Aluminum tent poles are light and useful on diverse terrain. These poles usually have an elastic material that connect the poles together making you setup and take-down much easier. Most mid-range priced tents will use aluminum.
Fiberglass poles are cheap and light and commonly used in low-end tents. Fiberglass does’t have the durability nor perform as well as aluminum and with age will begin to crack under stress.
The rainfly is the waterproof covering the tent canopy that protects you and your gear from mother nature. A rainfly that is adequate in coverage will provide exceptional protection of the inner canopy. The image to the right demonstrates a rainy that provides adequate coverage. When the rainfly is on the tent there is no part of the inner canopy mesh that is exposed.
Many tents have loops sewn on to the rain fly that allow you to attach guy lines to ensure that the fly is taught. Using guy lines during windy conditions will keep the rainfly from flapping in the wind and help keep the tent secure to the ground. Floor:
The floor of the tent should be comprised of waterproof material. The material should extend up the side wall a few inches. Look for a floor that does not have a seam in the middle. No seam in the floor means there is no place for water to seep in during those rainy nights. Again the picture to the right is a solid example of floor design
Ground Sheet/Footprint: This is nothing more than a piece of waterproof material(plastic or nylon) that is cut to the size of the bottom of your tent. Do you really need a ground sheet? No you don’t but using a ground sheet does have some added benefits. The ground sheet helps protect the floor, adds another waterproof barrier and keeps the floor from becoming dirty and stained. You don’t need a fancy expensive groundsheet/ footprint under your tent. A simple piece of plastic works quite well.
Stake Loops: In each bottom corner and along the sides of your tent loops should have been sewn into the floor to secure the tent to the ground. Some brands of tents use aluminum loops to connect the tent poles, which also serve as stake loops. Regardless of the type of loop, they should be large enough to accommodate a variety of stake sizes.
Stakes: WOW, there are some pretty cool tent stakes out there!!! I like the one that uses a drill to put the stake into the ground! Now back to being serious. Your tent may come with aluminum, titanium or plastic stakes. Aluminum and titanium are both light and effect for most conditions. PMags has a nice informative piece about tents stakes and using a big ass rock to pound tent stakes into the ground.
Mosquito/No-see-um Netting: No-see-um netting provides excellent protection against no-see-ums and other insects, while basic mosquito netting is only effective for mosquitoes. The down side of No-see-ums netting is that air flow is restricted decreasing ventilation. The end result can be a stuffy hot tent.
Does the vestibule have a two-way zipper or is there a window that you can open to improve ventilation? The ability to open the vestibule or a window at night helps create some air circulation and decreases or eliminates condensation inside your tent.
Vestibule: Tent vestibules provide extra space for your gear. Think of the vestibule as a front or side entry where you can take your boots off, leave your pack, stash your rain coat and keep your important gear from getting wet and muddy and provide more room in the tent for sleeping and cooking.
Fabrics: If you are purchasing as tent for backpacking then you want to look a two materials. Nylon and Dyneema (Cuben Fiber). These are the lightest materials on the market, but both have pros and cons to consider. Go to Walmart and you will find tents with a Polyurethane coating. These tents will work for car camping for the short term, but really don’t have a very long waterproof life because the coating will break down through hydrolysis.
Nylon: You will often see a reference to the denier. Denier simply put is referring to the thickness of the fibers that make up the fabric. Keep in mind that the larger number you see for the denier, the heavier and stronger the material. These fabrics are usually silicone treated for water repellency. Although the seams are often sewn with a waterproof tape it is still worth the time to seal the seams. When wet the fabric will stretch so you may need to re-tighten guylines.
Dyneema (Cuben fiber): First off this material is very expensive. The trade for the expense is a significant reduction in the weight of the material. Additionally dyneema doesn’t stretch when wet.
So you thought that you would just go out an buy a tent did you? There is really a lot of considerations before the purchase. Hopefully these features and the anatomy I have addressed will help you to make an educated choice that will last a lifetime of use.