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How We Test and Score Tents

(Our Complete Process)

Spencer Yeomans

Spencer Yeomans

Updated on November 19, 2023

A tent is your first line of defense against the elements, insects, and other wildlife. Throughout your travels, whether you’re backpacking abroad or setting up camp 5 miles from home, your tent will receive the brunt of nature’s fury, so you don’t have to.

We understand how important shelter is for all campers, which is why we designed a system for testing and rating all different types of tents. Our scores provide a clear, quantitative assessment of the tents that we review, giving you a guideline to identify the perfect shelter for your next camping trip.

Curious? Let’s dive into each factor, one by one, so you can see exactly how we score each tent.

Scoring Factors

For each tent reviewed, you’ll notice 7 scores: an “Overall Rating” followed by 6 secondary ratings. These secondary ratings cover various tent features, such as waterproofing, durability, ventilation, ease of setup, storage, and comfort.

The “Overall Rating” is based on a weighted average of these 6 factors.

We’ve weighted each factor based on the level of importance it holds. To determine how important each factor is, we surveyed 534 campers and asked them what they valued the most in a tent.

Here are the results of that survey:

As you can see, “Ease of Use” was the clear winner, with “Weather Resistance” coming in at a relatively close second. Using this data, we’ve weighted our scoring system accordingly, while adding in some features that we personally value as campers.

You’ll notice that our individual factors are rounded up to one decimal place, while our overall tent score is rounded up to the second decimal place.

What Do The Scores Mean?

Our scoring system makes use of a “1-10 point grading scale.” 

High number ratings indicate exceptional performance, while lower number ratings demonstrate a lack of quality.

10

A perfect score! It doesn’t get any better than this.

9.5 - 9.9

Still an excellent score – most campers won’t be able to complain about this level of performance.

9.0 - 9.4

A very good score indicating some room for improvement, while performing well enough for most standards.

8.5 - 8.9

There are some very clear areas that need improvement, but overall, it’s a good enough performer for most campers.

8.0 - 8.4

While it’s a decent score, it might be time to consider other tent options.

7.5 - 7.9

This is a poor score, indicating that there are some significant issues with the product.

7.0 - 7.4

This is a poor score, indicating that there are some significant issues with the product.

<7.0

This is a failing score. It’s likely that we wouldn’t recommend purchasing a tent with a rating this low.

Waterproof Rating

man in black jacket standing outside in the rain pitching a tent

Our waterproof score is a subjective assessment based on:

  • Material Type
  • DWR
  • Seams
  • Floor Type
  • Zippers

How waterproof a tent is might seem pretty cut and dry at first glance (pun intended), but the features listed above don’t fully cover the topic.

For example, if you don’t put the rainfly on correctly, the tent may begin to leak when it rains. Certain tents may be able to handle small amounts of rain, but the waterproofing might not work against torrential downpours.

Below are the specifics that we look for when making our assessment:

Material Type

We’ve lumped tent materials into two categories: canvas and synthetics (which encompasses both nylon, polyester, and all other variations). 

Modern canvas is naturally waterproof. It has a tight weave that prevents water from passing through, and when it does get wet, the fibers absorb the water. This causes them to swell, which tightens the weave further (making the material even more waterproof).

Synthetic materials don’t absorb water, which (in theory) makes them a more reliable barrier against the rain. However, they have to rely on waterproof coatings to ensure they continue to provide excellent protection.

DWR

blue tent on grass with nikwax waterproofing spray

Speaking of waterproof coatings, “DWR” stands for durable water repellent. It refers to a coating placed on the rainfly of a tent, and it’s meant to create a hydrophobic layer that sheds water. It’s worth noting that DWR does wear off with time, so you’ll want to re-waterproof your tent every so often.

Seams

The seams of a tent are where multiple pieces of fabric were “stitched” together. This naturally makes these areas more prone to leakage, which is why extra consideration needs to be placed on seam sealers.

Floor Type

Most modern tents have a bathtub floor, where the groundsheet curves upward to create the lower portion of the tent’s walls. This is a particularly effective way of keeping water from seeping into your tent from the ground.

However, some tents (usually canvas) just have a groundsheet, which may or may not be removable.

Zippers

Though they’re a rare place to experience leakage, some zippers are so poorly made that water will slip through – especially in heavy downpours.

Here’s the scale we use to determine waterproof scores:

10

A perfect score! It doesn’t get any better than this.

9.5

Excellent waterproof performance

9.0

Very good waterproof performance

8.5

Good waterproof performance

8.0

Decent waterproof performance

7.5

Poor waterproof performance

7.0

Terrible waterproof performance

Durability Rating

canvas tent pitched in the desert

Our durability score is an objective assessment based on:

  • Pole Material
  • Tent Material
  • Denier
  • Coatings

Durability is a pretty straightforward factor, since it’s almost entirely based on the materials used in the construction of the tent.

For example, canvas is more durable than synthetics like nylon and polyester due to its thickness and the strength of the fibers.

Below are the specifics that we look for when making our assessment:

Pole Material

Generally speaking, tent poles are either going to be fiberglass, aluminum, or steel

Without a doubt, fiberglass is the weakest material listed. It performs well enough in warm temperatures, but it becomes exceedingly fragile in cold weather.

Aluminum is a strong pole material, especially when you consider how lightweight it is.

However, steel will always be the winner in a contest of durability. That being said, you do have to deal with the additional weight that comes with the additional weight.

Tent Material

gray tent material on grass

Tent material can be broadly categorized as “canvas” and “synthetics.” When talking about synthetics, we’re referring to materials like polyester, nylon, Dyneema, and cuben fiber. 

As a rule of thumb, canvas will always be the most durable tent material that you’ll find. 

For the most part, synthetics are fairly equal in terms of durability – at least when discussed in relation to their respective weights and thicknesses. That being said, nylon is slightly more durable than its polyester counterpart.

Denier

Denier is a measure of the linear density for any fabric. It’s done through a somewhat fascinating process that involves weighing a single fiber (in grams) after its been stretched out 9,000 meters. The heavier the material, the thicker it’s going to be, which ultimately equates to a stronger, more durable material.

But while higher denier is good for durability, many campers often choose to go with a lower denier rating. Since it’s often the case that “durability = weight”, plenty of campers are willing to take the risk and go with something lighter weight.

Coatings

Tent fabrics are covered in various coatings, including acrylic, polyurethane, and silicone.

Polyurethane (PU) is one of the most common coatings that you’ll find on tents. It’s valued for its breathability, which is important for ventilation purposes. However, a polyurethane-coated fabric is technically less durable than it would have been without the coating. This is because the PU focuses stress on any existing tears, causing the problem to get worse faster than it would have otherwise.

Acrylic is cheaper than polyurethane, but it’s also not very durable. It’s mostly used as a way to stabilize the weave of the threads, instead of providing any sort of water resistance or added durability.

Finally, there’s silicone, which isn’t really a coating – it forms a layer through the fabric instead of sitting on top. This reinforces the material, making it roughly 2.2 times stronger than it would have been without the silicone.

Here’s the scale we use to determine durability scores:

10

A perfect score! It doesn’t get any better than this.

9.5

Excellent durability performance

9.0

Very good durability performance

8.5

Good durability performance

8.0

Decent durability performance

7.5

Poor durability performance

7.0

Terrible durability performance

Ventilation Rating

blue tent ventilation opening

Our ventilation score is an objective assessment based on:

  • Vents
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Material Breathability

Ventilation is important for a variety of reasons. Airflow will keep your tent from growing hot and stagnant, and breathability prevents the accumulation of condensation.

More openings in the tent (vents, doors, etc.) equate to better ventilation. The larger they are, the more air they’ll let in at once; the better their placement, the more conducive they’ll be for airflow.

Below are the specifics that we look for when making our assessment:

Vents

Vents are normally located on the rainfly, though you’ll occasionally find ground vents lower on the tent body – usually on larger shelters. A good variety of vent sizes and placements can help create maximum airflow. 

Doors

open mesh door of gray tent

The door/s on a tent are your biggest opportunity for creating ventilation. Due to their size and the fact that they’re often placed opposite each other (at least, many tents have a door on each side), they’re very conducive for harnessing a cross-breeze.

That being said, there are plenty of tents that only have one door. While it’s still an effective ventilation method, a single-door setup isn’t going to be as ventilative as a multi-door setup.

Windows

Some larger tents (especially those sporting a cabin design) will have windows, in addition to doors and vents. While we don’t necessarily see a tent as being “better” because it has windows, we may score this type of design higher if it positively contributes to the purpose of our review.

Material Breathability

Certain materials, like canvas, are well known for their breathability. We view this as a type of ventilation, which is why we’ll often score canvas tents higher on this rating.

Likewise, materials with a polyurethane coating are going to be more breathable than materials with an acrylic coating. 

However, we also consider the overall makeup of the tent itself. For example, the ratio of “solid material” to “mesh” is important, since mesh will allow for a greater amount of airflow.

Here’s the scale we use to determine ventilation scores:

10

A perfect score! It doesn’t get any better than this.

9.5

Excellent ventilation performance

9.0

Very good ventilation performance

8.5

Good ventilation performance

8.0

Decent ventilation performance

7.5

Poor ventilation performance

7.0

Terrible ventilation performance

Insulation Rating

man lifting fabric of tent floor

Our insulation score is an objective assessment based on:

  • Mesh vs. Solid Fabric
  • Tent Size

Ventilation and insulation are two sides of the same coin. The more ventilative a tent is, the less insulative it will be, and vice versa.

Usually, campers want a well-ventilated tent to keep condensation at bay, while keeping the temperature inside the shelter as low as possible. However, during the winter season or alpine camping, it becomes crucial to have a tent that will trap heat inside.

Below are the specifics that we look for when making our assessment:

Mesh vs Solid Fabric

Tents with less mesh are going to be more insulative. Most shelters will have at least some mesh, unless they’re made of canvas or only have a single wall, but some have significantly less mesh than others.

Tents with a higher ratio of solid fabric to mesh will receive a better insulation score.

Tent Size

Smaller tents are more insulative than larger ones, since there’s less space inside to keep warm. It’s the same reason why mummy sleeping bags are warmer than rectangular sleeping bags – there’s less surrounding air to heat up, which allows more warmth to hover close to you.

Here’s the scale we use to determine insulation scores:

10

A perfect score! It doesn’t get any better than this.

9.5

Excellent insulation performance

9.0

Very good insulation performance

8.5

Good insulation performance

8.0

Decent insulation performance

7.5

Poor insulation performance

7.0

Terrible insulation performance

Ease of Use Rating

zipper on a tent door

Our ease of use score is a subjective assessment based on:

  • Weight
  • Size
  • Pole Structure
  • Color-Coding

Out of all the factors related to choosing a tent, the general consensus is that “ease of use” is the most important. No one wants to struggle while making camp, especially if the weather isn’t working in their favor. Backpackers, in particular, won’t want a shelter that’s difficult to set up because of how tired they’ll be when that time comes. 

It’s worth mentioning that certain tents are easier to pitch when multiple people are working together to accomplish the task. That’s why, for the sake of consistency, we’re covering ease of use as it relates to one person setting up a tent alone.

Below are the specifics that we look for when making our assessment:

Weight

Canvas tents are amazing, but goodness are they heavy. Even a 4-person canvas tent can weigh roughly 50 pounds, which is more than triple the weight you’d expect out of a synthetic tent of the same capacity.

And hey, we get it: sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. “Ease of use” is usually the first thing you give up when you opt for a more comfortable setup.

That being said, you have to pick your battles. Heavier tents are usually more luxurious, but under the pretext of setting one up by yourself, it’s going to receive a lower score from us.

Size

It should come as no surprise that smaller tents are easier to use than larger ones. And while size isn’t everything, the material reduction (both fabric and poles) will make us more inclined to give a shelter a higher score.

Pole Structure

man holding black and orange tent poles

There are a couple of things that we’re referring to when we talk about “pole structure.”

First, we’re talking about the different styles of tents: instant, pop-up, etc. Both instant tents and pop-up tents are going to get a higher score from us, due to how easy they are to put up and take down. And even though instant tents, in particular, tend to be a bit heavier, the ease of setup results in a net positive rating from us.

Next, we’re also referring to the pole’s attachment points. Does it use a hubbed system and clips, or does it use fabric sleeves to connect the poles to the tent body?

Hubbed tents are much easier to put together, and will generally receive a higher score from us. When you have to pass a pole through a sleeve, on the other hand, there’s a good chance that the pole will snag on the material. Not only is this less efficient, but it also increases the likelihood of tearing the tent fabric.

Color-Coding

Though the execution can look different depending on the product, many tents will color code their corners and poles. This allows you to know exactly where each pole is supposed to go, instead of forcing you to play a guessing game that you may or may not win. 

Here’s the scale we use to determine ease of use scores:

10

A perfect score! It doesn’t get any better than this.

9.5

Excellent ease of use

9.0

Very good ease of use 

8.5

Good ease of use 

8.0

Decent ease of use 

7.5

Poor ease of use

7.0

Terrible ease of use 

Storage Rating

blonde woman putting a phone in a tent pocket

Our storage score is an objective assessment based on:

  • Internal Storage (pockets, loops, lofts, etc.)
  • External Storage (vestibules)

Campers often have a lot of gear in addition to their tent. Beyond personal items like phones, keys, and wallets, it’s common for campers to have a flashlight/headlamp, fire starter, knife, and any number of miscellaneous products.

And those are just the small things. When you add in boots, backpacks, and chairs, the space inside a tent is no longer enough. External storage, often in the form of vestibules, is necessary to house all of this gear.

Below are the specifics that we look for when making our assessment:

Internal Storage

Tents come with a variety of internal storage options, including pockets, loops, and lofts. Generally speaking, most tents will come with pockets and loops; however, lofts can be a little hit or miss, especially on larger tents.

The more storage options a tent has, the higher we’ll score it. And while this mostly refers to internal storage, we’ll still rate a tent well if it has a good deal of external storage, despite having little to no internal storage.

External Storage

blue vestibule on a tent outside

External storage is just as (if not more) important as internal storage. After all, you don’t want to keep your dirty boots, backpack, and other gear in your sleeping space, do you?

Vestibules are an extension of your rainfly, and they’re used to protect any gear you leave on the ground outside. They’re an effective way to keep the inside of your tent clean and dry, while providing a safe place for you to leave your less sensitive items.

Here’s the scale we use to determine storage scores:

10

A perfect score! It doesn’t get any better than this.

9.5

Excellent storage capacity

9.0

Very good storage capacity

8.5

Good storage capacity

8.0

Decent storage capacity

7.5

Poor storage capacity

7.0

Terrible storage capacity

Comfort Rating

inside of a blue tent black mesh

Our comfort score is a subjective assessment based on:

  • Peak Height
  • Door Size
  • Ventilation/Insulation

Camping is an inherently uncomfortable activity – at least when compared with your home setup. But that doesn’t mean you want to get rid of it altogether, especially when you’re car camping or glamping with the family.

While comfort is an inherently subjective concept, there are tent elements that always enhance the amount of comfort that anyone will feel.

Below are the specifics that we look for when making our assessment:

Peak Height

Peak height refers to the tallest point of a tent, which is usually located in the center. For example, if the peak height of a tent is 60 inches, that means there are 60 inches from the floor to the highest point of the ceiling.

Taller peak heights provide more vertical space, and in some tents, it may even be enough for campers to stand up comfortably. Naturally, having more headroom is a good thing (at least, in terms of comfort), so this is going to get a higher score from us.

Door Size

man sitting in a door of a tent outside

Similarly, the size, type, and shape of a tent door will contribute to comfort levels. Campers enter and exit their tents many times during the day, so having a door that’s easy to get through can be a major bonus.

Size is a good place to start, since larger doors will be easier to pass through. By nature, bigger tents will have bigger doors, which provides more overall comfort.

Type will also play a role, as there are some hinged-door tents out there that mimic the “open/close” motion that you’ll find with the doors in your home.

And finally, there’s style, which mostly comes down to “D” doors versus “T” doors. D doors are mostly found on backpacking and car camping tents, while T doors are pretty much the norm for canvas tents. We generally find T doors to be easier to move through, so we’ll score these a little higher than D doors.

Ventilation/Insulation

The balance between ventilation and insulation can greatly contribute to a camper’s sense of comfort. In hot weather, ventilation is key for staying cool and dry; in cold weather, insulation will help trap heat inside the tent. Both serve a purpose, and we’ll score a tent accordingly, depending on what season it’s meant to be used in.

Here’s the scale we use to determine comfort scores:

10

A perfect score! It doesn’t get any better than this.

9.5

Excellent comfort

9.0

Very good comfort

8.5

Good comfort

8.0

Decent comfort

7.5

Poor comfort

7.0

Terrible comfort

About Spencer Yeomans

About Spencer Yeomans

A lover of the outdoors, and especially the mountains, Spencer has always enjoyed pushing people to step outside their comfort zones. His adventures have taken him all over the world, and his travels have given him firsthand experience with countless gear items, including tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, harnesses, ropes, cooking equipment, and more.

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