How We Test And Review Camping Tents

They say if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. We couldn’t agree more, which is why we test our tents first hand using our own unique methodology.
How We Test And Review Tents - Intro
Every tent is bought out of pocket, and every impression is our own.

At The Wise Adventurer, we aim to provide unique and unbiased reviews for our readers, and will never recommend anything we wouldn’t buy ourselves. Each tent we select for hands-on reviews is chosen and paid for by us after conducting our own research and evaluation both online and in person. 

Our goal is to provide the kind of thorough, detail-oriented reviews that we would like to read ourselves to find the best camping tent, before spending our hard-earned money. At the end of the day, the user is at the core of everything we do, and we strive to serve as a reliable resource to other like-minded enthusiasts, allowing them to get out and explore the great outdoors with confidence. 

1. Our Method
2. Why Don’t We “Grade” The Tents In Our Reviews?
3. What We Do With The Tents After Testing?
4. Space and Comfort
5. Weather Resistance
6. Ease of Set-up
7. Durability
8. Weight and Packed Size
9. Value

Our Method

Our method for selecting and reviewing camping tents starts much the same as your own: We spend more time than we care to admit researching products online, analyzing unique features or benefits, digging through spec sheets, and reading customer reviews. In the process we look to identify products that we believe cover a wide range of diverse use cases including important aspects like weather protection, seasonality, ease of use, and budget-friendliness. 

Once we narrowed down our prospects,  we order each of our picks and take them out into the field ourselves. We typically split our testing duties between six people, and have each tester use the same uniform testing sheet to evaluate each tent and document their unique impressions. Once testing is completed, each tester compares their notes on each model to identify common themes, benefits, and drawbacks in each of the categories described below. We use this method to ensure each of our reviews takes multiple perspectives into account for the most accurate evaluation possible. 

How We Test And Review Tents - Our Method
The more testers we can get to evaluate a tent, the better.

Why Don’t We “Grade” The Tents In Our Reviews?

You may have noticed that we don’t assign specific grades or scores to any of the tents we test. We do this intentionally because even though every tent we review is essentially intended for the same purpose (you know, sleeping outside), the tents we select have varying degrees of unique use cases, and we believe each should be evaluated on its own merits.

We see no benefit in grading a hybrid tent that does backpacking duty against a 25-pound car-camping palace with room for 10 people. Yes, we look at all of the same metrics detailed in the article below for each model, but each one means different things in different contexts.

You’ll find that we’re always careful to outline a tent’s strong points just as closely as its weaknesses, and believe this gives a better “full picture” of how well a tent will suit your specific needs. We’d hate for someone to overlook the $200 tent of their dreams because a $700 model performs subjectively better for a particular user, and vice versa. 

How We Test And Review Tents - Why We Don't Put Grade
Three very different tents with three very different users in mind.

What Do We Do With The Tents After Testing?

Outdoors gear is expensive, and camping tents can be a particularly large investment. Our team is a small one, and while we’d love to keep just about every tent we test, our pockets aren’t nearly as deep as our enthusiasm for the outdoors. To that end, most of the shelters we test end up being sold back to the outdoors community to live out the rest of their lives in the wild where they belong.

How We Test And Review Tents - What Do We Do With The Tents After Testing
Keeping all these tents to ourselves would just feel wrong.

We do this for two reasons: First, as we mentioned above, these things are expensive, and we need to recoup some percentage of our out-of-pocket costs to reinvest in new gear for our readers. Second, we just can’t stand to see good stuff go unused sitting on a shelf at the office. Tents like these (and good outdoors gear in general) is meant to be used and used often. By selling these tents back to like-minded enthusiasts in our communities, we enable more people to get out and experience nature at a significantly lower cost with the peace of mind that each piece has already been tested and proven in the field. 

Alright, now let’s dig into the specifics of our testing.

Space and Comfort

Space and comfort are a major selling point for any good camping tent, but a lot more goes into making a tent comfortable than floor space alone. 

Our evaluation starts with a tent’s spec sheet, and we specifically look at the shape and square footage of the floor as well as the peak ceiling height listed. Ceilings measuring over 6’ are always preferable (a tent you can stand up in is a huge plus), as are floor layouts with extra space for sleeping arrangements and storage. In addition to interior dimensions, we also look for tents with ample ventilation, which is important for keeping the interior climate of the tent comfortable in all manner of weather conditions. 

How We Test And Review Tents - Space and Comfort
A large floorplan, tall ceilings, and vertical walls all play a major role in making a tent comfortable.

From there we weigh other features of the tent that increase overall livability. Exterior vestibules are always a plus for keeping the interior of a tent uncluttered, and those with enough space to hang out inside of add a lot to a tent’s performance in this metric. The same goes for interior features like storage pockets, headlamp diffusers, and windows. 

Once we’ve selected a tent and have it in hand, we set about the field testing portion of our process, evaluating each of the claims made by the manufacturer in real-world settings. We double-check dimensions to validate interior space, put any available vestibules to use to determine their real-world applications, and (most importantly) spend at least one full day and night  living with the tent to determine its ideal capacity, find the limits of its ventilation, and get a high-level look at the big picture concept that is “livability.”

Weather Resistance

As much as we all love camping under clear blue skies, we all know that mother nature has other plans from time to time. A good camping tent should be able to handle its own through temperature swings, rainy days, and a fair amount of wind.

We evaluate a few different factors in this regard. In our research, we look at the shape and coverage area of a tent’s rainfly, the quality and structure of its pole system, and the layout of its guylines to get an idea of how well it should perform. We also reference hydrostatic head test ratings when available because although they aren’t disclosed by every manufacturer, they give us a good idea of how the tent is likely to perform. 

Once we’ve got the tent pitched out in the field, we start our weather testing with an up-close look at the tent’s construction. How does the tent’s seam taping look? Is it present on the fly and tent body? Are there any gaps in the rainfly coverage that could allow water to enter the tent? Are the zippers protected from ingress?

How We Test And Review Tents - Weather Protection
A good rainfly sheds water with ease, but that’s just one part of the weather resistance equation.

A long list of features goes into keeping a tent dry, and we go through them all before getting a tent wet to identify any possible concerns. Once this is done, there’s nothing left to do but wait for rain to fall and see how the tent handles it. Ideally each tent spends some amount of time in poor weather during testing, but sometimes the skies stay clear. If the weather doesn’t want to cooperate, we make our own rain with a mixture of hoses and sprinklers in our high-tech testing facility (aka, our back yards). 

As far as wind resistance goes, much of the same rules apply here. We evaluate the strength of a tent’s poles, the aerodynamics of its shape with the fly in place, the quality of the guylines, and the effectiveness of the tent stakes. Our tents stay pitched outside for several days in the windiest conditions we can find, and we record our impressions on any strengths or weaknesses we observe. 

Ease of Set-up

Ease of set-up is another factor with a big impact on overall livability. You can have the most spacious and comfortable tent in the world, but if it’s difficult to pitch (or take back down), your camping experience suffers. 

We look for a few different things when conducting research: Certain designs are always easier to live with than others (instant cabins with pre-attached poles, for instance), but for most designs, ease of set-up mostly depends on how the poles attach to the canopy and how the rainfly and/or vestibule plays into the equation. 

Tents with a larger amount of poles typically require a little more work, while those with fewer poles and linked/hubbed designs help take a lot of the guesswork out of pitching a tent. The same can be said for tents that use a thoughtful color-coding system to guide you as to what goes where. This is particularly helpful for setting up a tent in less-than-ideal conditions like low-light scenarios or in the middle of a rainstorm. 

In the field, we first attempt to pitch every tent with a single person, regardless of its capacity. If there are any difficulties due to height, tight/tense fittings, or complicated layouts, we note them down accordingly. We also take note of any unique features that make a tent particularly easy to pitch. A good example here would be the Kelty “quick corners” system that keeps tent poles secure while you set them up, or the fantastic color coding found on Mountain Hardwear’s mountaineering tents. 

How We Test And Review Tents - Ease of Set-Up
Kelty’s “quick corners” system holds each pole securely in place while setting up the tent.  

Durability

We believe no single metric impacts the value of a tent more strongly than durability, and as such, we spend a considerable amount of time evaluating it in the field. A lot goes into building a shelter that will hold up to the rigors of outdoor life season after season, but it only takes one poor design choice or sub-par material to cause a tent to fail.

How We Test And Review Tents - Durability
We take our durability testing very seriously here at The Wise Adventurer.

Our research starts with a deep dive into the specs to determine the quality of materials and construction. We look at the type and thickness of both the fabrics and the pole system, as well as all the little load-bearing details like the tent’s hardware, stitching, and guylines. We also spend hours digging through existing customer reviews when available to identify any possible weak points reported by other campers. 

Once in the field, we begin to meticulously inspect each of these factors in person. We test any reported issues or concerns ourselves, while also noting the overall look and feel of each of the materials used. Particular attention is paid to the feel and function of heavy wear items like zippers, seams, floors, poles, and mounting hardware to detect any potential points of failure that could shorten the life of the tent.

Weight and Packed Size

Because most camping tents are intended for car camping duty only, weight and packed size are the least impactful metrics we evaluate. They still play a part in a tent’s overall livability though, so we make a point to consider both when conducting our research. 

When reviewing a tent in the field, we verify its packed weight and dimensions match what’s reported by the manufacturer. We also pay close attention to the size of a tent after it’s been pitched and packed back into its carry bag, as most have a strange habit of growing several inches in either dimension after their first use…

How We Test And Review Tents - Weight and Packed Size - 1
We always measure a tents packed dimensions both before use and after it goes back into the bag

We compare each tent in our testing to other tents of the same size (four person, six person, etc.) to decide how they stack up against the competition. Some tents are lighter and smaller than others when packed despite having similar dimensions when pitched, which gives them an advantage by saving more space in your vehicle for the rest of your camping gear. 

One exception to the rule here is hybrid models, which are designed to double as both camping and backpacking tents. In this case, we verify that these tents are realistically light and compact to be split between backpacks and carried long distances.

How We Test And Review Tents - Weight and Packed Size - 2
Which of these tents would you rather carry on your pack for a few miles?

Value

Some camping tents are more expensive than others, but over the last several years, we’ve found that cost doesn’t always equal quality. Determining the value for any given tent is widely subjective. In our research, we look at the current price of a tent, and compare it to other tents of similar size and features to get an idea of where it slots into the bigger picture. 

How We Test And Review Tents - Value
Some tents are expensive, some are cheap, and some like the North Face Wawona are just an incredible value at any price. 

Once we’ve obtained a tent for field testing, our determination of its value depends on all the other factors listed above, plus the final cost of the tent. Most camping tents deliver on the basics like interior space and water resistance, but some do it for considerably less cash than others. As the price of a tent rises, we spend our time in the field evaluating whether or not we believe each tent’s unique features justify its increase in cost. 

Some things are always worth paying for: Effective weatherproofing, high-quality materials, and reliable warranties from the manufacturer will always add value to any shelter. Others depend much more heavily on specific use cases. Hardcore mountaineering tents, for example, typically cost several hundred dollars more than your typical three-season shelter, but if you’re the type who likes to camp year-round in extreme conditions, that cost is justified. Your occasional clear weather camper, on the other hand, isn’t going to get much more value out of the latest high-tech materials and design than they would out of a budget-focused pick with a roomy interior and an easy setup.

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