I love sitting on a campsite watching couples or families putting up their tents. You can tell immediately if the pitchers are seasoned campers or not. For those new to camping it can be a somewhat stressful event, not helped by the fact that they probably don’t know the names of all the different parts of a tent — an immediate communication breakdown right there. And, dare I say it, an entertaining addition to my own personal camping soap opera!
That said, it’s not just camping newbies who struggle to identify their storm flaps and pole hubs. As with all outdoor gear, tents also come with their own set of technical jargonwhich is always as straightforward to understand as you might hope.
So, to make sure we’re all on the same page, and to prevent any inadvertent campground dramas from unfolding, we’ve put together a guide to all the different parts of a tent that you might possibly want to know.
The anatomy of a tent
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Why it’s important to know the different parts of a tent
Aside from making tent setups easier, knowing what the different components and features of tent are will also help you understand what you do and don’t need out of your tent. This will help you make an informed decision when buying the right tent for your needs.
NOTE: If you’re not sure what type of tent you need then be sure to check out our guide which explains all the different styles of tents, the desirable features of each and what they are best used for.
Before delving into the intricacies of the anatomy of tents it may help to ask yourself the following questions:
- Will you be camping often in wet conditions?
- How many people will your tent be accommodating?
- Do you like to be very organised in your tent?
- Are bugs and mosquitos likely to be a problem?
- Will you be camping mostly in summer or all year round?
Have a think about the answers to those questions while you read about the different tent parts in more detail.
Tent parts, explained
All good car camping and family tents will have a large porch. And backpacking tents also usually have a small porch area. Gear is stored in this space to free up space in the sleeping area. It’s also a good area to cook and eat meals.
Outer tent/rain fly
A rain fly is a layer of tough waterproof fabric that is placed over the top of an inner tent (with a gap between). It’s main job is to keep the rain out. But it will also be windproof.
These sit underneath a rain fly and are either clipped to the poles or clipped to the fabric of the rain fly. Inner tents are not waterproof, but create an area for sleeping that is separate to the porch of the tent.
Some tents have pole configurations that connect in one central spot. These are either permanently attached (and collapsible) to a central fixing, known as the pole hun, or can be totally disconnected from it.
Guy lines that are staked to the ground ensure that tents withstand windy conditions. They also create tension across the outer fabric of the tent to prevent rain water pooling in saggy areas. Guy lines should have an adjustable mechanism that allows them to be tightened and loosened as necessary.
To keep tents securely attached to the ground, tent pegs are used. They are usually metal.
Some tents make the most of the extra space in their ceiling by having a small ‘shelf’ to store small items of gear.
Most tents have storage pockets that are integrated into the inner tent. These help keep the tent organised and are useful for storing personal items.
This is the section of the tent that you walk and lie on. It is usually made of waterproof fabric that is highly durable, although lightweight tents often have thin groundsheets. Inner tents have integrated groundsheets, whereas rainfly’s often have a detachable groundsheet, or none at all.
Tents that don’t have a durable or waterproof groundsheet can be pitched on a footprint. This is essentially a groundsheet that is designed for a specific tent, and is used as an optional extra.
All tents have vents. Usually in the rain fly as well as the inner tent. They are essential at keeping air flowing through the tent which in turn helps manage internal condensation.
Mesh doors are essential when camping in areas where bugs and insects are a problem. They are also very lightweight and often feature in backpacking tents where low weight is important.
Larger tents that accommodate 3 or more people sometimes have a removable divider in the inner tent. These are great if you need some privacy from your tent mates, or if you have kids that need to go to bed earlier that you. Dividers are usually made of lightweight fabric and are simply hooked into the ceiling of the inner tent.
Internal gear hooks
Gear hooks are positioned in various places inside both the inner tent and rain fly. They are useful for hanging up a washing line up between them for drying clothes. Or they can be used to hook lanterns and lighting up in the ceiling.
Door tie backs
All tents have door tie backs. They are usually a simple toggle and loop that holds the rolled up door in place and out of the way to keep the door open.
Pole attachment points
Most tents have a point at which the end of the pole attaches to either the outer or inner tent, depending on the tent design. The systems vary, but once in place they are very secure.
Outer tent doors with zips usually have a strip of fabric that folds over the the zip to prevent rain (and wind) from coming through the teeth of the zip. Many storm flaps are secured at their base with a velcro tab to keep them in place.
These are clips or hooks that are used to attach the poles to either the inner or outer tent. They vary from tent to tent, and should be easy to attach but very secure when in place.
Of course, not all tents have all of the above components, and many have a features that didn’t make our list of tent parts names at all. But once you know the basic anatomy of a tent you can make a much more informed decision when buying, not to mention a much easier time of setting it up!
Happy tent pitching, happy campers!