Guy Gear

Tent buying guide

Nothing can ruin an outing as quickly as a leaky tent with poor ventilation — one that’s damp and hot as a sauna.

Pick the wrong tent for the job and your trip to the Great Outdoors might not be so great.

So to give you the inside line on buying a new tent, whether it’s a backpacking model or a group shelter for you and five fellow Scouts, we turned to world-renowned rock climber Tommy Caldwell, who spends more than 80 nights a year sleeping in tents. “On those expeditions, your tent ends up being your little home,” he says.

Here are the rules to pick the best “home” for your next outing.

WAIT! Although the following is still great advice, the Gear Guy is currently researching new models and writing an update to this article. Watch for his updated tips and reviews in the March 2015 issue of Boys’ Life.


Pick a design that fits your needs. Tents come in all shapes and sizes. Backpacking tents are most often shaped like domes, tunnels or wedges. Group shelters (or car-camping tents) are generally domes or rectangles with straight (or semi-straight) walls. Some tents are freestanding, meaning they can stand on their own without stakes, while others require guy lines and stakes for setup.

“You want the tent to be built for how you’re going to use it,” Caldwell says. “Mountaineers like dome tents because they’re the sturdiest and best in multi-direction heavy winds.”

Domes are also freestanding and roomy but tend to be heavier than other designs. Wedges are usually the lightest weight but not so roomy. Tunnels provide good space for their weight and are generally well suited for bad weather. A good rule: The more poles the tent has, the sturdier it’ll be.

Don’t underestimate the importance of space and weight. Though some people prefer tiny solo tents, Caldwell recommends picking a tent that’s at least big enough for you to sit up inside.

“I made the mistake once of going on a two-month trip with a one-man tent the size of a coffin,” he says, laughing.

Solo tents should have between 15 and 25 square feet of space. For larger tents, add another 10 to 15 square feet per person. When evaluating space, also consider the square footage of any attached vestibules, which are like little garages for storing backpacks, boots, even your dog.

Weight doesn’t matter as much for car-camping tents, but if you’re backpacking, obviously you’ll want the lightest tent that’s still large enough for your needs. Aim for a tent that weighs no more than four to five pounds per person. When backpacking with a group, the best strategy is to share a tent—and the pack weight — with your buddy. One guy carries the tent body while the other carries the poles and rain fly.

Don’t overspend. Why buy an ultralight, tricked-out $500 tent when the $150 model will work just fine? In general, the higher the price tag, the lighter-weight and more durable the tent and its poles will be.

Naturally, durability is important, says Caldwell: “I’ve trashed a lot of tents in my lifetime.”

And just think: That $75 tent might seem like a great deal now, but if it wears out and you have to buy a new one every season, where’s the savings in that?

Do not confuse seasons. Most tents are designed for three-season use. That means they will handle the temperatures and weather of spring, summer and fall. Four-season tents are sturdier and designed for camping in snow, but they are usually heavier and less breathable.

Look for breathability. Airflow is your friend.

“For camping in warm weather you’ll want a tent that’s going to breathe and be vented,” Caldwell says.

Look for a tent with plenty of mesh panels and vents that promote airflow. For rainy conditions, make sure there’s ample space between the rain fly and the tent.

Without proper airflow, you’ll roast and “get a lot of condensation that’ll create a little rainstorm inside your tent,” Caldwell says.

Even if your tent is freestanding, you still must stake it out properly for maximum airflow and to avoid pesky leaks and condensation. Unless you’re winter camping, stay away from single-walled tents (which are notoriously less breathable and lack mesh and large vents).

Try before you buy. “It’s always a good idea to set up a tent before you buy it,” Caldwell says. “Otherwise it’s hard to get an idea of what it looks like.” So pitch the tent and crawl inside. If the salespeople won’t let you, go to another store.

Besides checking for space, pitching it in the store will give you a better idea of how easy it is to set up. Tents with hub-style poles and color-coded quick clips will be simplest—and quickest—to pitch.

Comments about “Tent buying guide”

  1. caca says:

    who needs tents? do it like Bear Grylls

  2. Luna says:

    I’m a Venturer in Florida and I use the Peak 1 Blaze tent. They don’t make it any more. I love it because it holds up to hurricane season and it is all mesh inside. It is really warm when the temp drops below 32 (yes it does that here). I’m short so it works for me really well. I can fit myself and some gear inside it. I only wish I could sit up in it. I have had it for 4 years now and it is only now needing a coat of seam sealer.

  3. T-Man says:

    I always use an tarp because they are way coller and versatile. I suggest the army IPK tarp for roughly $20

  4. LNT_2011 says:

    Try using a hammock, it weighs almost nothing, with the right gear you can sleep comfortabley, in tempetures down to -0

    • marty says:

      I like the hammock idea Iuse mine constantly however i dont use a mosquito net i use bullfrog bug spray i put one strip down the bottom of the hammock I live in florida so lots of bugs here.

  5. dog says:

    i purchaced a boy scout tent model#c8332 at a sale .does anyone know anything about it .i have not set it up yet.

    • Anonymous says:

      i dont know much about that hammock but with all the other hammocks i have seen u need to make sure u set it up a little higher then u think u will need because the ropes will stretch over night.

  6. ginger says:

    my troop uses 4 person alps mountaineering tents that i think are 4 season

  7. SiG says:

    You should get the REI 3-4 season tents.

  8. twisterluvnerf says:

    i lik our coleman tent
    works well

  9. uncaherb says:

    Anyone use the Chinook Cyclone?

  10. chaos101 says:

    Could someone suggest a good quality, 4 people, 3-weather tent to use for boyscouting.

  11. Anonymous says:

    what would be the best 4 person , 3-weather tent for boyscouting in texas weather?

  12. 10 Person Camping Tents says:

    There are some quality tents on-line that are good value.

  13. 10 Person Camping Tents says:

    Good tips to tent buying. I recommend buying quality. We’ve had the same family cabin tent for 16 years and love it.

  14. Trail blazer says:

    There is a cabin like tent at Academey Sports.

  15. igotskittlz says:

    i have a 3 tent 30$ its great had it for 7 yrs. and it looks brand new

  16. Scouter says:

    The Eureka Apex 2xt is pretty good for the price

  17. jim says:

    Alps mountainering give a great discount for Scouts on their high quality stuff

  18. Ranger Danger says:

    My tent was fairly cheap, small even for a (4) person, and now it leaks even if it dosen’t rain… now that just says that my tent wasen’t worth the money until I bought a Tarp to cover it with…

  19. Flamer10 says:

    This is so cool. I love it.

  20. GEAR MAN says:

    My troop (Troop 9) has a few Kelty Teton 2’s and 4’s, and they work fine. The interior is tiny though, and the Teton 2 is definatley not a 2 person tent!!! The Teton 4 is pretty good though.

  21. jon says:

    some of these tents are at REI

  22. Leo says:

    im looking for a good one-man backpacking tent. I recently used a kelty one man for backapcking, and it was really good. Are there any other tents like that?

  23. Cow says:

    I will say that the Eureka Solitaire is a pretty nifty tent. I have not bought one or used one but my friend who is also in my troop has one.For right now I think I will stick with my hooch..

  24. little d says:

    its usefull

  25. Grizzly Bear says:

    Where is the Big Agnes Seedhouse series. They are good tents that do well backpacking. The one person version is a mansion for one.

  26. connor the man says:

    i got a cool 4 people tent from Cabelas.ROCK ON!

  27. hello says:

    the coleman looks cool but thats not everything.

  28. Huntr1 says:

    You cannot beat the Eureka Timberline for price, quality and durability. Look around, you’d be surprised what you’ll find. Local army surplus store sells the Timberline 2 for $53.00 out the door.

  29. troop11 says:

    i love the coleman twl

  30. plalomostapl says:

    i just bought a 25 dollar tent thats a two man and extremely light and durable.

  31. SPL Troop16 says:

    I agree i use a tent cot over my troop’s tents for one i can sleep alone and it is a lot better to carry and set up.

  32. bhg123 says:

    Forget all tents you know of Tent Cots by cabelas ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  33. bigdaddy$$ says:

    i dont like my nickname bigdaddy$$ i’m changing it to uh swizzy#1

  34. bigdaddy$$ says:

    that stuff is cool and easy

    camping is ultimant fun

    i went on a 5 mile hike about 3 weeks ago it was hard the whole thing was basicly all up hill

  35. Tomare! says:

    One of my fellow scouts has at least a 10 person tent

  36. drock says:

    my tent rocks

  37. STC says:

    Best tent ever was the ones that Coleman made for the National Jamboree in 2001. It had 2 doors ( one on the east and one on the west side) so we did not have to crawl over each other to get to our stuff and big enough to hold 3 people and could stand in the tent to change clothes. Wish they were for more than just Jamboree. I would buy one for myself now if I could ever find it!

  38. zarkes says:

    hey uncle mike i hav a bigger ozark train tent then wat u want us to get!!! lol

  39. runescape says:

    I have a tent like the colemen weather master but its a better one!!!

  40. uncle mike says:

    get the 10x 8 ozark trail tent easy to set up and take down coleman isnt that good

  41. figit says:

    my dad got me a coleman exponent for $30 at Marshals

    i went online to get another tent and found out that it started at $300

    its been a year now and its been great

    if you want a cheap tent, i sugest going to department stors like Burlington coat factory and T.J.Maxx. u might find a good deal

  42. Geico says:

    I like the Kelty Gunnison 2.1

  43. Anonymous says:

    i have on of those tents

  44. ausman08 says:

    the Eureka Solitaire looks cool i will look in to geting one

  45. Squidward says:

    If you are going on hot/dessert camping trips seek lighter colored tent’s in stead of black and brown ones

  46. j-man says:

    right on man, right on

  47. tracy says:

    To Ian,

    We’re looking for a 2-person, 3-weather tent for boyscout campings. What brands do you recommend for a durable, lightweight and easy to set up (this is our deciding factor) tent? Thank you.

  48. Ian says:

    From my experience in scouting and retail, often a scout needs a tough tent to do the job. So if a scout is going to get himself a nice tent, he should definitely get a footprint for it and be very careful with it. Another thing to consider for scouts is that there is a rule that scouts must share a tent with another scout or parent because of the buddy system, so this eliminates most one-person tents, including bivy sack.

    Also, in my experience, the REI Half Dome and Quarter Dome don’t work as well as equally priced tents of other brands. If you’re looking for a lightweight 1-person shelter, I’d probably go for a bivy sack.

  49. strong hold says:

    i love the eureka solitire because you can put your pack out of the tent but its still in side.

  50. jeff says:

    i like the Coleman Tyl X2

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