Selecting the right tent for the camping needs of your family, is a bit of a headache. In spite of the many models available today, you will find that to get one with the right quality, at the right price and a layout that works for you, is easier said than done.

Let start with the basics:

Support Type

Dome-Type

These tents use long flexible glass fibre rods to support the tent and create the typical igloo shaped tents. They are usually easy and quick to erect and space efficient.

Dome type tents have less overall headroom than frame-based tents.

Some heavy canvass models has spring steel rods in stead of glass fibre to support the heavier fabric.

Frame-Based

Frame based tents use a pole set for support and it is often the preferred construction for larger family size tents due to better head room.

Some may argue that pole based tents are better in windy conditions than dome type tents. According to my experience, both are good if the design was done well.

Fabric

Nylon

Nylon tents are popular and have many advantages. They are very light and packs into a fraction of the space that a same size canvas tent would do.

However, although there is no reason for it, quality is often a problem because nylon tents are aimed primarily at a budget market. One of the most important items where costs are cut is the zips.  It is a pity because a broken zip can render a tent useless and is hard to replace.

We used a big frame-based Nylon tent for five years and if it was not for broken zips, we would still use it. It stood up well in wind and rain.

I checked out tents on a regular basis and on nylon tents, I have yet to find anything with better than budget zips.

Polyester Rip-Stop

Tents made from this fabric are usually of a significant better quality than nylon tents and will without a doubt last much longer. This is the type of tent that one can buy for a lifetime of camping. Once again, make sure though that the zips are of the best possible quality.

These tents are at least 50% heavier than Nylon tents of the same size and takes more space, but it is still about half the weight than a full canvas tent. Expect to pay roughly double for it than a similar size nylon tent.

My existing tent is a Howling Moon Sierra. Made from polyester rip-stop, pole based and plenty of space. I looked for such tent for many years and eventually found it.

Canvas

If you need a tent that literally can stand in the weather on a permanent basis year in and year out, canvas is the only option. When used for camping once a year, your children will inherit it.

Although nothing can come close to a canvas tent in terms of quality and durability, these tents are extremely heavy and huge when packed. They are also pricey and generally about 4 times the price of a similar size nylon tent.

For us, canvas was not a option simply because my wife and I are not physically strong enough to handle a tent that is big enough for our needs.

Fixing

Ground Type

Ground type tents are the most common type of tents and for good reason. They are easy to pitch and it is convenient to get in and out during the day.

You are also sleeping on a solid surface and the movement of family members during the night will not bother you.

Roof Top

Roof top tents became popular under travellers, because of the ease of erection. When you arrive at the camp site, you simply flip it open and within a few minutes, you can settle for the night.

However once it is open, you cannot move the vehicle. In addition, the tents are very small, it is inconvenient to get in and out and the tents are expensive for their size.

If you are the type of traveller who likes to drive the whole day, get at the camp after dark and go early the next morning, this is probably the tent for you.

If however you like to sleep over for at least two to four nights at spot, steer away.

Some people wants to argue that in the wild you are safer on top of a vehicle than on the ground. I have my doubts. Whatever animal can get to you on the ground, can get to you on top and then you are not in a position to run.

Trailer

Tents fixed to the trailer are popular and it makes more sense than something fixed to the vehicle. These tents are often a type of hybrid between roof top tents and ground tents.

However, they are expensive for their size.  Since most of the tent is on the ground and it does not pitch and break any faster than a ground tent. If you are on a budget, just take a loose standing ground tent.

Water Column

In order to compare the ability of tents to keep out water, the term "water column" was introduced.

If a specification sheet claims the tent has a resistance of 2000mm water column, it literally means that you can take a piece of fabric, wrap and seal it at one end of a vertical pipe 2000mm high and fill it up with water to the top. No drop of water should come through.

Typically, you should look for a tent with a ground sheet of about 1000mm of water column and do not to settle for less than 1000mm of water column on the flysheet.

Tent Care

In order to get some years of life out of a tent, taking good care of it is critical.

Tents spend most of their time in storage. Make sure that the tent is stored on a shelve or pallet and not on a concrete floor as moisture will migrate from the floor into the tent. This will cause mildew and can quickly a tent.

Once the tent is packed in the vehicle, it should be strapped in securely. With the movement of the vehicle or trailer, there is a constant rubbing of camping gear against each other and this should be minimised. (I don't think it is possible to eliminate it completely.) Ensure that on places with sharper corners, you put in another heavy bag or some cardboard to take some of the hammering. The idea is to have the other item take most of the punch and replace that rather than camping gear.

At the camping site where the tent is erected some sort of shade is usually preferred. We settled for a reflective silver flysheet since it is more effective than any tree, but it also prevent things like tree sap (boomgom) and berries from damaging the tent.

To cater for wind, make sure that you have proper tent pegs and straps to anchor the tent to the ground. With a loosely anchored tent rip canvas will be ripped and poles will be bent when the first strong draft passes.

Camping equipment like stretchers with sharp feet, should be put on something like coffee tin lids to spread the point load and reduce the damage on the ground sheet. This is particularly important on soft sandy surfaces where a stretcher could easily make a hole right through the sheet.

When breaking up camp again, make sure that all the tent components are properly dried out in the sun before folding up and use a broom to clean it from grass, soil and insects with each fold. If the weather is bad and the tent cannot be dried out, you have no option but to pack it wet, but it preferably needs to opened within 12 hours and definitely no more than 24 hours.

When making fires, keep it well away from the tent. Little sparks from a fire driven by the wind will burn right through tent canvas and leave small round holes. In mosquito nets it will be the a starting point for a hole that inevitably gets bigger and on the flysheet it a possible leak in the next shower.