Our Guide to Tents

4-person tent (regular)

Our mission is to get people outdoors. Since most people aren't enthusiasts who venture outside regularly, you can buy or rent tents. Specifically, about our tent rentals:

  • We rent tents that are higher end than those rented elsewhere, but still offer competitive pricing
  • We offer a rent-to-buy program so you don't have to worry about losing money from renting
  • Our self-service allows you to hire tents whenever is convenient for you

Core function: You might think, isn't the entire point of camping to be sleeping outside? While some people do "cowboy camp" like this, the reality is that all creatures big & small seek shelter, particularly to sleep! A good shelter provides protection from wind, rain, sun, other creatures, as well as the peeping eyes of others. Even when cowboy camping you should have a shelter as an emergency! Unfortunately, camping in a regular car (not a recreational vehicle RV) is illegal in many areas & subject to fines, so we wouldn't recommend it!

NOTE: a tent doesn't insulate very much, so you should not rely on it in place of sleeping bags & sleeping pads! That said, because a tent will block some wind & trap some dead air, by some claims, it will feel ~10% warmer to use a tent than not.

Do you really need it?

Yes, a shelter is one of the 3 key essentials for any trip. One of the difficult things about tents is that you may want different tents for different trips. For example, going car-camping with a group or family where weight & size don't matter but you want more space, versus going backpacking where you want to minimize weight as much as possible. For that reason, you can easily rent a tent that is best suited for a specific trip .

For more info, read our 'what you really need' protip

What we carry

Type or Style Technical Specialist Camping Multi-use
Person capacity 2 1 or 2 2 4 6
Model Mountain Hardwear Tangent Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 or 2-person tent (backpacking) 2-person tent (regular) REI Camp Dome 2 Big Agnes Blacktail Marmot Tungsten 2 Half Dome 4 Marmot Limestone 4 Big Agnes Blacktail Big Agnes Big House 4 Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6
Mountain Hardwear Tangent Big Agnes Fly Creek Big Agnes Fly Creek Big Agnes Fly Creek REI Camp Dome 2 Big Agnes Blacktail Marmot Tungsten 2 Big Agnes Fly Creek Big Agnes Fly Creek Big Agnes Blacktail Big Agnes Big House 4 Big Agnes Fly Creek
Mountain Hardwear Tangent Big Agnes Fly Creek Nemo Hornet REI Half Dome REI Camp Dome Big Agnes Blacktail Marmot Tungsten REI Half Dome Marmot Limestone Big Agnes Blacktail Big Agnes Big House
Deluxe model
Big Agnes Tensleep Station

Buy

MSRP with tax

+ footprint if sold separate (otherwise included)
$550
+$55
value
$380
+$76
$401
+$54
$250
+$38
value
$109
+$22
value
$260 $217 $357
+$49
value
$391
+$55
$360 $402
+$55
$543
+$60
value
Rent
includes footprint (see below)
$40+ $20+ $45+ $30+ $40+
Online rental Catalog name 1 or 2-person tent (backpacking)
Extremely limited availability, please write-in a special request when you reserve
1 or 2-person tent (backpacking) 2-person tent (regular) 4-person tent (backpacking) 4-person tent (regular) 6-person tent (regular)
Capacity
Largest mattress that will fit
Twin None Twin Queen King
Standing height?
68 in (173 cm) max height
Weight
+ footprint
5lb 15oz + 10oz
2.7kg + 0.3kg
2lb 5oz + 4oz
1.1kg + 0.1kg
2lb 6oz + 7oz
1.1kg + 0.2kg
4lb 15oz + 9oz
2.2kg + 0.3kg
5lb + 11oz
2.3kg + 0.3kg
4lb 8oz + 8oz
2.0kg + 0.2kg
4lb 13oz + 7oz
2.2kg + 0.2kg
7lb 10oz + 14oz
3.5kg + 0.4kg
11lb 11oz + 16oz
5.3kg + 0.5kg

8lb 4oz + 11oz

3.7kg + 0.3kg

11lb 4oz + 14oz
5.1kg + 0.4kg
18lb + 1lb 7oz
8.2kg + 0.7kg
Carry size & notes Hiking backpacks at least 50L Regular backpacks for school or work, or some extra large purses Hiking backpacks at least 50L Hiking backpacks at least 70L Large carry-on luggage
General Notes
  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the following What To Use & How To Choose section
  • Buy prices a grayed out box indicates we don't sell it (we may only rent tents of this model)
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!

When you hire tents online, you can select from available options or we'll pick out something for you. You can also write-in any preferences on the last page of checkout. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others.

Included

For sale
What manufacturer includes
For rent
What we package together
Body
The main room
Footprint
Protects the floor

Depends on the tent, but generally sold separately ($20-50 for regular tents, $50-100 for lighweight tents)

Either the footprint or a tarp
Rainfly
Covers tent body for more privacy & protection from wind & rain
Guylines
Adds structural support, especially important for heavy wind & rain or for semi-freestanding tents

Rented separately because many people don't know how to use them but they're easy to lose!
Poles
Create the structure & shape of the tent
Pole repair sleeve (or tube or splint)
Rented separately as part of tent repair kit
Stakes
Usually 4-6 for 2 or 4 person regular weight tents, then variable for other sizes or lightweight tents

We include 12 stakes for 6-person tents, then 10 stakes for all other tents. Usually more than you need, just in case!
Stake mallet
Rented separately

What to use & how to choose

Sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype of something new (over-spending often happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features. Also take advantage of renting tents to try out what works for you!

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked; in fact, for other factors data charts are generally only for a specific Type or Style that we carry (e.g., as a gear shop, would be outdoor-specific products).

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Our category name Easy Pop-up Camping Multi-use Technical Specialist* Canvas Luxury
Example qualities & features Example images Easy Pop-up tent Camping Multi-use tent Technical Specialist tent Canvas Luxury tent
Example names or uses Instant tent, quick-pitch tent Dome tent, tunnel tent, ridge tent Geodesic tent, mountaineering tent (4-season tent/ winter tent)**
See Other products section for more examples
Bell tent, canvas tent, glamping tent, event tent, circus tent, Burning Man tents (see below)
Example brands Coleman, Quechua, Ozark Trail Coleman, Quechua, Ozark Trail, ALPS Mountaineering, Eureka, The North Face, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Big Agnes The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Black Diamond, or more boutique or specialized brands like SlingFin, Tentsile, Tepui Kodiak, Springbar, Meriwether, Stout
How to pitch it (set it up) You know those laundry hampers that just... instantly spring open? Yup, same idea Build the poles, then run them through connection points on the fabric
1-3 poles, 1-5 minutes to set up, guying-out*** may be a good idea 3+ poles, 1-10 minutes to set up, guying-out*** is a good idea 1+ pole(s), 10-20 minutes to set up, usually requires guying-out***
Set-up size Designed for sleep only; snugly fits the number of people it's designed for & usually doesn't get to standing height until the capacity is 6+ persons Can get large enough to fit real furniture inside & be as big as a hotel suite with 10+ft/3+m tall ceilings!
Performance & durability Generally not strong or durable, especially in high winds Strong & durable, but exact specs depend on the product; strongest can be used for easier mountaineering trips Strong & durable, but exact specs depend on the product Very strong & durable given purpose as luxurious, outdoor hotel
Common materials
More info about mesh in the Anatomy section
Nylon fabric Canvas fabric
Affixed metal poles Separate metal poles
No mesh Generally lots of mesh Depends No mesh
Effect on other factors Price $30-200 $80-700 $400-1000+ $500-1000+
Size
When folded down. Info on weight below
Due to its nature, can't compress down very well; usually cannot fit into a backpack of any size Usually fits into a backpack, can be small enough to fit into a side pocket! May be able to fit into backpack Generally requires a car, largest capacity may need a truck
Rationale Less technical, less durable, and/or less material More technical, more durable, and/or more material

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell
There may be issues with durability & already at a low price

Standard for most outdoor uses


We do rent mountaineering tents for people summiting peaks; extremely limited availability, please write-in a special request when you reserve

Much more expensive relative to the improvements in comfort (it's priced like a hotel)

*Our Technical Specialist category is meant to be a catch-all bucket for any number of tents designed for very specific technical purposes, but that still have the general shape of a tent (i.e., an enclosed shelter). For examples, see Other products in the market section at the end

**When you hear 4-season tent or winter tent, you might be tempted to think this is what you need in December. But this is a misnomer, for example, if you're camping in a tropical country in December, it is probably not going to snow. In fact, even in California, unless you're actually going mountaineering, camping in the winter doesn't usually require a special tent. That's why we prefer to call these tents mountaineering tents, to make the difference more obvious!

***Using guylines is key to keeping dry and may be more important for some tents than others; see Usage section for more information.

A tent for Burning Man

For background information, you may want to read our Burning Man policy first, especially if you're considering renting a tent! The needs that people have when going camping or backpacking vs. Burning Man are completely different, resulting in very different feature requirements & ideal tent types (see above for overview of all types).

Regular camping or backpacking Burning Man
Tent should provide...* Roomy space (e.g., standing height, good amount of space per person)
Tents largely used to sleep at night, therefore many are not standing height & have small areas, see other charts on this page

Tents are places to rest & hangout during the day as well
Good shelter from the sun
Again, main use for tents is sleeping, so sun shelter is less important

The desert is hot in the day! Tents provide respite when you want to hangout & relax
Enclosed space to protect from dust
Most camping & backpacking environments aren't very dusty

If you've done any research you know the dust on the Playa is intense!
A sleep-under-the-stars, one-with-nature experience
That's why you're camping right?

Seeing out means dust can get in!
Low weight & size for easy carry-ability
Particularly for backpacking

So many supplies already need to be brought in for Burning Man, your tent will probably be smaller & lighter than your costumes suitcase!
Resulting features of ideal tents
  • Lots of mesh to optimize for low weight & size and the sleep-under-the-stars experience
  • Thin fabric (low opacity) to optimize for low weight & size
  • Minimal mesh to prevent dust from entering, in fact, ability to fully seal & enclose during dust storms is ideal
  • Completely opaque fabric to keep out sun
  • More fabric & more opaque fabric (i.e., thicker) means tents are heavier & larger
Ideal tent type Camping Multi-use Canvas Luxury

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell

Standard for most outdoor uses

Too-limited of a use case relative to high price

*Again, personal preference matters more! Some people do want to hangout in a spacious roomy tent during the day when camping (especially for music festivals) and would prefer a Canvas luxury tent in that case, too!

We know, Canvas Luxury types are pricey! But so is Burning Man... the incremental price of a good tent, split among people, is worth it. If you only plan on going once, it's worth it to give yourself the best experience. If you plan on being a seasoned Burner, it's worth it because you'll use it more times!

You may have noticed that Easy Pop-up tents also have no mesh, maybe that will work? Unfortunately, those tents, as we have noted above, are also not very durable, and the Playa gets very windy! That's why it's not a good strategy to buy something cheap to throw away at the end of the trip--that cheap tent may not get you through the week! And if you get a bunch of cheap tents as backups, you'll probably have spent your share of a nice Canvas Luxury tent anyway. If you're going this route, you may as well check out our Borrow program (at most, you'll lose the deposit).

If you don't go very often, of course you're going to want to spend less money, but this often means real trade-offs in terms of the experience that you will have with the gear. Even if you do go often & are ready to invest in quality gear, having the upfront funds can be hard!

Now, it may seem like this price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). So you might be thinking: I'll just buy something cheap, and because the price is so low it doesn't matter if it's less featured or heavier or whatever compared to something higher end. When that breaks, I'll buy something cheap again, and so on. Just remember:

  • What's better than cheap? FREE! And we have a gear library of items you can borrow for free!
  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use or first use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors! And reviews after the first use don't tell you about dudrability at all
  • You're headed outdoors to relax and enjoy life! Saving money only to have a trip ruined due to quality issues will feel terrible. Our program to rent tents is designed to help you avoid this trade-off: you get to rent high end, quality tents for around the same price as buying cheap ones (sometimes even for less!)

For this item specifically, the price vs. quality trade-off issues center around performance & durability.

  • The tent was bigger or heavier: A 1lb or 2kg difference may not matter on a 3 hour hike, but it might on a 6 hour hike! Not to mention you might need to spend more on a big enough backpack to carry it
  • The tent wasn't very waterproof or durable: Wind & rain often come together, and affect each other. E.g., if the poles bend so much that the tent rainfly touches the body, this allows water transfer (see Usage section for more info). If a pole just snaps in the wind, everything will crumble! Fabric-wise, lower end items tend to be made with polyester, which is less durable than nylon (more info in our clothing guide, see section on Durability); and of course, if the fabric tears, performance is compromised. Finally lower end items may not have or may have less effective waterproofing
Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

How many people are you going with? Who will share a tent? These questions are important when considering what capacity (measured in persons) you need. Rule-of-thumb: each person is allotted ~25in (~64cm) of width in a standard tent (standard single sleeping pads are therefore about ~20in [51cm] wide)*, subject to a minimum for 1-person tents. On the length side, standard tents are always long enough to fit individuals' heights, at around 7 ft / 2.1 m long. Because of the constraint in width, a 2-person tent will mean the two of you are basically side-by-side! You can try renting a 2-person tent and then renting a 4-person tent to get a sense of space.

Camping Multi-use Style
Person capacity
1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10+
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Largest mattress that will fit Twin Queen King Multiple depending on configuration
Performance & durability Better
Sits lower to the ground, picks up less wind, generally doesn't require guying-out*** (unless semi-freestanding, see Usage section)
Worse
Picks up all the wind, usually requires guying-out***, particularly to prevent water transference & poles can still bend after only 1-2 uses
~Width 30-40in
(76-102cm)
50in
(127cm)
85-100in
(216-254cm)
120in
(305cm)
More shape configurations, difficult to estimate; definitely larger
Height 35-40in
(89-102cm)
40in
102cm
50in
127cm
75in
183cm
Generally all standing height, at least 6ft (1.8m)
Effect on other factors Price
Regular weight**
$80-200 $80-250 $100-500 $150-600 $200-800
Weight
Regular weight**
3.5-5lbs
(1.6-2.3kg)
5-8lbs
(2.3-3.6kg)
9-18lbs
(4-8kg)
13-25lbs
(6-11 kg)
20-40lbs
(9-18kg)
Size Can fit into various types of backpacks (ultralight models may fit into regular backpacks) Usually requires at least 60L hiking backpack, think of a large duffel bag May not even fit the largest hiking backpack, depending on how it's designed. Sized like a large carry-on luggage Usually designed to be carried separately. Sized like a standard suitcase
Rationale Smaller capacity = less materials Greater capacity = more materials

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell

On our Catalog page, the 1-person tents are actually 2-person ultralight tents, because that's how people tend to use them. True 1-person tents not really worth it (it's not that much smaller or cheaper), especially compared to a bivy sack (see Other products in the market section).


Even number sizes (2-, 4-, 6-person tents) to simplify while maximizing options & versatility

There may be issues with durability (usually large tents are made by the same brands that offer the less durable Easy Pop-up style tents) & can be harder to pitch

*We only compare Camping Multi-use type tents, since these are most common

**Since as you'll see in the Weight & Size section, there are no lightweight 6-person tents

***Using guylines is key to keeping dry and may be more important for some tents than others; see Usage section for more information.

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

To reduce more weight & increase compactability, manufacturers reduce the amount of material used (e.g., fewer features, thinner fabrics, etc.) and, where possible, use more technical materials to prevent performance loss. For example, ultralight fabric has to still be waterproof. These strategies create 2 general consequences

  • Lightweight gear tends to be less durable: Sometimes, light-weight gear is just thinner & so more prone to damage (even a more technical material may not fully offset the loss in durability)
  • Lightweight gear tends to be more expensive: While less materials = lower cost, the more dominating effect is often that thinner materials = more technical = greater cost

For these reasons, the lighter the gear, the more you should treat it as an investment! Is the price difference worth the weight or size savings? This depends on you & your trip! Given our mission we're the only shop that rents a tent that's ultralight, so feel free to try it out, and see how different the weight feels!

While backpacking tents have the same general dimensions as you see in the Capacity section, they are less voluminous because, in an effort to save weight, the tent body tapers downward more severly, there's more mesh, and less pole support. Especially in the ultralight models, even 2 average-sized people may find themselves pressed against the walls of a 2-person ultralight tent, which, depending on conditions, may create issues with water entry (see Usage section). Keep this trade-off in mind, and remember that renting a backpacking tent is a great way to test how it feels for yourself!

Camping Multi-use style Regular Superlight Ultralight*
2-person
Size (Capacity)
Weight 5-8lbs
(2.3-3.6 kg)
3-4lbs
(1.4-1.8 kg)
2-3lbs
(0.9-1.4 kg)
Size (Compactness)
Could fit in...
Hiking backpacks at least 50L Carry-on luggage Regular backpacks for school or work, or some extra large purses
Effect on Price $80-$250 $200-$500 $350-$600

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell

Standard for most outdoor uses

On our Catalog, this is indicated with '(regular)'

We already carry the ultralight model
Our mission is to increase access to gear & we are proud to be the only company to rent as well as sell this type

On our Catalog, this is indicated with '(backpacking)'

4-person
Size (Capacity)
Weight 9-18lbs
(4-8 kg)
7-9lbs
(3-4 kg)
5-7lbs
(2-3 kg)
Size (Compactness)
Could fit in...
Hiking backpacks at least 70L Hiking backpacks at least 50L Carry-on luggage
Effect on Price $100-500** $300-400 $500-700

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell

Standard for most outdoor uses

On our Catalog, this is indicated with '(regular)'


Our mission is to increase access to gear & we are proud to be the only company to rent as well as sell this type

On our Catalog, this is indicated with '(backpacking)'

Much more expensive relative to the improvements in weight savings compared to the superlight model; also if weight & size are really important, 2 2-person tents is a better choice
Rationale for effect on Price Less technical material More technical material

*Extremely ultralight tents (1.5lb for a 2-person tent) may be equally extreme in terms of fragility. Early reviews have people (joking?) that you should file your nails before using! For that reason (and the outlier pricing, these push over $1000), these have been excluded

**Regular tents may be more expensive than superlight tents, because of greater features designed for group camping, further underscoring the point that most people don't bring 4-person tents backpacking

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about other features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget. Remember, we allow you to hire a tent so feel free to try out various models with different features.

  • How many doors are there & what's the placement?
  • How much mesh is there vs. solid fabric? If more of the latter, are there windows?
  • How well does it ventilate?
  • How many internal pockets are there & where are they placed? (e.g., at the ceiling, or on the walls)
  • Does the rainfly come all the way to the ground to create a vestibule for gear (see Anatomy section)? How much space is this?

Anatomy diagram

Anatomy of a tent
Image from Big Agnes; Click to see full size

Our anatomy applies to most Camping Multi-use & many Technical Specialist type tents, because we orient around the 3 main pieces of these tents: the body, rainfly, and footprint. You might wonder, why would a tent not have a rainfly or footprint? For some tents, these are integrated with the body, not separate pieces of fabric. Here's a quick overview of why:

  • Camping Multi-use: Not integrated for maximum versatility
  • Technical Specialist: Depends; if integrated, it's to maximize weather protection
  • Easy Pop-up: Integrated for maximum convenience
  • Canvas Luxury: Integrated because this tent mimics an enclosed hotel room

If you have a tent with all the parts integrated, the diagram can still apply, just keep in mind there aren't 3 separate pieces! When a rainfly is separated, the tent is referred to as a double-wall system (there's the mesh body, and the rainfly that goes over it); when the rainfly is integrated, the tent is referred to a single-wall system.

Tent body: the main part of the tent you're staying in!

  • Mesh: integrated into the body of most tents to increase breathability, minimize weight, and give you that sleep-under-the-stars experience.
  • Poles: gives the tent its structure. Made up of metal pieces strung together with elastic shock cord. Can be either clipped to the tent body, or run through sleeves on the outside of the tent body. Some rainflies use poles as well
  • Stakes: keeps the tent anchored down & well-tensioned (see Usage section)

Tent rainfly: covers the tent body to provide shade & protection from rain. If your tent has a lot of mesh, it may also offer more wind protection & privacy. Of course, if not needed, you can leave it off entirely (though we do always recommend bringing it on trips, rather than leaving at home or in the car, just in case)

  • Guylines: You can see how the guyline is pulling out the rainfly, adding tension, and making the fabric more taut. More info on the importance of guylines in the Usage section
  • Vestibule: This isn't a "piece", it's the space that's created created if the rainfly of a tent goes down to the ground at an angle, such that there's a small covered space outside the tent body but within the tent rainfly. This space, called a vestibule, can be a good place to store gear or shoes. Not all tent rainflies create a vestibule, sometimes the rainfly just creates an awning over the door, or sometimes it goes down to the ground, but flush against the tent body. Generally people like a vestibule, but because it's another door that you have to deal with, sometimes in very basic car camping (e.g., festival) situations, people prefer without

Tent footprint (aka ground cloth): goes underneath the tent (most visible in the last image at far right the 'fast-pitch' mode, see Usage section) to further protect the tent from wet ground or from being punctured or damaged by rough surfaces. Sometimes sold separately (we include these with all of our rentals, or, if not applicable, a tarp).


Usage tips

If you are car camping at an established campground, these steps may have been done for you, but you should still check!

  1. Be sure that the ground is durable like dirt, not plants
  2. Make sure your campsite is an appropriate distance from water, the trail, and not too close to any perilous cliffs!
  3. Check that none of the trees overhead are broken and in danger of falling (these are called “widow makers”)
  4. Clear out your space making sure that there are no rocks, pine cones, or glass where you are going to pitch your tent. If you are not in an established campsite you should scatter natural materials back over your spot before you leave (but please pack out or dispose of trash), following Leave No Trace principles
  5. Whether flat ground is preferred over a slight slope depends. For example during rain, a slope can direct more water to your tent (bad) or direct water to not collect under or around the tent (good). Look at the other factors of your site to manage your risks. Also some people are sensitive to sleeping with their head downhill (the blood rush may lead to headaches in the mornings). In any case, avoid pitching a tent over a depression in the ground, since that can definitely cause water to accumulate.
  6. More tips in the section on Keeping dry at camp if you're worried about rain

These are general instructions for most Camping Multi-use & Technical Specialist tents that are freestanding or semi-freestanding (more info on this below) & therefore apply to all the tents we carry. For instructions for your specific tent check the packaging or look up the instructions for your particular model and brand of tent online. If you hire a tent from us, we can send you a YouTube video we've found online with good step-by-step instructions. Protip pay attention to colors on straps, poles, etc., as tents often use color-coding to help you figure out what goes where. In the example below in the images for Steps 1 & 2, if you look carefuly, you can see that the grommet tabs on both footprint & body are green on one end (lower half of image) & white on the other end.

Step 1

Setting up a tent, step 1
Lay out your footprint (aka ground cloth) or tarp. For footprints, lay the glossy side up (shine to the sky, dull to the dirt!). When using a tarp as a footprint, make sure it is folded to be roughly 2in (5cm) smaller on all sides compared to the tent body's floor side, in other words, the tarp should not poke out beyond the tent floor. If it pokes out or is too large, it can collect water, that then pools underneath the tent. Of course if you fold it too small, it won't protect enough of the floor.

Step 2

Setting up a tent, step 2
Lay out the body of the tent on top of the footprint. The mesh parts, zippers, or any plastic clips (for poles) should be facing up

Step 3

Setting up a tent, step 3
Assemble the poles by putting the metal segments together (they naturally want to stick together!). Lay the poles over the body. The most common set-up is shown: 2 poles cross diagonally & attach at opposite corners. Poles may also need to go through fabric 'sleeves' on the body (not present in this case)

Step 4

Setting up a tent, step 4
Each end of the pole should go through a metal grommet found at the corners (in this type of set-up). Since the poles are so long, they'll curve for this to work

Step 5

Setting up a tent, step 5
Bring the curves upward to form the shape of the tent. Usually there's a main central 'clip' to hold X-pitch tents in place where the poles cross, as shown in the image

Step 6

Setting up a tent, step 6
Clip the remaining clips to the pole. A tent isn't done until it looks very tensioned out! Here you can see it looks a bit flat, and as well we have a shorter pole remaining

Step 7

Setting up a tent, step 7
In many models, there may be another pole that further helps create volume, in the case shown, the pole runs perpindicular to the X-poles

Remaining steps

These last steps vary a bit more based on circumstances:

Set-up the rainfly

  • The orientation is correct if the logo faces outward (i.e., it's readable as you're walking by) & the zippers on rainfly are lined up with the zippers on the tent body door
  • Some rainflies have grommets that should attach to the tent body poles as well
  • Additionally, some rainflies have their own poles to create more volume or support. Remember, generally whenever you see a grommet, it's made for a pole

Anchor the tent and/or rainfly & make sure the structure is taut

  • Use stakes or guylines (see sub-section on keeping water from getting in)
  • A stake mallet may be helpful to drive the stake into ground that's hard, be careful to avoid bending the stake
  • In a pinch, you can use heavy objects inside the tent to hold it down, but this will be less effective at providing the tension that you want the fabric to have to keep dry (see below)

Shock cord end pulls out of tent pole

The image at far left below is not a broken set of poles. Sometimes the ends of the shock cord get pulled out from the pole. Just "tuck" the knot back in the pole, and continue pushing it in (see images from left to right).

Shock cord pulls out, image 1
Shock cord pulls out, image 2
Shock cord pulls out, image 3
Shock cord pulls out, image 4

Stake tips

Depending on the ground, it can be really hard to drive stakes into it. Try stomping on it with your foot, using a rock or a stake mallet if you have one (we do rent them). If all of these fails and you absolutely cannot, it's not the end of the world! Bring more of your gear indoors and lay at the edges to stabilize the tent. Be aware that there are specific stakes for specific terrain such as sand or snow.

Should you push your stakes into the ground straight at a 90 degree angle, or you should you angle it so that there's a 90 degree angle between the stake and the cord or strap hooked on it (usually means pointing end is closer to tent, while top end faces away from tent)? Honestly there's a debate here, and folks swear by one way or the other. Experiment with different ways of doing it! Usually you'll have more than enough stake points that if some are straight and some are angled, it's fine!

Semi-freestanding tents

These tents can stand by themselves, but they may not fully expand to their entire volume. In the example below, the images are taken from above the tent, the bottom half of the image is the rear of the tent. You'll notice that at the top of the image (the front of the tent), the pole goes down to each corner, anchoring it out. However, the single "ridgeline" pole doesn't go to each corner at the rear of the tent. Therefore the rear looks very "collapsed". This would be an example of a semi-freestanding tent, the fact that the pole doesn't go to all 4 corners helps saves weight & size on this lightweight model. To correct this & expand the tent to its full volume, you need to stake out or guy-out (see sub-section on keeping water from getting in) each corner, such that the tension helps create structure, see image at right. Thus, these tents may also be referred to as tension tents. Non-freestanding tents completely rely on tension or other structures to be pitched (kind of like how a hammock requires trees or poles)

Semi-freestanding tent, without tension
Semi-freestanding tent, with tension

Fast-pitch mode

This refers to just setting up a rainfly, sometimes with the footprint (see Anatomy diagram). A fast-pitch tent is primarily used to save weight & size (since the body is not needed), and approaches the territory of tarp tents (see Other products in the market section at the end). Be aware, this mode is not possible with all tent models, check yours & practice at home before going outside!

The below components of a common double-wall** tent are designed to keep water out:

  • Rainfly: The raincover for your tent
  • Footprint (or ground cloth): Serves as another layer between wet ground & the tent. Generally goes on the outside, however, if you find that it's trapping & helping water pool under the tent, you may want to bring indoors as an extra layer of protection that way
  • "Bathtub" floors: The same waterproof material used on the floor of the tent body runs up around the edges, forming a lip to keep water out if it starts to really pool around your tent

Most tents are double-wall, meaning they have a separate rainfly (and the body has lots of mesh, which is obviously not waterproof!). Single-wall tents don't have a separate rainfly, and the body itself is also waterproof. These tents are more common in mountaineering, since without they mesh layer they are more insulating. That said, single-wall tents may present additional issues with condensation, see below.

If you happen to not have a rainfly or footprint, some folks will use a tarp, just be aware of a few key points below:

Can you use a tarp as a rainfly? Tarps are generally at least water repellant. When you use it as water protection, make sure it has not been used previously as a ground cover, since that could create lots of small holes that compromise water resistance (for this reason, our rental tarps shouldn't be used as water protection, since we can't guarantee that people have not used them on the ground). If you're using a tarp as rain protection for a tent it's best to string it up over the tent using nearby trees or vertical poles, like an umbrella. It's not as good of an idea to drape the tarp over your tent like a rainfly, because it's not cut to the shape & contours of your tent, so draping could leave lots of unprotected areas. Not to mention without the right structural support, a tarp could trap condensation or allow water transference from the exterior.

Can you use a tarp as a footprint? Always worth repeating! When using a tarp as a footprint, make sure it is folded to be roughly 2in (5cm) smaller on all sides compared to the tent body's floor side, in other words, the tarp should not poke out beyond the tent floor. If it pokes out or is too large, it can collect water, that then pools underneath the tent. Of course if you fold it too small, it won't protect enough of the floor.

For these reasons, we always recommend having an actual rainfly and footprint. If you happen to have an extra tarp, hang it over the entire tent area, to provide extra protection and minimize rain that hits the tent (which can minimize the water transference effect below).

In addition to having all the components above, proper usage is key to keeping dry, read on each section for critical information.

A well set-up wet weather camp

Whether flat ground is preferred over a slight slope depends. For example during rain, a slope can direct more water to your tent (bad) or direct water to not collect under or around the tent (good). Look at the other factors of your site to manage your risks. Also some people are sensitive to sleeping with their head downhill (the blood rush may lead to headaches in the mornings). In any case, avoid pitching a tent over a depression in the ground, since that can definitely cause water to accumulate.

As much as you can, keep the tent dry as you're pitching it. Set up an extra large tarp overhead, preferably over the entire campsite if possible, or hold the tarp overhead. If you don’t have a tarp, do this with the rainfly. Consider tying guy lines in advance, at home, to minimize time exposure to the rain.

The rainfly, the most important element, needs to be structurally pitched in a way that keeps water out. Specifically it should not...

  • Sag: if the rainfly sags, water will just pool in the saggy part (then see below)
  • Touch the tent body fabric: if the two fabrics touch, then through the physics of water transference, water will pass from the outside of the rainfly to the inside of the tent body

Both of the above mean that you need to keep the rainfly as taut or tensioned out as possible. This is why sometimes you need guylines to guy-out your tent. What this means is that you take rope, and pull outward on the tent fabric, stretching it to be as taut as possible & not touching the body, then tie the rope off to a stake or tree or other support. Why the fancy name? Imagine the wind suddenly changes direction, and you need to pull on the fabric in a different direction. With rope, you'd have to untie & redo the whole set-up. Guylines have a plastic tensioner piece that you can pull on to adjust the "tension" in the line, therefore making it easier for you to keep your tent taut in changing, inclement weather. For a great guide on how to use guylines, click here.

Don't push out the tent body to touch the rainfly, either! You've spent so much time getting a perfectly taut, no-touch rainfly, don't ruin it by pushing outward against the tent body fabric. This is also we mentioned that in smaller, ultralight tents, people sometimes size down (e.g., 1 person will sleep in a 2-person tent). Sometimes, with the exact capacity of people, it's very easy to push outward on the body when you move.

As we mentioned, the larger a tent gets, the more important it is to minimize water transference and to guy it out, because it starts to pick up wind so much more easily! Here's a good visual example for the theory of water transference and the challenge for large tents (e.g., 6+ person and up).

In short, water vapor generated by you (e.g., your breath) can condense and drip back inside the tent (this is often what's happening when you wake up and notice the tent wall next to where you'd been breathing has droplets on it!). For the fullest explanation of how this works and how to address it, check our ultimate guide to waterproofing.

Specifically for tents, it's important to mention that if you have a single-wall tent (body & rainfly are combined), it will be harder to manage condensation! In a double-wall system, water vapor passes easily through the body mesh, and then even if it does condense on the interior of the rainfly, as long as the rainfly isn't touching the body (see previous water transference section), then the water droplets harmlessly slide down the rainly and then drips onto the ground. With a single-wall tent, you need to take extra care to ventilate and minimize water vapor, since anything that condenses will just drip back inside the tent!

Babies

If you will be using a Pack 'n Play, be conscious of size dimensions, especially height (i.e., you need height clearance to stand above it). A Pack 'n Play usually takes up the width of at least 1.5 people in a camping setting (e.g., roughly 2 sleeping pads, or 30 in/ 76 cm). For these reasons, we recommend at least a 4-person capacity tent, 6-person capacity for greatest comfort (since these will be standing height).

Pets

Camping with pets can be so much fun, and your pet will appreciate the new environment as well! In addition to checking park regulations on pet permissibility, also consider how your pet may interact with your camping gear. Gear is relatively fragile and we have stories of pets unintentionally damaging zippers, mesh, inflatable sleeping pads etc. when they're nervous or just being playful (those nails are sharp!). These damages can be severe, and necessitate replacement of the item entirely (we have a story of a dog chewing a hole through a tent entirely), so plan carefully to ensure a great time for all. Lastly, you may need substantial space for your pet's bed inside the tent!

Many people who already have their own tent but who have babies & pets along for a special trip, will rent a larger tnet just for that occasion to ensure their space needs are met!


Maintenance tips

Repairing

We can either provide parts or repair services (and discounts on renting tent while you wait) for the following issues:

  • Zippers
  • Grommets
  • Holes, rips, or tears
  • Poles (shared shipping only)

Waterproofing: Repairing issues with waterproofing requires careful diagnosis of exactly what the problem is. We have a list of visual cues & solutions in our guide on waterproofing

Cleaning & Storing

Gear not in use should be cleaned & dried and then stored loose & in a dark environment, check out our entire protip on the topic here.

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.


Other products on the market

There are always novel innovations in the world of tents, because these are the primary gear item underlying so many outdoor adventures. Our Technical Specialist category is meant to be a catch-all bucket for any number of tents designed for very specific technical purposes, but that still have the general shape of a tent (i.e., an enclosed shelter). Most people will not use these tents because they're very specialized & therefore often very expensive. Below are some examples

Tree tent
Tree tents are non-freestanding tents (you can see they're fully based on tension, like a hammock) pitched between trees that hover above ground; sometimes they can be pitched on the water as a tent-raft hybrid as well
Overland tent
Overland tents belong to the field of overland camping, where you're often driving in a 4x4 to a remote wilderness area, and pitching the tent on the roof of the car itself
Portaledge tent
Portaledges hang off the side of a cliff. Who wants to do this, you ask? Rock climbers!

You may also see shelters that are completely divorced from the shape & form of a traditional tent. The most common examples of this (below) are dreamed up by ultralight hikers with specific needs & concerns around weight & size. (The picture shows them both in action, a tarp tent over a bivy sack.)

Tarp tent with bivy

Tarp tents: The name draws inspiration from the tarp but this is a different product entirely. For the diehard ultralight hiker, the smallest tents are too heavy. Thus, all they have is a special tarp (using a material much lighter than the traditional tarp we have a gear guide on) as a rain cover. These tarp tents (sometimes referred to confusingly as just tarps) require guying-out (see Keeping dry at camp subsection of Usage section) as tarps are non-freestanding & may require trekking poles to be set-up. Keep in mind there's a learning curve to pitching them well.

Bivy sacks: Have you ever thought, gosh why don't I just sleep in my sleeping bag outdoors, with some kind of covering against water or bugs? A bivy sack is exactly that! You can stuff a sleeping bag inside or just use the bivy shell on its own.

A hammock can potentially substitute for your entire essential set of tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad! Substitutability depends on the model of hammock, so do your research thoroughly to see if the hammock has rain protection or mesh (to simulate a tent), and any built-in padding or bedding for warmth & comfort. You'll also want to ensure there are plenty of trees where you're going. Finally, you might want to try taking a nap first, hammocks result in back pain for some & back pain relief for others, the last thing you want is to wake up after a long night in pain!


The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 .