Tunnel tent, Geodesic dome tent,Tipi tent? When buying a tent, there are several things to consider. We explain which tents are right for hiking, trekking or nights spent while mountaineering. Continue reading
Hardly any other piece of equipment deserves looking into extensively before buying it, as the tent. That's because there are so many important elements to consider; size, comfort, weight and price to name a few. However, it's well worth investing your time in selecting the right one - it could well mean the difference between comfort and disaster!
Most important, is to factor in the advantages and disadvantages of tent structures and fabrics used. This will chiefly determine if the tent is suitable to where you want to pitch the tent (what type of area) and if it's in keeping with the season to which you wish to use it - e.g what time of year you'll be using the tent or spending time outdoors? What role does bulk and weight play? How spacious does it need to be?
Step 1: How will your new tent be used? - for mountain touring, for an expedition, in tropical, humid regions, arid regions, (winter) trekking etc.
This is, of course, one of the first questions that should be asked as all this will depend on what type of tent construction you require.
Tents for backpacking and trekking in a wilderness area
Due to their compact nature, dome tents have become increasingly popular as a sleeping quarter while backpacking. With a free-standing structure, they are suitable for stony and uneven terrain.
High-alpine use (e.g on expeditions)
Heavy snowfall and windy, turbulent weather are the perfect conditions for pitching a stable geodesic tent. Should weight and minimum space play a vital role, a single walled tent is worth considering.
Lightweight fabrics made with mesh (airy and breathable) and a gap between the outer tent wall and floor base ensure proper ventilation. Practical is a free-standing screen tent, which simply serves its purpose as insect protection. Ideal for combating hot summer nights.
Cool, rainy regions (e.g Northern Europe)
With a double-wall tent you are almost always guaranteed to have a dry tent and more dry gear storage. Sturdy fabrics, along with a tightly staked out, wrinkle-free floor and a taunt out wall will let you sit out a downpour and storm without a problem. Large vestibules, found in tunnel tents are also practical.
Winter trekking e.g. in Scandinavia ...
… Is a typical domain for tunnel tents. Extremely sturdy materials, fabrics and pegs are indispensable. Lockable vents, and a tightly pegged outer wall, possibly even snow flaps (covering tab toward the bottom) to block out drifting snow. Also important is a tent that can be completely pitched and taken down while wearing gloves (construction, zippers, vents). Large vestibules for cooking are absolutely necessary in stormy weather.
Ultralight trekking - single wall, teepees, tarp tents
If you want to reduce weight you have to resort to unusual structures. Tent poles are often replaced by trekking poles, single walls replace double. The aim being, that experienced backpackers carry bare minimum weight on challenging hikes without loss of comfort.
Step 2: Different shaped tents - tunnel tents, geodesic tents, tipi tents
By now, you have a basic guide as to which tent construction may come into question for you. Below you'll find these constructions in more detail.
Tunnel tents consist of tent fabric attached to flexible poles which are arranged in a series of parallel hoops that forms the framework. Higher sides provide a great space / weight ratio. Often, these are the only trekking tent type suitable for tall people (approx. 2 metres).
The poles cross over at least once in the construction of Dome tents, whereby with Geodesic tents it's repeated. This achieves a largely free-standing structure, meaning even after the tent has been set-up it can be moved. One advantage to this is the problem of rocky underground. In windy conditions however, these type of structures must be well braced. It's generally not sufficient to only have the corners secured. These tent structures are particularly suitable for regions with changing winds. Via the crossed pole design, they tolerate significantly higher snow loads as for example a tunnel tent. A disadvantage of both types is the higher weight due to the higher proportion of poles and poorer utilization of space.
Although they've been around for ages, these tents have experienced a rebirth on the market for hikers and campers in the search for lighter equipment. The reason is simple: No rods are needed for tipis - only a center bar, with small ridge tents even trekking poles will do. Often, a double wall is omitted with these types of tent structures, reducing the weight even further. Tipi tents can be considered extremely stable, if there are enough pegs to provide a sufficient base.
Step 3: Spoilt for choice - tent fabrics and their benefits
A tent consists of several coordinated components, which can vary depending on its use. From the outer layer right through to the tent pegs, there are a multitude of possible combinations. It is also important to know how to repair rods or a hole in the tent wall in an emergency.
Nylon tent walls vs. polyester tent walls
Mainly nylon and polyester fabrics are used in the making of outdoor tents.
Nylon has a high tear and abrasion resistance and high elasticity. To reduce the risk of tears, mostly Ripstop-Nylon, that has a stronger thread is used. The disadvantage is the moisture absorption and a tendency to expand when wet.
Polyester has a lower tensile strength than nylon. The fabrics used are heavier and let in less light. Due to a lower water absorption, polyester won't stretch or give as much as nylon.
The tent wall: coatings for weather protection
Nylon and polyester must be coated to be watertight. With high quality tents either polyurethane or silicone coatings are used.
Polyurethane coatings (PU) reach a very high water resistance. 3000-5000 millimeters water values in outdoor fabrics and 5000-10000 millimeters at the lower end of the scale are the rule of thumb. The coating remains flexible at low temperatures and offers sealing by way of tape.
PU coatings are applied in one layer and weaken the support fabric slightly. The coating is usually found in cheaper tents and as floor covering. It generally ages faster than quality silicone coatings.
Silicone coatings are very durable, increase the UV-resistance and tensile strength significantly. Tear values of up to 18 kg are possible. Disadvantages are the low abrasion resistance and the restrictions that factory seam-sealed taping can have. Water columns are approx. 1500-3000 mm.
Cotton tents are not coated. The fabric allows water vapor to pass through and provides a pleasant climate. In the case of rain, the cotton swells, the open pores close and it seals itself. Once again nature proves how to help.
Rods - the tent's backbone
Tent rods in trekking tents have come a long way - heavy, susceptible to breaking fiberglass rods, have been replaced with bendable elastic and quick-to-repair aluminum rods. To choose from are a variety of alloy and elastic rods. The numbering 7006 or 7075 indicate the type of alloy, which is responsible for the strength. The abbreviation T6 or T9 indicates the type of heat treatment that has been used - this has enormous influence on the elasticity. Steel rods are found in large family tents that are heavy in weight. Only these tents, will guarantee sufficient stability under duress conditions.
Water column; the higher it is, the more rain proof the tent?
A fabric's water column, is a frequently asked question by customers looking for advice on tents. The importance of the tent's outer wall water column, is actually less relevant than one would expect. Very high quality silicone coated fabrics have significantly lower values than polyurethane coated fabric. What is important is the quality of the coating, how it lends to the tent's longevity and sufficient waterproofing of the outer material is important..Sealing of seams or taping of seams is important at the floors base as here the stress is greater.
In PU coated tents a tape is also applied from the inside of the seam which is water-tight guaranteed. It's not possible to tape silicone-coated tents meaning under certain circumstances a few drops of water may get through the seams. Those wishing to prevent this from happening, may do so by using a seam sealer as a preventive, for example by McNett.
Don't underestimate condensation
When drops of water start building up on the inside of the tent from the outer wall, condensation could well be the cause. Was the tent pitched in a meadow, was it a damp, cold night, was there a lot of cooking going on in the tent and the vents were closed? There are many factors as to the cause and are not always easy to define. An important feature to avoid this from happening is venting. Cotton tents, in which water vapor is naturally transported out via the fabric, have significantly less issues with condensation.
Stake your ground
Each tent is supplied with a sufficient number of tent pegs. These are often simple round pegs. Depending on your destination and expected terrain these pegs may need to be substituted for more suitable pegs. Universal Y or V-shaped tent pegs: for soft to hard ground, offer sufficient surface and grip in soft meadow or forest soils and are sturdy enough to withstand stones. Tent nails Rockpins: steel, aluminum or titanium are ideal for particularly boulder-strewn, alpine terrain where sometimes only hearty hammering of rocks gives stability.
A sand anchor and snow pegs offer the best grip on large areas in loose subsoil. Ideally, they are buried as a T-anchor.
4. Repairing a tent, being prepared in an emergency
The adhesives for sealing and patching of holes will depend on the type of coating that has been used on the outer fabric. Being prepared simply means that there is less chance of having an uncomfortable night.
In the case of PU coated fabrics Sil-Net can be used to ensure that leaky seams are easily sealed again. For small holes caused by thorns or stones, it's enough to seal by applying a small drop where's needed. Small tears can be repaired with round, flat bonded patches.
For silicone-coated fabrics, Sil-Net, a silicone-based adhesive is used.
In the case of pole breakage, it is recommended that a repair sleeve is always taken along on trips: These are simply pushed over the bent segment, fixed with tape - this splints the segment in place.