Types of Tents: A Guide to Understand the Benefits of Each

Camping has long been a popular way to escape from the drudgery of city life and spend some time in the great outdoors. For much of our existence, camping was a way of life. Many nomadic peoples would use portable structures akin to tents to provide shelter as they followed grazing herds or packs of animals they relied on for food.

As we became more sedentary, this time spent outdoors became less and less a part of our lives. Fast forward to modern times where the bulk of the population lives in urban areas and spending time in the wild is seen as a great getaway rather than an unfortunate fact of lifeways.

Camping really became popular after the founding of the U.S Forest Service and National Forest Service in the 1900s. This also coincided with the growing popularity of groups like the Boy Scouts and outdoors groups.

One of the quintessential parts of camping is the tent. There is evidence of portable structures akin to the modern tent in use by humans as long as 40,000 years ago. However, the modern tent was patented by Henry Hopkins Sibley, an American military man, in 1856. This original tent, called the Sibley tent, was cone-shaped and could fit as many as a dozen men at a time.

Tents have come a long way since Sibley’s time, and there are now tons of different types of tents that range from very basic structures to complex, large, and spacious tents that provide some of the comforts of home. Let’s take a look at the varied types of tents.

Types of Tents by Shape 

Dome Tents

Dome tents are a common type of tent and are likely the type of tent you picture when you think about, well, tents. This style of tent is simple in design and maximizes the amount of floor space you have inside the tent.

This type of tent is often constructed of two poles that cross each other at the top, leaving a large, rectangular floor space within the tent.

Dome tents can be simple or complex with vestibules and multiple rooms. People like dome tents because they are easy to assemble and are a stable design that can withstand the elements like wind better than some other shapes.

Cabin Tent

As the name implies, a cabin tent is a larger tent that often comprises multiple rooms. They are most often made from nylon or canvas since those materials are lightweight and durable.

A cabin tent most often has almost vertical walls, which provide for more headroom and allow people to move around inside the tent without needing to duck.

This style of tent can have a single, large room, or it may have a number of spaces that are separated by walls. This style of tent is often much heavier than dome or other styles of tent, so it isn’t really suited for backpacking or hiking. It is best for car camping.

Geodesic and Semi-geodesic Tents

You are likely to be less familiar with geodesic or semi-geodesic tents than the other shapes we look at here. A geodesic tent uses crisscrossing poles that intersect across various places on the surface of the tent to form stable triangles.

This shape is designed to handle extreme elements such as high winds and extreme cold. They aren’t as tall as many other types of tents, so you may have to duck, but this is intentional as it helps the structure to stay standing, even in extreme weather.

This style of the tent may be more difficult to assemble, but if you are camping in extreme weather, there is no better type of tent for the job. They are lightweight, so they are also well-suited to backpacking and hiking.

A semi-geodesic tent works on the same principle, but it utilizes fewer poles and suitable for camping in windy or cold conditions, but not the extremes that a geodesic tent is capable of handling.

Pyramid Tent

Pyramid tents, also often referred to as “mids” are a shape of the tent that is well-suited to hiking and backpacking due to their ease of assembly and lightweight.

The tent has a single high peak and solid walls, which make them very wind and weather resistant and thus a good option for people who are backpacking or hiking in places with high winds or the threat of inclement weather. The shape also makes them a great choice for camping in open spaces that don’t have much in the way of windbreaks.

The tent only requires one pole for assembly and there is usually just a single, large door for entrance and exit. Most often, this type of tent is used for single or double-person camping, but there are larger and more sophisticated pyramid tents that have more features and room.

Tunnel Tent

After the dome-style tent, the tunnel tent is the next most common type of tent used for camping. This type of tent is common for family-style tents or tents that are made to accommodate larger groups. Most often, a tunnel tent will have a large, single room that has high headspace so you don’t need to duck and tons of usable floor space.

Tunnel tents provide decent headroom and a lot of internal usable space. They are constructed from a number of poles that span the width of the tent and are stabilized with guy lines. This means they can better withstand wind and elements. This type of tent is one of the easier to assemble.

It should be noted that this type of tent is not recommended for extreme weather or places where high winds are common. They can handle average winds but aren’t constructed to withstand strong winds are often not stable enough for camping in this type of environment. They can keep out light rain, but they don’t handle heavy downpours well.

They are heavier than many of the other types of tents we look at here, so they are best suited for car camping, as they are too heavy for hikers to carry.

Types of Tents for Car Camping Trips

Car camping is a fun way to camp that lets you get outside but doesn’t require days of trekking through the woods with everything you need to survive strapped to your back. Car camping allows you to drive up to the campsite and set up your camp right there. There is no hiking or lugging equipment involved. This is a popular type of camping for families and those new to camping.

Pop-Up Tent

A pop-up tent, also referred to as an instant tent, is a tent that allows you to set it up in seconds, and doesn’t require you to assemble the entire tent.

This type of tent is great for those who are new to camping or who struggle to assemble traditional tents. They can be disassembled in as little as ten minutes and are excellent for backyard or family camping.

Since pop-up tents are essentially pre-assembled, they are heavy and aren’t suitable for hiking or backpacking.

Multi-Room Cabin Tent

A multi-room camping tent is a large structure that has multiple rooms and is a great way for families or groups to camp together. This style of tent gives you more headroom, more room to move around, and more usable space.

This type of tent may be more difficult to set up, as there are multiple rooms and oven vestibules and even hallways.

These tents are durable and versatile and make for either really comfortable two-person camping or a space that can accommodate a whole family or a group of friends. Since this type of tent is so large, it is also very heavy and thus only suitable for car camping.

Inflatable Tent

Often called air tents, an inflatable tent has many of the same benefits of a pop-up tent. They don’t require manual assembly and can often be put up in just a few minutes.

Rather than having solid poles for their construction, an inflatable tent has hollow poles that are filled with air to inflate and support the structure. This type of tent comes in a range of shapes and sizes, but due to its unique nature of assembly, it requires an air pump and is more expensive than other types of tents, but it does have the benefit of being incredibly easy to assemble and use.

Cartop Tents

This is a unique type of tent that utilizes your vehicle in its assembly. They are most often pop-up or roll-out tents that are at least partially held up by the roof of the car. The great thing about a cartop tent is that you don’t even need a camping ground to use this kind of tent. Anywhere you can park your car is a place you can set up camp with this type of tent.

You are off the ground with this type of tent so are better protected from pests or animal infiltrators and you can easily keep this tent set up even when you aren’t in it. This is a relatively new style of tent and is a great choice for people taking a road trip who want the ability to stop anywhere and take up camp for the night. These tents often come with ladders, making them easy to get into, even if you have a tall vehicle.

Types of Tents for Hiking and Traditional Camping

Some people love hiking and swear by more traditional camping. This is where you set out into the wilderness, often on a trail, and hike out to a spot to pitch your tent. Because this involves walking to the campsite, you are going to want a more lightweight and easy to assemble tent than you would for car camping.

Backpacking Tent

A backpacking tent is often a lightweight and basic style of tent that is meant to be easily carried on a hiker’s back. These are simple structures that don’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but provide quality, adequate protection against the elements. They are easy to put together and aren’t often very complicated in structure. A common type of backpacking tent is a pyramid-shaped tent that only requires a single pole to assemble.

Hammock Tent

A hammock tent is a unique, lightweight, and very portable type of shelter that is often used for hiking or backpacking. Like a regular hammock, this type of tent is most often set up between two trees.

The hammock tent provides an elevated sleeping area and often comes with mesh netting to help keep bugs and pests out. This type of tent is just as safe as a traditional tent, but it provides for a unique sleeping experience and is often a more compact and lightweight form of tent for those who are going on long hikes.

Bivy Tent

This is a very simple, one-person shelter that is incredibly lightweight and easy to carry. This provides very minimal shelter that provides you with light protection against the elements. These often do not come with any type of bells and whistles. Rather, it is a primitive and rustic form of shelter that is designed simply to keep you out of direct contact with the elements and gives you a more comfortable place to sleep in a sleeping bag.

Glamping Tents

It should be noted that just because you are spending time outside, doesn’t mean you can’t do so in comfort and luxury. There is a style of tent that is made for a more luxurious way of camping, which is called “glamping” or glamorous camping. These are larger structures that allow you to bring more of the comforts of home with you on your outdoor adventures.

Bell Tent

A bell tent is a classic design for portable shelter that can range widely in size, sophistication, and function. This type of tent is constructed from a single, sturdy support pole, giving the structure an a-frame shape.

The pole is connected to guy ropes for enhanced stability and structural integrity. This style of tent is most often made from nylon or polyester and is incredibly stable and durable. They are made from breathable material and can withstand light winds and rain, but aren’t well suited for extreme weather.

Frame Tent

A frame tent is a style of tent that has a rooflike structure, built from traditional tent poles, that holds up the top of the tent. This type of tent can be built very large, with multiple rooms or vestibules.

Frame tents are a solid, sturdy construction and are a great choice if you want to leave the structure up for long periods of time.

Since there are no center poles in this tent style, they have lots of headroom and are versatile in design. You can use this style for a tent with one, very large room, or a structure that has multiple rooms.

For those who want to enjoy some glamping, this type of tent will give you the room you need to bring many of the comforts of home with you to your outdoor experience.

Other Types of Tents

Some tents feature a unique design that doesn’t easily fit in the categories we’ve already reviewed.

Pod Style Tent

A pod tent is another relatively new style of tent that is perfect for group camping or people who want lots of usable space in their tents. This type of tent allows you to buy different pieces that are modular in design, so you can attach as few or as many rooms as you wish to use. This is a great type of tent for group camping and allows you to add on to the tent if more people want to come along.

Vis-a-Vis Tent

Most often found in dome or tunnel shapes, a vis a vis tent, as the name implies, was first used widely in France. This style of tent features a large central room that has enough headroom that you don’t have to duck while inside it.

From this central space will be one or two rooms that are meant for sleeping. The sleeping compartments most often face each other, hence the name of the tent. Most often, there will be one sleeping compartment on either side of the central room. They may have their own doors for added privacy or it may be more open in nature.

The main design of the tent provides a central area that is a large space with high headroom where campers can comfortably spend leisure time. The smaller sleeping compartments don’t have the high headroom that the central room features, but gives you plenty of legroom and space to spread out to sleep.

Materials Used for Tents

There is a range of different materials that can be used to make tents and what will work best for you will depend on your preferences, the environment you are camping in, and your budget. Let’s take a closer look at the most common materials used in the construction of tents.


Cotton is a natural fiber that has long been used in a wide range of applications. It is used for tents that are made to withstand things like cold and wind. Cotton makes excellent insulation, so it is a great material for tents that are made for cold-weather camping. It is also breathable and can absorb water, making it almost naturally water-proof.


Canvas is a very durable and versatile material that is lightweight and affordable to produce. It doesn’t have the water-resistance that other materials have, so this material is best used for camping in places where rain isn’t likely to be an issue.


Nylon is a man-made material and is one of the most commonly used materials to make tents. This is due to the fact that it is a durable and versatile material that is also inexpensive. It is lightweight, so it is often used in backpacking tents that need to be light as they are carried during hikes and the like.


Polyester is another very common man-made material that is used to make tents. This material is heavier than nylon but still very versatile, durable, and affordable. Since it weighs more, it is most often used in family or larger tents, as well as those designed for car camping.


Polycotton is a hybrid material that is a blend of cotton and polyester. It is used in tents because it is very durable and versatile. This material can withstand UV rays and also has the natural waterproofing qualities of cotton. It is lightweight and will stand the test of time, but it is pricier than tents made from other materials.

Wrapping Up

No matter the type or shape of tent you choose, or what material you prefer, camping is and will long be a fun way to relax and kick back in the great outdoors and get away from the drudgery of city and daily life for a few days.

A tent is one of the most important and fundamental pieces of equipment you need to have a good camping experience and there are tons of different types to meet your needs, preferences, the size of your group, and your budget.

Whether you want to have a full outdoors experience where you hike to a campground and use a very basic shelter, or you want to have a lot of living space and the ability to bring the comforts of home with you, there is a type of tent for you.

From simple, primitive tents that provide basic protection from the cold, to pop-up or inflatable tents that require little to no assembly, there are options that cover every style of camping, skill level, and the like.

When choosing the perfect tent for your camping needs, you will want to consider the elements you are camping in, how many people are camping with you, and how important it is to have added features and luxuries. The answers to these questions will help guide your ultimate choice.