There are many variations on tent designs ranging from ultra-lightweight to sturdier mountain designs, and in three and four season models. Full ridge tents are rare nowadays because geodesic, dome and tunnel tents utilise the interior space much more effectively, but wigwam type tents are still popular in arctic environments.

Dome tents

Domes give a lot of sleeping space, but are not as stable as geodesic designs in strong winds

Geodesic tents

Most high quality three and four-season tents utilise four or five flexible poles in a self supporting configuration. They stand strong in the wind and provide generous interior headroom. Models that have the poles running through the inner provide more interior room because the inner does not sag. They are also freestanding, meaning they do not require pegs in order to stand up enabling you to pick it up and move it to a different location and shake it out before you pack it.

Tunnel tents

These rely on two or three hoops. They are not freestanding and will collapse should the guying fail. They do not cope so well in a storm or on snow. They are however lightweight.

Ultralightweight tents

Designed for extended trekking in remote areas where you must carry everything yourself. They usually have a single hoop or upright pole. They are not freestanding and are often not very stable in high winds. Ultralightweight tents are great for backpacking when you do not expect extreme weather.

There are still some ultra-lightweight single pole models available. Such as the Mountain Hardwear ‘Kiva light.

Single skin tents

These are made from one layer of breathable material. They are lightweight and quieter in strong winds. But they are expensive and the breathability depends on how warm it gets inside. If your sleeping bags are efficient you may find a lot of frost on the inside during cold nights. They are also not as warm as double skin tents.

Fig. 3 tent designs

For valley camping, buy a big tent with an awning to stand and cook in. The perfect mountain tent is spacious yet small, lightweight yet rugged, waterproof yet not flammable due to its coating. 

When making your choice, consider the following:

  • It must be able to withstand the harshest conditions you might encounter.
  • Three season models are generally lighter and not as sturdily constructed, they may also have netting that allows the elements to blow through in a storm.
  • Four season tents are 10 to 20 per cent heavier (typically due to extra poles) but are tougher to withstand snow-storms and the fly sheet extends all the way to ground level.
  • When selecting a tent on weight make sure that you are comparing like with like, some manufacturers include different things in their weights
  • Freestanding tents (those that can be erected without pegs) can be moved  easily or lifted to shake out debris. Very lightweight tents are rarely freestanding.
  • Silicone coated nylon is more expensive than polyester, but is lighter, more durable and more water repellant throughout its life. Choose it for ground sheets and fly sheets.
  • Aluminium poles are much more reliable than fibreglass ones
  • The seams must be sealed
  • If you will be camping on snow, look for snow valances, although they add weight and increase condensation.
  • Capacity ratings tend to be optimistic. A two-person tent may be a tight squeeze for two large adults and their gear.
  • Choose a warm interior colour, like yellow, if you have to spend a long time in your tent because it will help you feel warmer and happier
  • Cheap tents are great for non serious camping and do the job well, but when you really need a tent to survive it will probably not withstand the stresses of a serious trip and UV resistance is poor, although this can be enhanced using spray coatings .
  • Think about the entrances for cooking and storage capacity, but rucksacks can be left outside in a waterproof bag.
  • Look for storage pockets to store small items.
  • Look for efficient venting to reduce condensation and mosquito netting.

 Looking after your tent

Air and dry the tent after every trip to prevent mildew. Don’t put it in a washing machine or tumble drier because it removes the coating. Although it is not possible to follow some manufacturers advice, such as take your tent down then put it back up at night and pitch it in the shade at altitude, UV light damages tents so limit their exposure to sunlight as much as possible. 


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