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Our guide to Tent Styles & what they're called

How can you possibly make a decision on which tent to buy when there are so many to choose from? By now you may even know exactly what style you're looking for but just don't know what it's called to narrow down your searches!

To help you, we've compiled a list of the most common tent styles out there and their main features. The models shown below as an example of each style are some of the highest rated by Amazon customers and available to buy online, just follow the links for prices and availability:


A-Frame (ridge) tent – the original bad-boy! Efficient and simple to construct with a good strong shape. Great design for shedding rain away to the sides but limited on usable space near the edges. Generally they have little to no porch area for storing shoes etc outside of the sleeping space. Especially beware of models with an upright pole in the centre of the entryway ready to be knocked over when entering or exiting!


Dome tent – two crossed poles to form a square or rectangular footprint. Simple to construct with a strong structure and stable in strong winds (on the smaller models) Dome tents have good usable space close to the ground at the sides. Downside: can shed water down into the sleeping space whilst trying to enter/exit and larger versions tend to flex a lot in strong winds. Many models have an additional pole to create a useful 'tunnel' type porch area for shoes etc which helps alleviate both problems.


Geodesic tent – multiple poles criss-crossing, much like the dome style but to create a longer and much stronger structure. A very strong tent design able to withstand extreme winds and weather even with larger models, though they can be a little more complicated to erect than other styles. 


Tunnel tent – two or more poles arranged in a line to form a tunnel shaped sleeping area, these tents come in a massive range of sizes. Entry can be at the side or at one end. Another good design for high winds in the smaller models making it a favourite style for us personally. Relies on good pegging to stay upright so not great on stony or wet mossy ground!


Bivy/Bivvi bags – a raw, survival tent. From the noun bivouac 'a temporary camp without tents or cover, used especially by soldiers or mountaineers.' Essentially nothing more than a waterproof sleeping bag cover making for an extremely lightweight and compact shelter to carry on a hiking/camping trip. Useful for sleeping only, they're not going to provide a covered area for getting changed comfortably or for cooking in bad weather! Ideally combined with some kind of tarp shelter to keep the rain out of your face, though some (like that pictured above) do come as an enclosed design with a small pole  or hoop to support the fabric above you. Lightweight and to the point, though perhaps not for the claustrophobic!


Inflatable tents – a fairly new and exciting style of tent with no requirement of awkward poles to put together or figure out! Simply lay out and either pump or release a valve to inflate the supporting sections – how cool is that? Inflatable tents are still fairly expensive to buy and I'd want a puncture repair kit handy for peace of mind! Check the weight in comparison to poled varieties though, the thicker fabric required to strengthen the inflating support sections can make the tent heavier overall than it's poled equivalent.


Instant & pop up tents – with the frame permanently attached to the tent fabric itself, simply twist and allow it to spring open into it's final shape! Again, a very cool concept that's great for festivals and the beach but not likely to last many years of use without breaking. Usually single skin so not very insulating or watertight. Notoriously awkward to pack away again, so probably not for those of you that struggle to refold a map! ;)


Tepee or conical tents – perhaps this is the true original? The traditional teepee is supported by long poles arranged in a wide circle and leaning together in the middle. The cloth, or skin is tied to the poles with the centre clear for smoke from the central fire pit to escape. These days many conical tents have a centre pole for support instead and certainly do not recommend lighting a fire inside, but more traditional versions are still available! Teepee style tents are generally quite expensive and can make for a particularly bulky tent design to cart around - but let's face it you can't find a cooler or more romantic style of tent can you?


Tarpaulin (Tarp) Shelter - A tarp is multi use in the greatest sense of the word! With a little imagination the humble tarpaulin gives you the freedom to make whatever tent your chosen camping spot dictates. These days camping tarps are made from a water resistant, lightweight fabric just like regular tents and, with no poles or odd shapes to worry about, pack down into a convenient tiny bundle.

Turn your tarpaulin into a simple ridge tent using cord tied off to trees or hiking poles in which a side can be opened and propped up into a sheltered day time work/cooking area. Alternatively wrap it around long poles to create a teepee, or prop up a corner for another style altogether...

A tarp shelter can get a bit draughty around the edges and the privacy level is certainly low! Don't forget your paracord!


Combination stylesSome tents use a variety of styles in one design so cannot be so easily labelled, you may find a large domed living area with tunnel style sleeping pod(s) attached like this one. Needless to say they can combine the very best features (or the worst!) of each incorporated style.


Vis a vis - Technically speaking the 'vis a vis' style isn't a style of tent by itself but we figured it would be useful to mention as you may come across it. The term simply means that the bedrooms are positioned 'face to face' across a communal living space or porch area so is often found in the tunnel style. They're generally good at for making the most of the headroom in the centre for communal tasks.


Some further considerations:

Bigger is not always better!

Some camp sites do not cater for the huge pod-type family tents because of the sheer size of them so check before you go or buy, also bear in mind that a larger surface area means more for the wind to get a hold of!


Keep it simple!

Do you want to go camping to relax and enjoy yourself or to add to your stress levels attempting to build the most complicated design in the showroom? It may look fancy when it's finished but you may be better off with a couple of smaller tents for the family instead of one enormous and complex creation to argue about. Kids love to have their own space anyway and it can be very rewarding for everyone to build their own 'home' for the week!


One skin or two?

Single skin tents are the norm for cheap and lightweight festival tents, and they do OK in light rain, but do tend to leak in heavier downpours. They also develop condensation on the walls which can drip on you or your belongings! Except for extreme lightweight necessity, we recommend opting for the double layered tents for comfort and better insulation. 


What do we use?

When we travelled by car, the tent we loved for many years was a 'vis a vis' 4 person tunnel tent, one room was for us and the other was for the bags! I really liked the porch area it had in between the bedrooms which could be propped open with additional poles to expand the shade and it allowed us to cook outside of the tent door on the grass but still be under cover from the rain.

These days when touring on the bike we need something extremely compact and light so we currently have a High Gear Venture 2 tunnel tent. It uses only two poles, has a tiny but useful porch area (enough space for our muddy shoes and bike panniers anyway) and inside we have enough elbow room for our bags and to not touch the sides whilst sleeping. I'll bet many would expect us to have the tiniest tent on the market for motorcycle touring, and packing-wise we'd love to - the trouble was that when we tried out a tiny single skin 2 person ridge style tent we soon realised that we could barely move when laying down next to each other, and in fact we very nearly wrecked the thing just trying to crawl inside! Petite people may get on fine with that style but we're both on the larger side, plus have you ever tried to wriggle into a set of leathers in a coffin? ;)

Our tarp shelter set up on Dartmoor.Our tarp shelter set up on Dartmoor.We also make use of the trusty tarp from time to time when the need for ultra-lightweight and adaptability trumps all else! Ours, with the aid of a poncho strung up at either end, kept us warm and dry during a rather rough night of wind and rain in the wilds of Dartmoor some years ago and you can't beat the tarp and hammock combination for a great nights sleep off of the ground in woodland.


We hope you found this guide useful. Bookmark this page for future reference when shopping, and subscribe to our newsletter for more great camping tips, products and outdoors advice!


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What's your favourite style of tent? Leave a comment below, we'd love to hear from you!

Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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