3 different types of tents

Types of Tents: The Ultimate Guide

If you’re new to camping, or even just looking to upgrade your existing tent, it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out which of the many different types of tents will be suitable for your needs. Gone are the days of the standard A-frame canvas tents and their heavy wooden poles. No longer do you need a whole team of helpers and a 50 page instruction manual to set up your tent. The tent industry has moved on leaps and bounds since then. And with all that convenience and technological advances offered by modern tents comes a whole world of decisions. Decisions that quite frankly can become a little off-putting, forcing would-be campers to opt for unsuitable tents, or worse still, throw in the towel and forget about camping altogether.

Hang on in there. Yes, there are loads of types of tents to choose from. But many of them can be immediately discounted, depending on your needs and wants.

Types of tents

Use the guide below to click straight through to the tent category that aligns with what type of camper you are. But before you delve straight into that, it’s useful to know what the most common shapes of tents are on offer, with the pros and cons of each shape. This will also help you figure out what sort of camping you are most likely to be doing if you’re not sure.

Common tent shapes

Tents for families, festivals and car camping

Tents for wild camping and hiking

Tents for luxury camping and glamping

Specialist tents

Common tent shapes

Before you get into the specific types of tents out there, take a look at the different tent shapes available. Many of the shapes cross over into multiple tent types.

Ridge tent

Ridge/A-frame tents

Ask a kid to draw a tent, and they’ll more often than not draw you a ridge tent – which is interesting as there aren’t many of them kicking around these days! Traditionally they comprised thick canvas stretched over a horizontal pole supported by a vertical pole at each end. Their stability largely relied upon the guylines and tie-outs, and how well they were placed.

These days, ridge tents have moved with the times and use lightweight aluminum poles and outer fly sheets made from waterproof polyester or nylon. Modern ridge tents are usually best suited to two people. So if you are looking for something bigger, bell tents are probably the nearest you will get to a large traditional ridge tent.

Pros

  • Good at dealing with rain – no pooling on top
  • Sturdy in bad weather (when put up well)
  • Simple to set up

Cons

  • Not very liveable due to lack of head room
  • Usually heavy
  • Not that easy to put up well

Dome tent

Dome

Together with tunnel tents, dome tents are one of the most common types of tents around. They are made up of two flexible poles that cross at the top of the dome and bend to be anchored to the floor on each of the four dome corners. Sometimes the poles are on the outside of the rainfly, but usually the rainfly sits over the top of the poles with an inner tent clipped to the underside of the poles.

Many dome tents will have a small porch area, and some designs have an extra pole to make the porch space bigger. Although available in many different sizes, dome tents are best suited to up to four people, as the bigger they are the more unstable they become.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to put up and take down
  • Lightweight
  • Reasonably small pack down size
  • Good headroom

Cons

  • Not very stable in the wind or bad weather
  • Very unstable in larger sizes
  • Small porch/vestibule

Tunnel tent

Tunnel tents

These are great for larger groups and families as they provide lots of headroom and plenty of liveable space. They are made up of a series of flexible poles that loop from one side of the tent to the other to form a tunnel shape for the rainfly to attach to. They rely on guy lines to provide stability, and when put up well they can withstand bad weather reasonably well, especially the bigger models compared with dome tents.

Pros

  • Easy to put up and take down
  • Lots of liveable space
  • Good headroom
  • Great for larger groups
  • Fairly stable in the wind – especially when pitched smartly depending on the wind direction

Cons

  • Heavy – only for car camping
  • Don’t deal well with heavy rain – water can pool on top of the rainfly between the poles

Geodesic tent

Geodesic tents

Since the dawn of the dome tent, designers have been constantly improving upon its basic structure to make it stronger and more able to stand up to the elements. The result is a geodesic tent, which is essentially a dome tent but with more poles. Generally speaking, the more poles that cross each other, the greater the stability of the tent. So as you can imagine, geodesic tents are better suited to camping out in the wilderness than casual car camping. Because of this, they are generally higher quality (and higher priced) in every aspect.

Due to their focus on strength and stability, you don’t get many large geodesic tents, although they do exist. They are best suited to up to 4 people.

Pros

  • Very stable in bad weather and high winds
  • Durable and well made
  • Good headroom
  • Usually lightweight

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Can be slightly tricky to put up
  • Not good for large groups

Cabin tent

Cabin tents

Cabin tents are usually made up of aluminum poles that fit together to create the frame of what looks like a cabin! A waterproof polyester, nylon or sometimes canvas rainfly encases the frame to form the walls and roof of your cabin which provides loads of livable space that you can usually stand up in. Cabin tents are often divided into rooms with internal dividers, making them the perfect choice for family camping.

They tend to be fairly cheap, in both price and quality, and aren’t renowned for their ability to withstand bad weather. Ideal for fair weather camping.

Pros

  • Spacious
  • Inexpensive
  • Great for families and large groups
  • You can stand up in them!

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Complicated to set up
  • Cheaply made

Pyramid tent

Pyramid tent

These are the most simple tent shape that usually comprise of a single central pole with a rainfly draped over the top and staked down at the corners/edges of the fly. Guylines and stakes play a very important part in providing stability to pyramid tents, and as with ridge tents, the bigger they are the less stable they become.

There are lots of lightweight models popping up these days that are bordering on tarp-like setups, but traditionally they were made of thick canvas or hide supported by heavy wooden poles (think tipi and bell tents).

Pros

  • Very simple to set up
  • Modern versions can be very lightweight
  • Very stable in bad weather (If pitched well)

Cons

  • The lack of vertical walls means that headspace and storage space is limited
  • They don’t usually have a built-in groundsheet

3 types of tents for families, festival and car camping

If the relative comfort of car camping is your thing, and you find yourself spending lots of weekends through the summer settling into camp life, then get yourself a decent family tent with multiple rooms.

But if you’re a festival frequenter, you may be better off going for something smaller and less expensive like a pop-up tent.

Multi room tents

These are perfect for family camping or when camping with a large group. If you are car camping for more than a couple of days, then a multi-room tent is a good idea, even if you only have a small family. Many families of 4 will opt for a tent that can accommodate 8 or 10 people to enjoy the extra space and privacy.

Multi Room Tent

Read about the Ozark Trail Base Camp in our:
Guide to Multi-room Tents

Tent capacity: 4 – 10

Most common shape: Cabin or tunnel

Desirable features:

  • Big enough to stand up in
  • Multiple entrances
  • Large porch/vestibule
  • Lots of storage space and pockets
  • Internal room dividers

Inflatable tent

A relative newcomer to the tent scene is the inflatable tent. Although not suited to all camping scenarios, inflatable tents are ideal for family camping and festivals when minimum pitch time is key.

Inflatable tent

Read about the Heimplanet Cave in our:
Guide to Inflatable Tents

Tent capacity: 1 – 10

Most common shape: Cabin, tunnel or geodesic

Desirable features:

  • Easy to put up and take down
  • Very packable
  • Lots of inflatable beams (instead of poles)
  • Comes with a pump and a repair kit!

Pop up/instant tent

The ultimate festival tent is the pop up tent which, yes you guessed it, can be set up instantly! They are usually cheaply made, not renowned for standing up to bad weather and the larger they are the more unstable they become. But for those camping infrequently in summer conditions, the simple, inexpensive setup of the pop up tent is ideal.

Pop up tent

Find the latest price on:
Amazon

Tent capacity: 1 -6

Most common shape: Dome or tunnel

Desirable features:

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Mega easy and quick to put up and take down
  • A porch
  • Good ventilation

3 types of tents for wild camping and hiking

Are the mountains calling? If so then you’ll need to take your accommodation with you. And it needs to be bombproof in bad weather.

Backpacking tent

These are designed to be carried and lived in for multiple days in the middle of nowhere. So they need to lightweight, strong, able to withstand the elements and also spacious and comfortable to live in. Not much to ask!

Backpacking tent

Read about the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 in our:
Guide to Lightweight Backpacking Tents

Tent capacity: 1 – 3

Most common shape: Geodesic or tunnel

Desirable features:

  • Lightweight
  • Small when packed down
  • Able to withstand bad weather
  • A small vestibule/porch
  • Two entrances
  • Easy to put up and take down
  • Good ventilation

Bivy tent

For solo wild campers and hikers who want to carry as little weight as possible, bivvy tents are ideal. They provide just enough protection from the elements to stay dry and are very low profile – great for stealth camping.

Bivy tent

Find the latest prices on:
Amazon

Tent capacity: 1

Most common shape: Tunnel, or ridge

Desirable features:

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to put up and take down
  • Small when packed down
  • Built-in bug net
  • Good ventilation

Hammock tent

This is essentially a bivy tent suspended off the ground! It is ideal for those camping in forested areas where sleeping on the ground is not possible due to wet ground or swamps, rocky or uneven ground, or dense undergrowth. It is also good for people who seek a little more comfort sleeping when roughing it in the wild.

Hammock tent

Read about the Kammok Sunda in our:
Guide to Hammock Camping

Tent capacity: 1

Most common shape: Tunnel or ridge

Desirable features:

  • Lightweight
  • Very easy to put up and take down
  • Small when packed down
  • Built-in bug net
  • Comes with suspension straps

2 types of tents for luxury camping and glamping

If you want to take car camping to the next level for a lifetime of camping comfort and luxury then you’ll need to upgrade your tent too. Something solid, durable and spacious is needed. And if it looks fabulous then that’s great too!

Bell tents

These are the perfect glamping tent. They ooze class, offer warmth and comfort and bags of liveable space inside them. They are made of thick canvas and usually have a central pole with other supporting poles and plenty of guylines to make them super strong in bad weather.

Bell tent

Find the latest prices on:
Amazon

Tent capacity: 2- 10

Most common shape: Pyramid

Desirable features:

  • Excellent quality
  • Durable
  • One or two central poles
  • Port for wood stove flue pipe
  • Strong and plentiful guylines and stakes
  • Large zippered door (ideally with bug net)

Tipi

The traditional tipi tent is heavy and not very transportable – more like a semi-permanent cabin. However, in recent years more portable models have been popping up all over the place. From ultralight winter shelters to large 10 person glamping tipis.

Tipi tent

Find the latest prices on:
Amazon

Tent capacity: 2 – 10

Most common shape: Pyramid

Desirable features:

  • Ventilation at the top
  • Port for wood stove flue pipe
  • Good guylines and stakes
  • Single central pole

4 types of specialist tents

There are times when one of the above tents just won’t cut it. Maybe you need some shade at the beach, or some sheltered communal space at the campground? Or perhaps you want to take your camping escapades to higher places? Thankfully, there’s a tent for almost all occasions it seems! Here are your options.

Canopy

Whether it’s shelter from the rain or sun, having a canopy when camping in group makes outdoor living much more comfortable, and sociable.

Canopy tent

Read about the Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter in our:
Guide to Beach Tents

Tent capacity: However many you can cram underneath it!

Most common shape: Cabin or dome

Desirable features:

  • Easy to put up and take down
  • Waterproof
  • Good guylines and stakes for windy conditions
  • Take off side panels

Beach tent

Days at the beach are so much more pleasant when you’ve got yourself a sheltered base to come back to. Get settled into the shelter of a beach tent and there’ll be no more gritty sandwiches from sand blowing in them, and less sunscreen reapplication.

Beach tent

Read about the Lightspeed Outdoors Quick Cabana Beach Tent Sun Shelter in our:
Guide to Beach Tents

Tent capacity: 1 – 6

Most common shape: Dome or geodesic

Desirable features:

  • UV protection
  • Sand pockets for staking it out
  • Mesh windows
  • Built-in floor

Suspended tents

Having a tented home up in the skies may be something of a niche way to camp, but the fun factor sure goes up a notch! These tents are not light to transport and good trees are required for anchor points. Otherwise, suspended tents offers regular campers the chance to camp in places that would otherwise be impossible to camp in.

Suspended tent

Read about the Tensile Stingray in our:
Guide to Hammock Camping

Tent capacity: 1 – 4

Most common shape: Geodesic

Desirable features:

  • Storage space
  • Rainfly
  • Suspension straps
  • Able to hold loads of up to 400lbs
  • Mesh doors

Roof top tents

If you’re more of a road-tripping kind of camper then having your tent on the roof of your car is most certainly a sensible and exciting way to camp. And although you only tend to see roof top tents atop of burly 4×4’s, most cars with roof bars can handle having a tent full of campers on top of them.

roof top tent

Find the latest prices on
Amazon

Tent capacity: 1 – 4

Most common shape: Cabin

Desirable features:

  • Easily pops up and folds down
  • Access ladder
  • Mesh windows and doors
  • Rainfly

So there you have it. There really is a different type of tent for every camping occasion. And there are still a few very niche types of tents that we didn’t include in this guide, like beach tents for dogs, shower tents and tent cots! Whatever tent you choose, may it last you many happy years of camping out under the stars and enjoying our wonderful world outdoors.

Happy camping!

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