Spending some quality time in the wilderness is a necessary thing for most of us human beings. It gives us a chance to reset, rejuvenate, and reexamine the things that we love most abut our big amazing world. But camping is not the same for everybody.
Some people have no problem falling asleep in just about any position, any temperature, any situation. These folks are rare, and we have always been jealous of them. But for the rest of us, falling asleep in a tent and actually getting a good amount of rest is the single most frustrating thing about camping, and unfortunately, it can even prevent us from going out into the wilderness altogether.
The best tents these days, however, are not what they used to be. While they are still a far cry from your comfortable bed at home, they are now built to be warmer, more comfortable, and more portable than ever.
In this guide, we are going to take a look at some of the tips, tricks, techniques, and tools that can be used to make tent camping a far more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
What Kind of Tent Do I Need?
The first step in getting good tent sleep is getting a good tent, and with the hundreds (if not thousands) of models that have hit the market in the last decade, this is not a very easy task. Lets have a look at the basics of tent selection:
While any tent that you’re looking at is going to display the actual floor dimensions somewhere on the package or in the product review, the more common way to size up a tent is by the number of people that can fit into it. This is why you hear people talking about 2-person, 4-person, or 6-person tents, instead of making a reference to the actual dimensions of the thing.
So is a 2-person tent big enough for 2 people, and 6-person tent big enough for 6 people? The answer is almost always no. These numbers can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but generally speaking, they refer to the amount of people that you can simply fit on the floor. This does not usually account for the room you need to store your gear, or the extra length you might need if you are particularly tall.
The most important part of getting a good night sleep is having enough room. A weekend camping trip with your SO is not going to be the same experience with a 2 person tent than it will be with a 4-person tent. Having space to not only store your gear but shift around during the night is essential to catching more wilderness z’s.
There are all sorts of tents out there these days. Here is a basic list of the different kinds that are available, as well as a few notes on what each style is best for:
- Dome Tents – This is probably the most common design. Two cross poles create the basic structure. These tents are almost always 2-perosn or 4-person because of their limited height and size. Great for backpacking, but not great in high winds.
- Multi-Room Tents – These bigger style tens utilize 4 poles instead of two, creating a longer dome that is in contrast to the squarer footprints of a dome tent. This style was designed to have a lot more room, so they tend to be bigger, heavier, and take longer to put up.
- Ultralight Tents – The lightest and most compact ultralight tents are designed for a single individual, though ultralight models are available in 2, 3, and 4-person models as well. These are much smaller and lighter than the other varieties, all in an effort to cut back on overall weight for long distance hiking.
- Pop-Up Tents – These are some of the more affordable tents that you can get these days. They are built with a thin internal frame that is designed to bend inwards into itself, allowing the whole tent to be broken down into a small, usually circular shape. The idea is that they can “pop-up” on their own, making setup incredibly easy. However, pop-up tents usually have poor weatherproofing qualities and are not usually very stable against wind and the elements. They are fantastic for beaches, picnics, and backyard camping.
Camping Gear, Accessories, & Upgrades for Tent Sleeping
Weatherproofing / Rain Fly
It is important for everyone to remember that tents, on their own, and not waterproof. While some of the more affordable tents that you can get advertise waterproof or water-resistant qualities, you are never going to be truly protected against rain and wind unless you have a good rain-fly.
If you are heading into unpredictable conditions (like backcountry thunderstorms) make sure you have a rainfly that fits, but also one that has been recently treated for additional waterproofing power. There are a ton of great waterproofing agents that you can buy. Some of them are spray-on (super easy) and some are wash-in (just as good). Our favorites are Nikwax and Stormsure, but for the most part they are pretty comparable.
Another thing that not all tents come with is a fitted footprint. This is a piece of thick, usually waterproof material (kind of like a tarp) that goes between your tent floor and the ground. The footprint serves a number of different functions, including preventing tears, keeping groundwater out of the tent, and providing an additional layer of insulation against cold ground temperatures.
If the tent you are purchasing does not come with its own footprint, it is usually possible to purchase the right size footprint from the manufacturer. There are also plenty of 3rd party models out there … they don’t have to be perfectly sized as long as they are at least as big as your tent floor.
Tent floors are not very thick … certainly not thick enough to provide any level of back support. Make sure you have a sleeping pad that you know is comfortable. Sometimes it really helps to try it out for a night or two in your own backyard before taking it out on the trail with you.
Top 3 Tips for Comfortable Tent Camping
- Learn to Setup the Tent Properly
Just because you purchased a brand-new tent doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to have a great time with it. The first thing that you need to do upon unboxing is set the whole thing up in your yard or at a local park. Make sure all the parts are there, make sure everything goes together correctly, and make sure you know how to put the rainfly on.
Then, show yourself how to take the tent down and pack it up again. While you might be thinking to yourself, “I know how to setup a dang tent”, you never know what kind of conditions or situations you might find yourself up against. Being prepared with knowing everything about your gear is absolutely essential.
- Don’t Skip the Rainfly
Unless you are camping in your backyard and can get to shelter within a few minutes, a rainfly is a great thing to have. But just packing it along with you is not enough … you actually have to get it setup in order to get any use out of it.
A lot of folks skip their rainflys because they are too tired to set them up, or perhaps they don’t think that rain could possibly come based on how the skies look. But if you get hit by a surprise storm in the middle of the night, you are going to have to get out of your sleeping bag, out of your tent, and then stomp around in the rain and in the dark trying to get it put together. By then, all of your gear is going to be soaked. And that’s not comfortable.
- Choose a Bigger Tent Than You Need
If you’re hiking the Continental Divide Trail or the Appalachian Trail, then yeah, you are going to want a nice small ultralight tent that isn’t going to weigh you down. But for all other types of excursions (especially car camping) you should plan on getting a tent that is approximately 2x the size that you need based on the number of people that will be using it.
For example, if you are planning a 2 person camping trip and you are going to be sleeping in the same tent, do yourself a favor and get a 4 person tent at least. Similarly, a 3 person adventure would be well-equipped with a 6-perosn tent. This gives everyone plenty of room to spread out, organize and organize their gear.
Of course, there is never anything wrong with going huge. An 8-person or 10-person tent might sound excessive, but if you get a rainy day when you’re out there then you’ll be glad that you spring for the extra size. They can be quite heavy and bulky, but if you’re not hauling it a long way then it’s a great option.