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CJMadden's avatar

When I buy a new tent, what should I consider regarding durability etc?

Asked by CJMadden (26points) February 24th, 2015

I want to go on a camping trip with some friends, but I need to buy a tent. I want something I can use more than once, and will last long. Where do I start looking and what should I consider when buying a new tent?

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13 Answers

jerv's avatar

I’ve had quite a few tents over the years, and the reason I “lost” most of them was passing them on to someone who needed it more than I did. Even 30 years ago, and even on the low end, materials were pretty good. Rip-stop nylon is pretty tough stuff. While UV will also degrade the fabric, that takes a long time, and is a non-issue if you pitch it in a shady area.

The one thing that can cause issues is mildew; try to avoid packing the tent up when it’s wet. If you take it town and pack it up with morning dew still on it, you might run into issues. My experience is that it’s better to take tents down in the afternoon for that reason. If that’s impractical, then air-dry it when you get home. Whatever you do, do not leave it wet and rolled tightly for long periods of time. Mildew is the #1 killer of tents, mostly because people pack a wet tent. Don’t be that guy!

And for gawd’s sake, DO NOT MACHINE WASH YOUR TENT!

But that is more of a care and handling thing than a buyer’s guide.

For buying, about the only way you can really go wrong is getting the wrong size tent. Your tent choice will be guided by your size and the number of people you plan to have in the tent. For instance, as a person of above-average height, I need a slightly larger tent than many people, but I don’t need a huge tent as any camping I do has no more than me and my wife in it; an 8’x12’ Cabin tent is a bit much for just us while a “Pup” tent may require me to sleep curled up. Looking carefully though, it’s not terribly hard to find a 2-person tent long enough for us.

Personally, I favor the 2-pole designs. Easier setup/takedown, lighter weight, fewer things to break. And I generally don’t camp during the winter or in hurricanes, so I don’t need anything too hefty; if you plan to camp in bad weather (worse than a mere thunderstorm), you may need a little more tent than I would.

Aside from size and weather though, there really isn’t much to it. Nearly any tent can last years unless you’re a total jackass.

johnpowell's avatar

I’m with Jerv on this one.

I have a ten year old moderately priced (around 100 bucks) Coleman tent that still works as good as new. Just take care of it like you would take care of your coat and it should last for a long time.

My best tent advice is to set up the tent in your living room before you go camping. Nothing is worse then trying to figure out how to put up your tent while the sun is quickly dropping over the horizon.

Silence04's avatar

tents now a days are made pretty well, even a cheap tent will last you a long time.

I spent $60 on a 8 person tent about 7 years ago and I just now got rid of it. It got me through 5 bonnaroo’s, and 10+ camping trips. The only reason I got rid of it was because the storage bag ripped and I just didn’t need a tent that large anymore.

Just remember, the sleep number ratings for tents are for survival, not comfort. So get 1–2 person higher for more elbow room. Also, make sure you setup your tent before taking it camping. You need to make sure you have all the parts and have a good idea on how to set it up without instructions

rojo's avatar

What @Silence04 said. If you want comfort for two get a three person tent at the very least. The other thing with having a bit more room is that you don’t want to be touching the sides of your tent when it is wet or raining because it will wick in the moisture and the slightly larger tent will allow two of you to scootch in away from the sides.

I have always been more concerned with how much of the tent is covered by the rain fly followed by ease of set-up and then aerodynamics.

I like to have a dry place to sleep, one that sets up quickly and efficiently no matter what conditions I am doing it in and, ever since boy scouts, I have made sure that the wind will not collapse my tent on me. Again.

dappled_leaves's avatar

My first question is whether you will be carrying the tent while backpacking, or driving up to a spot and throwing the tent up right there. If the former, you want to spend quite a bit of time researching what materials are both light and durable – these will cost you more money. If the latter, you can probably get away with buying the cheapest thing at whatever big box store sells tents, and still have a good tent that lasts you years (and because it’s cheap, it’s easily replaceable).

So, if you are shopping for a car-camping tent, it is mostly going to be about style. You may want to spend some money on specific factors that please you, but have little to do with necessity or durability. You’ll need to think about them in terms of who you are going with and what conveniences you’ll want. Your main concerns will probably be (1) making sure it doesn’t take up all the room in your trunk and (2) making sure you can put it up and take it down quickly.

Questions you should ask yourself:
—What seasons will you be camping in?
—Do you want lots of airflow, or little airflow?
—How many people will be sleeping in the tent?
—How long do you want to spend putting it up and taking it down?
—How many doors do you want?

I would strongly suggest going to your local MEC or similar store and look at the sizes / materials / prices. That is, not a boutique camping store, but an outfitter for real people with realistic budgets and with a solid returns/repairs policy. They will help you find one you want, and talk to you about maintenance if you like.

If this is your first tent, specifically ask how hard they are to put up and take down. I have a tent like this. It is laughably easy to assemble and take down. The poles literally assemble themselves. The whole thing goes up in under 5 minutes. You want a tent with poles that look vaguely like this – with a cord that connects all the poles, so you only have to stretch them out and let them snap into place. Your next question in terms of ease of assembly is: how do the poles attach to the tent? If you look at the tent while assembled (as it will be in the store), pay attention to where the poles go – will you be able to figure this out easily after a day’s driving, when it’s getting dark, you’re hungry, and someone in your camping party is probably whining about something? If not, keep looking.

As others have already said: get a tent for at least one more person than you’re planning to have in the tent, because these estimates are always too high. However, don’t go for the biggest tent you can afford, because the space in your trunk is at a premium, and if you plan to use it for sleeping in solo, you don’t want to have to carry around an enormous tent for no reason. So, if you’re two people, a 2-person tent will be snug – but if you plan to sleep in it solo a lot, maybe it’s worth being sardines for one trip, especially if you have two doors in the tent (this allows each of you enter and exit on your own side).

And, also as others have said, the life of your tent probably has more to do with how you treat it than what you buy. When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you should do is to remove the fly (the thing that drapes over the whole tent), shake it out, and drape it over your car or a picnic table, wet side up (preferably in the sun). This lets both the fly and your tent dry (it will be very wet on the inside surfaces because of your own body heat). Have breakfast and all that stuff. When you’re ready to leave, take down your tent and pack it up. If you can’t get both the fly and the tent dry within that time, remember to take them out of their stuff sacks when you reach your next destination, and let them dry out properly. If you pack a wet tent and leave it for weeks, months, or years, do not expect to have a useable tent when you unpack it. Also… if you don’t buy the tent footprint (a lot of people don’t bother), then bring a cheap blue tarp to put either under it or inside your tent if it rains. The floor of your tent might stay waterproof the first night you camp, but sometime soon, it will start letting dampness through if you don’t protect it.

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head… but I do wonder: this is February. When are you planning your trip? Have you camped before? I’m curious to know whether you need advice about keeping warm.

Coloma's avatar

Great advice above and I have nothing to add, other than, if you’re camping in bear country do not sleep with donuts next to your face. lol
No tent is bear proof.
Never leave food in your tent or you will return to camp to find everything ransacked by everything out there. Squirrels, bears, raccoons, foxes, I even had a Kangaroo rat out in the desert ransack a tent once upon a time. It was amazing what one little rodent could do. It chewed through a large hard plastic container of nuts and within a few hours managed to stuff it’s face and go stash like 2lbs. of mixed nuts. lol

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Coloma Agreed! Never put food in your tent. Leave it in the car. And remember that toothpaste counts as food to a bear. ;)

osoraro's avatar

I am a veteran backpacker. I agree with everything @dappled_leaves said, and don’t have much to add.

My advice is go to REI or whatever local sporting goods store you have and set them up on the showroom floor. That way you’ll know.

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ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I’m also going to agree with @dappled_leaves For simple car camping where you drive up to your campsite and pitch the tent on a prepared flat surface you don’t need much. Unless they are the cheapest of the cheap you’ll get a lot of use out of it provided you take care of it, Rule#1: don’t put it away damp or wet. The biggest mistake is not sizing it properly. I do both car camping (with the wife) and backpacking whenever I get a chance. The two needs are different so I have different tents. I actually have different winter and summer backpacking tents and I am considering the hammock thing. If you tell us more about how you will be using it we can make more specific suggestions but outside of that you don’t need to go very expensive but don’t go too cheap. Think just one or two steps above the bottom shelf models at Walmart if budget is a concern. I have a cheap coleman tent for car camping and a couple of mid-priced tents like this for backpacking.

jerv's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me After too many nights on uneven or rocky ground, I think the hammock tents are a nice idea. If I still camped, I’d go that route myself.

RocketGuy's avatar

You can also rent, if you will use very seldomly.

AMadden's avatar

The first thing I normally do when buying camping stuff is think of how much I will end up using it. If you will use your tent a lot, then opt for a good tent, not a cheap one. If it will be a once of trip, you can go cheaper, otherwise all your money ends up gathering dust somewhere you won’t even remember the tent is put away. Good luck and have fun

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