When choosing a tent there are a huge amount of differences between similar looking tents. We've tried to cover some of the main differences below. Choosing a tent is not easy because of the range of choices. The first thing you need to decide is what will you be using it for? Is it family camping on nice camp sites or wild camping in the Scottish Highlands? Are you going to be camping in the summer months or braving harsh winters in the mountains? Once you are realistic with what you want, then you can narrow your choices down a lot. Some of the considerations we cover here will be really important to you, others may not. This is simply a guide to help you make the right choice.
There's nothing laid down defining what is a 3 and what is a 4 season tent, its up to the manufacturer to give the rating.
4 Season tents tend to be made from heavier fabrics, with higher waterproof ratings than 3 season tents, especially on the ground sheet fabric and will have additional stitching on stress points and additional guylines for stability.
But for most uses and most conditions a 3 Season tent will do the job, consider a 4 Season tent if you will be camping in Winter conditions - or if you are going away for weeks or months and you need a particularly robust tent.
A tent that is described as freestanding will stand up by itself, without any pegs - though you usually need to peg it out to make it taught and stop it blowing away!
Freestanding tents are useful if you will be camping in rocky areas where it could be difficult to get pegs to stay in the ground.
Tents that need to be pitched using tent pegs before they can be used would be difficult to pitch in these conditions - and if it gets windy inadequately secured pegs just pull out.
Tents with an inner tent made with mesh walls are cooler than those made with fabric walls - so they are more suited to camping in warm weather. When the wind blows hard it can get under the flysheet and breeze through the inner tent. Most of these tents have deep bathtub groundsheets such that when you are lying down the wind does not disurb you.
Inner tents with fabric walls keep the wind out but they also feel more closed in, they don't feel as spacious as Mesh inner tents. Fabric inners are also warmer - it is thought that they add up to 5C to the temperature inside the tent. This makes them well suited to winter/4 season use.
Many tents have a mix of fabric and mesh so you can get the best of both worlds.
Two skin tents were designed to combat condensation, which forms on the inside of a tent as water droplets. These can run down the inside of the tent and form a pool on the groundsheet - not ideal.
The way a two skin tent works is that water vapour passes through the inner tent and the condensation form on the inside of the flysheet - not the inside of the tent. This means that it runs down the flysheet and harmlessly onto the ground.
When condensation occurs on single skin tents it can only form on the inside of the tent itself - if you have a sewn in groundsheet the condensation will 'pool' on the groundsheet. This is not necessarily a disaster as it can easily be mopped up with a cloth - but many people don't like it.
Single skin tents can obviously be made lighter or can be more spacious, so if you don't mind condensation now and again you can save a lot of weight by taking a single skin.
Also, on any given trip, condensation will not necessarily be a problem every night - depending on conditions there is often no condensation at all.
The 'traditional' way to pitch a double skin tent is to erect the inner tent using the poleset and throwing the flysheet over it - then pegging it out.
This means that if its raining heavily you may get the inner tent wet by the time you get the flysheet in place.
We don't think this is a significant concern because often you end up pitching your tent during a break in the weather, or if this is not possible - you can usually pitch a tent in a few minutes and the time that the inner tent is exposed to the rain is minimal.
Some people disagree with this and insist on a tent that you can pitch flysheet first.
A Geodesic tent will have poles that bend and intersect with the other poles in the structure - this makes the combined unit of poles and tents very strong, but the price of this strength is additional weight.
Tunnel tents have a hoop at either end and sometimes in the middle. They are not as stable as Geodesic designs but can be made quite stable using additional guylines. Tunnel tents tend to be lightweight considering the internal space that they provide.
Teepee-style tents have a single pole in the centre and create a pyramid shaped tent. This is surprisingly wind resistant and provides a lot of headroom/internal space for a given weight.
Another way of saving weight is to buy a tent that uses trekking poles as its frame - if you use trekking poles anyway there is a great saving with this type of tent.
Denier is a measurement that is used to identify the fiber thickness of individual threads or filaments used in the creation of fabric.
It is also closely related to the weight of the fabric as a thicker fibre will result in a thicker fabric that therefore weighs more per square metre.
Recently some tent manufacturers that are making the lightest tents have been using 10Denier (10D) fabrics. These are very thin and hence very light, and with modern filaments they can be as strong as higher Denier fabrics.
All fabric degrades over time because of Ultra Violet light when they are exposed to sunlight. Lower Denier fabrics will degrade faster than higher Denier versions, so the life of a superlight tent will be less than an equivalent using higher Denier fabric - even if, when new, it is just as strong.
Hydrostatic head is a measure of the waterproofness of a fabric - so its an important figure for tent flysheets and groundsheets.
Traditionally Hydrostatic Head figures of 4 and 5000mm were quoted for tents (and 4 season tents still use fabrics with these properties), but lighter fabrics have lower hydrostatic head figures and this worries some people.
We have good feedback from our customers and first hand experience on this aspect and it seems that lower hydrostatic head fabrics are up to the job and will keep you dry. This is what one customer said of the Fly Creek UL2 which has a flysheet HH of 1200mm:
"It was superb. I walked throughout April, officially the wettest on record, I got the tent up quickly, it was spacious and took all my gear, so I was never wet. This tent made my life a lot easier."