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Buying Guide: Choosing The Perfect Tent

Here at Blacks, we've been designing and selling tents for over 150 years. And, we know just how important the right tent is when you're setting up camp. From the family campsite to the festival fields, your tent has to be the basecamp of dreams in order for you to have the best night's sleep.

So here it is, the 'Everything you need to know about tents' guide to help you make the right investment for your own outdoor escapes.

With so many innovative new tent designs on the market, spontaneous escapes, family camping holidays and serious expeditions have never been more comfortable. But everyone has their own preferences - the most important thing is to choose a tent that suits your needs.

Style

There are always innovative new tent styles to choose from:

Tunnel Tents - generally feel more spacious, because their height runs the full length of the tent. The design is simple to pitch because none of the poles cross over - however this does usually make for a less stable tent. Good attention to your guy ropes will help you stay standing. Great for family camping, chilled out backpacking and campsite use.

Dome Tents - Dome tents are great all-rounders. They're simple to pitch, stable in high winds (with no corners for gusts to catch on) and are therefore ideal for a season of spontaneous camping trips in a wide range of conditions. You will of course find less headroom in dome tents, but this isn't always a great concern if you're main priority is comfort in all weather and on any terrain.

Semi-Geodesic and Geodesic Technical Tents - The complex structure of these more technical designs makes them incredibly stable and solid - designed to stand up to all manner of conditions and underneath the worst kinds of storms. You'll find that a range of options are available in the geodesic style, suited to all kinds of intrepid, mountainside adventures.

Inflatable Tents - Inflatable tents have to be one of our favourite outdoor innovations - eliminating the need for tent poles by using simple, inflatable tubes instead. That's right: No poles, no hassle and record pitching times - perfect for stress-free holidays, last minute breaks and those who have a knack for breaking tent poles.

Tipi Tents - If you're looking for a whole new camping style and not too bothered about extreme weather or mountain tops, check out the Tipi. Think wigwams, cabin shapes and other unique styles that are comfortable, spacious and quirky. Designed to provide sociable space and headroom, our range of tipi style tents are popular with camping friends, families and festival goers alike. Great as a shared investment too.

Space

When choosing your tent it's important to consider:

What you need to take with you - Will you need extra space for luggage in your tent? Are you planning to take loads of equipment on your adventures? If so, consider buying a slightly larger berth tent so that you'll have plenty of room to stay organised. If you're going solo and need to keep size to a minimum, look for a 1 person tent with a gear store, porch or external storage system.

Future-proofing - If you're buying for a festival or one-off camping trip, think about how you might use the tent on other occasions. A 2 Man tent for one summer trip might not be big or small enough to cater for next year's plans. The same goes for family tents - will the kids need more space for play next year?

How you want to spend your trip - If you're pitching up for a proper holiday rather than destination hopping, you might want a bit of extra space for eating inside, chilling out and sheltering on rainy days without going crazy. It can be really pleasant spending time in a tent if you have room to spread out - that's why even some couples choose family tents for their longer camping holidays.

What you can transport and carry - Always check the weight and pack size of your chosen tent, to make sure it's possible to get it where you need to go.

Facing the Weather: Wind

The styles outlined above should help you choose a tent that's stable enough for your conditions. Remember, wind is always a bigger problem at higher altitudes, in exposed positions such as cliff tops or hillsides. If you pitch your tent properly, chances are you won't have any problems as long as you're not camping in a particularly exposed position.

Tip: Choose a sheltered pitch, even if it's not windy when you arrive - this will reduce the noise of the wind in your tent.
Tip: Choose a semi-geodesic or fully geodesic tent if you're likely to be pitching high-up or in an exposed position.

Facing the Weather: Rain

If you're camping in the UK, you can always expect a chance of rain. The good news is that modern flysheets (the outer part of the tent) are so resilient that you only really need to worry about your tent fabric's hydrostatic head (the measurement of waterproofing) if you're facing a risk of a serious downpour. A 2000mm hydrostatic head is perfectly capable of keeping UK rain out. Any hydrostatic head measurement over 3000mm should assure you of reliable protection even in the worst downpours Europe can throw at you. To be honest, it's the design of your tent and the way you can use it that's most important for your rainy day enjoyment:

Groundsheets are usually made from high strength polyester with a very high waterproof ability. A sewn-in groundsheet (as opposed to a standard, separate one) helps to keep drips and groundwater (and insects) out.

A tent design with a porch makes it much easier to store gear, remove wet clothes before entering the tent and keep rain well away from the interior of your tent.

Any kind of brow over the main opening will help prevent rain water from running in.

Flysheet first pitching means you can put the waterproof outer of the tent up first, then complete the inner in dryness.

Larger family tents with clear windows let you carry on enjoying your holiday and soaking up the scenery even when the heavens open.

Living and Breathing: Condensation

Familiar with condensation? In camping terms, it's what happens when warm bodies live and breathe inside sealed tent walls. When warm moist air hits a cold surface, the moisture condenses and turns to water. That's what happens when breath hits the inside of a cold tent wall. Why is condensation is a problem? Because it causes beads of water that roll down your tent's inner wall and dampen your gear. Some condensation is always going to be likely, but tent designs can alleviate the problem in several ways.

Double skinned tents - Double skinned tents have two layers - a waterproof outer flysheet and a breathable inner tent. Instead of condensing on the inside of your tent, much moisture passes through the breathable inner and away from your precious kit - instead settling on the inside of your tent's outer flysheet.

Standard groundsheets - Sewn-in groundsheets are great because they protect against draughts and insects, but they do also reduce the amount of air circulating in your tent and therefore create more condensation. A standard groundsheet on the other hand leaves a gap between it and the tent's flysheet, allowing air to circulate and also creating a place for condensation to escape.

Warm Climate Camping: Ventilation and Insects

Heat can cause as much discomfort as cold unless you keep a close eye on tent ventilation. If you're camping in humid climates or close to water (especially in the Scottish Highlands), you'll need to make sure your tent is insect-proof overnight. Luckily, there are several options for ensuring your tent keeps the air flowing through, without letting the insects in.

Ventilation flaps - are usually adjustable so that you can control air flow to suit the conditions you're in.

Vents at a higher level in the tent - (such as Vango's Airzone systems) allow warm air to rise and escape - keeping the inside of your tent cooler and fresher. These are usually sheltered.

Mesh inner doors - are the smartest way to keep your tent ventilated and insect-proof. Air can easily flow through the fine mesh without allowing mosquitoes or similar in, meaning you can effectively leave your tent open at all times if the temperature's rising.

Hopefully these fundamentals will put you on course to find a tent that's tailored to you. Of course, all tents have their own features and details... so get browsing.

Final Word

Preparation is key to every kind of camping trip. Buy your tent well ahead of your first trip – things will go much more smoothly if you've had the chance to practice pitching your tent a couple of times. You'll also have the chance to work out what accessories or storage you might need to organise the tent interior.

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Emma can normally be found walking her dog around Lancashire searching for cake. Determined to see as much of the world as possible, Emma enjoys travelling to new regions especially to ski, sunbathe and soak up the culture. From Lisbon and Barcelona, to Australia and New Zealand, as long as there is some sort of cake on offer, Emma will be happy.

When she's not travelling the world, Emma enjoys walks on the hills, looking after her chickens and trying to be the next Andy Murray on the tennis court.

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