Once you get a taste for the great outdoors, you’ll probably be hooked for life. A tent is the best way to get in touch with nature. There are very few experiences that can compare to sleeping under the stars, surrounded by the smells and sounds of nature. Though if you’re a beginner, the jargon and terminology used by camping stores and tent manufactures can leave you totally confused. This article is going to provide a guide for newcomers to the wonderful world of camping. Understanding tent terminology is the first step toward choosing the best tent for your needs.
Before we begin describing the terminology used to describe tents, here are few notes on how to go about interpreting the information and how it can be of benefit to you. When we talk about camping, there are two basic categories of tents and equipment that are separated by the requirements of one’s camping situations. Car camping or vehicle camping refers to equipment that you transport by car, SUV, or pickup to the campsite. This means that you’re not restricted too much by weight or volume. It’s quite obvious that if don’t have to carry your tent and other camping equipment for long distances, you’re able to take a lot more with you and you’re able to use a heavier, larger tent, chairs, tables and a whole range of camping equipment to make the experience all the more comfortable.
Hiking tents (and other camping gear) refers to the camping gear used for backpacking and mountaineering. These are lightweight tents and gear. They are made to fit into a backpack and are easier carry. Here we are more concerned with portability, with comfort being a secondary consideration. These tents will be smaller and made from a very lightweight material. Hiking tents are usually less durable than car camping tents and we need to take more care when using them.
Common Terms Relating to Tents
Size and Weight
- The size of your tent and its weight is likely to be your first consideration. This is particularly important for hiking tents.
- Minimum Weight refers only to the essential components of the tent. These being the tent body, rainfly, and tent poles. There are other items that you could also be taking with you, for example, the footprint and stakes. The total weight of all the tent items is referred to as the trail weight.
- Packaged weight describes the total weight of the tent package when shipped by the manufacturer. This will include the tent, together with all its components like poles, stakes, and rainfly. It also includes additional items – the pole sack, stuff sack and instruction manual.
- Packed size is the volume that the tent will occupy when transporting it rolled up in your backpack. This will include the poles (usually rolled inside the tent) and all other items that go with it – stakes, rainfly, etc.
- The physical size of the tent when erected is described by the number of people that it sleeps. For example, a two-man tent will accommodate two people.
The shape of the tent and the design of its walls and rainfly affects the conditions inside the tent and the usable space for the occupants. Some tents are designed to be erected easily in challenging, windy conditions and some will favor lightweight and compact design features.
This is the classic tent commonly used by the military. The “A” pitch of the tent means that it requires fewer poles and isn’t complicated to erect. The disadvantage of the sloping sides is that much of the floor space is unusable as the roof of the tent is very close to the ground at the edge of the floor.
With walls that are almost vertical, these tents provide a lot of interior space and height. They are usually large tents, in which the occupants can stand upright. These are generally car camping tents as they are too bulky for backpacking.
The dome tent has become the most popular design for campers, mostly because they provide good interior space with less bulk and weight. They usually use interlocking tent poles that form an exoskeleton to support the tent. This design gives the tent excellent rigidity, enabling it to withstand harsh weather conditions like wind and snow.
Dual Apex Tents
These tents have an apex at both ends, much like an A-frame tent. This extends the headroom for the occupants. A dual apex tent differs from an A-frame tent in that it has more vertical walls, increasing the interior floor space, making it more comfortable.
Double Wall Tent
A tent that has an inner body that’s separate from the rainfly is called a double wall tent. These tents usually have inner walls and doors that use mesh panels for ventilation, the rainfly will fit over the inner compartment with an air gap in between the tent interior and the rainfly. This allows for extra ventilation and allows condensation to escape from the inner tent and collect on the rainfly.
Many tents are designed so that the walls, floor, and poles join together to form a single rigid unit. These tents don’t need stakes to hold them down and can be easily moved without dismantling the tent. One is still able to secure these tents with stakes if the weather requires it to be attached to the ground more firmly.
Front Porch – Some tents will have a porch extension, usually without a floor. This is an extension of the rainfly with mesh walls and a waterproof roof, providing a cool area to sit during the day and protection from insects.
Vestibule – Also called a gear garage, the vestibule is an extension of the rainfly that can be sealed off completely, though it won’t have a floor. This gives one an area to store items like boots that would otherwise bring dirt inside the tent. Larger items, like LPG cookers, tables and chairs are also stored here to protect them from the elements.
Pockets – Most tents will have pockets or gear closets, usually made from mesh with a zipper. Generally, a pocket is attached to the walls or the ceiling of a tent and provides accessible storage for items like flashlights, pocket knives, and other small camping gear.
Tent Components – There are many components that are common to all tents, regardless of their design. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the terminology that describes these items before looking at your tent options.
Guy Points or Guy Out Loops – These are reinforced webbing straps that are attached to the tent and rainfly. You attach a guy line to these points which is then staked to the ground and pulled taught to secure the tent or rainfly.
Jakes Foot – Most double wall tents will make use of a Jakes Foot that allows the guy line for the inner tent and rainfly to share the same stake.
Guy Lines – These are thin ropes (usually nylon) that are used to secure the tent as well as tension the roof and walls to prevent sagging. Some guy lines are made of reflective material to increase their visibility. This is very helpful when walking around the campsite at night as it is easy to trip over the guy line or accidentally kick them loose from the stake.
Line Locs – These are plastic adjusters that make it easy to tension the guy line and lock it in position.
Rainfly – This is a separate waterproof cover for the tent that can be removed in hot weather to improve ventilation.
Footprint – A ground sheet, known as the footprint is usually sold as a tent accessory. This is basically a thick, durable plastic sheet that is laid down before erecting the tent and lies underneath the tent floor. This protects the floor from damage caused by gravel, small twigs and other objects that may pierce the floor of the tent.
Tent Poles – This term is self-explanatory, all tents use poles to hold them ridged. Though poles differ greatly. Aluminum poles are the most expensive but are strong, durable and very light. Hiking tents will often use graphite or fiberglass poles which are much cheaper, yet lightweight and flexible but can crack quite easily if not handled with care. Many car tents will use steel poles which are heavy but won’t break very easily, they are way cheaper than aluminum equivalents.
Pole Hubs – Some tents have complex pole configurations and will often have poles that cross over one another. Very often, these poles are independent of each other. In other words, they are not connected. Tents that use a pole hub (usually at the top center) are far more rigid and can withstand more weight from snow and will endure strong wind. Basically, a pole hub is a connector that allows several poles to be joined together at different angles.
Pole Sleeves – To connect the poles to the tent, some designs make use of sleeves. These are stitched loops of fabric running along the outer edge of the tent. The pole is fed through the sleeve and this creates a good level of tension, adding rigidity to the tent structure. Feeding the poles through the sleeve can be time-consuming and can also be difficult to do when the wind is blowing.
Pole Clips – Clips can be used to attach the poles and this is much easier than using sleeves. The problem with pole clips is that they only support the tent at certain points and this can easily cause sagging. Despite their convenience, tent clips are not the best solution when the tent is exposed to wind, rain or snow.
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