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There are countless different types of camping tents available, all in different shapes and sizes.
If you are buying a tent for the first time, the amount of options is overwhelming. You’re just looking for a solid tent to do some summer camping trips in. Do you need a dome tent? A cabin tent? What even are geodesic tents?
Gone are the days of just a simple a-frame tent being the extent of your choices. Technology has brought us many new tent shapes that thrive in certain conditions and are worthless in others.
Knowing what’s available, some of the benefits, and the scenarios it thrives and the ones it does not is all you need to know to make a good decision.
As technology has advanced, there are more and more tent options available. From different materials, sizes, and shapes, it can be difficult to narrow down exactly which tent is right for you.
The tent shape is a confusing one because there are just so many options: for camping and backpacking tents.
Gone are the days of a couple of different shapes and styles of tents. Depending on how specific you want to get, there can be over 20 shapes of tents out there. Talk about an unneeded headache.
There is plenty of overlap between all of those, though, and I break down tents into 8 different styles.
Some of these are more common than others. Also, some are exclusive to backpacking, while others are better suited for camping.
Common types of camping tents
Dome tents are the most common style of tent out there. Odds are you thought of a dome tent when you first read “types of camping tents.”
Dome tents have characteristically sloped outer walls leading to an apex. This gives this style of tent a few distinct pros and cons compared to other tents.
Simple to set up
Since dome tents are so common, (they can be found pretty much anywhere that sells any outdoor/camping gear) they are pretty cost-effective. You can find plenty for under $100 that will suffice for a lot of camping situations.
Even if the conditions turn bad, the dome tent can hold up to wind and rain pretty well. The angled shape of the walls helps deflect water and wind. Budget options may not hold up well in super harsh conditions, but in most average/mild conditions they should be fine.
Also, dome tents are almost always double-wall tents. Meaning they have a separate rainfly and inner tent. This allows for better airflow and ventilation, which helps reduce condensation inside the tent.
Lastly, setting up a dome tent is quite simple. If you have a larger capacity tent, you may need two people to set one up, though. The tent gets its shape from crossing tent poles that provide its shape and structure.
Less roomy interior space
Limitied vestibule space
Larger capacity models can be unstable in wind
The other side of the coin with the angled walls is that they create a smaller space on the inside of the tent. There becomes limited headroom the further from the center you get. So even if the tent floor is large, the functional space seems small.
Another downside of dome tents is that they do not afford you much vestibule space. The covered area outside of the doors is not too big, meaning you cannot store much there. I like having the ability to store things close to the tent without having them inside. (I.e., shoes or backpacks)
While smaller models can hold up okay in the wind, larger ones do become unstable in windy conditions. If you are getting a 5+ person camping tent, this is about the size range this becomes an issue.
Pyramid tents are not as popular as dome tents, but you do see them in lightweight backpacking most prominently.
These tents have a center pole that creates the apex and then tapers down to four corners. (it is much like a teepee with a square base instead of a circular one)
Easy to set up
The steep walls of the pyramid shape make these tents excellent in bad weather. Rain bounces and rolls easily off the outer wall. Wind easily passes along the angled walls/sides of the tent. If you find yourself camping in bad weather or even during the winter, a pyramid tent is a great option.
Pyramid tents are created by staking out the four corners, and then propping the tent up with a center pole. (sometimes just a trekking pole) This easy setup makes this style of tent one of the easier setups you will find.
Since the setup is so simple, it shouldn’t surprise you that there is a fairly minimal amount of gear needed. This makes pyramid tents one of the top choices for hikers looking for a lightweight tent.
Interior space limited
Usually do not come with a floor or inner tent
Can be pricey
Because of the steep walls that make this style of tent great in the weather, it is also not as roomy on the inside. The steep walls limit the amount of headroom toward the outside of the tent. Also, the single central pole that holds up the tent in the center limits your ability to move around easily.
One of the hardest things to get used to is that most pyramid tents do not come with an inner tent or floor. If you want a mesh netting on the inside or a floor, you usually have to buy those separately. If you spend a lot of time winter camping or enjoy tarp camping, this will not be as big of a deal for you. If you are not used to this way of camping, bringing along a tent footprint can be a happy medium.
Most pyramid tents nowadays fall into the ultralight category, utilizing high-tech lightweight materials. While this makes your pack noticeably lighter, you will pay a price for it. Many of the options you will see are at least a couple of hundreds of dollars.
Geodesic domes were/are the rage in certain Airbnb circles because of their unique, somewhat futuristic look. Those are similar to the camping tent version, but not quite the same.
A geodesic tent has multiple sets of poles crisscrossing over the top. They share similarities with a dome tent, but have more poles.
Great in all weather conditions
Easy to set up
Because of the extra poles that cross over the top, geodesic tents are incredibly stable. The poles provide rigidity and structure to your tent, ensuring it will hold up even in tough weather.
If you have spent much time in high mountain areas or are out during the winter, odds are you have seen a geodesic tent or two. They are popular choices among mountaineers and winter campers because of their ability to hold up in all conditions.
The set up is similar to the dome tent. (you will have just a few extra poles to deal with) This means that you should not have much difficulty in getting it set up, even on your first attempt.
Not a huge selection
As you may have guessed, the extra stability and weather resistance comes at a cost. (well, two costs actually) First is the weight cost. Extra poles and stake-out points mean that you will be carrying more equipment. Unfortunately, there is no way around it.
The other cost is the price cost. This style of tent is not made of cheap, weak materials. (it does need to hold up in rough weather after all) So, it is safe to say you will not be able to roll into your local superstore and big one up on the cheap.
Lastly, there are not a ton of manufacturers producing this style of tent. It is a bit more of a niche style (focused on mountaineering and winter campers) so you will not have as many options as you would with something like a dome tent.
If you are looking for a tent for a chill weekend car camping trip, a cabin tent is an excellent option. They provide a lot of interior room, and the vertical walls provide a lot of head space throughout the entire tent.
Great for large groups/family camping
At first glance, you may not think a cabin tent is super affordable (usually a couple of hundred), but these tents are usually 4-8 person tents. If you were to compare spending $200 on a one-person tent versus a four-person tent, one definitely feels like a better value and more affordable option.
Since cabin tents have more vertical walls than other styles, the inside feels much roomier. Many of them are tall enough for you to stand up throughout most of the interior. The roomy feel of cabin tents makes them truer to size in capacity than other styles.
You will still be a bit cramped on the floor if you have 4 people sleeping in a 4 person tent. But, you will be far more comfortable using the tent throughout the day. You can actually use the space without having to lie down or awkwardly hunch down if you want to escape the rain or sun during the day.
Takes up a lot of room
Not too stable
The flip side of the roomy interior is that it takes up a lot of space. If you are in a campground that has more confined campsites or low-hanging trees, cabin tents may not be your best option.
Another downside of the increased (vertical) living space is that cabin tents are not all that good in bad weather. Wind and driving rain are what really does this tent in. If you spend time camping in areas that are prone to high winds or heavy rains, you need to be certain that you will not encounter any during your camping trip.
Also, cabin tents are exclusively for car camping. They are quite heavy and not all that packable. If you are looking for a backpacking tent, you will want to look at another tent style.
If car camping is your primary camping trip style, a tunnel tent is another excellent option. Similar to the cabin style, tunnel tents tend to have a lot of headroom. (often enough for you to stand up fully)
The main difference is the shape. Tunnel tents are made from multiple arches of poles versus the crisscrossed pole set up of a cabin tent.
Plenty of headroom
Can have multiple rooms
Lots of interior storage space
Like the cabin tent, a tunnel tent offers a lot of headroom. Though, this type of tent does not have headroom throughout the entirety of the tent because of the arched poles.
Other than having ample headroom, tunnel tents can also come with multiple rooms. (sometimes even room dividers) Multi-room tents are an excellent option if you are having multiple groups of people on the same camping trip. In a big enough tunnel tent, each group can have a separate sleeping area and then can share a central storage room.
Can be difficult to setup
Not ideal for bad weather conditions
As the tent gets bigger, more poles, guylines, and stakes are needed to set up. This can turn into a multi-person operation fairly quickly.
Guylines are needed with tunnel tents because the arch-shaped poles do not create enough rigidity and support. This requires having the guy lines and the additional stakes to properly tie out the guy lines.
Because of the height of this style of tent, it does not perform very well in high wind or rainy conditions. Rain can puddle on the top of the tent, if not pitched taut, and the wind can knock it over due to the higher profile.
Less common types of camping tents
A-frame tents/ridge tents
This can be a wide-ranging type of tent, but I am talking about the lightweight backpacking tents that often use trekking poles to set up.
This style of ridge tent is non-freestanding , single-wall, and is often lightweight or ultralight. Generally, there is not a pole that runs along the length of the “ridge”. Rather, the ridge is created by the tension of the poles and guy lines.
This type of tent is lightweight, very packable, and holds up surprisingly well in bad weather. This makes them popular as backpacking tents, but their smaller interior space does not lend them to traditional camping trips.
The drawback to their benefits is that they come at a cost. And in this case, the cost you will be paying is fully financial. You can find good options at a more palatable price range, but expect to pay at least a few hundred for one of these.
Bivy tents/bivy sacks
In the conversation for the most simplistic shelter is the bivy tent/bivy sack. Little more than an enclosure for your sleeping bag, bivy tents are common as “emergency shelters”. For example, if I were planning a long day hike, I would strongly consider bringing a bivy tent in case I ended up needing to camp out for the night.
In most instances, this is one step away from just cowboy camping. And it could be a good option in a buggy area for someone who normally sleeps under a tarp.
Bivy sacks are incredibly lightweight and packable. The flipside being you have no storage space, and you would need a tarp if you encountered any bad weather.
Pop up tents
Pop-up tents serve as super convenient options for day use or as beach tents. I would not recommend using one for car camping, especially if there is going to be any chance of bad weather. And definitely do not use a pop-up tent for backpacking.
Pop-up tents are fantastic because they can be set up in 1-2 minutes, and you do not have to worry about separate poles, they come pre-attached. All you have to do is to “pop” it open and stake it out. This makes them great options for day use or even beach camping. (assuming there is no risk of bad weather)
The trade-off for this convenience is that they are not known for durability and lasting a long time. Most of the time the material used to make a pop-up tent is thin and low-quality. This means that using it to sleep in requires near perfect weather conditions.
Dome tents are the most common type of tent that you will see for camping. It’s traditional cross-pole structure with separate rain fly can be seen by the dozen at any campground.
For car camping and backpacking tents, I breakdown them down into 8 different types.
Pyramid and geodesic tents stand up to inclement weather the best. They shed rain well and stand up to gusty winds better than other types.
Any tent could technically be a multi-room tent. Cabin and tunnel tents are the most common to find that have multiple rooms.
Whether you are looking for a backpacking tent or just a normal car camping tent, there are more types of tents than you may think.
Knowing the benefits of each and the situations they are best and worst in makes your selection process easier.
Get out there and explore with the best tent for you!