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Buying a Tent

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schessl | Green Wave Forum News
Published Friday, June 26, 2009

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.

Tent Basics

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.

Tent Styles

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.

A-Frame Tent
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.

Dome Tent
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.

All-Season Tent
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.

Cabin Tent
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.

Bivy Tent
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.

Other Considerations

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 -
Kelty -
Sierra Designs -
Coleman -
Texsport -

Last update Friday, April 19, 2013

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Cmt Buying a TentLogin to Post   
You are in the public comment zone. What follows is not from Green Wave Forum; it comes from other people and we don't vouch for it.
56woody on 4/19/2013 6:24am
If camping in sand u need to bury your stake. Or u can use something else. a sand or snow anchor will work but u can bury a branch,pot, water bottle, or whatever and tie to it.
56woody on 4/19/2013 6:16am
The a frame you pictured is free standing and comes in several models and size. one of the best you may get. I say this as I have used one or well about 5 for about 30 yrs. I have 2,4,6, person and the newer one called TimberLine SQ. Very nice. U need to get a tent that is self supporting if u or not "into" tents and if u are u don't need help. For warm weather I like the REI Half Dome.
quincypair on 7/15/2012 12:39pm
We now have a 4 person REI tent as well as the 2 person half dome. The 4 person is when we have our grandkids with us -- it's big enough for an adult and kids 2,6, 10 years old. Our half dome has been through a lot more rainstorms -- most recently a 9 hour, occasionally driving rain -- and it continues to keep us dry. The mesh is fine enough to keep out no see-ums. It will be tested in two months when we will be doing the Missouri River in Montana and have been warned to bring a tent with the smallest netting. The opening at each end of the tent is a great bonus, particularly when one person wants to stay up until the campfire embers burn down and the other ready to hit the sack, or conversely when one persons gets up at the crack of dawn and the other needs 8 hours of sleep.

Having camped across part of the country, the benefits of tent camping have become more apparent to us. In many areas where one paddles, there are smaller tenting areas or primitive camp sites which can only accomodate tents. This gives one more options since fully supplied camping sites don't prohibit campers (except where there is nothing on the site but a concrete slab). There is more likely openings at primitive camp sites than full campgrounds in busy camping seasons. And tent sites and primitive camp sites are often cheaper.
quincypair on 3/6/2012 9:10am
Our Rei Half Dome has withstood over an hour long North Florida deluge without a drop getting in, is quick to assemble and take down, light (a little over 5 pounds) and is compact enough to fit into our kayak hatches with a backbacking sleeping bag and mattress pad. There are two entrances -- unusual for small tents, but very convenient if you need to use the bathroom at night. A footprint (tent cloth to put under the tent) is essential and sold separately from tent. For warmer nights, remove the rainfly, or if privacy is desired, pull open the two (his and hers) rainfly to allow two way ventilation and keep the dome and other two sides covered. Rei periodically has this tent and the 4 person on sale. REI guarantees all their products.
mangusfl on 2/19/2011 3:57pm
First rule of not cursing your tent is stay away from places that do not deal with camping as a major focus such as the Wal-Mart as even name brand there tend to be sub standard models if space is critical a bivy or a quality pup tents will best fit your needs but if you got space a dome is better as you be able to stand up in the middle if you got even more and plan to live in it for a few days or more I highly recommend the tent I bought for my medieval events which last up to two weeks so I chose the eureka copper cannon after a series of bad tents while this is not a dome but a 10x10 room tent and has worked flawlessly in the past two years standing strong with several domes went flying.
However this is due to proper staking in stand our state soil I recommend you carry sand spike which are spiral and identical to dog spikes so if you canít find then they work as well plus for harder soil the strait heavy spikes and if you going to camp on a wood platform bring rope for tie downs. As far as 4 season tents there best used in colder camping areas as they become sweet logesí in places like Florida