There are a few things you'll always need for any camping adventure: food, clothes, and, most importantly, shelter. But regardless of where you'll be pitching your campsite, tent shopping for the first time can be tricky. Instead of making a big purchase you'll regret, ask yourself the following questions ahead of time.
How often will I use it? If you won't be using a tent regularly, then buying your own might not be a necessity at this time. If it's looking like a one-time thing, then ask friends and family if they have a tent you can borrow. As long that you promise to clean it and deliver it back ASAP, most people will be happy to lend their tent out for a few days. If your friends and family aren't an option, then consider renting instead of buying. Many outdoor stores including REI offer high-quality tent rentals. Renting a tent will save you a ton of money and storage space, but the best part is, they'll be able to show you how to put it together so you don't have to worry about deciphering the instruction booklet on your own.
How easy is it to put together? If you don't plan on battling the elements during your future camping excursions, then a pop-up or self-erecting tent is the way to go — these are (by far) the easiest tents on the market to put together. For most pop-up tents, all you have to do is remove the tent from the bag, pull a few strings from the top, and let the tent expand into its full shape. After you finish staking your tent to the ground to secure it from flying away, the whole process takes less than 15 minutes. Just make sure you don't order a pop-up tent solely designed for beach or picnic shade — you need to be able to zip yourself in and secure the tent to the ground.
Keep reading for three more questions to ask yourself before buying your first tent.
How bad can the weather be? Your tent needs to handle the worst weather you can expect. Positive thinking might be more your speed, but there's nothing worse than being stuck in a rainstorm without proper shelter or, worse, a rain tarp that doesn't work. General campers are probably OK with a three-season tent, but more intense conditions require durable tents that can stand up to heavy rain, wind, or even snow. When purchasing, you also need to consider the kind of camping you'll be doing. If you're backpacking, then the weight and size of your tent really matter, especially when the weather is bad. Car campers don't need to worry as much, since they won't be carrying around their shelter on their backs all day.
How many people does it fit? A one-person tent is going to be a cramped fit for anyone, but there's no need to buy a tent that sleeps a whole family if it's just you and one friend. You've got to know yourself when it comes to how much space you'll need to sleep, but if you're worried about feeling claustrophobic, then always factor one extra person into your tent. For example, if you're going to be sleeping with one other person most of the time, then buy a tent that sleeps three. Larger tents also typically come with "luxurious" extras — extra doors make getting in and out easier when you please, interior pockets can hold gear you might need in the middle of the night, and an extended entrance way can protect shoes and gear from getting soaked when left out of the tent.
How much does it cost? This circles back to the first question: how much are you really going to be using your tent? There's no need to buy a top-of-the-line or fashion-inspired tent if you're not going to be camping very often. Focus on the basics (size and ease of pitch), and go from there. If you're only planning on camping a few times this year, then there's no need to spend more than $150 on a tent. If buying brand-new equipment isn't an option, then check out Craiglist. This is another great resource for gently used camping gear.
Any camping experts with tips for newbies? Share your tent-shopping advice below!