2 campers sitting outside their tent drinking and laughing

Your ultimate tent guide: how to choose a tent

Check out our guide on choosing the perfect tent for you, whether you're going on a solo adventure or camping with the entire family.

When going on a camping holiday, you’ll need a reliable tent to count on. Find out what you need to look out for when tent-browsing to ensure you aren’t left in the rain with no shelter!

The idea of sleeping under the stars might fill many people with excitement. But if you’re a first-timer, camping can seem like a minefield.

There are so many different tents on the market, from lightweight backpacking tents to extra-large family tents, and they come in a range of prices too. But choosing the best tent for you will come down to a few key factors, with the number of sleepers being the most important. We’ve put together the ultimate guide on choosing a tent and looking at the different types of tents out there and what features to look out for to help make your decision a whole lot easier.

What are the different types of tents?

Tents come in all shapes and sizes. Deciding which is right depends on the number of campers and where you'll be using it. If you're backpacking across the other side of the world, you need something lightweight and easy to carry. In comparison, a family staycation with the kids in tow would need a comfortable and spacious tent with separate bedrooms and a living area for everyone to hang out. Here are just some of the different styles of tents available:

Ridge Tent: This classically shaped tent has a pole at each end and a cross pole (ridge) supporting the roof. These tents are available in different sizes for a one-person camping trip to huge marquees. Extremely stable and easy to pitch; the main disadvantage is the head height. This may not be an issue if you're using the tent purely for sleeping, but it's not ideal for a family holiday as it restricts mobility inside.

Geodesic Tent: The poles criss-cross over the surface, intersecting to form triangles. This distributes the stress across the whole tent, making it extremely rigid and stable, giving excellent protection against strong winds and rain. Perfect for backpacking and mountaineering in unpredictable weather, geodesic tents usually come in small sizes (for one to two people). You will find slightly larger sizes if you're looking, but bear in mind the extra weight f you need to haul it around.

Dome Tent: This style of tent is very common on campsites. Perfect for a weekend away, they're simple to pitch and offer great internal space. The basic shape bends a flexible pole into a half-circle, with both ends fixed to a strap running across the base of the tent (often as part of the groundsheet). The overall headroom is larger than in a ridge tent and is sturdy in the wind. But dome tents become less stable the bigger they are, so it's better to stick to smaller models if weather conditions are a question mark.

Tunnel Tent: Tunnel tents come in various styles and sizes, making them great family tents. They're sturdy, easy to pitch and have lots of internal space. The poles are arched to create a tunnel, but unlike a dome tent, tunnel tents are not free-standing and need to be pegged as you pitch. Once you've learned how to pitch one tunnel tent, the same principles can usually be applied to other tunnel tents.

Pop-up Tent: Also known as instant or quick-pitch tents, these tents are perfect for festivals, camping in the garden, or beach shelters. They have a long, coiled, sprung frame fitted into the tent's fabric, so they pop open, making them super easy to set up. They're best for a night or two, but more expensive models offer far greater robustness, with some able to sleep up to five people. Although quick to pitch, folding the tent away again can take a little practice.

Teepee Tent: Also known as the bell tent, they're popular with glampers, and they're constructed using a single pole, creating a deceptively spacious tent. Their unique shape makes them stand out among other tent styles, and they are compact while boasting ample floor space. The sloping sides are fitted with a high centre peak, making it easy to stand upright. Take care when choosing a teepee tent, as some don't have inner tents, which makes them better suited to summer camping. Models with an inner tent are more expensive, but they can be used all year round.

Inflatable Tent: A great alternative to a traditional family tent, inflatable tents (or air tents) are super simple to pitch. They have inflatable beams as opposed to metal or fibreglass poles and often use better quality materials than poled tents, making them much heavier and more costly. They're inflated using a pump and are becoming increasingly popular with families because of the quick and easy pitch, with large eight-berth tents only taking roughly 15 minutes to set up.

What are the Different Parts of a Tent Called?

Once you’ve got to grips with the different types of tents, it’s useful to know what the different parts of a tent are called and what they are for. The technical jargon can get confusing for those new to camping, so we’ve put together a list to help you out.

Flysheet/outer tent: This is the tough waterproof outer layer of the tent and provides extra protection against bad weather. Its main job is to keep the rain and wind out.

Porch: Good family tents will have a large porch area for storing your equipment and free up space in the sleeping area. It’s also a good area to cook and eat meals in. Even small, portable backpacking tents may be fitted with a small porch area for you to enjoy.

Guy lines: Cord or string lines are used to secure your tent to the ground. They provide structure to parts of the tent where poles can’t. They also create tension across the outer fabric of the tent to prevent rainwater pooling in saggy areas. Guy lines are usually secured to the ground with pegs or stakes.

Storm flaps: Outer tent doors with zips usually have a strip of fabric that folds over the zip to prevent rain and wind from getting through. The flaps are typically secured at the base with a Velcro tab to keep them in place.

Inner tent: This sits underneath the flysheet, clipped to the outer material or poles. The inner tent isn’t waterproof but divides the tent into living and sleeping areas, providing a welcome layer of warmth and privacy.

Mesh door: An essential when camping in areas where bugs and insects are a problem. They are also very lightweight and often feature in backpacking tents where weight is significant.

Groundsheet: Usually made of a durable waterproof fabric, this is the part you sit or lie on. Some tents have an integrated groundsheet attached to the inner tent to provide extra warmth and keep you and your belongings dry.

What do I need to consider when choosing a tent?

Before choosing your tent, you need to consider what you want from it, including comfort and the process of pitching and packing up. Size, weight and capacity are all important factors, and so is your budget!

Cheaper tents often have a single skin, which means less protection from the elements. But they are usually simple to set up, lightweight and easy to carry, making them the perfect choice for festivals and overnight stays. If you want something a little more robust, it's worth investing in a tent with a double skin. They're usually more expensive compared to single-skin tents but are more waterproof and equipped with a sturdier frame.

Let's take a look at some of the other things to consider when buying a tent.

Size: All tents will specify the number of people they can house, referring to sleeping space. This is often referred to as 'berths'. Consider the living space available (depending on how much time you'll spend indoors) and how much room your equipment will take up. So for a more comfortable trip, consider buying a three or four-berth tent for two people. Some tents may also have a porch to store muddy boots, and larger tents will sometimes offer separate living areas and bedrooms. Remember, the larger the tent, the heavier it's likely to be and possibly harder to put up, meaning you could pay extra pitch fees.

Weight: It's important to consider the importance of a tent, as this will determine the type of camping trip you can comfortably commit to. Large tents of up to 20kg are perfect if you're driving to your campsite and have several people helping to pitch. But if you're looking for a tent for a festival or short camping trip where you might have to carry your tent a little further, go for a tent weighing around 5kg or less. Backpacking tents can weigh as little as 1kg. The biggest trade-off to keeping the weight low is less space, fewer features and shorter durability. But you can find super lightweight tents that offer the best combination depending on where you're trecking to. And if you want a premium ultralight tent, you'll pay more for ultralight-yet-strong materials.

Comfort: Comfort will vary according to the size of your tent – consider 60cm the minimum for a good night's sleep and enough room to move around during the day. The tent's height will also be a factor in whether or not your tent is comfortable, especially if you want to stand up or have tall campmates. Take a look at our Air Seconds inflatable tents – they have a bit more living space and are pretty comfortable.

Season rating: This is a rating of the tent's ability to deal with weather conditions. Each brand and retailer follow its own rules on the season rating, but generally, a one-season tent works perfectly for warm conditions (possibly a light shower). In contrast, a four or five-season tent will keep you dry and comfortable in more extreme weather conditions. Three-season tents are the most versatile and commonly bought and sold in the UK.

HH rating: The 'hydrostatic head' (HH) rating indicates how waterproof a tent's fabric is. It measures how much water the material can hold before it seeps through and the water pressure it can withstand before it leaks. The waterproof ratings are measured in millimetres and usually fall anywhere between 800mm to 10,000mm. A tent with a 2,000mm rating will endure a 2,000mm (or two metres) column of water bearing down on it before it starts to leak. A tent with a 5,000mm rating will protect you against a constant downpour.

Pitching/packing up: The time required to pitch/take down a tent varies depending on its structure. A classic pole assembly requires more time (and patience!), while the 2SECONDS assembly system takes just two seconds but is only available for tents that can sleep up to three people. The AIR SECONDS tent is the one you need for more than three people, with an all-in-one inflatable structure.

Once you've bought your tent, you'll also need to look after it. With a little TLC, your tent will serve you well for years. Take a look at our guide on How to Care for Your Tent.

Our pick: the best camping tents for all budgets

The perfect tent will depend on the type of camping you’re doing. At Decathlon, we have a huge range of tents to suit any budget, from lightweight backpacking tents to spacious family tents. Please look at our pick of the ten best tents for all your camping needs.

1. Best Trekking/Backpacking Tent

Designed and developed in the French Alps, this three-season trekking tent is ideal for one to two people, and it’s ultra-lightweight at only 1.75kg. Its highly compact tunnel structure offers a small, essential living space with two doors, a porch and two storage pockets. The tent has a pre-assembled bedroom and flysheet and sleeves for the tent poles for quick pitching and dismantling.

Here’s why we love it:

✓ Ultra-lightweight

✓ Quick to pitch

✓ Strong tunnel structure

Trek 900 ultralight trekking tunnel tent - 2 person

2. Best Family Tent

This award-winning inflatable tent is designed for four people who want to enjoy plenty of space and makes for an easy pitch. It has two bedrooms, a large living room you can stand up in, a detachable zip-in groundsheet, and blackout technology boasting up to 99% darkness. The ‘Fresh’ fabric also reduces the heat inside your tent in the sun.

Here’s why we love it:

✓ Quick pitching inflatable tent

✓ Spacious bedrooms & living room

✓ Fresh & Black technology

Air seconds 4.2 xl fresh & black inflatable family camping tent - 4 person

3. Best Festival Tent

This super convenient tent takes just a few seconds to pitch, making it perfect for festivals and last-minute weekend trips. It’s spacious enough for two people and has good height. It also has a front porch for storing your bags and is quick to fold away again using the guided folding system. Plus, it features our exclusive ‘Fresh & Black’ technology, which keeps your tent cool and dark, even in broad daylight.

Here’s why we love it:

✓ Pitches in just a few seconds

✓ Compact for easy storage

✓ Separate porch area

2 Seconds xl fresh & black pop-up tent - 2 person

4. Best Weekend Tent

Enjoy time-saving with the new 2-Second system, which is as quick to put up as it is to fold away. It has a large bedroom for up to two people with good height and two practical shoe storage areas. It features ‘Fresh & Black’ technology for a comfortable night’s sleep, and it weighs just 4.7kg, making it easy to transport.

Here’s why we love it:

✓ Robust & waterproof

✓ Comfortable height

✓ Large bedroom

2 Seconds easy fresh & black pop-up tent - 2 person

5. Best Inflatable Tent

This inflatable Air Seconds 4.1 Fresh & Black tent is ideal for four campers wanting one bedroom and a spacious living room. It’s super quick and easy to pitch and features ‘Fresh & Black’ technology, letting less heat and light in your tent. This tent is comfortable to stand up in, and it can withstand rain and winds of around 60 km/h.

Here’s why we love it:

✓ Inflatable for quick pitching

✓ Good standing height

✓ Pre-assembled bedroom

Inflatable air seconds 4.1 f&b camping tent - 4 person

6. Best Party Tent

The Arpenaz Base Fresh spacious living room has enough sitting space for ten people around a table with good 2.25m standing height, making it the perfect party tent. This self-supporting structure has three doors and a large mosquito screen for protection. It’s simple to set up, waterproof and windproof.

Here’s why we love it:

✓ Big enough for ten people

✓ Large mosquito screen

✓ Good standing height

Arpenaz 10 base fresh camping living room - 10 person

7. Best Small, Budget Tent

This is the perfect beach shelter! It’s big enough for two adults (or several children), offering shelter from the sun, light wind and insulation from the ground. It pops up, pitches in seconds, and is super easy to carry, with a weight of just 1.5kg and 56cm when folded—the ideal beach accessory.

Here’s why we love it:

✓ Simple to pitch

✓ Free-standing & moveable

✓ The price!

Mh100 camping tent - 2 person

8. Best Large, Budget Tent

If you're new to camping, a simple, budget tent could be just what you need. The MH100 houses two people and makes for an easy pitch. Fit the poles on the inner tent and attach the flysheet, and you're done! It's durable and waterproof, with the free-standing dome structure allowing you to move once assembled to stay mobile.

Here's why we love it:

✓ Separate living room & bedroom

✓ Ventilated flysheet

✓ The price!

Arpenaz 4.1 family camping tent - 4 person

9. Best Rooftop Tent

This four-person tent has a spacious living room and a separate bedroom. It’s easy to pitch with a stand-up living area, making it an excellent choice for camping trips as a couple, with family or friends. The tent is fitted with a basin groundsheet at the entrance, which can be folded away when it’s raining and has a transparent shuttered window. The ventilated flysheet in the living area also airs the room and reduces condensation inside your tent.

Here’s why we love it:

✓ Attaches to your van to create extra space

✓ Inflatable for quick pitching

✓ Real bed base & mattress

Van 500 fresh & black inflatable rooftop tent - 2 person

It’s always best to see the tent you’re buying fully pitched in-store if you can. Climb inside and walk around to make sure you have enough head height. Lie down to check you have plenty of space for a comfortable night’s sleep. And if you’re looking for a family tent, take the whole family with you to ensure everyone can fit in comfortably for the in-person quality check.

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