How To Choose The Best Tent

By Alex Guerrero

Tents are the key to going nice places. You can go further, longer. Explore new, wilder places. And take your portable home with you. When you’re buying a new tent, you need to ask yourself three questions. When will you be using the tent? Where? And why?

A Brief Overview

When will you be using the tent?

tent in snow

From snowy sunrises to late-summer sunsets, it’s vital to consider when you will be using your new tent. What will the weather be like? And what season will it be? Most importantly – is it in England? If so, it’s probably going to rain. Make your tiny home decision based on season ratings and waterproofness.

Season ratings

If you’ve never heard of season ratings before, don’t worry. It does what it says on the tin. But we would advise that you pick a season rating that matches your expectations – rather than the season. Especially if you’re camping in the UK, you might have 3-season conditions in the height of summer.

1-season: these lightweight tents offer little protection in poor weather, but they excel in warm, dry climates. They’re the most breathable and comfortable in heat.

2-season: 2-season tents, like our Ordos, are great for UK summer. They’re lighter and suit warmer temperatures because they have more breathable mesh in the upper. They handle low-mid winds and keep you comfortable overnight.

3-season: ahh, changing seasons. Leaves falling. Freezing mornings and sweaty afternoons. From sunny to stormy in the blink of an eye, a 3-season tent is mostly suitable for fair weather from spring to autumn but can also ride out a heavy shower if it needs to. Our 3-season tents are our Soloist, Tetri, Jaran and Axiom.

4-season: for chilly temperatures, snow dumps and gale force winds, a 4-season tent is a strong tent for year-round UK conditions. Our Kangri, Zhota and Heksa would be perfectly comfortable camping on Ben Nevis during winter.

5-season: these are expedition tents, like our Kangri, Zhota and Heksa. For the Antarctic and the Artic. For the high Himalayas. Strong, warm, and capable of withstanding extremely high winds and significant snow dumps.

Waterproofing

There’s a fancy, technical term in the outdoors industry for measuring waterproofness. It’s called hydrostatic head and it’s measured in millimetres. The industry standard for tents to be defined as waterproof is 1000mm hydrostatic head (HH). And all our tents are 2000mm at a minimum.

But it’s not all just about hydrostatic head. Materials make a huge difference to the waterproofness of a tent. Some have lower stretch, which means water is less likely to pool on them. And the tauter you can pitch a tent, the better surface run off you can have.

Where will you be using the tent?

Polestar tent at dawn

Materials

Nylon: oh, Nylon. The king of fabrics. Or at least, for a long time, this is how it was hailed. It’s super strong for being lightweight. And it's tough and resistant to abrasion.

Use it for: when you want a strong tent, without the weight penalty

Polyester: man-made fabric polyester is competing with King Nylon. It has lower stretch, which is super handy for when it gets damp. That’s why, in tents with big panels, you’ll typically find polyester because it resists the dreaded tent sag after a rain shower.

Use it for: when you need a durable tent in worse weather

Polycotton: our organic cotton tents are constructed with 35% organic cotton and 65% polyester. Polycotton lasts nearly twice as long as nylon or polyester, meaning you can love your tent for longer. It’s stronger, lighter and dries quicker. It’s also much more breathable – perfect for keeping you cool in summer!

Use it for: summer camping when breathability is important

Mesh: if you’ve ever camped in Scotland, you’ll know about midges. They make themselves known. We use mesh that’s fine enough to stop the blighters barrelling into your portable home, which is especially important on our Jaran, Ordos and Soloist. But on our Kangri, Zhota and Heksa, you can zip up the mesh doors - stopping pesky midges completely.

Structures

You might have seen some fancy words thrown around when it comes to tent structures. Here’s the run-down:

Geodesic: geodesic tents are about efficient strength, creating structures that can stand up to the worst weather. Typically constructed of multiple criss-crossed poles, geodesic tents distribute stress across the whole tent. This forms a stronger, more stable overall structure like in our Kangri, Zhota and Heksa. Strength and stability are super important for the ever changing nature of storms and winter weather.

Use it for: the worst weathers and environments

Semi geodesic: this broadly refers to freestanding tents, like our Ordos. To be freestanding, a tent must have poles that cross over themselves. Semi geodesic tents are super easy to pitch because you don’t have to peg it until you’re done – or at all! Because if the pegs fall out, it’ll still stand up. This keeps semi geodesic tents lightweight and strong. This balance between strength and weight is ideal for bikepacking and backpacking adventures.

Use it for: a reliable and solid pitch with a quick setup

Why will you be using the tent?

Tent by a road

We love tiny homes here at Alpkit. And we love taking our tiny homes with us. From bikepacking to backpacking, and running races to car camping, your “why” will tell you a lot about what tent you need.

Are you going for a more luxury holiday or a lightweight, long-distance challenge? How much livable space you want might determine how heavy your tent is.

Side entry vs front entry

When you’re making yourself at home in your portable home, you need to consider the little-known art of tent feng shui (we’re just joking – well, maybe it’s a little bit important). Side entry tents are great for once you’re inside. You can lean out into the porch and sort your kit out. You can pop your shoes on under canvas cosiness. But they’re not the smoothest of entry options.

Front entry tents, on the other hand, are much easier to get into. But you pay a price for the ease of entry. You have a smaller porch, meaning your in-tent experience is a little more limited.

Inner vs outer pitch first

There’s a widely accepted belief in the UK that, if you’re camping, it’s going to rain. And if it’s going to rain, most campers want an outer pitch first tent. This means that you keep your stuff dry and get the main structure of your portable home ready first.

But inner pitch first tents are lighter, stronger and easier to pitch. They also create more living space, rather than erecting a structure and pinning something up inside it afterwards. As product designer Rowan says, you spend 60% of your time carrying the tent, 35% in the tent and less than 5% putting it up and taking it down. So, while there are some key differences between inner and outer first tents, how easy it is to put it up is a very small part of your camping experience.

Weight vs pack size

Putting your tent in between your handlebars is a whole different ball game to putting it in your boot. You need to decide what’s most important: pack size and shape, weight, or overall tent strength?

If you’re bikepacking and you’re planning on putting your tent in your handlebar bag, then pack size is going to be top of the list. However, pack size is typically dictated by pole length. And the shorter the poles are, the more hub points there are, making them heavier and much more likely to snap than bend. Or, go pole-less with our Polestar or Aeronaut tents!

Ever heard the saying: “variety is the spice of life”? Well, we think this is true for tent pack shapes. With a longer tent shape, you can pack the rest of your backpack around your tent, whilst maintaining flexural strength when pitched and a low weight when carrying.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

=