The Most Comprehensive Tent & Hammock
Buyer’s Guide Out There
Shopping for a tent can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. You want the best tent fabric structures, sturdiest poles….if you even need poles?
Plus, even if you’re an experienced backpacker, the terminology looks like Greek… to me, at least.
With this in mind, I made a handy little tent cheat sheet that covers everything you should be thinking about when looking at a tent.
First, there are oodles of definitions. While not the most riveting material, it’s super helpful. There’ll be a lot less “what the hell does this mean?” moments. Plus, I’ll give you an outline so you can skip down to the ones you want to read.
Looking for hammock and tent fabrics for sale? Stay tuned for a post with all of that info.
Now here’s that overview to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Just click on whatever you’re interested in and wallah – you’ll find it.
1. The Best Place to Start
- Season Rating
- Trail Weight
- Number of Doors
- Sleeping Capacity
2. Best Tent Brands
3. Tent Types & Shapes
- Free Standing
- Hammock Tents
- Instant Tents
- Modified A-Frame
- Non-Freestanding Tents
- Pop Up Tents
- Pyramid or “Teepee
- Tree Tents
- Ultralight Tents for Backpacking
4. Tent Parts
5. The Different Pole Materials
- Carbon Fiber
6. The Best Tent Fabric Structures Definitions
- Bedouin Tent Fabric Structures
- Cotton Canvas “Army Tent” Fabric Structures
- Cuben Fabric Structures
- Nylon Tent Fabric Structures
- Best Polycotton Canvas Tents & Hammocks
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
- Best Polyester Tent Fabric Structures
- Taffeta Fabric Structures
7. Miscellaneous Tent/Hammock Coatings & Other Parts
The Best Place to Start
First, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the main reason you need a tent?
- How often will you use it?
- How familiar are you with tents?
Figuring out the main purpose really helps you narrow your options. For example, if you only need a tent for occasional car camping, you can get away with a heavier tent. On the other hand, backpackers should opt for ultralight tents.
If you have plenty of experience with tents, you probably won’t have a problem setting up most tents. However, newbies would benefit from something simple like an instant tent.
And if you love rowdy music festivals, you’ll want a tent with sturdy fabric structures!
The next step is to consider season rating, weight, number of doors, and sleeping capacity.
Four Season Tents
Four season tents are ultra tough shelters that have the best tent fabric for winter use. Solid pole structures and strong fabric structures work together in order to weather the toughest elements.
Basically, they can handle whatever Mother Nature decides to dish out. Whether it’s rain, heavy winds, or snow, the ideal four season tent will keep you safe in sound while you camp in the winter.
Don’t expect a lot of height, since their shapes are usually lower to the ground.
Three Season Tents
Although they aren’t the best for winters, three season tents aren’t wimps by any means. They’ll keep you shielded from gusts of wind and rain, but they’re not designed for snowy conditions.
And the walls are made of mesh, making them ideal for warmer temperatures when you need some consistent air flow.
First, some quick definitions:
Trail weight/minimum weight is the total weight of the tent itself, the poles, and the rainfly.
On the other hand, every ounce is a huuuge deal for backpacker camping. The best one person backpacking tent will generally be less than five pounds for solo expeditions and no more than eight pounds for group backpacking.
Packaged weight refers to every part of the tent that arrives at your doorstep. So if a rainfly, footprint, stakes, and poles are included with the tent, it would be the weight of all those parts with the tent.
If you’re a car camper, trail weight isn’t a biggie. In fact, the heavier and roomier the better when you won’t be carrying the tent on your back. This affords you the luxury of more wiggle room and extra features.
But if the rainfly and footprint, for example, aren’t included, the packaged weight will be lower. Use this number for two advantages:
- The lower the weight, the less parts are included with the initial purchase.
- It’s an easy measurement of how much it’ll weigh when you’re hauling it around.
Number of Doors
This is another good thing to scope out when you’re looking at tents. As is the case with all of these factors, convenience usually collides with weight. The less doors a tent has, the lighter it’ll be.
But if you’ve ever shared a tent, you know how nice it is to have multiple doors. Then each person has a personal entrance with their own sheltered storage space. You’re in close enough quarters as it is… it’s nice to skip the crawling over one another.
Of course you’ll want to consider how many people will be using the tent on average. While the capacity listed on tents is helpful, it’s just a starting point. If you don’t want to be elbow-to-elbow, get a tent with extra space.
Get even more if you want wiggle room and space tstore your stuff.
Look at the both the dimensions and square footage. Probably the most important measurement to look at is peak height. This is especially helpful for taller or wider campers.
If you’re pushing 6′ or taller, pay extra close attention! We don’t want you to end up like this guy.
Best Tent Brands
Before delving into the nitty gritty, here are the best tent brands:
When you shop from one of these companies, you can be confident that it’s crafted from the best tent fabric structures for the money.
For complete reviews of each exceptional brand, go to Best Tent Brands: The Creme de la Creme of the Tent World.
Tent Types & Shapes
Some of these words are used more than others, but you’ll see them all on tent descriptions. They refer to the size, shape, and construction materials.
First, there’s the classic A-frame design type. These are kind of the run-of-the-mill shapes designed for casual camping.
Then there are cabin tents, which are rectangle or square shaped. ‘Cabin tent’ refers specifically to a cabin tent with an A-frame.
Next, the ‘cabin dome tent’ is the same thing but the tent has a dome frame. (Go figure!)
Now the dome design type can come in various forms, but the gist is the same. These dome-shaped fabric structures have high ceilings. As a result, they have more space than traditional A-frames.
A tent with double walls has two main components: a rain fly and the basic tent itself. The first layer of mesh/cotton has excellent ventilation. Then the outer layer, the rain fly, is 100% waterproof. It goes over the tent and stakes hold it in place.
Fast Pitch Tents
Coleman’s trademark name for their best quick tents. They take less than 10 minutes to set up.
So, free standing tents aren’t really “free.” Freestanding tents use poles and once you set up the tent, you can pick it up and move it. This is ultra convenient, for example, if you lie down and notice an extra big tree root is protruding from the ground.
Another reason people like free standing tents is that they’re easier to set up. Without all the stakes and cords to mess with, it’s a rapid process.
Usually, free standing tents are double walled. The first layer of mesh/cotton has excellent ventilation. Then the outer layer, the rain fly, is 100% waterproof. (If it’s made with only the best tent fabric…)
It goes over the tent and stakes hold it in place.
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine a hammock is the traditional cacoon-style, open air kind. Hammocks become tents when they have two main components. First, mesh netting is a must for keeping bugs out. Second, hammock tents have rainflies for protection from inclement weather.
The fourth type of tent design relies on stakes to hold the tent in place. While not freestanding, they are quite resilient against the elements.
Often, pop up tents have the hoop shape.
If you like fast and easy, you’ll love instant tents. You can usually set them up by yourself, in less than two minutes.
In an instant tent, the tent and its frame are already integrated. All you have to do is open the tent and attach the poles.
>>Read Reviews of the Best Instant Tents
The modified a-frame style offers more room than a classic A-frame. Either a pole setup or curved walls gives the tent more interior room and makes it a little stronger. Make sure the tent has the best tent fabric structures for storms, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a tent.
Pop Up Tents
Pop up tents are a subtype of instant tents. These dummy-proof tents come with the poles already attached to the tent. Simply unfold the tent and secure each corner with a tent peg.
If you expect rain or condensation, throw a rainfly over the top.
Simply put, a non-free standing tent is a type of tent that requires stakes, and maybe trekking poles.
Also, a non-freestanding tent has just a single layer of wall. It doesn’t have a rainfly because the wall is already waterproof. (Well, if it’s a quality tent. When you’re soaking wet after using a cheap “waterproof” tent, you’ll never make the same mistake again!)
Usually, the best ultralight tents for backpacking are freestanding.
Notably, tent fabric structures with a pyramid design have a flawless space to weight ratio. Pyramid tents involve a center pole that holds up a rainfly. Thus the “teepee” shape.
One downside is that pyramid tents aren’t well suited for damp, muggy environments swarming with bugs.
Ultralight tents are becoming more and more popular for backpackers since they’re unbelievably light. Generally, to be “ultralight,” a one person tent should be around 2 pounds and a two person tent should be below 3 pounds.
The best ultralight tents for backpacking should be compact. And, even though they’re light, their fabric structures should be comparatively durable.
One one hand, it’s cool that these tents have just a single, thin wall.
But the lack of ventilation is something to think about. It’s important that you know they’re more prone to condensation, so you can be prepared.
Back to Overview
>>Read About the Best 2 Person 3 Season Ultralight Tents
Now this is the shortest definition: ‘quick tent’ is the same as an ‘instant’ tent.
A wedge shape… has the shape of a wedge. The higher end is where you rest your head. This shape is advantageous because it works really well in windy conditions.
But as you can see, there isn’t much room in one of these things. Not a good idea if you get claustrophobic, that’s for sure!
The footprint of a tent is the tarp you put under your tent before setting it up.
I highly suggest getting a footprint, even if it costs extra! It’s a must for rain… and rain has a way of creeping up, even if the forecast predicts sunny skies.
Tent Fly & Guylines
A tent fly, or rainfly, is the outer layer of a tent. It’s the main protection from rain, snow, etc. It’s especially important to make sure it’s made from the best tent fabric on this one.
Guylines stretch out the rainfly tightly over the tent. As a result, the water (or snow) falls down and away from the tent. Guylines are also another way to stabilize the tent’s body.
Tree tents are a marvelous invention. They’re hybrids of tents and hammocks. Simply put, this means you can suspend them between trees or peg to the ground. Talk about versatility!
Vestibules are basically mudrooms for tents. Because you can use that space to store gear, cook, and get extra protection from the wind, they’re a major plus.
Thanks, Section Hiker, for the awesome descriptions.
Materials Used in Construction
3 Types of Pole Material
Fiberglass – The cheapest poles are made from fiberglass. They’re heavier, less robust, and are meant for gentle camping.
Aluminum – Next there are aluminum poles, which are the most common material on the best one person tents. Aluminum is stronger and lighter than fiberglass poles.
Carbon Fiber – The third most common pole material is called carbon fiber. High end tents often have carbon fiber poles. Since they’re light and strong, they’re ideal for backpacking.
Carbon Fiber is also found in lightweight golf carry bags.
However, due to the thin and light nature of carbon fiber materials, they just aren’t as durable as trusty aluminum poles.
The Best Tent Fabric Structures
Speaking of tent fabrics, here we are. The range of best tent fabrics is so varied these days that it’s hard to keep track of what is best for which type of activity.
Bedouin Tent Fabric Structures
Bedouin Tent Fabric is a stretchy tent fabric that’s very waterproof. (Sometimes it’s called stretch tent fabric.)
In order to find quality Bedouin tent fabric wholesale, we suggest checking out Alibaba.
Blackout Tent Fabric
As the name suggests, blackout tent fabric keeps light almost completely out of the tent. It’s completely opaque.
Cotton Canvas “Army Tent Fabric” Tent Fabric
Originally, most tents were cotton canvas. A benefit is that the best canvas tents are breathable because of the cotton. It’ll keep you from getting too hot or cold.
However, if you’re looking for the best backpacking tents, steer clear of cotton canvas. It adds a lot of weight.
Whereas cotton canvas fabric structures are heavy, Cuben fabric is the best lightweight tent fabric. It’s the priciest of the bunch, but that’s because it’s so darn light while still being waterproof. If you want the absolute best tent fabric, look for the words “cuben fiber” in the description.
I’m singing cuben fabric’s praises, but it does have its downfalls. Quality cuben fiber tent structures are strong. But this thin fabric just isn’t as tough as other fabrics.
The best one person tents, especially one man backpacking tents, are usually made of nylon, a silky thermoplastic material. When you see the word “silnylon,” that means it’s nylon with silicone – this is a good thing! Silnylon makes the nylon waterproof.
Back to Overview
Basically, polycotton canvas tents are the modern version of cotton canvas tents. The polyester/cotton blends have the same benefits of the best canvas tents, but they’re lighter.
Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) Coating Canvas Tents
You’ll usually find PVC coating on the best large tents. PVS tent fabric boosts the overall strength of the tent fabric. It’s also the best fabric in terms of being waterproof.
Polyester is a super popular material for tents. Many believe it’s the best tent fabric since it’s a little stronger than nylon. Different companies use different types of protective coatings.
Taffeta isn’t just a fun word to say. It’s also a light- to medium- weight fabric woven in with the nylon or polyester of a tent or hammock.
In the case of Parachute Hammocks, it’s taffeta
Best Tent Fabric Structures & Materials: Definitions
Acrylic coating is the cheapest so obviously, less durable.
Silicone is a costlier coating, but it does does a better job of shielding from the elements. >>Read More
Polyurethane is the material you’ll find on the floor and fly of almost all tents. The higher the number listed before the coating indicates a better degree of rain-resistance.
Denier is just a measurement of how thick the material is. The higher the number, the thicker it is.
Best Tent Fabric Structures & Tent Buying Guide:
If you made it to the end of this article, congrats! Now you’re an official tent aficionado.
Stay tuned for a DIY tent post. In this in-depth review of the best tent fabric structures and materials for sale, we’ll cover fabric canopies, fabric tent pole covers, insulated fabric, and more.
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