If you are planning on getting out into the wide world to spend a night with nature, there is a very good chance you will be staying in a tent. A tent is a form of personal, portable shelter that consists of a framework of poles covered by fabric or composite material. A tent forms a compact weather proof space in which you can sleep.
Very large tents are also used as temporary shelters for events such as music festivals, the circus, and weddings.
A brief history of the tent
The use of tents was mentioned in the Bible: that's a pretty long career in keeping people warm in the wilderness.... Far different from the canvas and nylon shelters we use today, tents would have been constructed using a wooden framework and treated animal skins that provided some water resistance. The basic principle, however, has never changed; only our ability to employ it quicker and more efficiently.
The military has used tents for hundreds of years as they provide adequate shelter and can be carried by foot soldiers and set up to form a base of operations.
Types of tents
There are many popular kinds of tents in use today. Tent designs are influenced by a huge range of factors, and are most often determined by the tent’s intended use, the environment within which it will be employed and the number of people it will sleep. Certain forms of tent are more common in certain countries, with some cultures still using traditional tent structures as permanent accommodation to this day, such as the yurt used by the Mongolian people on the wide open steppes.
Dome tents are seen all around the world and a particularly popular among recreational campers in western countries. Dome tents consist of at least one internal space, but also come on larger options that can sleep large numbers of people, each room separated by walls that can be zipped open or closed. Dome tents are usually made of lightweight fabric such as nylon or polyester as they are strong and water resistant.
The structure itself is built using at least two flexible tent poles which are often made from composite materials such as fibre glass. This allows them to bend into interlocking ‘U’ shapes creating the characteristic dome appearance. The fabric is then pulled over the poles to create the internal space.
Cabin tents (or frame tents)
Once the most popular form of family tent, rigid-frame cabin tents have been making a comeback due to their durability and reliability. Whereas dome tents employ flexible tent poles, frame tents use lengths of rigid steel to make up the external structure of the tent. This makes them heavy, but also very durable, and allows the structure to form a greater range of shapes. Square walls are a possibility! Frame tents function more like traditional living spaces and provide the greatest amount of head room of any tent allowing the inhabitants to walk in and out without crouching.
An extremely light and compact form of tent designed to be carried to your sleeping destination on foot. Hiking tents come in a range of sizes but are typically designed to sleep up to three people.
Usually reserved for use in extreme weather conditions, geodesic tents are so called because they are formed by a network of interlacing poles forming geometric substructures that make them incredibly stable. Mountaineers and adventurers use these tents when at extremely high altitudes to ensure they don’t get blown away in violent alpine conditions.
The classic tent-shaped tent. This might sound ridiculous, but when we think of a tent we usually think of a triangle or tipi shape. The ridge tent is what we often base this image on. The basic ridge tent shape is formed using one pole at each end and a cross bar pole to create the roof. Ridge tents function very well as small individual shelters and can be built to very large scales, as in the case of marquees. Ridge tents could be criticised in that they don’t provide that much head room seeing as the walls slope down at a steep angle.
Instant / quick pitch tent
It’s all described in the name really. These tents are designed to pitch themselves. Functioning along the same principles as a reflector used in photography, they fold up into themselves and spring to life when either uncoiled or thrown in the air. These tents have been on the market for a while and for a long time could only be used in light weather conditions, but manufacturers are making them more and more durable in order to cope with wind, rain and even snow.
Tipi (tepee, teepee)
One of the most iconic tent shapes around, we all know a tipi when we see one. Due to their simple construction the traditional shelter of the indigenous American people is becoming more and more popular as alternative tenting option. It is not uncommon to see luxury tipis set up at music festivals offering festival goers a more up market ‘glamping’ experience.
A swag is essentially a form of portable shelter for one. They really only provide room for yourself, your sleeping bag and your gear. They are perfect for those who are hiking in remote locations and who like to travel as light as possible, favouring a minimalist style of camping.
Touring tents are designed to be compact and to set up quickly saving you time and energy while you are on your camping holiday or outdoor adventure.
Where can I pitch my tent?
So long as you have permission, a tent can be a viable form of shelter almost anywhere. Campgrounds are the go-to destination for most recreational campers, although some forms of tent (such as swags) are designed with more remote destinations in mind.
You can rent a camp site at a campground for a night or for extended periods of time, and will be able to make use of the facilities on the property.
National Parks are a great alternative place to camp and allow you to spend time right in the heart of the natural landscape. Be sure to leave a donation if it is requested to help look after the park and fund any conservation efforts going on in the area.
Every year, thousands of music lovers pitch their tent at festivals around the world in order to be close to the event as it happens and get the full festival experience. Tents are designed in different ways to cope with all kinds of weather conditions. Tents can be pitched way up on the mountain in the snow, in the barren expanse of the open desert and even on the beach. Wherever you choose to pitch your tent, just make sure you pick your site carefully paying special attention to your proximity to water and the surface you are planning to set up on.
There are a few key components that every tent has in order to function properly, and nearly an infinite array of parts specific to different kinds of tents. The components shared by most (if not all tents) are outlined here.
Tent poles - the sections of flexible composite material or rigid metal that, when interlocked, make up the overall framework of the tent itself. Tent poles are interlaced and tied together (as in the case of dome tents) or connected by joints at each corner (as with rigid frame tents). Tent poles are sometimes fixed permanently to the tent material. Quick pitch tents are good example of this type of construction.
Tent fly - pulled over the tent and pegged to the ground around its base acting as a second waterproof layer and is usually employed in wet weather conditions. A tent fly also provides extra insulation as it traps heat in the space between itself and the main body of the tent.
Tent pegs - used to pin the corners of the tent and the tent fly to the ground so as to keep it from being blown away in heavy winds. Tent pegs are also used to secure the tent fly, pulling it out from the main body of the tent allowing water to drain away from the base when it rains.
Guy ropes - give the tent stability. They act as additional support, putting pressure on the tent at even intervals and are pinned to the ground using pegs to help keep it secured firmly to the ground. Guy ropes are also attached to the tent fly keeping it taught to allow rain water to run away from the tent itself.
Tarps - a useful optional extra often used in conjunction with a tent. A tarp can be laid on the ground beneath your tent to provide extra protection in wet or muddy conditions.
Awnings - act as an external structure creating extra shelter to the front, rear or sides of your tent. Awnings are great for getting out of the sun and for storing gear under. Some tents have awnings built directly into the design, others can be attached as an optional extra.
Footprints - behave in the same way as a tarp, however, they are specially designed to protect your tent from the ground you are pitching it on. Footprints are made from incredibly durable, waterproof material helping your tent to wear for longer.
Tent bag - keeps everything stored in one place. It's important to keep your poles, pegs, fly, and inner packed carefully in a durable tent bag to insure your tent's longevity.