Buying a Tent

This article covers essential considerations for buying a tent such as types of tents, fabric, waterproofing, pests and other practical considerations to ensure you get the right tent for your next trip.
Article By: ExplorOz Team
Created: August 2011
Revised: September 2011
Latest Feedback: February 2016

Buying a Tent

During trip planning, one of the most important decisions you’re going to make is where you’re going to stop while on the road, and what you’re going to sleep in once you get there. Camping is one of the most versatile and economical accommodation options for many and this article will help you determine the size and type of tent for your needs.

Research prior to purchasing

If you’re planning on camping as the main type of accommodation during your trip, your choice of tent is the most crucial and probably the most expensive piece of equipment you’ll use aside from your vehicle. For a successful and comfortable experience, it is important to choose a tent that is not only perfect in size and design for the trip, but is also able to protect you against expected weather and ground conditions.

TIP

Many camping stores will have all their range of tents already setup on display.

Big or small?

When choosing a tent try to select one that’s not too large or cumbersome. Unless you plan to spend an entire holiday inside the tent and treat it as a home, then your best option is to stick to a compact tent. A small tent is not only easier and quicker to install, but it will also protect you against strong winds that might uproot the tent from its ground support. Just make sure that your tent is large enough for all occupants to sleep comfortably without feeling too cramped, and when collapsed, is small enough to carry with ease. Tent manufacturers will usually label tents with the maximum number of people that can fit in their tent, but this may vary from your idea of how many people will comfortably sleep in the tent, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with the size of a tent when completely setup before you purchase it.

Types of tents

There are three common types of tents available in Australia, and the first choice you’ll need to make when you are in the market to buy a tent, is which of these designs suits your needs best. The main deciding factor is whether or not you need standing room height Another determining factor is of course, price.

The Frame Tent

The traditional Frame Tent consists of a metal frame upon which a canvas outer layer is then affixed (these can also come with mosquito netting as a base layer). These tents are popular for a longer camp stay or if the tent is only going to be set-up in one location, as they offer a roomy construction with multiple rooms, significant head-room, and often a very large awning or outside annexe. The main disadvantage of this type of tent is that they are bulky and heavy, and they can also take a significant amount of time to setup. Newer designs use lighter synthetic/semi-synthetic materials tents with an integrated frame. These have a significant advantage in that they are very fast to set-up, but the frame components are very large, and must usually be stored on roof racks while travelling. An example is the OzTent RV range. Another variation is known as a Cabin Tent, made from either canvas or synthetic materials. These tents are usually smaller and have a more light-weight frame with fewer components than the traditional Frame Tent.

The Centre Pole/Tourer Tent

The Centre Pole Tent is a simplified version of the frame tent, as its construction is based upon the use of a “centre pole” as a frame. These feature a quicker and easier setup than traditional Frame Tents, but while they still offer relatively good head-room, the floor/sleeping space can be quite small. They are more lightweight than traditional Frame Tents, and are considered a good compromise between the heavy but roomy Frame Tent and the light but small Dome Tent. Centre Pole Tents will also usually come with an optional front awning add-on, and floor-space can usually be increased with the purchase of optional Side Poles. Southern Cross and Freedom Tents are some of the well-known manufacturers of Centre Pole/Tourer Tents.

The Dome Tent

Dome Tents are by far the most common type of tent in use in Australia. But that doesn’t mean they are best for everyone, or every situation. A Dome tent consists of a hoop frame, surrounded by synthetic fabric to create a dome shape with no corners. The frames can either be made from fibreglass rods which must be constructed into hoops and slotted into the material, or from hoops already integrated into the material which offer a far quicker setup time. Integrated hoops will either be fold out or “pop-up”, with the pop-up version usually reserved for very small Dome Tents. Larger types of Dome Tents may also incorporate an outer awning and/or front vestibule which can be used as additional storage. The Dome Tent is seen to be the most versatile and portable type of tent on the market, however it's not ideal for everyone. They tend to offer limited head-room in comparison to other tents, and do not withstand gale force winds. For vehicle-based camping the most common brands on the market are Jackaroo, Stockman, Coleman, and OzTrail. Specialised brands with dome tents designed for hikers include Black Diamond, Sea to Summit, Wilderness Equipment, Black Wolf.

Roof top tents

While many types of tents have to be firmly pegged to the ground, roof top tents can be assembled on top of cars, usually 4WDs. These tents have an advantage as their floors have no contact with the earth, and therefore remain dry. They are also better protected from bugs and creepy crawlies. There are many designs available for roof top tents, and most include ladders to reach the roof safely and easily. Roof top tents are ideal for single night camping, but are not as easy to use if you’re planning on staying at the same camp for multiple nights, as you will have to pack up the tent every time you want to go for a drive. Another detracting feature is the need to climb up and down a ladder, which many people might not feel comfortable with, especially on a midnight toilet run after a few beers!

Camper Trailer Tents

Camper trailers come in all sorts of variations, with the most common (and most basic) being the fold-out canvas tent that affixes to the trailer for support in some manner. For more detailed information about these camper trailer tents, please refer to our Buying a Camper Trailer article.

Swags

The modern-day swag has evolved since the days of bed rolls used by Australia's early swagmen. The modern swag contains a matress, sheet, pillow and often your comfy doona. However, be warned... there are so many variations of swag designs on the market and prices anything from $100 to $800 - and with this product, you get what you pay for.

Many of the larger swags are designed to be fully enclosed, like a tunnel tent for total protection from the elements. These swags are still bedrolls but are like mini-tents. They come with two "hoop frames" that you insert at the top and bottom ends of the swag, which creates a more roomy space for sleeping. The purpose of this is two-fold:
  • first and foremost, having the air cavity reduces the effects of any condensation by lifting the canvas away from the body. This also means mosquitoes cannot penetrate through the flymesh to bite exposed skin.
  • Secondly, the extra space means you can almost sit up inside, prop up a book and a headlamp to read, or even wriggle into/out of clothing.

TIP

Shop around carefully when buying a swag - your comfort is everything so opt for the best quality you can afford.

Types of tents

There are three common types of tents available in Australia, and the first choice you’ll need to make when you are in the market to buy a tent, is which of these designs suits your needs best. The main deciding factor is whether or not you need standing room height Another determining factor is of course, price.

The Frame Tent

The traditional Frame Tent consists of a metal frame upon which a canvas outer layer is then affixed (these can also come with mosquito netting as a base layer). These tents are popular for a longer camp stay or if the tent is only going to be set-up in one location, as they offer a roomy construction with multiple rooms, significant head-room, and often a very large awning or outside annexe. The main disadvantage of this type of tent is that they are bulky and heavy, and they can also take a significant amount of time to setup. Newer designs use lighter synthetic/semi-synthetic materials tents with an integrated frame. These have a significant advantage in that they are very fast to set-up, but the frame components are very large, and must usually be stored on roof racks while travelling. An example is the OzTent RV range. Another variation is known as a Cabin Tent, made from either canvas or synthetic materials. These tents are usually smaller and have a more light-weight frame with fewer components than the traditional Frame Tent.

The Centre Pole/Tourer Tent

The Centre Pole Tent is a simplified version of the frame tent, as its construction is based upon the use of a “centre pole” as a frame. These feature a quicker and easier setup than traditional Frame Tents, but while they still offer relatively good head-room, the floor/sleeping space can be quite small. They are more lightweight than traditional Frame Tents, and are considered a good compromise between the heavy but roomy Frame Tent and the light but small Dome Tent. Centre Pole Tents will also usually come with an optional front awning add-on, and floor-space can usually be increased with the purchase of optional Side Poles. Southern Cross and Freedom Tents are some of the well-known manufacturers of Centre Pole/Tourer Tents.

The Dome Tent

Dome Tents are by far the most common type of tent in use in Australia. But that doesn’t mean they are best for everyone, or every situation. A Dome tent consists of a hoop frame, surrounded by synthetic fabric to create a dome shape with no corners. The frames can either be made from fibreglass rods which must be constructed into hoops and slotted into the material, or from hoops already integrated into the material which offer a far quicker setup time. Integrated hoops will either be fold out or “pop-up”, with the pop-up version usually reserved for very small Dome Tents. Larger types of Dome Tents may also incorporate an outer awning and/or front vestibule which can be used as additional storage. The Dome Tent is seen to be the most versatile and portable type of tent on the market, however it's not ideal for everyone. They tend to offer limited head-room in comparison to other tents, and do not withstand gale force winds. For vehicle-based camping the most common brands on the market are Jackaroo, Stockman, Coleman, and OzTrail. Specialised brands with dome tents designed for hikers include Black Diamond, Sea to Summit, Wilderness Equipment, Black Wolf.

Roof top tents

While many types of tents have to be firmly pegged to the ground, roof top tents can be assembled on top of cars, usually 4WDs. These tents have an advantage as their floors have no contact with the earth, and therefore remain dry. They are also better protected from bugs and creepy crawlies. There are many designs available for roof top tents, and most include ladders to reach the roof safely and easily. Roof top tents are ideal for single night camping, but are not as easy to use if you’re planning on staying at the same camp for multiple nights, as you will have to pack up the tent every time you want to go for a drive. Another detracting feature is the need to climb up and down a ladder, which many people might not feel comfortable with, especially on a midnight toilet run after a few beers!

Camper Trailer Tents

Camper trailers come in all sorts of variations, with the most common (and most basic) being the fold-out canvas tent that affixes to the trailer for support in some manner. For more detailed information about these camper trailer tents, please refer to our Buying a Camper Trailer article.

Swags

The modern-day swag has evolved since the days of bed rolls used by Australia's early swagmen. The modern swag contains a matress, sheet, pillow and often your comfy doona. However, be warned... there are so many variations of swag designs on the market and prices anything from $100 to $800 - and with this product, you get what you pay for.

Many of the larger swags are designed to be fully enclosed, like a tunnel tent for total protection from the elements. These swags are still bedrolls but are like mini-tents. They come with two "hoop frames" that you insert at the top and bottom ends of the swag, which creates a more roomy space for sleeping. The purpose of this is two-fold:
  • first and foremost, having the air cavity reduces the effects of any condensation by lifting the canvas away from the body. This also means mosquitoes cannot penetrate through the flymesh to bite exposed skin.
  • Secondly, the extra space means you can almost sit up inside, prop up a book and a headlamp to read, or even wriggle into/out of clothing.

TIP

Shop around carefully when buying a swag - your comfort is everything so opt for the best quality you can afford.

Choosing the right fabric

One important aspect to remember when buying a tent is that the material of the tent is pivotal in ensuring safety while camping.

Is canvas the best?

Traditionally the only option available were canvas tents, they still remain popular, as one of the main advantages of canvas tents is that they are durable and can withstand tough weather conditions. The main disadvantage is that these tents are heavy, particularly larger styles. More modern fabrics such as semi-synthetic and synthetic tents hold many advantages. They are lighter, better resistant to rain and floor seepage, and dry out quicker.

Tent Flooring

Tent flooring can be made of plastic, vinyl or rubber. A useful feature to add to any tent setup is a groundsheet. The groundsheet helps in protecting the tent from water seepage and rough terrain. Usually, groundsheets are made of polyethylene. A rising lip along a groundsheet can also protect the inhabitants from any drafts of wind, creating a dry and comfortable environment inside the tent.

Ease of use

When choosing a tent, ease of use is vital. Ideally for short camps or overnight stays, two people should be able to install the tent in under twenty minutes, however if you’re planning to have each of your camps setup for several days, you may not be bothered by a longer setup time. Tents can have rigid or flexible frames, and each of these types have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to setup. In a rigid framing system aided by poles, the framing is usually integrated into the fabric. As the frame and fabric are hoisted and collapsed together, this system facilitates easier and quicker installation. It is also easy to fold. Such a system provides for stronger resistance against winds, and larger, more usable headroom. On the other hand, in a flexible framing system, short fibreglass rods are employed. The most convenient to setup are types where the rods are integrated into the fabric, however these may be difficult to store and transport.

Tent pegs

The pegs, which will hold the tent down to the ground are vital to ensuring its stability. Tent pegs vary in size and quality, and selection will depend on the location of your intended camping sites. Camping sites are either on very hard ground or in very soft sand! The ideal solution is to carry pegs to suit both conditions. Choose sharply tapered metal pegs for hard ground (typically in the dry arid deserts, or limestone flats), and large plastic sand pegs for soft desert sands and beach areas.

Waterproofing

Water resistance is a major factor to be considered when buying a tent. The water resistance of the tent’s fabric is measured in “Hydrostatic heads”. This is a measurement of the pressure of water that will penetrate the fabric. A higher number translates to higher water resistance. Usually a hydrostatic head rating of 1000 is considered shower resistant, 2000 rating tents are for year-long use and 3000 rating tents are good enough for extreme weather conditions.

Doors and windows

While it’s important to have proper ventilation inside the tent, be careful that the doorways and windows do not compromise your tent’s strength against wind. In addition to the annoyance of noisy, flapping windows while you’re trying to sleep, an excessive draft can also affect a tent’s stability. Strong winds are especially dangerous for low-quality dome-shaped camping tents, which can tend to lose their shape and structure when faced with forceful wind.

Protection from pests

In most Australian camping sites, insects like mosquitoes and flies can be a big nuisance, and in some instances, can pose a health risk (ie. Ross-River Virus, and Dengue Fever). Fine-mesh netting is a great option, which will provide protection from bites and a comfortable night’s sleep.

Brands and Manufacturers

Black Wolf Tents, Jackaroo Tents, OZ Tents, Southern Cross Tents, Touring Tents, Oztrail Tents and Tanami Tents are some of the familiar brand names you’ll find when searching tents for sale in Australia. Manufacturers have their own design characteristics. With a wide choice of tents on the market, the features of the leading brands and tent models and then look for these features when reviewing the cheaper makes/models. There is no rule to which style or brand is best, but the key to getting the best tent is to focus on portability, floor-space, head-room, stability, and water-proofing and go for the tent which meets those needs the best, within your allocated budget.

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Article Tags

Choosing A Tent, Best Tent, Swags, Canvas Tents, Dome Tents, Family Tent, Roof Top Tent, Rtt

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