Tent Designs, Styles and Types

So you’re off camping! There are so many different tent styles, tent types and tent designs to choose from. All cater to different people with different purposes and each has their pros and cons. Think about your needs when searching for the right tent for your next trip. And like many people these days, you’ll probably end up with more than one tent. Have a look at the following to see what tents are available these days.


Freestanding tents – tents that can stand on their own without having to be staked down. Easily picked up and moved to desired pitching positions without having to reassemble and useful if camping on hard flat surfaces like wooden platforms.

Backpacking tents – Tents light in weight and compact in packed size, ideal for backpackers, hikers and trampers.  

Instant or Auto up tents – As the name suggests these are instant tents have a pole system based on a simple spring elbow joints, convenient but sometimes having problems with overall strength. The tent framework is permanently fitted to the fabric and putting the tent up requires letting the poles fall into the right position and making sure the poles are straightened at the elbow joints to allow the tent hold shape. Flexible poles are ‘bent’ to allow them to collapse and fold to pack away.

Family tents – There are always new tent designs, some simple and some more complex, aimed at keeping the whole family happy. Bigger is not always better as not all designs work as well on a larger scale and some may be unstable in winds. Most manufacturers produce tents that are made up of a combination of styles and these often work well.

Ultralight tents – As the name suggests refers to tents that are very light in weight, typically less than 1.5kg. They come in a variety of styles, single and double walls, with or without poles (using trekking poles or what nature has on hand). For the minimalist on the move.

A frame tents – The old pup-style tent with walls forming an ‘A’ shape.

Cabin tents – tents with almost vertical walls, maximizing the amount of interior space. Usually larger, freestanding car camping family style tents. They often use steel pole structures and canvas, provide good space and stability but are bulkier and require more time to set up and pack away.  

Dome tents – Dome tents have flexible poles which cross over the middle of the tent and have ends that are secured to webbing straps at the corners giving them a dome shape. In windy conditions, they are sturdy and reliable but generally the bigger the tent the less stable they are. They have good interior space, can deal with challenging weather conditions, including snow and are a very popular design.

Pop-up, 2 second, quick pitch tents – Tents that ‘pop up’. They are very easy to set up and great for people who don’t want to deal with the troubles of setting up a tent. The ‘poles’ are already fitted into the tent fabric and once the coiled frame is released they pop up and take shape by themselves. Popular with festival goers, car campers and kids as they are so easy to pitch. Folding and packing away a pop up tent can be a bit trickier but once you have the hang of it is also quick.

Inflatable tents – These are becoming more popular for their convenience and very easy pitching, requiring pumping up of air poles and pegging down. They have inflatable beams that folds for easy storage and transport. These tents tend to be higher-priced than standard tents because the materials used are much stronger to ensure reliability and durability.

Single skin/wall/layer tents – A tent with only one wall, that doesn’t have a separate rain fly. Mainly found in ultralight tents, where solid fabric overhangs mesh, providing rain protection with superior ventilation to prevent internal condensation. Single wall A single-wall tent uses only one layer of waterproof fabric, which makes them lighter and often easier to set up. However, condensation can be a problem, so look for vents or a hybrid design that uses a partial rainfly, often over the front door to help reduce condensation.

Double skin, Double wall, Double layer tents – tents that have an inner and a separate rain fly (outer fly), with a wide air gap between them. Designed so that internal condensation can pass through the mesh or walls of the inner tent and collect on the underside of the outer/rain fly instead which keeps everything and everyone inside dry.

Single hoop tents – A lightweight design using just one curved pole usually only big enough for 1-2 people.

Geodesic tents, Semi-Geodesic tents – Geodesic is used to describe a tent that has criss-crossing poles that forms triangles. This triangular structure means that geodesic tents have much more stability in extreme weather conditions such as on mountains or windy, exposed areas. Semi geodesic tents work on the same triangular structure but typically use fewer poles.

Tunnel tents – Tunnel tents use a series of parallel arches or hoops that provide a good combination of weight and weather resistance. But they are not freestanding and must be staked out for them to take shape and stay up. 

Tarp tents – A tarp is one solid nylon or polyester sheet that can be secured to trees, rocks or trekking poles, and used instead of a tent. Ultralight hikers prefer tarp tents or setups because they are lightweight and compact compared to other backpacking shelters.

3 Season tents – Most tents fall into this category and while there’s no standard definition, refers to tents suitable for use in spring, summer and autumn that tend to have more mesh ventilation panels and are lighter in weight than 4 season tents.

3-4 Season tents – As the name suggests these are something between the 3 season and 4 season tents. They’re made to handle summer trips but also early spring and late autumn, too. They have more in the way of strength (often with more poles) and balance ventilation and keeping warmth inside when needed (less mesh). They’re good for windy, high elevations and offer more protection against the elements.

4 Season tents (Alpine tents)– There’s no strict definition of what a 4 season tent is, but they are usually designed to perform well in colder winter conditions with heavier rain, snow and winds that can wreak havoc with lighter weight tent poles and fabrics. Most 4 season tents will have more poles to improve stability and have solid fabric door and inners instead of mesh to improve insulation.

Roof top tents – Car-top tents essentially tents that pop-up, or fold out, from on top of a vehicle. Roof top tents (sometimes just RTT) are becoming more popular with their convenience and growing numbers of 4x4 adventure seekers. Secured to a roof rack system on the roof of a truck or car, they can be set up very quickly and easily by unfolding them and lowering a ladder. Roof top camping gives a great view, mean more time hiking or fishing and are great for those moving from place to place.

Vis a vis (face to face) – Popular tents for families that are rectangular with three distinct rooms. They have a large central part (living room) of the tent with good headroom, and one smaller room to each side for sleeping. These two rooms faced each other, hence the name.

Swags – In Australia, swags are popular, hardy, versatile 1-2 person tents used for camping or sleeping outdoors. A modern swag is a waterproof, insect proof canvas sleeping compartment that comes with a mattress and typically rolls up to pack away.

Trailer tents – A trailer tent is basically a tent in a trailer that pulls out and pegs to the ground, still using the trailer part for a bedroom area. Folding campers are trailers that unfold and where there is no canvas pegged directly to the ground (except if there is an additional awning used). Usually, bedroom areas will fold or slide out from the trailer unit, still off the ground when set up. New designs are coming out all the time.

Tipis, Teepees – Traditional style conical tents which have morphed into single pole tents based on the traditional tepee or old-fashioned Scout tents. Sometimes popular in glamping and for children but also some variations available in ultralight tents.

Yurt Tents – Traditional Mongolian style tents popular in glamping.

Bell Tents – Big Glamping conical style tents with walls more for comfort than convenience.

And there's probably more as well!

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