Historically, tents have served as shelters for nomadic people and armies. Since then, tent design has evolved significantly – from an introduction of more durable and technical tent materials to adding sturdy tent poles for a reliable structure.
Around 2008, multiple manufacturers started using waterproofing techniques, skyrocketing tent camping to a whole new level. Since then, tent evolution has brought us more than 14 different tent types.
Each tent type offers something unique in terms of tent use, characteristics, and setbacks. So in this article, you’ll learn about 14 different types of tents compared by their shape, set-up, and use.
The most common tent types are:
- Dome tents
- Tunnel tents
- Ridge tents
- Geodesic tents
- Pop-up tents
- Cabin tents
- Pyramid tents
- Bivy tents
- Backpacking tents
- Hammock tents
- Rooftop tents
- Bell tents
- Inflatable tents
- Suspendable tents
Suitable for: backpacking
Dome tents are the most common and traditional tent. You can find them in multiple shapes and sizes – with the most distinct feature being their curved pole structure.
The base structure of a dome tent consists of two poles that cross at the top and lock into the ground. Such a tent structure provides a square base, creating a dome-shaped tent. These tents may also have a rainfly and a “porch” usually used as a storage space. The tent poles are commonly attached underneath a rainfly, but may be on the outside of the rainfly.
Dome tents are popular due to the large space and headroom. They can withstand moderate to high winds, but they don’t provide the best stability in extreme weather conditions. The larger the tent, the less suited it will be for harsh conditions. Therefore, dome tents are usually suitable for up to 4 people. They have an inner tent so they’re not prone to condensation on tent walls.
- Widely available
- Fast set-up
- Large headroom
- Not suitable for harsh conditions
- Unstable in larger sizes
- Limited or no vestibule space
Suitable for: group or family camping, car camping
These tents are called tunnel tents due to their body structure. The flexible poles that make up the shape are forming half circles in multiple places, forming a tunnel shape. There can be two or more poles. There is no limit as to how many poles there can be, so these tents come in many different sizes and are usually multi-room tents.
Tunnel tents have gained popularity due to the large liveable space and headroom. They’re best suited for families or a group of people. Such a tent is most suitable for up to 6 people due to its common division of space. Usually, there is a common space in the middle and separate sleeping areas for up to 3 people on each end of the tunnel.
Set-up is quite easy, but you’ll have to stake out as these tents are not freestanding. This can present challenges when camping on sand or in rocky terrain. Moreover, you’ll have to be careful with the guylines as it’s easy to trip over them.
Tunnel tents are not great in high winds. There is a high chance of the tent getting blown away if it’s facing the wind with the long side. So always make sure to set it up parallel to the wind.
- Easy set-up
- Large living area
- Lots of storage space
- Various layout options
- Reduced stability in high winds
- Guylines you can trip on
- Not freestanding
Ridge Tents (A-frame type)
Suitable for: backpacking for up to two people
The ridge tents are also often called A-frame tents. When viewed from the front, they form a triangle or an A shape. The construction of these tents is mainly held up on a cross pole (a ridge), that stretches in the middle of the tent roof. While this tent design is not as popular as it used to be, it provides more stability than many other tent shapes.
The shape of these tents has some downsides. The main one is that there is less headroom and storage space. For this reason, ridge tents are commonly best suited for up to two people. The set-up is usually trickier than for other tent types as you have to use guylines and tie-outs.
Traditionally, these tents are made of a thick fabric such as canvas. Due to their design, they are prone to sagging tent walls caused by rain or snow. However, some modern A-frame tents are made from durable fabrics such as polyester or nylon. So they can be lightweight and suitable for solo backpacking trips.
- No water pooling on top
- Sturdy when pitched correctly
- Difficult set-up
- You have to use guylines
- Low availability
- Not freestanding
- Walls prone to sagging
Suitable for: wilderness camping, winter or bad weather camping
Geodesic tents have evolved from traditional dome tents. Unlike dome tents, they feature more poles that cross each other in multiple places, forming triangles or hexagons. Such construction provides great stability, thus most geodesic tents are freestanding. However, it makes the set-up lengthy as the pole layout can get confusing.
Due to the sturdiness of their construction, they are the perfect camping tents well suited for extreme weather. Because of their build quality, they are pricier than other types of tents and are usually made of quality tent materials. Most geodesic tents are made for up to 4 people.
You can also find semi geodesic tents – a simpler version that’s still sturdier than dome tents but is less suitable for extreme conditions.
- Suitable for harsh weather conditions
- Usually expensive
- Confusing set-up
- Limited buying availability
Pop up Tents
Suitable for: leisure camping
Pop up tents are favorited for their fast and easy set-up. And that’s for a good reason. You simply won’t find any other tent that’s easier to set-up. They are usually made up of one or two flexible poles that are coiled in a compact shape. The tent pops into its shape in a matter of seconds once you uncoil it.
The easy set-up is the most appealing thing in these tents. However, some downsides come with this efficiency. The first one is instability in high winds. Due to its shape, it’s not as resistant to bad weather. Moreover, it only has one layer of fabric – meaning that you can expect condensation on the inner walls of these tents. Another consideration is their packed shape. They’re usually coiled as huge rings, thus it can be difficult to carry them.
All in all, if you’re a frequent camper, you’ll be better off with other types of tents. Pop-up tents are usually more expensive than other tents and generally less reliable – and that doesn’t seem like a good deal.
- Fast and easy set-up
- Reduced stability
- Condensation issues
- Takes up lots of space when coiled
Suitable for: leisure car camping for families and large groups
A tent that looks like a cabin is called exactly that – a cabin tent. They have near-vertical walls and the inside space is usually a single area that can be divided into multiple rooms for a multi-room tent. Their structure can withstand moderate weather conditions, but might not hold in harsh weather.
The main advantage of cabin tents is that they are large enough to host several people. What’s even better is that they are usually tall enough so that a person can easily stand inside. These features make cabin tents great for parties or family gatherings. However, this also means that they are heavy and the set-up takes more time than for other types of tents.
- Tall enough for standing up
- Time-consuming set-up
- Not freestanding
- Not great in extreme weather
Suitable for: extra light backpacking
Pyramid tents (also called teepee tents) are single-pole tents that have the simplest design – they consist of a single vertical pole, that stands at the center of the shelter. The tent fabric is then draped over the pole and stretched to the ground to be secured by guylines and stakes.
The stability of this tent largely relies on the guylines and stakes. Therefore, this tent has to be pitched on solid ground rather than in sand or rocky terrain where stakes can’t be used.
The simplicity of pyramid tents also means that they can be very lightweight and easy to set-up. They don’t come with a built-in groundsheet so you will have to use your own or sleep on the uncovered ground. Moreover, the headspace is limited and the ground space is awkward for sleeping. For these reasons, they are not that common.
- Can be very lightweight
- Easy setup
- Small when packed
- Fewer poles
- Limited space
- Not suitable for many people
- Doesn’t have a built-in groundsheet
- Has many guylines and stakes
Suitable for: Ultralight camping trips
Bivy tents are very small, compact, lightweight, and usually have a one-person tent capacity. These minimalistic shelters have at least one hoop (some have more), that creates a dome to keep the tent off your body.
The main disadvantage of bivy tents is their size – there’s barely any room for your things. However, the small size and limited pole structure also mean that they are very lightweight and easy to set-up. Due to the single tent fabric layer, they’re prone to condensation. Some people solve this issue by using an extra tarp above the bivy tent.
- Easy set-up
- Prone to condensation
- No extra gear storage space
Suitable for: extended hiking trips
Although backpacking tents are similar to dome tents in their structure, they’re usually sturdier and lightweight. These properties make backpacking tents more suitable for longer hiking trips where light and reliable shelter is needed. They are easy to pitch, very practical, and have enough space for storage.
Usually, this type of tent has two tent dors – one on each side. They also have a low headroom, and limited capacity.
- Reliable against elements
- Usually have a small porch
- Have two entrances
- No condensation issues
- Can be costly
Suitable for: lightweight camping or leisure camping
Hammock tents are set between two trees and are suspended off the ground. Compared to a regular hammock, they have a top layer that usually protects you against rain. Some hammock tents have only a mosquito net on the top. This shelter is ideal for trips where camping on the ground is restricted due to a swamp, rocky or uneven terrain, or heavy undergrowth.
If set-up correctly, they can be comfortable. There are usually no supporting tent poles, as everything holds up on strap tension. Some more advanced hammock tents have poles for a sturdier tent structure.
The main disadvantage of these tents is the cold. Your underside is completely exposed to the wind so you’ll need a sleeping pad.
- Easy set-up
- Set-up required two trees
- The underside is exposed to winds
Suitable for: road-tripping
If you’re traveling in a car, rooftop tents (also called car-top tents) might be a good option for you. They can come in a variety of shapes but are usually meant for two people as the car roof offers limited space. To set-up this tent, you’ll need a solid car roof rack to attach it to. Once pitched, you can access them by a detachable ladder.
The set-up process can be a hassle, but you can camp anywhere where you can park your car. As they are above the ground, they are not as stable and are exposed to winds. The necessity for a ladder is also a disadvantage to consider. Moreover, rooftop tents are usually expensive.
- Usually freestanding
- Camp anywhere you can park your vehicle
- High exposure to winds
- Need for a ladder
Suitable for: glamping
Bell tents are most suitable for luxury campers. They are one of the largest tents and usually have only one room. Their structure resembles that of a modern teepee tent. They’re commonly made from breathable and thick canvas and have a central pole to hold up the whole structure. The canvas is stretched to the ground with guylines – such structure ensures high stability.
Bell tents are very durable and well suited for glamping. They’re not suited for lightweight backpacking as they’re very heavy. Most of these tents also feature a wood-burning area.
- Highly breathable
- Not suitable for backpacking
Suitable for: Comfort and hassle-free camping
Inflatable tents are some of the newest types of tents. They’re very easy to pitch but you’ll need an air pump. With a single flip of a switch, you can watch the tent take its shape. The downside is that they’re heavy and expensive compared to other types of tents. However, they’re also comfortable and spacious. You also won’t need any poles for the set-up.
- Easy set-up
Suitable for: Untraditional camping above ground
Suspendable tents are relatively new to the market. You’ll have to find three stable trees that can provide enough support for anchor points. They’re usually not as light as other types of tents, and they can take a while to set up. However, you’ll be able to set up your shelter in higher places where you wouldn’t be able to camp otherwise. This way your camping experience will be on a whole other level.
- Great views
- Lengthy set-up
In this article, I’ve covered 14 different types of tents. However, there are many more types of tents that are not as common. Tents come in different shapes and sizes and they’re meant for different occasions.
Hopefully, this guide helped you understand which tent type is the most suitable for your camping trips. I’ve previously covered tent materials that could further guide you to the right tent choice.
Thank you for sticking to the end and I hope to see you in our other articles.