Buying a tent? 10 handy tips to help you make the best purchase
So you want to buy tent! That’s great! So you don’t know where to start? That’s ok!
Buying a tent is like purchasing a car, a dress or a suit, golf clubs, or even a bottle of wine. Too much choice equals confusion. And confusion can mean making poor choices, or even giving up.
Not to worry – help is here. Prevent making rookie errors when it comes to choosing a tent by following these useful tips from our friends at Go Camping Australia.
Always, always, ignore the concept that a four-person tent, sleeps four. It does not. It might just sleep three, but for a comfortable experience two would be best in such a tent.
The specifications of, say, a four-person tent means that four people would be a tight fit, with no space for baggage, etc. So, a family of four should look at a six-person tent. This will give you room for bedding and smaller areas to store clothes, etc.
Should the weather be poor, that extra space will be a godsend with all of you in the tent.
Think about the space you will need in that tent and what you want to store in the tent with you.
Consider the height of adult campers – very tall people are going to need to sleep without being curled up in a ball. Know your measurements and that of the tent you are looking at.
With tents, size does matter.
Some tents are better suited to different environments.
A summer tent will be made of a lightweight material, have a lot of ventilation, and is likely not designed for harsh conditions. A three-season tent will more likely survive heavier rain and winds and provide protection from the cold.
True winter tents are probably not very common in Australia, as our conditions are more mild. However, if you are planning on camping in snow, then your tent needs to be a winter tent and not a three-season tent. Shop carefully to get the tent that suits the weather.
If you are a ‘fair-weather camper’ only – meaning you want to camp when it’s calm and sunny, your tent doesn't need to be top of the range. Yet even the most perfect weather can change rapidly, so you need to think about your tent and how it would perform should a storm arise unexpectedly.
In the shop, I saw this fantastic tent with lots of rooms and storage areas – it sleeps 10. But how long did it take to set up? Was a small army required?
You need to consider that point when purchasing a tent. The salesperson told me it took a long time and a group of them – and they were the experts!
The point is, you do not want to spend hours upon arrival at your location trying to put up a tent; whether you are alone or have enlisted your unhappy children who just want to play, not pass you poles and pegs.
Ease of use is imperative.
If possible, try and set up the tent in the shop, although this may not always be a realistic option. YouTube has a lot of videos of people putting up different tents. Find the tent you are interested in, or similar, and watch the video. See how the tent works and if it is an achievable option to set up yourself.
Also, look for independent reviewers as opposed to the manufacturer video; the latter has a vested interest in ensuring it looks easy to set up a tent. A reviewer who is not associated with the company will more readily point out the pitfalls.
Check the tent’s material closely, as this could influence your purchase choice.
Tents that are made from canvas (cotton) are waterproof but become very heavy when the water is absorbed. However, they are long lasting and don’t deteriorate as much as, say, nylon.
Nylon and polyester tents are waterproof as well, but sunlight will cause deterioration over time. With these tents, you must check that the seams have been sealed to ensure they are waterproof.
Many tents say they are waterproof, but we have found that the cheaper ones are not as waterproof as you may have hoped for. Good tents will have rip-stop fabric.
Tent poles are made from all sorts of materials. We have upgraded some of our tent poles to better quality ones to ensure they work when we need them to work.
Also, look at the zips of the tent. This is a key part of the tent yet it is frequently overlooked. Should that tent zip fail, you could have things in your tent that aren’t welcome!
Check that the zip is a quality one, moves easily, doesn’t catch on fabric, and is non-rusting.
The fly needs to be nylon waterproofed with polyurethane or polyurethane and silicone coatings. Ideally, a fly should cover all of your tent, including windows and doors, to provide maximum protection from the rain.
Will you need to carry this tent great distances? Is it for car camping?
Some of the larger tents are extremely heavy to carry – even from the car to the campsite. Can you manage this on your own?
Some family tents are so large when packed up in their bags that we could not fit them on our roof rack. So consider that before you commit to purchase. Plus, you need some serious muscles to get that tent up on the roof of your car.
If you haven’t camped in a tent before, you may not be aware how horrendous it is to wake up in the morning to everything being damp.
Your clothing has touched the sides of the tent and now it’s wet. Your bedding is damp and condensation is all over the tent.
That is why ventilation is paramount.
What are you looking for in a tent, apart from the factors listed above? Consider what is important to you and your camping experience.
Some points you might want to consider include:
For a family tent that gets a lot of use, you need a good, strong floor. Ensure the floor is made of something durable. Our family tent has a bucket-shaped floor consisting of 500D Polyester PU material.
The flooring should protect you and your belongings from any moisture seeping in to your tent, but I would advise using a ‘footprint’ on every tent you use. A footprint is a piece of specifically designed and shaped fabric, or tarp that goes under your tent to protect it from the ground and will protect your tent from abrasions.
Many tent manufacturers will offer a footprint as an option to purchase. This footprint will be stronger than your tent bottom and save wear and tear on your tent.
Always use one, but it does not have to be one from the manufacturer of the tent. You can use Tyvek (building material), which highlights how basic the footprint can be!
This is the big decision for everyone. How much to spend on a tent? We all have different budgets, but I will stress that quality costs.
Buying cheap will cost you more in the long run when the tent fails you. Of course, not everyone can spend a huge fortune on a tent, but sometimes the really, really cheap tents are cheap for a reason. Think to yourself before you buy: why is this tent so cheap compared to others with the same features? It might just come down to the materials and manufacturer.
Another factor to consider is the conditions that you expect the tent to survive in. If you are going to spend your time camping in extreme conditions – with ice, snow and high winds – then spend as much money as you can on that tent, because you will need a reliable piece of equipment to save you from misery.
When you decide on a specific tent, shop around.
Like everything, camping gear prices vary greatly between stores. Don't buy a tent in a shop until you have checked what other stores are selling that tent for. Just because the salesperson says it’s a bargain doesn't necessarily mean that it is.
Watch out for sales too – tents can be discounted up to 40-50% by some manufacturers at certain times of the year. We picked up our family tent in such a sale – we couldn't have afforded it at full price. So we waited.
Scenario: So you have purchased this great tent, and something goes wrong. You go back to the manufacturer, and they don’t want to know you.
That is why after-sales service is more important than the service you received when buying the tent.
Before you buy, read up on the manufacturer of the tent you are considering. See what its website says about faults, etc.
Read reviews on blogs and forums about people who have had experiences with the company.
Look for manufacturers that provide warranties on their products and stand behind the items they sell. Read that fine print too, which states what any warranty does and doesn't cover. Many of the quality manufacturers of gear are so confident in their product they give lifetime guarantees on their equipment. Once again, research on the internet will help you determine that.
Have you made any mistakes when buying a tent? Or do you have any top tips for purchasing a tent for other readers? We’d love to know about them – please leave a comment below.
Isn’t it time you enjoyed a camping adventure? Book your next BIG4 break now.
Contact the BIG4 National Support Office via our contact us page.
Inspire someone you know to get out and explore this beautiful country of ours. Start them on their way by surprising them with a BIG4 Gift Card.