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Our household has no shortage of camping and backpacking tents. My husband, who was a rock and ice climber for years has had to bivy on more than one route, and has had a collection of bivy sacks alongside his collection of other tents. "Each one has its specific purpose," he once said when I questioned, "How many tents do 2 people actually NEED?"
The point is, there are a lot of different types of tents - more than you might have thought! My mind wandered to the subject of tent styles when I was driving to the mainland from a beach near Daytona, Florida.
- 1 A Little Background - or What Got the Creativity Flowing
- 2 But anyway, back to the topic of tents.
- 3 The Ridge or A-Frame tent
- 4 The "Trekking Pole" or "Hiking Pole" Tent
- 5 Tube Tents
- 6 Dome Style Tents
- 7 Hybrid Tunnel Tents
- 8 Hammock Tents
- 9 Inflatable/Air Tents
- 10 Bell Tents
- 11 Pyramid Tents
- 12 Cabin Tents
- 13 Canvas Tents
- 14 Bivy Sacks (aka Bivvy Tents)
- 15 Pop-Up Tent/Instant Tent
- 16 What's the best weight for a backpacking tent?
- 17 What are the most important things to consider when choosing a tent for survival purposes?
- 18 Do I really need a fly for my tent?
A Little Background - or What Got the Creativity Flowing
Driving over a bridge recently, looking down on to a tiny island in the river below, I saw a canoe up on the beach with a nice little tent set up a few yards further up from the water. During a time where the global COVID-19 pandemic has most of the world's attention, there, down below on a tranquil little spot in the river was the ultimate in "self quarantine" - a single tent nestled into the trees.
In fact, see the image below for the exact island I'm talking about.
My River Island Quarantine Fantasy
Anyway, I began formulating a little fantasy scenario that I imagined being played out below - perhaps the inhabitant or inhabitants decided to hunker down for the duration of the state's "stay at home" orders at their own little island paradise.
The fish in the river are plentiful - I know this because I have enjoyed numerous meals of pompano, sheepshead, and even an occasional flounder caught near that very island.
Then I thought about water: If the campers have a solar distiller (like this Aquamate for emergency use) or other type of portable device like this Waterwise WW1600 Non-Electric Water Distiller pictured at left, they can create potable water from the salty river and not have to travel to the mainland to restock on water.
Keeping an adequate food supply would be another thing they'd have to consider...
But anyway, back to the topic of tents.
Our household has plenty of tents to choose from when it comes to pretty much anything from a hybrid between a dome and "hoop" tent for weekend getaways (our typical use), to a lightweight emergency bivy shelter to a comfortable cabin tent for an extended "car camping" trip.
Nonetheless, I got curious to see what else has been being offered lately and found that there are a LOT more than I honestly knew about. Currently, the market has a lot to offer, so even though we are not recommending everything on this list, it can come in pretty handy as a reference source (with a wee bit of entertainment factor thrown in).
The Ridge or A-Frame tent
You know this tent. It's the type we set up in the back yard as children by hanging a quilt over a clothes line and staking the ends. We would hang out in there until the folks called us in for dinner, and we'd pretend we were going to sleep in it all night (until it began to get dark, that is, and we'd run back in through the back door that the parents left open for us).
It assumes the classic triangular shape, but the floor is rectangular. Most stores bought pieces will be double-skinned; that is, the inner skin has air vents or windows, while the other will go over the frame to protect the structure from the elements. Typically that's called the "fly."
Depending on the brand, It typically has five supports, with two at the back and front to create the A shape. One pole runs across at the top to join the two A pole frames on either side and maintain stability.
Are A-Frames still popular?
Well, Other than the emergency kits, not as much as they probably once were. Innovation and fashion happens, and thus, people woke up one day and decided A-frames were uncool. Actually, I don't really think that's true... It's just that over the years, so many other styles of tents hit the outdoor market, and that of course meant more competition for the humble A-Frame tent.
Internal space- even though you have plenty of space lying down, be prepared to feel cramped every time you sit up. But, I feel like then whenever I'm in an A-Frame house too. Or in a room with a pitched ceiling.
That said, there are still some good reasons to keep a classic A-Frame in your collection:
- They are easily portable
- Overall they are easy to set up
- Their small and lightweight nature makes them an excellent option for minimalists.
- They are most popular among campers since it is easy to set up but secure.
Wait! What about the OneTigris Backwoods Bungalow 2.0?
Ok...if there is ONE SINGLE REASON to add an A-Frame tent to your collection, it's the OneTigris Backwoods Bungalow Ultralight Bushcraft Shelter 2.0. Seriously - check this thing out. It's just over $100 on Amazon, only 3.2 pounds (NO POLES!) and it has this fantastic awning that adds an instant living space as seen here:
I don't care if you decide you don't want to buy it, but at VERY LEAST, check out the video that shows the set up, and then a few of the reviews at the Amazon listing- especially the one of some guy who had the OneTigris model up and tested in the snow, etc.
For some folks, the fact that there are no poles used in the setup might be a bit daunting because that means you need to pitch this where there are trees. Something to keep in mind. That means no beach camping in this one.
The "Trekking Pole" or "Hiking Pole" Tent
A kind of take-off on the idea of the A-Frame, the "Trekking Pole" tent is actually a fantastic idea for backpackers. This style uses your hiking (aka trekking) poles as part of the support system, as seen in the following example:
River Country Trekker 2.2
Have a look-see at this highly rated River Country Products model here:
I can see how the River Country tent would be popular; it's only 3 pounds for this 2-person option and well under $100 - running around $50-$60 on Amazon at the time of this writing (if you are an avid backpacker or long-distance hiker, you know how pricey gear can get!).
Or, you could opt for the lighter, Trekker 2 model, which comes in at only 2 pounds 12 ounces. This Trekker Tent 2 model - still considered a 2-person size - is also budget-minded at under $60.
Six Moon Designs Haven Ultralight Tarp
So, 2 pounds 12 ounces is still too heavy for you? If you want truly minimalist, the Six Moon Designs Haven Ultralight is only 18 ounces (before you add your poles).
Six Moon Designs has an intriguing back story. The founder, Ron "Fallingwater" Moak, came up with the designs because as an avid thru-hiker (A.T., PCT, Continental Divide), he saw the need for an ultralight shelter solution.
Coming in at a price of about $220 (currently, in May 2020), that means the Haven model costs about $12.22 per ounce. I know... that wasn't really necessary. Actually, I admire such ingenuity, and if I were as passionate about backpacking as some folks I know, maybe I'd spring for this as well.
Anything that helps lighten the pack load is seen as a good thing on a long distance hike. So this style of A-Frame further justifies the additional weight that hikers incur when they use hiking poles since now your poles have more than a single purpose.
There is only one drawback that I see with this: If you are far from home, and you happen to lose or break one of your poles...well... you know.
But other than that, why not take a look?
Ready Shelter Tube Tent by Survival Frog
If your vehicle decides to act up miles from civilization, then having an emergency tent like this popular one from Survival Frog may be a life-saver. But you aren't likely to be driving around with poles and tarps in the car every day, so a lightweight emergency tube tent isn't a bad investment.
Meant for emergencies, these tents are easy to set up. To set it up, all you need to do is run the rope through the tube tarp and tie both ends to a tree. Spread out the edges to a triangular shape and weigh down the corners.
A lot of folks I know up north keep a couple of these in the car along with sleeping bags, emergency blankets, and emergency food - especially in the winter. There are mountain passes that can get ugly in a hurry during a storm, and cell-phone service is practically non-existent. (When I used to have to drive through "the Notch" for work, I also carried kitty litter for putting under my tires if I needed traction, and also had extra weight in the back of the car as well.)
Dome Style Tents
Interesting fact*: the first commercially made dome tent seems to have appeared in the mid 1950s when outdoor gear wiz by the name of Bill Moss had a brainstorm during a sudden rainstorm. According to the legend, he was outdoors, painting a portrait of a fish - trout, I believe - when the clouds opened up.
Not one to be thwarted, Bill spaced some fishing poles around the area and then lashed the tips of the poles together before putting his rain poncho over them. Voila! Instant dome tent, and he went on to patent the design in 1955. The first modern dome tent was born, named the A16, and the rest is history.
Today's dome tents are lightweight, and compact structures that offers the perfect camping solution for millions of folks whether they are heading out for a weekend or hanging out in extreme conditions.
There's not just a single dome style anymore either. This is the earliest "geodesic" dome tent style I recall from the 1970s (the vintage "Oval Intention" by The North Face as shown in this screenshot).
Credit must be given to the original mastermind behind the Oval Intention, Bob Gillis, who heads up Shelter Systems, and whose name is legendary at places like The North Face (of course!), and Sierra Designs which you may have heard of. He also has been involved in Marmot and Mountain Hardware, companies that are well known and respected by serious mountaineers and climbers worldwide.
If you have about $4,500 to spare, you can treat yourself to the 284 square foot (floor space), 15-person Mountain Hardwear Space Station Dome Tent that I found it on Moosejaw. This 85+ pound whopper of a geodesic design is huge. You gotta want it. You can see it here. It was marked down from $6,000.
GGS Greenhouse Geodesic Dome
Anyway, since the 1970s, designs have gotten far more user-friendly; nonetheless I still see variations on this design in use, like this interesting geodesic greenhouse structure I found here on Amazon, below.
There are so many different greenhouse options for homesteaders and gardeners, that we'll have to cover that topic in a different article!
Typical 2-3 Pole Design
Most of the more popular dome tents that we see these days use only 2-3 poles. And, the ones that we personally have come with a rain fly (aka fly or flysheet), which we almost always use unless we KNOW it's going to be a VERY dry evening and we won't have a lot of condensation or any chance of rain.
If you use poles to set it up, it will have a dome shape, while three poles give a hexagonal shape. the dome is very popular, especially by the backpacker community and the campers
Again, the structure typically has a double roof design, with the insides being nylon while the outside is covered in weatherproofed fly (aka flysheet). Most of them will come with sewn-in or detachable flooring of PVC groundsheet.
Note: If we are "car camping" and have extra room and weight allowance, we bring an additional groundsheet just to add another layer of water resistance for the night.
The structural frame is made of cord-linked cross-poles that are collapsible - and whoever invented the cord-link system was a genius. This keeps your poles properly paired so you aren't trying to figure out what pole goes with another pole. And when it's getting time to set up for the night, and getting a bit dark, you'll be thankful for the cord-link!
This makes the assembly and disassembly process much more manageable. This is the type of tent you can get at pretty much any big box store for a fairly reasonable cost. And if you are simply heading out for the occasional weekend there is nothing wrong with one of them.
Coleman Sundome Tent
For example, this Coleman Sundome, below, is currently the best selling dome camping tent on Amazon. Brought to you by the well-known Coleman camping company, this is about $50 for a 2-person model, or just over $100 or so for their larger, 4-person size. For some reason, it even made the MSN "Newsreel" from a Travel & Leisure article saying it was the best buy, and even they're promoting it. As of this update, there are now well over 11,000 good ratings.
It's a solid purchase, and a good all-around classic tent from a trusted brand. You almost can't go wrong keeping one of these Sundomes on hand.
I saw that it goes up to the 6-person size but wasn't entirely sure they had that one in stock. Anyway, you can check it out here and get a look at what you can easily get for under $100 every day of the week:
Other Variations on the Dome
Even if you aren't much into camping, you have likely seen variations of dome tents when you are out an about. I see them all the time on the beach, I've seen them at worksite (a type of "tall" dome used as an "outhouse" cover), and even small kiddy versions for the backyard. Which totally beats the old ratty quilt over the clothesline of my youth.
I kind of doubt that the great Bill Moss or Bob Gillis had either of these in mind when they were creating their legendary dome tents! Check these out:
More Traditional Dome
If you are a more hardcore camper or backpacker or climber - or just want to make sure you are getting a high quality piece of gear, you are probably going to be more inclined to go with a design from a top brand like Marmot or The North Face or Mountain Hardware.
Remembering that you are paying for gear that's been proven on the slopes of places like Everest (e.g. Mountain Hardware) or in other extreme conditions, these purchases are more like investments. Take your time to read up on them, including reviews, before dropping hundreds of dollars.
Fortunately, these brands have a number of fantastic tents that - while more expensive than the humble Coleman shown above, won't necessarily break the bank. For example, consider the following:
The Marmot Crane Creek Backpacking and Camping Tent
Coming in at over 5 pounds (5 lbs, 5 oz pack weight), the Marmot Crane Creek isn't going to be the top pick for the ultra weight conscious Pacific Crest (PCT) or Appalachian Trail (A.T.) Thru-Hiker. But, remember that this is a nice 2-person tent with about 32 square feet of floor space - or swing for the 3-person model with 42 square feet of floor space (pack weight of about 6 lbs, 5 oz).
This one is available on Amazon for just under $180 for the 2-person and just under $215 for the 3-person. I've had Marmot gear before - primarily winter jackets - and I've never been disappointed.
The North Face
There are so many great tents available from The North Face that we could dedicate an entire blog to their tents and other gear.
We've had a lot of great gear from The North Face over the years. One of the nice things about the brand is that there really is something for just about any budget. On Amazon alone, you can find a really nice single person tent (The North Face Stormbreak) for right around $130, the Stormbreak 2-person model for around $225 or so, depending on the seller (by the way, this is a really highly rated tent), the Stormbreak 3-person for about $250 or so, The North Face Wawona 4 Person Tent hovering right around $300, or, for about $400 you can grab The North Face Wawona 6-person unit.
We're pretty much stuck in our ways, and stay primarily with 2-person tents (except when my husband is working or playing remotely, in which case he goes more streamlined). So, with that in mind, have a look.
Pros and cons of dome-style tents
- Given the collapsible poles, they are easy to store, easily set up, and easily dismantled.
- The shape allows more headroom than some other styles.
- The structure is versatile, making it a perfect option for different kinds of camping trips.
- The curved top means that snow or rainwater can’t collect at the top. Being a fair weather camper myself, I can only speak for my husband who relishes camping on cold snowy evenings - and he uses the dome for those.
- Depending on the size you get, you can be able to store your stuff and a sleeping bag. Some others can actually fit an inflatable mattress.
- Some are a bit more complex in design than others.
- As roomy as they tend to be, unless you get a large, family sized option you won't be walking around in them.
- While comfortable, they may not be light enough for backpacking.
Hybrid Tunnel Tents
I never much thought about the term "tunnel tent" until now. But I see them on a lot of mountaineering sites and articles about mountaineering. It's almost like a dome tent but more like a little tunnel. So, exactly the same except totally different.
For some bizarre reason, one of the first things that came into my mind when I thought about tunnel tents was this little Poco Divo gem :)
But, in all seriousness, the tunnel style I've seen most often is either used in portable greenhouses, portable car garages (which a lot of folks also use for animal shelters and run-ins), and of course, larger tents for family camping fun.
You can quickly browse a few of these types of designs as follows in the next few pictures. If you're at all interested in these, simply click the images at you shall be whisked over to their Amazon pages... Other than that, just keep scrolling down the page for more!
ShelterLogic 12x20x8 Round Shelter
Coleman Galileo Tunnel Tent
There is no end to the variations on the theme of tunnel tents, especially when it comes to family camping. Just have a look at the Coleman Galileo (click the image below), and you will be brought to their product page.
At that point, you can choose the 4-person or 5-person Galileo. Or, simply scroll down that page where you'll see a lot of other tunnel tent options - most of which will be for larger parties. These tents aren't going to be easily strapped to your backpack though.
So, as mentioned - enjoy these for fun family or group camping trips where you can toss the whole thing into the car when you're done.
One thing worth mentioning however, is that for planning your family's emergency kit, this size and style tent wouldn't be a bad idea in the event you needed to evacuate from home for a while.
What I tend to concentrate on here is more suitable for bivying or backpacking than a full out family weekend camping extravaganza - although that is a lot of fun too! Take a look at one of our tents, shown below. We took an overnight canoe trip during a beautiful September last fall (2019). We knew that there was no rain in the forecast, but we took the fly anyway.
I think that this recently acquired tent (not sure where my husband got it) would fall into the category of "hybrid tunnel."
It's not really a dome, but it's not really a "hoop" tent or bivy sack - and it's not free-standing. It fits 2 of us, closely. Sorry I don't have a better picture of it! When we take it out next canoe or camping trip I'll get a better picture (It's in storage at the moment):
Generally speaking, I see this style of tent having more head room than some of the other styles.
Hilleberg Enan 1 Person Tent
This classic looking tent - the Enan model by Hilleberg the Tentmaker - is pricey - depending where you get it it's either around $700 or $1,000. But it's kind of the look you'll get with a higher quality hoop or tunnel style construction. I'm a little disappointed that Amazon doesn't have more Hilleberg models, because they are fabulous.
The company website (Hilleberg.com) shows them in all their glory. For some reason I was unable to access the tab that identified their distributors.
But for starters you can at least see this 1-person tent on Amazon here to get a look at the brand:
While a camping hammock may not be the first outdoor sleeping option that comes to mind, there are various reasons why an individual would want to avoid camping on the ground.
Rather than sleeping on tree roots, rocks, or in the car, you might opt for a hammock tent. This means that the tent is suspended in the air by tying the hammock to trees or other fixed points using a guy line.
When I was showing some of these to my husband, he mentioned that there had been numerous situations in his climbing days when a hammock would have definitely fit the bill - specifically when forced to bivy on steep slopes (often times a long approach to a climb might be such a situation).
If the ground is impossible to sleep on, either because of wetness or it is rocky, or it is infested with bugs, simply set up your hammock. As long as there are places to hang it, of course.
There is a lot less material than on a regular tent, and it does not require poles. Therefore, it makes for a very light camping structure.
Nonetheless, lesser construction material means that space is significantly reduced. Most hammocks can hold one person, although I have seen a couple that claim to be able to comfortably sleep 2 people, like this Newdora Hammock with Mosquito Net seen below. I was going to pass on showing you this one, but decided to include it so that when you see what I show you next, you'll have something to compare it to.
Using the Newdora example shown above, I confess being a bit skeptical. This thing is pretty inexpensive - less than $60 as of this writing.
But taking a peek at the fairly solid 4-star reviews on Amazon, I MIGHT be tempted to give it a try given the inexpensive cost and the fact that it does come with the netting.
On the other hand, some of the poor reviews mention that it tears easily and that it's cheaply made. If this is an example of "you get what you pay for," I might be tempted to TRY it for giggles, but I wouldn't take it on any type of distance hike without giving it a REAL field test. Use it for backyard lounging? For the price, that's probably as far as I'd really trust that one.
Anyway, moving on...
Lawson Hammock: Blue Ridge Camping Hammock Tent
Now that you've seen what $60 or so can buy you, check this one out. The Lawson Blue Ridge Hammock Tent is a different product altogether. You'll notice right away that it's more expensive: In the area of about $200 or so.
The Lawson does come with the fly and bug netting - so right away that gets a thumbs up from me. I like how one of the sales photos shows this thing set up over a stream. That's far more ambitious than I would be tempted to try, but I like their confidence.
Their Amazon listing mentions such things as how it's highly rated by Outside Magazine, American Survival Guide, and Backpacker Magazine, as well as how it won a "Gear of the Year" award. That definitely caught my eye.
But more than anything else, what I found most intriguing is their claim that the way it's designed will help eliminate one of the things that my back immediately screams to avoid: that bent "banana" shape you get when you lay in one of these things.
I also noticed that it's only 4.25 pounds, so that's not bad. Not as light as you might want if you're hiking long-distance though.
Huge Plus: It's a hybrid design that allows you to use as a ground tent - so you aren't forced to hang it and use it as a hammock. This increases its overall usability quite a bit.
After looking at the reviews on the Lawson (currently coming in at about 4.4 stars on Amazon), I find myself thinking that this is a good choice for someone who is looking for some versatility. I think about some friends of mine who like to canoe camp, and can easily see this being part of their regularly scheduled program.
Pros and Cons of Hammocks
- For starters, depending on the model, these structures are easy to set up.
- They are quite light, which makes it convenient for backpackers and solo campers.
- The suspension protects you from oogy bugs, some animals, and reptiles.
- Also, hammocks eliminate some discomfort because you don’t have to sleep on sloppy, wet, rocky ground.
- Unless you're using a hybrid, like the Lawson Blue Ridge model described above, you need trees or other anchor points from which to suspend the hammock.
- If your camping trip or backpacking adventure involves the family or large groups, a hammock is out of the question. They are only available in single and double size, meaning it can only hold a maximum of two people at a time
- When using suspended structures, it can prove challenging to stay warm since you're more-or-less exposed on all sides (although you can purchase sleeping pads that fit into the base).
So, after saying all that, I totally get why some folks want to use the hammock set up. I understand that for a lot of people it's more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.
I confess that I hadn't given these much thought when seriously considering different tent styles. Using the words "inflatable" and "tent" in the same sentence brings the idea of a kiddy bouncy house to mind.
Either that, or I get this image in my mind of seeing a fully inflated tent suddenly catching a breeze and flying up and over the mountains, down into a gully below...
But, I quickly learned that I could no longer ignore the trend. Compared to other tents, and as the term implies, the inflatable tent is unique in that it does not require poles to set up. It takes up the general design of a tunnel, and the structure is that of hollow panels. Filling them with air fills it up and gives the tent its rigidity, and of course, you will require an air pump or a compressor.
Vango Airbeam Odyssey 400 Inflatable Tent
At first glance the Vango Airbeam Odyssey looks like a standard construction tent. But don't be fooled!
Instead of poles, you use the nifty hand pump to inflate the seams, and presto! You have a tent. I see this being used for family or car camping - but unless you either have the best lungs on the planet or feel like lugging a pump along with you on the trail, this is not likely to accompany you on a hike.
Besides, it's over 43 pounds. I know thru-hikers who hike for days on end with their fully loaded packs that weigh less than that (yes, weight is definitely an obsession when you're a long-distance hiker).
Nonetheless, have a look at what just under $400 can get you in an inflatable tent...
I was curious to see this in action, so I found a YouTube video showing this tent getting inflated. It's an older video, but I'm guessing it still hold true. Have a look:
SereneLife Outdoor Inflatable Camping 2 in 1 Airbed Tent
The moment I saw that the SereneLife Outdoor Inflatable Tent came with a built-in (integrated) inflatable bed, my initial somewhat eye-roll attitude about inflatable tents went out the window. For less than 170 bucks, yeah... I'd be sorely tempted to insist on this for the next car-camping trip.
Given their easy setup technique, I can understand why inflatable tents are increasing in popularity.
Furthermore, the storage features of an inflatable are just superb. All you have to do is deflate it and fold it into its bag. This makes it easy to carry around, and all you have to do is unpack and pump.
In some circumstances, the inflatable has proved to be more resilient in rough weather compared to the poled counterparts.
The expensive price tag is probably compensated when all you have to do is peg out the corners and turn on the compressor. If you are manually pumping, this may not be a lot of fun.
Pros and cons of inflatable tents
- First of all, inflatables have a "cool factor."
- If you don't have a lot of outdoor skills, you can still use one of these.
- They are so easy to set up, even if you have no camping skills.
- The lack of poles makes them easier to store, carry around, and setup.
- Given the spacious design, this structure offers ample headroom, storage space, and living space.
- They are durable and resilient- these are made from heavy-duty and robust material that is resistant to wear and tear. Furthermore, pressure release valves prevent an explosion from excessive pumping.
- Compared to other options, it is easy to repair an inflatable, and most companies will provide a repair kit.
- You can get smaller sizes to set up in the backyard for the kids to play and have friends over.
- They have warmed up in the market yet, so they are very expensive.
- Since the structure is just one piece, it is heavier.
- They require a compressor or a foot pump.
- Better carry some duct tape in case you spring a leak.
If you have never heard of this option before, try to configure how a tipi might look if it were multi-dimensional with straight knee walls. In fact, many years before I ever dreamed that I'd be researching tents, I had admired this particular style. I used to go to Renaissance Fairs in the 1980s, and saw these in use.
Also, there is a "glamping" outfit in the mountains where I frequently spend autumn weeks, and while you may not believe this, they charge anywhere from $110 to over $200 per NIGHT to stay in these tents. Considering you can get the 10-foot Regatta Bell Tent seen below for under $500, there's an idea for all you entrepreneurs out there...
But seriously, the circular structure allows this model to sleep a lot more people, with a floor plans expanding to 10 feet or more compared to many options. You can add furnishings, lighting, and even electricity. Have a look at a couple...
Canvas Bell Tent by White Duck Outdoors
For a visual example, see this Regatta Bell Tent by White Duck Outdoors. The single photo I've got here from the company doesn't do it justice. But, if you click the link or the image, you'll go to the product page where White Duck Outdoors has a nice slideshow that walks you through a bunch of images that will give you a really good idea of how this is built.
(Note - We discuss White Duck Outdoors in greater detail here.)
The general design of this model is based on the canvas draping over the center tent pole. Tension is used to maximize stability by connecting guy lines around the top walls. The lines are held in place by pegs on the ground around the entire circumference.
Typically, these tents are made from heavy-duty materials such as canvas, a quality that makes them durable. In the case of our canvas bell tent example by White Duck Outdoors, they use a heavy cotton, 8.5 ounce weight canvas.
The folks at White Duck Outdoors have put together an educational YouTube channel that does a nice job explaining their canvas tents. Check out this video about the Regatta Bell Tent, and you'll have a much better idea about why they are growing in popularity:
Pros and cons of the bell tent
- This model is trendy and stylish, creating the novelty of class. They look awesome
- It does not require a lot of labor to pitch. For smaller ones, it can be a one man's job
- They are very spacious, with enough floor space to accommodate many people
- Given that it is built with canvas material, you can easily regulate the temperature
- To create a view or facilitate ventilation, you can easily roll up the sides
- You can use fire within the structure
- They are made with high-quality materials
- You can fully furnish this model to your own liking
- Some can be expensive- on the low end (thinking about a good quality unit), they run around $450 +/- with the larger ones (16 - 20 feet in diameter) upwards of $1,000. if you are on a budget, this may be not the thing for you.
- It is not easy to move them around; hence they are more suited for long-term camping; it is cumbersome, more than most other tents.
The structural design for this model is similar to the teepee, with only a single pole supporting it from the center. I considered combining this style with its close relative, the "Trekker Pole" Tents we talked about earlier, but there are enough differences for me to give this style its own section.
Like the trekker or hiking pole tarps, this option is suitable for the minimalist backpacker.
It's pretty straightforward: you drape the canvas or tarp from the pole and stretch out the material. The structure is held in place by stakes and guy lines. Typically, the peak is reinforced to prevent punctures.
Note that these really are minimalist. Most won't have a floor, and they aren't going to be your best bet for long-term camping. Think "shelter from the elements" and not "cozy camping adventure."
I cannot shake the feeling that I would be the one rolling over in the middle of the night, totally forgetting about the pole in the middle, and knocking it out of place. Yeah, I'd be "that person."
So I'm not really likely to buy one for myself; but I have a minimalist friend for whom this would be just the ticket. Actually, he is into hammock tents now, so I'm not sure he'd want to get something "this extensive."
My biggest issue with these (other than that they almost never have a floor, which means oogy bugs and things can get in) is that most of the models I'm seeing do not come with a pole unless they are a heavy duty tent.
Which means that in most cases you need to provide your own center pole - whether it's your hiking/trekking pole, or some other way to prop up the center I wonder how they'd work if you put it up under a tree branch, and tied the center up to a branch above you, and then guyed the edges? I'm reminded of a tea cozy...But anyway, here are a couple of options:
OneTigris Tent: Wild Haven, Black Orca Series "Hot" (Chimney Flue Opening)
The Wild Haven by OneTigris is my #1 pick for this type of pyramid tent for several reasons:
1. It's one of the few that actually comes with its own center pole.
2. It has an opening that can fit a hot flue pipe - this is something to consider if you are using this to add to a survival kit. (The fire retardant OneTigris Hot Tent Stove Jack, 9" x 7.8" costs about $25 or so, and lays on top of the tent where the stove pipe fits through.)
3. As a double wall tent, the Wild Haven has 2 layers - the mesh, inner tent, and a fly - AND the tent has a built-in floor ("bathtub floor" - which means that the solid material goes up the sides of the mesh under-layer by several inches to keep water out).
4. Even given its 2-layer structure and the fact that it comes with a center pole as well as a built-in floor, it STILL only weighs in at 3.2 pounds.
This model will run you around $150, but the reviews are pretty solid.
Black Diamond Mega Light Shelter: 4-Person
I know that Black Diamond is a highly respected brand in the climbing and backpacking community, but really? $250 for this? It doesn't have a floor, and it doesn't appear to come with a center pole. For $250 for I expected more than 2.5 pounds of tarp. Like, maybe 24K gold plated stakes or something.
Frankly, I am disappointed in the listing on Amazon. I could not determine whether or not the shelter came with a center pole or not, and none of the reviews were recent. Also, the Amazon reviews are coming in at 3.3 stars. I expected more.
Nonetheless, you can check it out for yourself - what am I missing? Maybe you can help figure it out.
Pros and Cons of Pyramid Tents
- The simple design makes it easy to setup.
- The lightweight materials make for an easily portable load.
- When pitched well, this can hold up in bad weather (to a certain degree).
- The edge cuts back on headspace.
- Most brands don't come with sewn-in floor.
- It’s not convenient for large families or gatherings.
Technically, this model has poles that fit to create a cabin-like frame. The walls and the roof can be canvas, waterproof polyester, or nylon. The structure provides enough standing room for an adult.
Furthermore, you can create more rooms by using internal dividers, making it a perfect solution for family camping.
These models do not require to be reinforced for stability. However, they can’t endure bad weather, which makes them favorable for fair weather only.
Depending on the model and material, they are relatively cheap.
Check out this 10' x 10' canvas cabin tent from White Duck Outdoors for an example of a well made, classic family cabin tent.
Pros and cons of cabin tents
- This structure offers more headroom compares to other options
- The tall entrance design makes for easy entry
- It’s favorable for large groups and families because of its spacious interior
- Inexpensive; they are cheaper compared to other models
- They require skill to setup
- The structures can be heavy, making it hard to transport it
This isn't necessary a "type" of tent; however, canvas tents really are in a class of their own - and there's really so much to talk about when regarding these, including their rich history, that we're dedicating an entire post to the topic.
Generally speaking the canvas used in these are an unbleached, strong material - and it is very durable.
A perfect example of this structure is the wall tent. As the name suggests, this is made of four vertical frames that are draped by heavy-duty canvas. The frames can be either external or internal.
This is a popular option among hunting parties since the spacious interior can comfortably accommodate numerous people and a decent amount of supplies.
These tents are a bit more lightweight than their historical predescessors, yet sturdy, and it can be used through all the seasons. Also, you can use a wood stove in some of them. As with the canvas bell tent structures we discussed earlier, White Duck Outdoors has an excellent selection of tents that fit the bill.
Other than hunting trips, this is a popular structure at reenactment encampments and Live Action Role Playing games (aka LARPs) across many cities. In the mountains where I spend a bit of time, there is a yearly "Muster" where avid reenactors from a number of eras from around 1750 through 1840.
We love visiting and watching the events, and meet participants living as they did during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and also depicting the Mountain Man. Everyone lives in structures as close to the "real deal" as they can. As a result, we see a lot of canvas tents.
Given the size and heavy-duty materials used to set it up, they are not suitable as emergency prep kits and very inconvenient for backpacking (although they would be perfect for setting up temporary stations needed in emergency situations).
Over the years, these heavy duty canvas tents have become very popular for glamping. Again, we'll expand on this particular style in a separate post.
Pros and Cons of Canvas Tents
- Compared to other materials used to manufacture the other models, the canvas is remarkably resilient and durable. Also, they are easy to repair, even with basic sewing skills.
- This option can naturally withstand any season without wearing out or fading.
- Since this is a natural material, it is breathable-thus it does not trap condensation.
- Compared to most structures, this option has decent insulation properties. In a cooler climate, it will trap heat, so keep warm.
- Compared to other fabrics, the weight of the canvas does not allow it to flap in the wind; thus, it is much quieter.
- It is a bulky and heavy material, which makes it an inconvenient option for backpackers, minimalist campers, and hiking.
- Canvas requires to weather before use. This means leaving it out in the rain to expand it. Even though this takes a painfully long time, your structure will leak if you do not weather it. Not only is this time consuming, but it is extra labor.
- This material is pretty expensive compared to other fabrics used on other structures.
- A lot of maintenance goes into this model. Since it can mildew, it’s crucial to dry it thoroughly before storage, and regular cleaning is necessary.
What Is Glamping?
The shortest description would be "Glamorous Camping." the portmanteau is a description of a stylish way of camping where an individual has access to amenities.
For the high-end campers, this may involve resort-like services not associated with regular camping traditions.
The popularity of this camping method fueled in the 21 century, where tourist wants to combine hotel luxuries with adventure camping.
While "glamping" isn't going to be on anyone's mind as they are evacuating during a natural disaster, it certainly does hold an appeal for a really cool vacation!
Bivy Sacks (aka Bivvy Tents)
The bivouac sack is a favorable option for solo use and hikers who want to prefer lesser weights. This structure is similar to ridge tents with a wedge shape, but the high point is on one side.
They are perfect tent alternates for the minimalist camper or hiker. The sack is personally sized, and its basic purpose is to add a waterproof layer of fabric as you sleep.
They also act to insulate you from chill and wind. A basic sack will have breather openings, but there are options made from breathable fabric. This allows you to block out the elements by offering no openings altogether.
What Is The Difference Between A Bivy Sack And Tent?
A tent gives you room to move around a little, with the sensation of a roof over your head. In contrast, a bivy sack is an advanced sleeping bag that will shield you from the elements. They offer no sitting allowance, so it might prove hard to wait out a weather storm if you can’t sit or move around.
Furthermore, bivys are strictly restricted to one person, while tents can accommodate several people, depending on the side.
Let's look at a couple of classic looking bivvy sacks to give you an idea of their design.
Eberlestock Shooter's Nest
Don't faint at the sticker price of the Eberlestock Shooter's Nest bivy tent. Yes, it's about $750. I know... when you can buy a simple tent for a hundred bucks, you might be scratching your head as to who would see the need for such an expensive bivy sack.
For starters, the material is Gore-Tex, meaning that it's waterproof on the outside while remaining breathable.
For those of us who prefer to be rather inconspicuous in where we lay our heads for the night, this blends into the terrain better than your usual greens and yellows. Hunters like this tent. Weighing in at just under 3 1/2 pounds including sack and poles, it's just about the right weight for most of us. Thru-hikers, you may quibble with that, but remember - you do have the trekker pole tent option we spoke about earlier, or keep scrolling for more options.
The Snugpak Stratosphere is a 1 person bivvy tent that is getting some excellent ratings on Amazon. It's lighter and less expensive than the Eberlestock shown above. The Stratosphere is only 2.5 pounds, so it's definitely a contender for putting in your pack, and the price is only about $170 or so on Amazon.
Now remember, this isn't made using Gore-Tex fabric, so you're going to be dealing with a pretty standard nylon material, coated with waterproof polyurethane.
Pros and Cons of Bivy Sacks
- They are incredibly light
- They are appropriate for stealth camping since you can camp anywhere.
- They are easy to store and very portable.
- They are waterproof, meaning you stay dry the whole night.
- Since it is fully enclosed, you can’t be attacked by mosquitoes or bugs.
- This option serves individual needs. While it is convenient for reducing the load, it can’t be used by groups or families.
- Restricted space- You can’t fit all your possessions in a bivy, meaning they will be exposed the entire night.
- The confined space makes this option unfavorable for people with claustrophobia.
- Even though it is waterproof, the rain will stop all your activities since there is no room for doing anything else other than lay there.
- Even though there are tips to reduce condensation for this option, you can’t entirely eliminate it.
Pop-Up Tent/Instant Tent
This model is becoming increasingly popular due to the ease and flexibility. This structure does not require being setup. You only have to open it.
The fabric has a sewn-in coil and sprung frame; the tent takes a circular shape when the frame is twisted.
Once it’s up, you will have to stake it to increase stability. If built with heavy-duty and sturdy material, this option can be used on an emergency prep unit.
It can easily fit two people, making it convenient for camping. The basic design involves a single-wall and built-in floor with a simple entry opening.
Pros and cons of Pop-Ups
- No effort is required to pitch it
- You can’t lose parts since it is a compact structure
- It is lightweight and compact, making it portable and easy to store
- The general design allows more internal room
- Simple to pitch in closed places since it has a smaller footprint
- It is a little pricier than other options.
- Can’t endure strong winds or harsh weather
- Difficult to repair if broken
- Compared to some structures, it offers lesser headroom.
- It is not convenient for camping in the backcountry.
What's the best weight for a backpacking tent?
Typically, 2.5 pounds is the ideal weight for a tent per person. If you are backpacking with several people and carrying a 2+ person tent, you might consider distributing the weight around by splitting the tent parts. For instance, the rainfly, tent, and poles could be carried by different people.
That's not likely to be the case in situations where you don't want to be depending on others to be lugging your gear. When you're backpacking, that pack begins to feel heavy in a hurry, which is a big reason why gear weight is such an important consideration.
On a long distance hike, you will quickly discover that lighter is better - but don't cheap out. You need something that is going to hold up to some fairly harsh conditions that you will likely encounter along the way.
What are the most important things to consider when choosing a tent for survival purposes?
- Durability- you will want to go for a resilient tent that will endure extreme element conditions. Nowadays, tent fabrics are manufactured to be durable. Go for the highest quality you can afford.
- Weight- naturally, tents will prove to be a pain in the back depending on how far you need to carry them.
When selecting a survival tent, the best option is a portable, lightweight option since you are likely to be packing a lot of emergency gear. Even if you require family-sized tents, always settle for the lightest option.
- Color and shape- depending on the terrain, the shape is not that important. However, windy grounds will require a low-profile aerodynamic tent.
Color plays a significant role in survival, depending on whether you are keen on rescue or hiding.
SHTF survival will require a naturally blending color to camouflage the environment.
For rescue purposes, brightly colored tarps increase visibility.
- Vestibules- this is a mudroom feature for tents. Thus, you place your gear and muddy boots outside the tent, but they are protected from the snow and rain.
Rain protection- tents should have a waterproof wall if they do not come with a rain fly. You don’t want to wake up trapped in a wet bag. Before purchase, look through the waterproof properties.
- Occupancy- if you are trying to shelter your family, you will require a tent big enough for everyone to fit in.
Otherwise, preference and individual needs should determine what you settle for.
- Price tag- the price range for tents varies greatly between insanely expensive to ridiculously cheap, so find one that suits your budget. Be careful with what you settle for, because you oftentimes get precisely what you pay for.
Do I really need a fly for my tent?
Ideally, a tent would be manufactured with built-in waterproof qualities like the Gore-Tex fabric shown in the Eberlestock bivvy tent above. Alas, most tents are not made that way, so the extra fabric covering (aka a fly or tarp) is going to be a must-have for most situations.
Not only that, a lot of tents have a mesh roof and windows, so while it's romantic to think about being able to gaze up at the stars through a mesh roof on a warm summer night, the second that the clouds open up, you'll be grateful for the fly.
Although a tent fly will add some weight to the overall gear load you may be carrying, it's one of those things you don't want to be caught without.