Unsure which tent to buy this season? Air or poles, tunnel or dome, cotton or polyester, size and features − our handy guide will answer all your questions and help you find the right tent for you and your family.
Unsure which tent to buy this season? Size and features, tunnel or dome, cotton or polyester − our handy guide will answer all your questions and help you find the right tent for you and your family.
Think and try before you buy
When choosing a new tent many factors need to be taken into account to find the right kit, so you can get the most out of this highly enjoyable pastime. Here are a few points to consider:
Decide where, how often, how many and for how long you want to camp – this will help you focus on your overall needs and find the right tent and accessories. Also consider how much space you will need to store, transport and maintain your tent and equipment. While you can add trailers and roof racks to transport gear in smaller cars, home space might limit choice. Take your time and research thoroughly. Talk to experienced campers on campsites and online via social media channels like our friendly Outwell communities here. Visit specialist retailers to check out options – Find Local Dealers here.
Do you have any friends or family who are already campers? Ask if you can borrow their tent and equipment to get a taste of camping and all it entails before you buy. This will help you find out how much space is required inside the tent and also how much you can transport.
Selecting the perfect tent
Once you have these answers clear in your mind, it’s time to decide which type of tent most closely meets your requirements.
It helps to have a clear focus yet an open mind when researching your tent
Your first question should concern intended use for the answer will go a long way to help make the decision regarding size and design of the tent to purchase. Approach the pros and cons of a tent – don’t just go on looks. For instance, if you have children, or like space, then a large multi-bedroom tent is perfect. Tents, like our new Outwell Vermont 7SA, provide plenty of room in which to play and lounge around. However, if you intend to include overnight or weekend camping then you may decide that the easy-to-pitch-and-transport features of a smaller tent are more suitable. After all, an awning or extension can be added to provide the extra space needed for longer holidays. And smaller tents, like our Privilege Collection are easier to work with when touring.
It is worth spending some time getting familiar with basic tent styles and design features – they do affect outdoor living.
We use tunnel designs (right) for their ease of use and inherent stability
Tent designs are many but not all transfer easily to a larger tent. For instance, geodesic and semi-geodesic designs are more suitable for smaller technical tents, as the long flexible poles of larger tents complicate pitching. Generic shapes tend to be based around the dome and tunnel design. However, large tunnel tents are far easier to pitch in all weathers compared to a family dome that has to be raised into the wind before it can be secured. The tunnel’s quick-pitch characteristics are a real advantage for family campers who may have to split their attention between pitching and looking after children.
The Outwell Wind Stabilizer and Easy Pegging Systems that have been applied to the majority of our Collections enable a correctly pitched tent to withstand gale force winds.
Key design features, like our Aeroffective Ventilation System above, enhance performance
These fall into a number of categories. Design features, like those mentioned effect structure and performance. Some, like high visibility guys and extra exterior doors, enhance safety. Others improve the experience, like our panoramic, tinted windows and large, well-placed vents that create a light, airy interior while minimising condensation. Versatility also improves camping. Examples include our Universal Inner that balances bedroom and living space.
One of the common questions that we are asked at Outwell concerns the benefits of different tent fabrics and how they compare. But surely the question should be: How do the pros and cons of a material fit in with our camping style? All our materials – including groundsheets – will keep out wind and water. But materials do this in different ways and may require a different set of camping skills to ensure they do this efficiently. Variables like time, money, use, space will also affect choice. Here we will consider three types of material: Cotton, polyester and polycotton.
Despite the cons, quality cotton has long been regarded as the ultimate tent fabric. The initial cost is far outweighed by cotton’s long lifespan that makes it a far better investment when comparing its reduced depreciation and the cost per night to a synthetic tent. However, this is dependent on the camper understanding how to use and maintain a cotton tent. Cotton does not have a hydrostatic head rating as it does not use a coating. It is a natural fibre and its waterproof properties depend on its ability to absorb water and swell to fill the gaps in the weave. Cotton is not a strong fibre and fabrics tend to be heavier to compensate. Store in a cool, well ventilated place away from vermin. Cotton is high maintenance and a tent has to be thoroughly cleaned and dried before storage to avoid mildew. Campers wanting a high quality camping experience for longer trips will not do better than cotton. Those tiny holes allow water vapour to pass through the fabric to eliminate condensation inside. Combined with the extra weight and insulation you get that highly appreciated ‘air conditioning’ effect throughout the year and the unique much sought after memory-evoking ambience. Long life and high resale values add attraction.
Quality polyester is arguable the best synthetic for tent production as it is a rugged material that requires less immediate care compared to cotton – although tents should still be stored clean and dry. Its light weight and low bulk not only makes it ideal when transport and storage space are at a premium but it also makes pitching easier. Such user friendly properties coupled with a relatively economic price tag makes it a good fabric for family use – especially for regular short jaunts with little time in between for drying. The fabric’s waterproof properties stem from coatings applied to the inside surface and this is tested to provide a hydrostatic head rating (the pressure required to push water through the coating and fabric). Synthetics deteriorate under the sun’s UV radiation and this will accelerate if used in certain areas in direct sunlight for extended periods. We have created our own range of Outtex polyester fabrics to enhance positive features and use UV-inhibitors for extra protection.
Polycotton performs in a similar way to and has similar properties as cotton but the addition of polyester to the weave reduces many of the problems experienced with a pure natural fibre, like lack of strength and susceptibility to mildew. Further, the cotton helps resist heat and UV degradation that affect a synthetic fibre. The high comfort levels still have a weight and bulk penalty, but it falls midway between polyester and cotton. Tents like our new Smart Air TC Collection, Classic Collection and Air TC Collection are suitable for use by the couple or family wanting more luxurious accommodation.
As a market leader in manufacturing polycotton tents we have specially commissioned our Outtex Airtech polycotton for premium performance and internal climatic control. It is far more tolerant than pure cotton and is far nicer to use than polyester. Like cotton, the fabric’s long lifespan means a polycotton tent is normally a cost-effective investment with high residual values.
Make camping checklists and buy optional extras as packages
An Outwell tent features various zones and you can use these areas to help you remember what you need for outside life and in the living, dining, kitchen and bedrooms. It makes it easier to identify the furnishing and equipment required as you make a list of things you and your family believe your dream country home should contain. Check out our Family Camping Checklist here.
And, remember to order those optional extras like awnings, extensions, carpets and footprints – demand is high for these items and they will often quickly sell out. Many campers now consider a carpet and footprint essential camping equipment to improve underfoot comfort, provide protection against wear and tear, while making cleaning and maintenance easier.
A tarp is another handy addition to any family tent and offers versatile use for any weather condition, such as a sunshade, temporary day shelter, or as a supplement to extend your family tent on rainy days. Tarps can be erected in many different ways including with spare poles and guylines, using walking staffs, paddles, branches or between trees – or attached directly to the tent as an extra room.
Don’t expect champagne at lemonade prices
Tent and accessory price tags reflect a brand’s research, development and quality so, while there are cheap camping packages available and deals to be struck, remember that the performance and lifespan of your purchase will often reflect the price you pay.
Maintain and protect your purchase
Learn how to use, maintain and store your camping equipment and it will last for years. Check out our Skills & Tips section which is your first port of call to help you successfully meet any camping challenge. But to be on the safe side it is worth checking insurance.