Camping Tent Design:

Which Tent Is Right for You?


written by and for campers looking to choose their own adventure

Decisions, Decisions

We’re here to make one a little easier

Maybe that cheap tent you got for that required “team-building” trip in high school is worn down. Or you find your family has outgrown that one-man tent from your bachelor days. Or perhaps this is your first time ever sleeping under the stars!

Whatever the case, we’ll break down all of those tent terms so tent shopping is just like that gentle wind rustling the flap of your perfect new tent … a breeze.

The Tent Family

Dome Tents

Dome tents are typically shorter, more packable and lighter than cabin tents. Dome shape designs use fiberglass or aluminum poles to create tension and structure with the tent fabric. They’re great for car camping or backpacking or in any situation where weight and carry size come into play. Their biggest weakness is their low center height; most dome tents are a struggle to stand up inside (although some newer versions may be large enough to stand up in).

Cabin Tents

Cabin tents typically boast more room and are heavier, larger, and taller than dome tents. They use a combination of steel, fiberglass, and/or aluminum frame to promise strong structure and stability. Cabin tents are great for car camping, as they’re very comfortable and roomy. Their biggest weakness is their large carry size and weight, which are not conducive to long hikes … unless you want to pass the load off to your partner because you’re “too tired” (we all do it).

Backpacking Tents/Mountaineering Tents

Backpacking or mountaineering tents are very lightweight versions of dome tents. They’re typically smaller and less roomy since their main objective is to save weight on materials and size, so you can breathe a little less heavy on that ascent. Backpacking tents often weigh under 6 pounds, but there are some modern backpacking tents that weigh as little as 1-2 pounds! Don’t expect room to spread out though; this tent sacrifices size and comfort.

3-Season Tents

All 3-season tents have some sort of ventilation and rain fly coverage. They’re designed to keep campers dry and comfortable in generally any weather besides extreme cold or heavy snow. Most tents fall under this category.

4- Season Tents 

This describes any tent designed with fully “closeable” ventilation. They are made to have the strength to handle a heavy load of snow or strong winds/storms like one would experience while mountaineering, or if you were a casual camper in Siberia. Few tents fall under this category, but the ones that do excel at keeping weather out and your warm sleeping body in.

Tent Design Glossary

“Sleeps” capacity

  • How many people a tent can sleep
  • Industry standard describes one person = 2’x7’, so if you are looking for extra comfort, keep this in mind
  • Example: A “3-person tent” might be most comfortable/roomy for 2 people

Rain fly coverage

  • A separate protective covering that ensures dryness inside the tent
  • Most tents do have water coating on both the rainfly and main tent body. However, the more coverage provided by the rainfly, the better weather-resistance offered

“Liveable” space

  • How roomy does tent feels while you are sitting up or standing inside
  • The “sleeps” capacity (see above) is determined by floor size, but often comfort is lost when the walls of the tent are very slanted toward the apex of the tent
  • More liveable space = more comfort


  • Any hanging pockets/integrated pockets/gear loft/closets inside the tent

Door shape

  • This can determine how easy it is to get in and out of the tent


  • Airflow is one of the most important features of a good tent
  • No airflow leads to condensation and dripping water inside the tent over night. Proper ventilation can mitigate or remove the condensation problem.
  • Questions to ask: How many vents does the tent have? How big are they?


Now that you have the facts …

Be honest with yourself about what you will use your tent for the majority of its use. Most people will get the greatest use out of a dome or cabin 3-season tent designed for car camping. However, those brave souls who are into backpacking or expedition camping/mountaineering might need a backpacking tent or a 4-season mountaineering design.

However you camp, you will be happiest and get the best function out of the tent that is designed with your needs in mind. Car camping tents are now incorporating many of the great features and functions that originally could only be found on high-end backpacking designs.

We geek out about tent design the way some people geek out about stamps or Harry Potter.⚡ If you have further questions about tent selection, feel free to ask an expert at

Which tent will you choose?

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