Just imagine - a small group of friends camping on a tiny island off the coast of Florida. The sun is a huge orb of warm light slowly setting on the horizon. A light breeze makes nearby palms sway and keeps bugs at bay. After toasting the sunset you return to camp and prepare for an evening of good music, ghost stories and S'mores. It's perfect and it can be yours when you camp in Florida.
Before heading to that island on the Gulf, you need to prepare and buying a tent is a critical first step. A tent offers protection from the elements, critters and insects. But it's really more than that. It's your home away from home.
We're here to help and make sure that you not only buy a tent, but also you buy the right tent that meets your needs and budget.
Buying a tent is easy, right? It's nothing more than jumping in the family car, heading to a big box store and grabbing the first one you spot for $24.99. Tent purchased and ready to go!
Well, hold on there buckaroo. It's not quite that simple. The two-bit tent you just purchased will leak like a sieve even in a light drizzle and will have mosquito netting just small enough to keep out hummingbirds. You'll soon be spending a long night with mosquitoes and no-see-ums.
If you don't want to become food for nasty little insects, spend some time and learn about various styles and what to look for in a good camping tent.
Below are five of the most popular styles of tents that you will commonly see while camping in Florida. While there are many less common types, these fit just about every budget and need.
Usually sleeps: 2 to 4
| A-Frame or "PUP" Tent
The A-Frame tent is one of the most traditional of all tent designs. Smaller versions, like those used by scouting organizations are commonly referred to as "pup tents". A-Frames are easy to assemble with two straight poles and six to eight stakes. These tents usually have steep angled walls and are just large enough to hold a few people and their sleeping bags.
A-Frame tents use guide wires to help hold the poles vertical and stakes are required to keep the tent from collapsing. A-Frames are limited in where you can pitch them. For instance, if you are on a hard rock surface or a platform such as a chickee in the Everglades, an A-Frame tent will not work properly as you cannot or should not drive stakes into rock or wood.
Usually sleeps 3 to 6
| Dome Tent |
Dome tents are one of the most popular styles in use today. They are much more efficient than A-Frame tents in terms of space and headroom vs. weight. A good quality dome tent is free standing in that stakes are not required to keep the tent from collapsing. They are easy to setup and take down, making the dome tent idea for kayak and canoe camping or backpacking or any situation where you move camp on a regular basis. Dome tents work well in windy conditions.
Dome tents are available in a variety of configurations but the basic design is two poles crossed over one another to form a large bent “X”. Most domes use shock-corded poles, where each half of the “X” is made of several small poles with an elastic strand running through the center to keep the pieces together.
Usually Sleeps: 2 to 4
| All-Season Tent
Most All-Season tents are similar in design to dome tents but there are some critical differences. These tents are typically used in harsh environments and are much better constructed. Many All-Season tents use a rigging of four poles for added rigidity; have two entrance/exits, storm coverings and covered vestibules that provide a place where you can get out of the weather prior to opening the tent door.
You don't see All-Season tents used in Florida much except by individuals taking coastal sea kayaking expeditions or perhaps by gear heads who don't mind the extra weight and cost.
Usually Sleeps: 6 to 10
| Cabin Tent
If you're heading to a Florida State Park or commercial campground that can be driven to, you just might be interested in a cabin tent. These family camping tents are big, roomy and spacious. Some even have multiple rooms where you can use one room for the kids and another for your private bedroom.
Cabin tents are only used where weight is not an issue and they typically weigh three to four times more than a dome tent of similar square footage. Cabin tents have straight walls so they are ideal if you are bringing cots or large blow-up air mattresses.
Usually Sleeps: 1
| Bivy Tent
Bivy is a shortened version of Bivouac, a French word that means "to sleep alone". Ok, I made that up. It really means a temporary or casual shelter and Bivy tents are not much more than that.
A Bivy tent is a small tent that gives you just enough room to slide in your sleeping bag and maybe a pillow. Most are less than three feet tall in the front and taper down to two feet or less at the back end. Claustrophobic? Forget a Bivy. The advantage of a bivy tent? They are light in weight and bulk (2 to 3 lbs). Most Bivy tents cost as much as dome tents.
In addition to choosing a style of tent that meets your needs be sure to check out these items on your new tent:
- Rain Fly - does it cover only the top netting or does it go closer to the ground for better protection during storms?
- Flooring - good tents have flooring that goes six inches to one foot up the wall of the tent. This helps keep water out.
- Windows and door mesh - the finer the better for keeping out bugs.
- Stitching and seams - are they taped and waterproof?
- Zippers - function easily and have a covering to keep water from blowing in?
- Is it easy to setup?
Now that you've learned about the most popular styles of tents used in Florida, you're ready to start your investigation to find the right tent for you. Begin by doing an online search and identify the manufacturers that make the styles that best fit your needs and budget. Next, find a local sporting goods store so you can check out the tent in person. Does it look as good up close as it did on the Internet?
Some tents come with accessories, such as optional vestibules, gear lofts / attics and lights and fans. One accessory that everyone needs is a good ground cloth. The ground cloth should be placed under your tent to protect the floor and keep it dryer and cleaner. It should be slightly smaller than the floor of your tent to keep water from pooling during rainstorms.
So get ready and go buy a tent and maybe we'll meet somewhere on a tiny island off the coast of Florida. I'll bring the S'mores.
Some tent manufacturer websites to get you started:
Eureka - www.eurekatent.com
Kelty - www.kelty.com
Sierra Designs - www.sierra-designs.com
Coleman - www.coleman.com
Texsport - www.texsport.com