What Tent Is Wrong For You?

Two things will be here soon: Camping season, and a bunch of articles telling you what gear to buy for camping. Here at Semi-Rad.com, we’re doing something quite a bit less helpful: Pointing out which tent is wrong for you.

You Are: A thru-hiker or ultralight backpacker
The Wrong Tent: A 12-person car camping tent
Why It’s Wrong For You: It weighs 45 pounds. A tent this heavy, while spacious and luxurious (someone on Amazon asked if it had a vent for an air conditioner?), is a bit of a pain in the ass to carry from the trunk of your car to a nearby tent pad in a campground, let alone 2,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail. I’m no ultralight expert, but I believe you should be looking for something more in the “similar weight and bulk of one liter of water” range, not the “similar weight and bulk as a bag of concrete” range.

drawing of a 12-person car camping tent



You Are: A music festival-goer
The Wrong Tent: A bivy sack
Why It’s Wrong For You: Are you drunk? Because at that music festival, you might be. And although bivy sacks are great for plenty of situations, wriggling into one at 3 a.m. after a night of sweaty dancing (and potentially consuming several alcoholic beverages and other party treats) is not exactly ideal, especially if you meet Someone Kind Of Special and would like to spend some more time with them in a horizontal position and I don’t know, see if there’s any magic there. Consider instead a tent, which has poles, a door or two, and more room for things like sitting up and/or making out with someone.

drawing of a bivy sack



You Are: A budget-conscious camper
The Wrong Tent: Expedition base camp tent
Why It’s Wrong For You: They’re $5,000*

*the least expensive one is, anyway

drawing of an expedition base camp tent



You Are: A person going car camping with your family of 3 to 6 people
The Wrong Tent: One-person backpacking tent
Why It’s Wrong For You: If you have more than one person in your family and you want to sleep in a tent with them, you should get a larger tent. If math isn’t your strong suit and you don’t know how many people are in your family, try writing down the names of your spouse and children on a piece of paper, then count the names, add one more for yourself, and voila, that’s how big of a tent you need. If in doubt, call your spouse and ask a few questions, such as “How many kids do we have?” Then try googling, for example, terms like “3-person tent,” “4-person tent,” “6-person tent.” Alternately, if your family is really pissing you off lately and you just want to go camping by yourself, a one-person tent would be great for you. So would some time away.

drawing of a one-person backpacking tent



You Are: A cyclist on a self-supported cross-country bicycle tour
The Wrong Tent: Roof-top tent
Why It’s Wrong For You: Before you head out on your months-long cross-country bicycle tour, check over your gear list: if you don’t see an item titled “motorized vehicle with a roof,” you should shop for something in the category of “roof-top-less tents,” which is basically all tents that aren’t roof-top tents. If you have your heart set on taking a motorized vehicle with a roof-top tent on a trip across the country, I would humbly suggest doing a “road trip” instead of a “self-supported bicycle tour.”

drawing of a roof-top tent



You Are: Camping
The Wrong Tent: E-Z Up
Why It’s Wrong For You: Not to get bogged down with technical minutiae, but if you get out in the backcountry and pitch an E-Z Up, you will notice that it lacks a few features that other tents usually have, such as “walls,” “doors,” and a “rain fly.” If you examine an E-Z Up closely, you’ll note that there are not one, not two, but four 10-foot by 10-foot openings on the sides—these will let in precipitation, mosquitoes, and overly friendly fellow campers like Wayne, who would like to talk to you about conspiracy theories. E-Z Ups are great for the beach, trade shows, and outdoor events where you might need some shade for the day, but as far as camping goes, not so great.

drawing of an e-z up



You Are: A person doing a ski traverse of Antarctica
The Wrong Tent: A tree tent
Why It’s Wrong For You: There are no trees in Antarctica. That’s right. Bring a tree tent on your ski traverse of Antarctica, and you’re going to be very disappointed when you get there and don’t find any trees to anchor your tree tent to for the next 60 to 90 nights. Also: If you are planning a ski traverse of Antarctica and you are just discovering this information through this article, you might want to consider if you’re actually qualified for that sort of trip after all.

drawing of a tree tent



You Are: Taller than 3 feet, 11 inches, and camping outside
The Wrong Tent: Thomas The Tank Engine Pop-Up Train Tent
Why It’s Wrong For You: I don’t want to sound like an elitist prick here, but Thomas The Tank Engine Pop-Up Train Tents are kind of for kids ages 3 to 12. If you pack one of these up to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier or the Boulderfield on Longs Peak, you might die. It’s a free country, and you should do what makes you happy, but if I were to give you some solid camping advice, I would gently suggest you look at actual camping tents instead of the Thomas The Tank Engine Pop-Up Train Tent.

drawing of train tent