If the first tent you ever bought was a bomber, you wouldn’t be the first. If you’re looking to buy your first tent for camping in Australia, this is your opportunity to avoid the potential pitfalls that await and make the right choice.
Buying a tent can be a bewildering process first time round. In this tent buying guide, we are going to help you decide which tent is right for you and your style of camping. We’ll help you choose a tent based on:
Tent sleeping capacity
Materials & construction
Optional extras / features and more.
By the time you’ve read through this guide, you’ll feel confident to start shopping, knowing that however much you choose to spend, you’ll get a great product for your money.
Tent Sleeping Capacity Explained
Pitfall #1: sleeping capacity. Although it’s fairly common knowledge among the outdoor recreation community, this one still gets buyer’s who are new to camping.
The pitfall is this: the number of persons a tent can sleep pretty much never sleeps that many people (comfortably). If you are prepared to huddle up next to your buddies with your gear resting on your feet, then sure, you can fit three people into a three-person tent. If not, you'll need to go bigger.
This is because tent manufacturers base sleeping capacity on the average amount of space a person takes up. But this doesn’t allow much room to breathe or move around.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to go one size up if you want to feel comfortable on your camping trip and have extra room for some gear.
Lightweight backpackers will usually stick to the sleeping capacity listed on the box, but families may go two or even three sizes up to allow changing group numbers and to afford more room for equipment.
It’s all about choosing a tent that fits with a bit of extra wiggle room. So work out how many people are going to be using the tent on average and add one for good measure.
Tent manufacturers design tents to handle certain conditions in the outdoors. A tent's seasonality rating tells you how good it is at keeping you warm and dry. The higher the rating, the better suited that tent is to withstanding harsh, wet and windy weather (or even snow). The higher the rating, the heavier the tent.
Two vs. Three and Four Season Tents
So what do the numbers actually represent?
Two-season tents offer the least amount of weather protection making them perfect for spring and summer camping. Less weather protection also means less weight, so they are a great choice if you are not expecting rain. It’s a good idea to have a decent tarp on hand that you can string up just in case conditions change.
Three-season tents are the most popular tent of the bunch because they offer a great balance between reasonably low weight and decent protection on wet days. Three-season tents are best suited to camping through the Australian spring, summer, and autumn months. Your rain fly should handle moderate rain or short periods of heavy downpours. But as we mentioned earlier, a tarp is always great to have for when things get really bad.
Four-season tents are specifically designed to keep you warm and dry all year-round. This makes them more expensive and heavier than tents with lower seasonality ratings on account of the fact that more durable materials are used in their construction.
Four-season tents are even suitable for use above the cloud line. They are usually dome or geodesic in shape, eliminating flat spots where snow can gather on the roof. It’s not wise to use a four-season tent in dry / hot conditions, however, as they trap heat inside making things hot and stuffy.
While you will only ever experience four seasons in one day, there are in fact five-season tents available online. These tents are made for the cold. If you are intending to spend all of your time at high altitude camping in snowstorms and high winds, a five-season tent offers the ultimate protection against the elements.
Tent Shape and Style
When asking yourself, ‘which tent should I buy?’ it’s important also to consider which tent shape is best suited to your style of camping. The shape of your tent is often determined by its seasonality and intended use. Tent shape will have an impact on weight and in some cases cost.
Dome-shaped tents are the most popular tent shape because they are easy to set up, are relatively lightweight, and hold up well in bad weather on account of their bell shape.
If you prefer to have more standing room, a cabin-shaped tent could be the way to go. Cabin tents have vertical walls making them great for big families who need to be able to move around without disturbing the young ones while they are sleeping.
If you do opt for a cabin tent, make sure you check the weight as they can sometimes be a lot heavier than dome tents. If you are planning to carry your tent into your campsite, you might struggle if your tent uses heavy-duty metal tent poles.
You can learn more about the different types of tent shapes in our in-depth guide.
Instant Up Tents
Quick-pitch or instant up tents have been around for a while but are really only just becoming a practical option for Australian campers. Instant up tent technology has improved dramatically over the last couple of years to the point where they are sturdy enough to handle even three-season conditions.
As the name suggests,quick-pitch tents use an integrated tent pole system that allows them to be set up very quickly. Simply unfold the tent, pop out the tent pole sections and peg it to the ground.
Tent Materials and Construction
Tents materials vary in terms of durability depending on their seasonality and price. Tents with higher seasonality ratings often cost more and have a higher denier. Denier is simply the weight in grammes of 9000m of yarn: higher the denier, the heavier and more durable that tent’s fabric will be.
When comparing the cost of a number of tents you like, be sure to check the denier to see which is likely to be more durable. Compare that with the tents overall weight and size to find that sweet spot.
UV protection is another feature to look out for. Polyester based fabrics used on tent flies and inners will deteriorate over time in the sun faster than canvas tents. Most modern synthetics will be treated with some kind of UV-protective compound so make sure you look for this in the tent's specifications.
It’s a good idea to also check the construction of tent parts like pegs, guy ropes, and the tents bag. Are they well made, or will they need upgrading immediately? This will affect the overall cost of the tent.
We like tents with carry bags that are a bit bigger than the tent itself once packed, because they make the tent easier to transport and give it a chance to air out after use.
What do Hydrostatic Head Ratings Mean?
A tent’s product description should at least offer the hydrostatic head (or water head rating) rating of the tent’s fly in millimetres, e.g. 2000mm. Water head ratings give a good indication as to the level of waterproofness that tent provides.
As a general guide, you should be looking for a rating of at least 2000mm on your tent’s fly. The floor needs to have a much higher rating to prevent water seeping through, ideally around 5000-20,000mm.
Your tent fly’s seams should be taped to prevent water seeping through the stitching, soaking your inner and ruining your camping trip. Make sure that all seams are sealed so that any water running down the fly won't gather and seep through.
If you would like to learn more about waterproof breathable fabrics and how they work, check out our buyer’s guide to waterproof breathable fabrics and clothing.
Your new tent’s floor needs to be durable, waterproof, and well looked after, because it’s the one thing between you and a very damp night’s sleep.
Look for a tent with a bucket floor as they offer much greater protection in the rain.
Your tent’s floor needs to be longer than you! This might seem obvious, but if you are very tall, make sure you go for a tent that is longer than 185cm, especially if you like to stretch out when you sleep.
Regardless of how good your new tent’s floor is, we strongly suggest you purchase a custom-built footprint for your tent. Footprints fit the dimensions of your tent perfectly and are made from completely waterproof fabrics. If you decide to use a tarp instead, just make sure that you fold it to fit the dimensions of your floor as any material hanging outside the fly will catch rainwater, allowing it to run underneath your tent.
A footprint not only improves your tents waterproofness, but also protects the bottom of your tent from abrasion. The longer you maintain your tent's floor the longer the tent will last overall.
Some tents come with a matching footprint as standard but it is more common for them to be available as optional extras.
Good ventilation is essential, especially in Australia’s often humid climate. The best tents allow you to open windows even with the fly erected, enabling air to flow through the tent, preventing moisture from building up on the inside walls.
If you completely close your tent up in wet weather you will often find that condensation does the rains job for it. Look for a tent with windows that pop out from the tent fly, allowing rainwater to run down to the ground whilst allowing it to breathe.
Vestibules and Awnings
Many tents, even simple dome tents come with a vestibule that can be pegged out to create a weatherproof compartment, perfect for storing your gear separate from your sleeping space. Others come with a simple awning that is propped up with additional tent poles to create a small rain / sunshade for outdoor living.
This is another area where a tarp comes in handy (you can tell we like tarps, huh). Line the floor inside your vestibule with a tarp keeping your gear out of the mud.
It’s worth finding out what a tent’s poles are made from, and how they work before buying. Cheaper tents often scrimp on tent pole quality which can lead to frustrating breakages in the middle of the night when the wind picks up. There is always the option to upgrade your tent poles, but if you buy quality first-time-round, you won’t be disappointed. Look for poles made from aluminium, or carbon fibre as they are lightweight and flexible enough to withstand high winds.
Optional Extras and Features
There are as many quirky and useful accessories for tents these days as there are tents. Some are really helpful and are worth looking for depending on your camping needs.
Gear loft: some tents are compatible with gear lofts that store your gear off the ground keeping it out of the way.
Inner pockets: pretty standard on most tent models, internal pockets are great for keeping small, frequently-used items close to hand. Try and avoid overloading them with heavy items as this can sometimes cause your inner and rain fly to touch causing moisture to seep through.
Power access: some larger tents have attachment points for electrical devices, lights etc. If you plan to power devices with your generator, check to see if your tent has access points for chords.
So what does this all add up to? It all depends on what you want to spend. By understanding what you really need in a tent, and what would be nice (but is not necessarily essential), you should be able to get a good idea of what to expect for your available budget.
At Outdoria, you can compare tents of varying shapes, sizes, and seasonalities. Browsing a range of Australian retailers at one online marketplace enables you to narrow down your options until you find your perfect match.
It’s important to remember that your tent is your new home in the great outdoors. And while we are not suggesting you go out and spend thousands of dollars first-time (although it’s a worthy investment), all it takes is some consideration and research to ensure that you’re not left out in the cold with a tent poorly suited to the job.
Choosing a tent is all about understanding where and when you plan to go camping, how many campers you need to accommodate, and what style of tent is best for you. Hopefully, after reading this guide you feel confident shopping for a new tent online that enables you to get out and experience #aworldofoutdoors in Australia!