Types of tent: ten designs that offer something for every sort of outdoor adventure

Types of tent: Nortent Vern 1 four-season tent
Different types of tent suit different kinds of adventure (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

Tents come in all shapes and sizes. From palatial inflatable family tents and geodesic basecamp HQs to coffin-esque solo shelters and lightweight, freestanding backpacking designs, choosing the right tent for your adventures can be tricky.

To help you choose the best tents for the size of your group, your chosen style of adventure, and the conditions you’ll be heading into, this guide will take you through all the ins and outs of the 10 standard types of tent on the market today.

When it comes to choosing the best camping tent for you, you've got to consider what kind of camper you are. This will equate to the type of shelter you require. From pop-up tents all the way through to large tents for camping families, we've detailed all the advantages and disadvantages of each shelter style. 

If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of the specific features and attributes to look for in a tent, check out our guide on how to choose a tent. We've also included our jargon buster, so that you know your hydrostatic heads from your double skins.

Meet the expert

best hiking backpack: Jonathan Manning
Jonathan Manning

A veteran of the UK's long-distance trails and former editor of Country Walking magazine, Jonathan has spent more time than most under canvas. He enjoys backcountry expeditions and is one of our leading experts on all things tents.

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1. Bivy sack

These solo cocoons are super light, deconstruct into tiny, backpack-friendly packages, and can be very effective at providing protection from wind or rain. But there’s virtually no room inside – you’ll need to shuffle down as if you’re slipping into a sleeping bag, and there’s often no room inside for a large backpack. Bivy sacks are really for weight-weenies and fast-and-light expeditions only and vie with one-person tents.

Bivy tent

Bivy tents - great for gram-counters (Image credit: Michael Hanson (Getty))

2. A-frame ridge tent

This classic tent design (also known as a ridge tent) has the canvas suspended over a horizontal pole, creating a triangular shape with a wide base and pointy apex. The simple design makes them easy to pitch, and with guylines pegged out properly, the shape is stable and dry – there’s nowhere for rainwater to pool, so it should race down the side of the tent.

However, the A-shape compromises head room, and it can be an art to place and tighten the guylines evenly to create a smooth-sided construction.

how to choose a tent

An A-frame tent (Image credit: Getty)

3. Dome tent

From 2-person tents to family tents, the dome shape is the most commonly seen today. The design allows for both a light weight and reasonable headroom, while the use of flexible poles that criss-cross the centre bring automatic tension to the sides of the tent. It can take a bit of muscle to bend the poles into their webbing foot straps, especially for larger tents, and be careful – the lightweight poles can be damaged.

These tents typically have two layers – an inner (usually sewn to a waterproof groundsheet) and a flysheet, both of which are suspended from the arch of poles.

The design works very well for smaller, backpacking tents, but becomes less stable in high winds for larger family tents.

best 2-person tent

Dome tent (Image credit: Getty)

4. Geodesic tents

When the going gets tough, geodesic tents shoulder aside dome designs and stand square-jawed in the face of the elements.

Multiple poles criss-cross the frame of a geodesic tent, boosting its stability in the teeth of strong winds, while still offering the interior space and headroom of a dome tent.

The extra poles and robust construction mean geodesic tents tend to be heavier and more expensive than dome tents, but the higher up the mountain you venture and the farther you head into the wilderness, the more likely you are to see geodesic designs.

how to choose a tent

Geodesic tents like this are the best performers in blowy conditions (Image credit: Getty)

5. Pop-up tents

Popular with instant gratification crowds at festivals, instant or pop-up tents do exactly what they say on the tin – unzip their case and they uncoil, springing immediately into shape.

Even with pegging down the guylines, you’re done and dusted in under a minute. The downside is that they tend to be flimsy, are not recommended for storms or monsoons, and can be tricky to collapse and fold back into their cases.

best pop-up tent

Pop-up tens offer hassle-free setup (Image credit: Getty)

6. Air tents

There’s nothing more likely to cause problems on a family camping trip than an erection problem, which must make air tents something of a Viagra of the camping world. The ‘poles’ of the tent are air chambers, inflated with a foot or electric (powered by a car’s 12V cigarette lighter socket) pump. The tent takes shape as soon as the air chambers are full, and the design is remarkably stable; it’s very popular for caravan and motorhome awnings, too.

The negatives are the weight of the tent – these are for car camping only – and the relatively high price, although the fabrics tend to be heavy and good quality. You may need to top-up the air chambers during your trip, too.

The Eurohike Genus inflatable tent

The Eurohike Genus inflatable tent (Image credit: Eurohike)

7. Bell tent / teepee

Suspended from a single, central pole, these large pyramid-shaped tents for couples and families provide excellent headroom and a large living/sleeping space, which makes them popular on permanent glamping sites, where they will often be built with a wooden floor. The impression of space given by their height can be misleading, however, because there’s lots of ‘lost’ unusable space in the angle where the outer meets the ground. Bell tents and teepees are often made from satisfyingly thick cotton or canvas, which makes them heavy to carry. Nevertheless, the simplicity of the design makes them easy to pitch.

teepee tent

A canvas teepee tent (Image credit: Geoff Renner/Robert Harding (Getty))

8.Tunnel tent

With a series of identical poles, tunnel tents are simple to pitch and score well on the bang-to-buck ratio of space to weight. They do, however, demand careful pegging out to avoid sags where rain might collect. They provide loads of liveable space, and often have zipped chambers inside to keep living and sleeping quarters separate. The typical tunnel tent’s size – usually at least a four-person tent or larger – means they tend to be for car camping only.

how to choose a tent

Tunnel tent (Image credit: Getty)

9. Multi-room pod tent

Designed with family camping trips in mind, these modular tents let campers build extra full-height pods onto both the central ‘atrium’ and other pods. The primary advantage is that you can decide how much or how little tent to take on each trip, and create separate bedrooms for children and guests, as well as dedicated rooms for living and cooking, and even going to the toilet.

The downsides are the effort involved in pitching, the weight and volume of the tent in a car boot, and the sheer footprint on the campsite – some sites will levy extra fees for a large pod tent, or even set a maximum floor area.

Berghaus Kepler tent

The Berghaus Kepler multi-room tent (Image credit: Berghaus)

10. Trailer tent

The big daddy of life under canvas, trailer tents are a hybrid between tent and caravan. Towed on a trailer behind a car, as their name suggests, they free up boot space and, more importantly, unfurl into major constructions. With no real weight restriction, trailer tents are spacious, roomy and strongly built, while usually adding the extra advantage of a sleeping platform raised off the ground for extra warmth, comfort and protection from muddy/sandy footwear.

Funkier options rise up from roof boxes to convert Land Rovers and pick-up trucks into overnight accommodation and are popular with drive safaris in Africa.

The downside is the inconvenience of towing, the need to find somewhere to stow the trailer between expeditions, and a hefty purchase price. It also helps to have a couple of people to pitch the tent.

The Opus Camper trailer tent

The Opus Camper trailer tent (Image credit: Opus Camper)

Jargon buster

Let's cut through the jargon so that when you talk about types of tent, you can also reel off sentences like: "Yeah, but when all is said and done, a dome tent is only as good as its Hydrostatic Head rating."

types of tent: girl cleaning a groundsheet

Cleaning a detachable groundsheet at the end of a camping trip (Image credit: Getty)

Groundsheet: A groundsheet is a fully waterproof piece of tarpaulin sewn to the rest of the tent that forms the floor of your shelter, separating you from the ground underneath. Many tents today have a bathtub style groundsheet, where the edges of the sheet come up at the sides, providing extra protection.

types of tent: couple wild camping

A single skin tent, perfect for lightweight backpacking trips on dry days (Image credit: Getty)

Single-skin tent: A single-skin tent only has one layer of protection between you and the elements, being made from a single layer of waterproof fabric.

types of tent: setting up a double skin tent

Securing the flysheet with guy ropes on a double skin tent (Image credit: Getty)

Double-skin tent: A double-skin tent has two layers, a mesh inner tent that isn’t usually waterproof and a waterproof outer tent, known as a flysheet. The space formed between the two layers helps to insulate the shelter and reduce condensation.

types of tent: pitching a flysheet

Pitching the flysheet over the inner tent (Image credit: Getty)

Flysheet: Also known as a rain fly, a flysheet is a waterproof fabric cover that is pitched outside and over the inner tent to form the outer tent, giving your shelter enhanced protection from the elements.

types of tent: water beading on the flysheet

The higher the Hydrostatic Head rating the more waterproof the fabric (Image credit: Getty)

Hydrostatic Head: Hydrostatic Head (HH) is a measure of how waterproof your tent material is. The higher the HH rating is, the more water pressure your tent can withstand. So, a higher HH rating can cope with more rain and hopefully keep you dry.

But where does this rating come from? Well, imagine holding a vertical tube on top of your flysheet and slowly filling it with water. The pressure on the tent fabric would steadily build until eventually water would seep through. The HH rating is how much water is in that tube before this happens. Ratings start from 1,000 mm (the minimum legal requirement) and go up beyond 5,000 mm. A tent with a rating of 3,000 mm will keep you dry in most conditions.

types of tent: guy ropes

Guy ropes help to stabilize the tent (Image credit: Getty)

Guy ropes: Also known as guy lines, guy ropes are cords that are attached to the outer tent and are used to stabilize your shelter by pulling them taut, in line with the seams of the tent, and pegging them into the ground.

Jonathan Manning

After spending a decade as editor of Country Walking, the UK’s biggest-selling walking magazine, Jonathan moved to edit Outdoor Fitness magazine, adding adrenaline to his adventures and expeditions. He has hiked stages or completed all of the UK's national trails, but was once overtaken by three Smurfs, a cross-dressing Little Bo Peep, and a pair of Teletubbies on an ascent of Snowdon. (Turns out they were soldiers on a fundraising mission.)