects the tent from debris and keeps moisture from building up beneath you.
Interior pockets and hooks
With technology becoming a standard part of life having a safe place to store your personal belongings is important. Look for a tent that has at least one pocket on the inside and a hook for a lantern on the top. Pockets make keeping your gear organized easier and a hook with a light makes organizing your tent much easier in the evenings.
With all the options in tent size, structure, and shape there is a tent for every occasion. The trick is finding one that fills your needs while providing you with a comfortable place to call home for the night. Take your time and take every aspect of your trip into consideration and make an informed decision from an educated place.
A tent is meant to be a shelter, but more importantly, it’s meant to be a comfortable and cozy place to relax at night before winding down. So find yourself the perfect type of tent and get outdoors!