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Beginners Guide To TENTS

by Eloise Thompson

Basic beginners guide to tents... we all wish we'd had one at some point.

As much of an expert at camping as you may be now- there was a point when each one of us needed a very basic, beginners guide to tents, and all the rest. We have put together a glossary of everything you may need to understand about tents. For the experts and the learners out there. 


What are the types of tents?

Dome Tent: A favourite with weekend campers and low-level trekkers, dome tents have a design in which the poles cross to create a stable structure. Relatively simple to pitch, dome tents offer great internal space.

Frame/Ridge Tent: The frame or ridge tent shape has been around for what feels like forever. With a pole at each end and commonly a cross or ridge pole to create the roof, these tents are remarkably stable.

Geodesic/Semi-Geodesic Tent: Geodesic tents feature poles which cross to create a free-standing shape which is stable, rigid and distribute stress well. These tents offer excellent protection against high winds, making them popular with backpackers. Semi-geodesic tents use the same principle but generally fewer poles, making the suitable for less extreme conditions.

Tunnel Tent: An incredibly popular and increasingly common type of tent for family and car camping trips, tunnel tents are easy to pitch and offer great internal space. The poles are arched to create a tunnel; but unlike a dome tent, tunnel tents are not free-standing so need to be pegged as you pitch.

Pop-Up Tent (Quick-Pitch): Ideal for festivals, short summer breaks, beaches and garden sleepovers, these tents require no assembly and pitch in seconds. A coiled frame is permanently fixed into the fabric of the tent which when released opens out to create a tent. Contrary to belief, pop-up tents are easy to pack away; if you know the technique!

Tipi Tent (Bell): Single poled, traditional tepee tents have a classic conical shape which creates a deceptively spacious tent that is a great alternative to a standard family tent. Premium styles from brands like Robens make for dream glamping getaways. Tipi tents commonly do not have inners, meaning they are best suited to late spring and summer camping trips.

Backpacking/ Trecking Tent: These tents will be smaller in size to reduce weight and pack size, making them ideal to carry with your rucksack. Designs are normally tunnel or geodesic shape, allowing the best in wind resistance, rigidity and stability in open areas such as fields and the back of beyond.

Poled Tent: The traditional tent; using poles is still popular due to their lower cost, smaller pack size and the fact that for some they represent a more 'traditional' style of camping. Poles are often steel, fibreglass or alloy. - Give our blog, Guide to poled tents, a read for a better understanding on these tents. 

Inflatable Tent: Growing in popularity, air or inflatable tents use a series of inflation beams instead of standard tent poles. A great alternative to traditional family tents, air tents are so simple to pitch, even on your own. 

Utility Tents: Utility tents are designed to be pitched separately to your main tent and offer an enclosed and sheltered place to store items such as cool boxes, bikes and BBQ’s once they have cooled down.  They are usually showerproof, but not as waterproof as a regular tent, this is partially due to them not having taped seams. Utility tents are also used as toilets and shower rooms.

What size tent will I need?

Tent berths are based around how many people the tent bedroom can fit side by side. This does not take into account any rucksacks, luggage etc. When choosing your tent, it's best to take into consideration:

  • How many people are camping?
  • How much kit are you taking?
  • How many bedrooms do you need?
  • Does your campsite of choice have any size limitations?

We suggest sizing up to a larger berth tent if you plan on taking a lot of camping gear with you, or wish for extra comfort. 


What do these terms mean?

Berth: Used to describe how many people a tent can sleep. Note that it is calculated without luggage, so we recommend sizing up if you have a lot of kit.

Flysheet (Outer): This outer fabric of the tent, which protects you against the wind and rain. Flysheets need to be durable and waterproof; and hydrostatic head is the term used to tell you the waterproofness of the fabric. 

Sewn-In Groundsheet: Groundsheet is the flooring of the tent. Some are sewn onto the walls to prevent anything crawling in, and also helps keep the tent free from drafts.

Hydrostatic Head (HH): The Hydrostatic Head rating of a tent's waterproof coating (known as PU). As example, a Hydrostatic Head of 1000 is the legal requirement to call a tent 'waterproof'. The higher the hydrostatic head, the better the water protection you have from your tent.


Tent extras

Inner (Bedroom): The inner tent is designed to keep you as comfortable as possible. Commonly made from a combination of breathable fabric and mesh, inner tents are designed to provide privacy and allow air flow to reduce the build-up of condensation.

Groundsheet: The groundsheet is the durable fabric that makes the floor, and protects you from dirt and moisture. Groundsheets on some tents are sewn-in which means they are attached to the flysheet at the edge to stop moisture, drafts and bugs to get in. All tents have bedroom groundsheets, and family tents often have them in the porch or living area too. To save weight, technical/backpacking tents will have a removable groundsheet in the porch.

Roof Liner: Their aim is to add warmth to your tent/ awning during the winter months and keeps your awning cooler during the summer months. Awning/ tent roof liners toggle into the inside of your awning/tent and provide an added layer between the roof and the living area. 

Roof Protector/ Shield: Protect the outside roof of your tent from UV damage, bird lime and tree sap while keeping it clean. Roof protectors also provide an extra layer of instillation and is easily applied over the top of your tent and connected at the bottom.

Tent Poles: Poles give a tent structure. Separate pole sections are linked together using elasticated cord. Tent poles are made from either fibreglass, Steel, alloy or air tubes. Fibreglass poles are the most common type of pole and are easy to repair. Steel poles are very strong but weigh more and can be harder to repair. Alloy poles are light, strong and can be repaired but be aware that they can be expensive. Air tubes or beams are a popular alternative to traditional tent poles.

Porch: This area is for storing your gear or can be used as extended living space for sitting out bad weather. Lightweight backpacking tents may have just enough space to store your rucksack and wet clothes, while a larger family tent can give you the room to create a kitchen, living room or dining space.

Guylines: Common on all tents, guylines are essential to keep your tent stable and upright. Guylines should be adjusted to match the weather and are pegged out at specific points to distribute stress from the poles, especially in windy conditions.

Storm Straps: Storm straps are fitted to the outer corners of the tent/ awning to provide additional strength and wind resistance in adverse weather conditions. When tents and awnings are most prone to the effects of wind is during gusts and storms, potentially lifting. Storm straps help to provide tension and keep the tent/ awning in position, firmly secured to the ground. 

Windows/Curtains: Common on larger, family tents, windows allow you to sit inside your tent while enjoying the views that surround you. Need privacy? Zipped or Velcro curtains are excellent features and some tents even have tinted windows.

Ventilation: Many tents feature ventilation points to manage condensation by increasing airflow. A combination of high and low ventilation will maximise comfort.

Doors: Tents with a single door keep weight to a minimum, while larger tents with multiple entrances offer greater practicality for families and groups. Zipped tent doors usually feature a fine mesh covering to help keep bugs out and aid ventilation.

Lantern Hanging Point: A loop or clip in the tent where you can hang your lantern or torch. Some tents include a cable tidy to keep wires tucked away.

Storage Pockets: Providing convenient storage for your gear; pockets are common on most tents.

Power Access: Zipped entry points are common on family tents, meaning you can run a suitable mains cable into the tent to power any electrical device. 

Tent Footprint: A tent footprint will protect your groundsheet from mud, moisture and abrasion. Many tents have footprints designed specifically for their shape and size; although generic versions are available too.

Tent Carpet: Tent carpets feel soft and warm underfoot, bringing home comfort to the campsite.

Tent Extensions/ Annexes: Tent extensions and annexes are a great way to increase the floor space of your tent. They are commonly used as storage, kitchens and extra sleeping room. Extensions are typically designed to fit specific tents.

Canopy: A canopy is a structure that provides shelter and can easy be collapsed into a portable size. Canopies consists of two main parts, a frame portion and a top covering called a canopy top. A canopy is usually open on all four sides.

Tarp: A tarp is a plastic or nylon sheet, used at the front of a tent. It is usually rigged with poles, tent pegs, and guy lines. It is a floorless over-head shelter with open ends, used to keep camp area dry and sheltered.

Vestibules: Tent vestibules are like mudrooms at the front of a tent or along its sides, with fully zipped doors. They provide extra space to stash your gear, or a place to change out of wet, muddy gear before you get into the clean, dry end of your tent. They’re also quite useful in winter to get out of the wind.

Windbreak: Ideal for sheltering or enclosing your camping area, windbreaks also can be used to add privacy.

Pump: You will only need a pump if your tent/awning is an inflatable structure. Most air tents/ awnings include a hand pump, however many chose to upgrade to electric and foot pumps for extra easiness and quickness.

Spares & Repairs: Extra pegs, guyropes, pole & cord replacements and a tent repair kit are all worth taking with you, just in case.


How to care for tents

Caring for your tent means ensuring it is packed away clean and dry.

Prolonging the life of your tent includes having to reproof it in order to ensure it remains waterproof. We suggest Re Proofing your tent and any equipment at least every 2 years. However this does depend on the usage of such tent. 

Another tip to prolonging your tents life, is sealing zips. Seam sealing should be done in a fully ventilated area. Set the tent up or lay the tent out flat. Taut seams allow for even application and penetration of the sealer. We recommend sealing both floor & fly seams and reinforcements. Apply sealant to the inside and outside of all exposed seams. Draw or brush the sealant along the seam, spreading it evenly and liberally into all of the needle holes. Several thin layers will work better than one thick layer. Allow 1 - 12 hours for the sealant to completely dry before storing the tent. 

To keep your tent living, clean it! Clean the tent by setting it up and wiping it down with a mild soap and lukewarm water solution with a cloth. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely. Never use detergent, washing machines or dryers because they can damage the tent's protective coating and seams.

If you have a poled tent, clean the tent poles with a soft, dry cloth. This is especially necessary after oceanside camping trips to remove salt so the poles don't corrode or stay gritty.

Clean the zippers with a quick dip in water and then dry them off. This is especially important if you've been camping in a location with sand/dirt. If not the zippers can wear out and eventually the teeth will become inoperable.

After any cleaning, always make sure the tent is completely dry, especially the heavier, double-stitched areas such as the seams, before storing or mold and mildew are likely to grow.

General Tent Care Tips 

  • Use a ground cloth under the tent whenever possible. If not, trace around the tent on the ground cloth and cut smaller than the tent footprint to avoid having it act as a water collector. 
  • Try not to wear shoes inside your tent.
  • Bring a small rug or mat to put inside the tent door to wipe off mud and catch sand.
  • Sweep the tent floor daily to prevent damage from stones.
  • Do not keep food inside the tent. Hungry critters will chew through the tent fabric in search of a snack. 


& as always, happy camping from PJ Outdoors! 


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