Family - Car Camping
If most of your camping is done in dedicated campsites over the weekend, with the family, then you're likely to be better served by a larger family tent. Although family tents are generally heavier and larger in size when packed, they do provide much more comfort and space compared to lighter and more portable tents. As most family campers will be driving to and from the campsite, portability isn't really an issue. In most cases, these tents will be pitched and left up for several days at a time, so quick and easy pitching isn't critical. Additionally, many family tents provide different 'rooms' in the tent, ideal for when larger families and groups are using the same tent.
These tents are smaller, lighter and generally easier to erect. However, those benefits come at a cost- they are also less spacious and the top of the range models are very expensive. The smaller size makes it easier for them to be carried longer distances and they are usually designed so that they can be erected and packed up in a matter of minutes. If you're planning a backpacking/hiking trip and/or use public transport to get to your campsites of choice, then this style of tent will likely be more suited to your needs.
You should buy the best tent that you can afford… buying a cheap tent that will be used on a regular basis can often be a false economy, as it won't be as durable as a more expensive tent. As your tent will often be used as your home for a few days at a time, it's worth spending time and money selecting a tent that best performs that function according to your needs.
general tent categories:
Car-camping tents are much taller and wider than backcountry tents, often with fairly vertical walls to feel less claustrophobic. They lack full rainfly coverage and sturdiness for severe weather but are fine for campgrounds. These tents are too bulky and heavy to carry on your back — though some are sufficiently economical in size and weight to make roomy shelters on canoeing and sea-kayaking trips. They vary greatly in price and features.
Summer tents are strictly for warm backcountry nights where you don't have to worry about blowing rain or sand. They are the most lightweight backcountry shelters, with few poles and lots of mesh. While impractical for the Northeast's bigger peaks, they are a good, lightweight option for lower-elevation campsites in the region.
Three-season tents are the best backcountry shelter for late spring to mid autumn in the Northeast, designed to handle temperatures from warm to below freezing, rain, light snow, and fairly strong winds. Look for ample mesh to ventilate well on sultry nights, but avoid an interior that's mostly mesh if you anticipate cool, windy evenings. The rainfly should reach nearly to the ground and stake and guy out securely. The innumerable models in this category vary greatly in sturdiness, ventilation, warmth, and price.
Convertible tents are for people who want one nylon shelter for everything from summer backpacking to winter camping in the Northeast. They typically achieve this versatility through built-in nylon panels that zip in over mesh, and an optional pole for enhanced sturdiness when needed. They are a bit heavier and more expensive than three-season tents, can feel too steamy on summer nights, and don't ventilate condensation as efficiently as a true winter tent.
Mountaineering, or winter, tents ventilate moisture efficiently while trapping heat, and stand up to powerful winds and snow. These specialized, expensive tents sacrifice interior space for a low profile to handle severe conditions. Their weights vary. Some sport a single-wall design that forgoes the rainfly for a tent canopy made of a waterproof-breathable fabric, making them lightweight but more prone to trapping condensation than tents with a rainfly.
Remember: size matters. If you're lugging that tent through the backcountry, find the lightest model that offers the space and sturdiness you need and the price you can afford. Tent capacity is measured in two ways: the number of people it will fit, and the floor's square footage. Two-person tents can vary by several square feet in interior space. If you like keeping stuff inside your tent or frequently encounter nasty weather, consider a roomy model (at least 38-40 square feet of floor space). Set it up and crawl inside before buying. Two winter campers, a couple with a young child, or two three-season backpackers who simply need extra space may prefer a three-person tent. But don't underestimate the burden of carrying an excessively heavy tent. A general backcountry guideline is that the tent's weight should not exceed three pounds per person.
All but the lightest backcountry tents are free standing, meaning their poles support the tent without it being staked out — in calm, dry weather. But staking and guying out free-standing tents makes them more sturdy and weatherproof, keeps walls from sagging, and allows zippers to slide more easily. Tents that are not free standing, which usually have just two poles, shave precious ounces. They are fine in protected campsites where you can stake them out well — the best even stand up to fairly beefy gusts — but rarely match the stability of free-standing models.
The number of poles determines tent weight and sturdiness. Most ultra light, one- or two-person tents for warm weather backpacking or bicycle touring have just two poles. Three-season tents have two to four poles. Most winter and mountaineering models have four or more poles. Poles made of aluminum or more-expensive carbon fiber — with the best strength-to-weight ratio — are better than fiberglass, which is heavy, shatters easily, and is used only in low-priced tents.
Most backcountry tents employ one of two basic designs: the modified A-frame, in which poles cross over the tent, or the inverted bowl shape known as the dome. While having extra space, domes are bulkier and heavier. With either shape, look at the tent profile, or angle of the walls relative to the ground, and the tent's height, both of which affect how well it sheds strong winds.
With modified A-frame tents, tent entry is either from the side or from one or both ends (a dome has no ends). Side doors are typically wide, for easy access to any corner, but with a door on just one side, one occupant is always crawling over the other. With a door at one end of the tent, getting in and out is a little more cramped, but you're not as likely to wake up your partner on midnight bathroom runs. Some domes and modified A-frames sport two doors — a nice feature, but one that adds weight and expense.
Ventilation and warmth are opposing forces when your walls are made of nylon. In summer, lots of mesh keeps things cool; when the mercury sinks, you want less air moving through the tent (read: less mesh). How low to the ground the rainfly reaches affects ventilation, and adjustable stake loops on the rainfly let you control it. Also consider the size, position, and number of windows and doors with solid panels that zip over mesh. Mountaineering tents employ hooded vents to release moisture, reducing condensation in cold weather without losing all the heat you generate inside. A vestibule provides a built-in mudroom for wet boots and gear and a place to cook in bad weather. A vestibule requires staking out, and some employ one or two poles for enhanced support.
Remember, cooking in a vestibule can be dangerous: Be certain your stove won't flare up and that tent flaps and doors are secured. Never cook inside the tent itself, because the floor traps deadly carbon monoxide; a floorless vestibule ventilates the gas.
Once you've decided what sort of tent you're looking for, your tent of choice will probably come in one of the following three designs:
Dome Tents - These tents are simple to pitch and basically consist of several support poles crossing each other to form one or more domes, which is then covered by the tent fabric. Most family tents are in this style, as they are spacious and easy to erect.
Tunnel Tents - The classic tent shape, tunnel tents use fewer poles and the design is therefore more suited to lighter and higher performance tents. They generally require the use of guy ropes and aren't suitable for extreme weather conditions.
Geodesic - Geodesic tents are the strongest design of all, as they use crossed poles and have an aerodynamic shape for use in even extreme conditions. They have a self-supporting design, so can be used without guy ropes if the conditions allow.