A tent (/tɛnt/ ( listen)) is a shelter consisting of sheets of fabric or other material draped over, attached to a frame of poles or attached to a supporting rope. While smaller tents may be free-standing or attached to the ground, large tents are usually anchored using guy ropes tied to stakes or tent pegs. First used as portable homes by nomads, tents are now more often used for recreational camping and as temporary shelters.
A form of tent called a teepee or tipi, noted for its cone shape and peak smoke-hole, was also used by Native American and Canadian aboriginal tribes of the Plains Indians since ancient times, variously estimated from 10,000 years BCE to 4,000 BCE.
Tents range in size from "bivouac" structures, just big enough for one person to sleep in, up to huge circus tents capable of seating thousands of people. The bulk of this article is concerned with tents used for recreational camping which have sleeping space for one to ten people. Larger tents are discussed in a separate section below.
Tents for recreational camping fall into two categories.
The second type are larger, heavier tents which are usually carried in a car or other vehicle.
Tents were used at least as far back as the early Iron Age. They are mentioned in the Bible; for example, in Genesis 4:20 Jabal is described as 'the first to live in tents and raise sheep and goats'. The Roman Army used leather tents, copies of which have been used successfully by modern re-enactors. Various styles developed over time, some derived from traditional nomadic tents, such as the yurt.
Most military tents throughout history were of a simple ridge design.
By World War I larger designs were being deployed in rear areas to provide shelter for support activities and supplies.
Tents are used as habitation by nomads, recreational campers, soldiers, and disaster victims.
Tents have traditionally been used by nomadic people all over the world, such as Native Americans, Mongolian, Turkic and Tibetan Nomads, and the Bedouin.
Armies all over the world have long used tents as part of their working life. Tents are preferred by the military for their relatively quick setup and take down times, compared to more traditional shelters. One of the world's largest users of tents is the U.S. Department of Defense. The U.S. Department of Defense has strict rules on tent quality and tent specifications. The most common tent uses for the military are temporary barracks (sleeping quarters), DFAC buildings (dining facilities), field headquarters, Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) facilities, and security checkpoints. One of the most popular military designs currently fielded by the U.S. DoD is the TEMPER Tent. TEMPER is an acronym for Tent Expandable Modular PERsonnel. The U.S. military is beginning to use a more modern tent called the deployable rapid assembly shelter or DRASH. It is a collapsible tent with provisions for air conditioning and heating.
Camping is a popular form of recreation which often involves the use of tents. A tent is economical and practical because of its portability and low environmental impact. These qualities are necessary when used in the wilderness or backcountry.
Tents are often used in humanitarian emergencies, such as war, earthquakes and fire. The primary choice of tents in humanitarian emergencies are canvas tents, because a cotton canvas tent allows functional breathability while serving the purpose of temporary shelter. Tents distributed by organisations such as UNHCR are made by various manufacturers, depending on the region where the tents are deployed, as well as depending on the purpose.
At times, however, these temporary shelters become a permanent or semi-permanent home, especially for displaced people living in refugee camps or shanty towns who can't return to their former home and for whom no replacement homes are made available.
Tents are also often used as sites and symbols of protest over time.
Tent fabric may be made of many materials including cotton (canvas), nylon, felt and polyester. Cotton absorbs water, so it can become very heavy when wet, but the associated swelling tends to block any minute holes so that wet cotton is more waterproof than dry cotton. Cotton tents were often treated with paraffin to enhance water resistance. Nylon and polyester are much lighter than cotton and do not absorb much water; with suitable coatings they can be very waterproof, but they tend to deteriorate over time due to a slow chemical breakdown caused by ultraviolet light. The most common treatments to make fabric waterproof are silicone impregnation or polyurethane coating. Since stitching makes tiny holes in a fabric seams are often sealed or taped to block these holes and maintain waterproofness, though in practice a carefully sewn seam can be waterproof.
Rain resistance is measured and expressed as hydrostatic head in millimetres (mm). This indicates the pressure of water needed to penetrate a fabric. Heavy or wind-driven rain has a higher pressure than light rain. Standing on a groundsheet increases the pressure on any water underneath. Fabric with a hydrostatic head rating of 1000 mm or less is best regarded as shower resistant, with 1500 mm being usually suitable for summer camping. Tents for year-round use generally have at least 2000 mm; expedition tents intended for extreme conditions are often rated at 3000 mm. Where quoted, groundsheets may be rated for 5000 mm or more.
Many tent manufacturers indicate capacity by such phrases as "3 berth" or "2 person".
Tent used in areas with biting insects often have their vent and door openings covered with fine-mesh netting.
Tents can be improvised using waterproof fabric, string, and sticks.
List of traditional types
- Bell tent
- Dome tent
- Lavvu, Sami tent
- Nomadic tents
- Sibley tent
- Tarp tent
- Wall Tent
There are three basic configurations of tents, each of which may appear with many variations:
Single skin (USA: single wall): Only one waterproof layer of fabric is used, comprising at least roof and walls. To minimize condensation on the inside of the tent, some expedition tents use waterproof/breathable fabrics.
Single skin with flysheet: A waterproof flysheet or rain fly is suspended over and clear of the roof of the tent; it often overlaps the tent roof slightly, but does not extend down the sides or ends of the tent.
Double skin (USA: double wall): The outer tent is a waterproof layer which extends down to the ground all round. One or more 'inner tents' provide sleeping areas. The outer tent may be just a little larger than the inner tent, or it may be a lot larger and provide a covered living area separate from the sleeping area(s). An inner tent is not waterproof, but allows water vapour to pass through so that condensation occurs only on the exterior side. The double layer may also provide some thermal insulation. Either the outer skin or the inner skin may be the structural component, carrying the poles; the structural skin is always pitched first, though some tents are built with the outer and inner linked so that they are both pitched at the same time.
- A flysheet or rain fly (found only in double skin tents) is used to protect the actual tent from water. A flysheet is waterproof on the outside and also provides a surface to collect condensation on the inside, which then runs down to the ground. When a flysheet is used, it is important that there be no contact with the inner tent it is protecting; this keeps the inner dry. 'Expedition' tents often have extra poles to help ensure that wind does not blow the two layers into contact.
- The inner tent comprises the main living and sleeping area of the tent. For double skin tents, the inner tent (often mesh) is not waterproof since it is protected by the rain fly. For single skin tents, the inner tent is often made of waterproof-breathable material that prevents liquid water from penetrating the inside of the tent, but still allows water vapour to be transported out.
- The vestibule (they can be plural) is a floorless covered section located outside a tent entrance that is typically used for the storage of boots, packs, and other small equipment. Vestibules are often used for activities that are preferably not performed within the tent itself, such as cooking or equipment cleaning. Vestibules may be included as a removable attachment or integrated into the tent itself. Vestibule size varies considerably, ranging from extended areas with more surface than the inner tent down to practically nothing.
- A groundsheet is used to provide a waterproof barrier between the ground and a sleeping bag. With double skin tents, the inner tents normally have a sewn-in groundsheet, but a separate flat groundsheet may be provided for any living area. With single skin tents, the groundsheet may be sewn in or separate. Normal practice with sewn-in groundsheets is for the groundsheet to extend some 15 cm (5.9 in) up the lower part of the walls (sometimes called a 'bathtub' arrangement); this copes with a situation where water seeps under the side walls of the tent. Separate groundsheets allow load-sharing when backpacking, and may make it easier to pitch and strike a tent, but they provide less protection against insects etc. getting into the sleeping area; also, if any part of a separate groundsheet protrudes from under the side walls, then it provides a ready path for moisture to flow into the tent.
- The poles provide structural support. They may be collapsible for easier transport and storage. Some designs use rigid poles, typically made of metal, or sometimes wood. Other designs use semi-rigid poles, typically made of fiberglass, or sometimes of special metal alloys. Another pole type uses inflatable beams as the structural support. Some tents, particularly very lightweight models, actually use hiking poles as their structural supports.
- Stakes (or tent pegs) or screws may be used to fasten the tent to the ground. Some are attached to guy ropes that pull outward on the poles and/or fabric to help shape the tent or give it additional stability. Others are used to anchor the bottom edge of the fabric to the ground. Pegs may be made of wood, plastic, or metal. A mallet may be needed to drive thicker pegs into the ground. Skewer metal pegs consisting essentially of a length of thick wire with a hook on one end can usually be inserted by hand, except if the ground is very hard, but may not be as strong as more substantial pegs. Pegs used for guy ropes should not be driven vertically into the ground; instead for maximum strength they should be driven in at an angle so that the peg is at right angles to the guy rope attached to it. Lighter free standing tents may need some guy ropes and pegs to prevent them from being blown away.
- Air vents help reduce the effects of condensation. When people breathe, they expel quite a lot of water vapour. If the outside of the tent is colder than the inside (the usual case), then this vapour will condense on the inside of the tent, on any clothing lying about, on the outside of a sleeping bag, etc. Hence ventilation helps to remove the vapour, although this may let in cold air.
- An optional tent footprint or groundsheet protector may be used. This is a separate flat groundsheet (tarp) which goes underneath the main groundsheet, and is slightly smaller than that groundsheet. The intention is to protect the main groundsheet, especially when camping on rough terrain, since it is much cheaper to replace a separate footprint groundsheet than it is to replace a sewn-in groundsheet.
Many factors affect tent design, including:
- Financial cost The least expensive tents tend to be heavier, less durable and less waterproof.
- Intended use Backpacking, lengthy duration for carrying the tent. Weight and size are the most crucial factors. Touring, high frequency of pitching and striking the tent.
- Camping season A tent required only for summer use may be very different from one to be used in the depths of winter.
- Size of tent The number and age of people who will be camping determines how big and what features the sleeping area(s) must have.
- Number of sleeping areas Larger tents sometimes are partitioned into separate sleeping areas or rooms.
- Tent color In some areas there is a move toward reducing the visual impact of campsites.
- Setup effort Some styles of camping and living outdoors entails quick setup of tents.
- Weather conditions A tent can be more or less able to cope with cold weather or rainy conditions.
Shelters are not normally used for sleeping.
- A fly
- A gazebo
- A beach tent is often a simplified form of dome tent and provide a useful (relatively sand-free) place to temporarily store beach equipment, but is at most showerproof. Some beach tents use specially treated fabric which is opaque to ultra-violet light, and so provide some protection against sunburn. Maximum height is typically about 120 cm (3.9 ft), and they are usually not large enough for an adult to lie down in.
- A fishermen's tent is also a modified dome tent, often with a projecting awning high enough to sit under, but sometimes with no closable doorway.
With modern materials, tent manufacturers have great freedom to vary types and styles and shapes of tents.
- The poles effectively hold the tent in the required shape.
- Poles which dismantle for ease of transport are either colour-coded or linked by chain or cord, so there is little doubt as to which poles connect where.
- Relatively few guy ropes are needed (sometimes none).
- The exact positioning of any guy ropes is not too critical.
Many tents which use rigid steel poles are free-standing and do not require guy ropes, though they may require pegs around the bottom edge of the fabric.
- Frame tents are double-skin tents. They have a living area and one or more cotton/nylon/polyester inner tents. The outer tent is draped over a free-standing steel frame, and may be made of canvas or polyester (the latter often has a hydrostatic head of 3000 mm, i.e. three season camping). The living area is generally at least as large as the sleeping area, and there may be a specific section with window and extra air vents for use as a kitchen. The walls are nearly vertical and are typically about 150 to 180 cm (4.9 to 5.9 ft) high. The center of the gently sloping roof is often 210 cm (6.9 ft) high or more and provides reasonable headroom throughout. The smaller 2-person models were less than 3 metres square (10 ft), but these have largely been replaced by dome or tunnel tents. The larger 8-person models may exceed 5 metres (16 feet) in length and/or width.
- Cabin tents are single-skin tents used mainly in the USA. They often have nylon walls, polyester roof, and a polyethylene floor, plus an awning at one or both ends. With a hydrostatic head of only 1000 mm, they may best be considered as summer tents. Removable internal dividers allow the cabin to be split into 'rooms'. Sizes may range from 13 ft by 8 ft (2 rooms) up to 25 ft by 10 ft (4 rooms), with wall and roof heights similar to those of frame tents. There are three separate pole units, with each unit consisting of two uprights and a connecting ridge. These pole units support the centre and ends of the roof, and are usually outside the tent.
- Pop Up tents, sometimes appearing hyphenated as pop-up tents, are very easy to use and to carry. Perfect for professional campers who want to spend the smallest time in pitching the tent.
- Wall tents are the largest and most accommodating canvas tents available. They are very popular with hunters and backcountry campers. Wall tents provide lots of room space, as well as more than enough head space which allows people to move about freely inside the tent without crouching or bending over. This type of set up is great for those who spend a lot of time in their tents, as well as for those who need extra space for cots, tables, stoves, etc. Also known as outfitter tents.
- Spike tents are smaller and lighter than wall tents and so they are easier to pack and lighter to haul, they are a good choice if weight is a main concern for you and if you do not have a lot of people sleeping in one tent. Spike tent frames vary in size and style but are almost always lighter than wall tent frames. Also known as wigwam tents.
- Range tents are similar to spike tents in their shape and size, except range tents usually do not have side walls at all. They resemble a pyramid type shape and are often referred to as pyramid tents. Range tents can either be set up with a bi-pole system that goes on the outside of the tent, or they can be set up using a single frame pole which goes in the middle of the tent on the inside, and they can also be set up by tying the top of the tent to a hanging tree branch. Also known as teepee tents.
Flexible poles used for tents in this section are typically between 3 and 6 metres (9.8 and 19.7 ft) long.
- Dome tents have a very simple structure and are available in a wide variety of sizes ranging from lightweight 2-person tents with limited headroom up to 6 or 9-person tents with headroom exceeding 180 cm (5.9 ft). These may be single wall, or single-wall with partial flysheet, or double wall. Depending on the pole arrangement, some models pitch outer-tent first, while others pitch inner-tent first. The former helps keep the inner tent dry, but the latter is easier to pitch.
- Tunnel tents may offer more usable internal space than a dome tent with the same ground area, but almost always need guy ropes and pegs to stay upright. These are almost always double wall tents. Sizes range from 1-person tents with very limited headroom up to 8 or 10-person tents with headroom exceeding 180 cm (5.9 ft).
- Hybrid dome/tunnel tents are now common. One variation is to use a basic dome as the sleeping area; one or two hooped poles to one side are linked by a tunnel to the dome to provide a porch. Another variation is to use a large dome as the living area, with up to 4 tunnel extensions to provide sleeping areas.
- Single-hoop tents use just one flexible pole and are often sold as light-weight 1 or 2-person tents. These are the modern equivalent of older style pup tents, and have the same feature of somewhat limited headroom. Different styles may have the pole going either along or across the tent.
- The pop-up tent is a recent innovation. This type of tent is equipped with built-in very flexible hoops so that when the tent is unpacked, it springs into shape immediately, and so is extremely easy to set up. Such tents are usually single-skinned and are generally aimed at the one-season or children's end of the market; their high flexibility makes them unsuitable for use in windy situations. After use the tent is packed down into a thick disc shape.
Inflatable pole supports, also known as airbeams, serve as rigid structural supports when inflated but are soft and pliable when deflated.
Much like a bicycle tube and tire, airbeams are often composed of a highly dimensionally stable (i.e. no stretch) fabric sleeve and an air-holding inner bladder.
- Dome tents that use inflatable airbeam support are available in a variety of sizes ranging from lightweight 2-person to larger 6+ person shelters, and are virtually identical to the arrangement of flexible-pole supported dome tents. Beams are usually integrated into the tent shell such that they do not have to be reinserted every time setup occurs. Airbeams can be located on either the inside or outside of the tent shell. Similar to the pole-supported construction, airbeam supported dome tents are free standing but should be staked out with pegs and guyout lines to increase stability and strength.
- Tunnel tents are a common form of airbeam supported tents because their size can be easily modified by adding additional hoops. Military applications use this style of tent for a range of purposes including medical shelters, helicopter enclosures, and airplane hangars. In these constructions, hoops are generally identical in size. In commercial airbeam supported tents, the hoops can be different sizes. Tunnel tents tend to withstand high winds well because of their low profile shape. However, the tents are not freestanding and must be anchored and guyed out securely.
Older tent styles
Most of these tent styles are no longer generally available.
All the tents listed here had a canvas fabric and most used a substantial number of guy ropes (8 to 18).
- A pup tent is a small version of a ridge tent intended for 1 to 3 people. It usually has a rectangular floor of size ranging from 4 ft by 6 ft up to 6 ft by 8 ft, and ridge heights ranging from 3 ft up to 5 ft. Larger versions have side walls, usually about 1 ft high. There are guy ropes for each pole. Versions with sides add guys at each corner and in the centre of each side. These guy ropes help to maintain the required shape. Earlier versions had a single upright pole at each end, while later versions often have two poles at each end, arranged rather like an 'A' shape, in order to make access easier. Some models have a horizontal ridge pole joining the tops of the end poles to support the centre of the tent. Many armies issue pup tents as shelter halves, with each soldier carrying half a tent in his field gear, so two soldiers together can pitch a tent and share it.
- A ridge tent or wall tent can sleep 5 to 8 people or more. They usually have a rectangular floor of size ranging from 8 ft by 10 ft up to 16 ft by 20 ft, and ridge heights around 6 ft to 9 ft. The side walls are usually about 3 ft high. They normally have a single upright pole at each end with the tops joined by a horizontal ridge pole. Longer models might have an additional upright pole in the centre to help support the ridge pole. They often have two guy ropes at each corner, and guy ropes every 2 ft along the sides. If strong winds are expected then two additional storm guy ropes are attached to the top of each pole. Ridge tents are often used by hunters and outfitters as they will accommodate several persons, their equipment and related gear. Many can be equipped with wood stoves for heating and cooking. There are several manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada that make wall tents that have foot prints of greater than 220 square feet. The canvas of wall tents may be treated for water, mildew and fire retardancy.
- A square centre-pole tent was often used for family camping in the first half of the 20th century. Despite the use of 9 poles and 12 guy ropes, such a tent could be pitched by an (experienced) family of four in some 10 to 15 minutes. These tents had a square floor of size ranging from 8 by 8 ft up to 15 by 15 ft. There were poles about 5 ft high at each corner and in the middle of each side, and a 10 ft or 12 ft pole in the centre – the walls were vertical and the roof was pyramid-shaped, so there was plenty of headroom over most of the tent.
- A Sibley tent (bell tent)
Marquees and larger tents
These larger tents are seldom used for sleeping.
- A marquee is a large tent used as a temporary building.
- A pole marquee consists of canvas and more recently PVC, under tension by means of centre poles, side poles and guy ropes which are attached to ground stakes hammered into soft surfaces only such as a lawn or field. Hand made of white cotton canvas, traditional poled marquees are more attractive but much less practical and versatile than aluminium frame marquees. The modern PVC traditional pole marquee was introduced due to the material being easier to clean than woven canvas and giving them a longer hire life span.
- A tension tent is a newer variation of the pole marquee. The general design is similar to the pole marquee. However, it usually has fewer poles, and the integrity of the structure is maintained by the tension of the fabric. It also is very similar to a tensile structure It is often used for outdoor weddings, parties and other events. It has been adapted and updated in various other tent types including the High Peak Frame Tent and Freeform / Stretch / Flex Tent styles developed in South Africa
- Freeform / Stretch / Flex Tents have developed since 2000 driven predominantly by companies in South Africa and in Australia.
- Aluminium frame marquees – Aluminium frame tents have no centre poles or guy ropes.
- A newer category of the Marquee/Party tents is the High Peak Frame Tents (known by several brand names like "frame & cable", "vista", "pinnacle", "Century" etc.). These tents have the advantage of the pole tents with the high top, ease of installation, cleaner look, and fewer parts.
- Marquee tents typically have interchangeable parts, which allow for a rental company to easily expand to larger sizes.
- Shamiana is a popular Indian ethnic tent shelter, which is commonly used for outdoor parties, marriages, restaurants etc. Its side walls are detachable. The external fabric can be multicolored or can hold exquisite designs. The history of Shamiana, dates back to the Mughal era. As per Government of India service tax rules under Finance Act 1997, the definition of Shamiana is given under the clause (77A) of section 65, that is: "pandal or shamiana means a place specially prepared or arranged for organizing an official, social or business function".
- "Bail Ring Tents" are usually tents that are 100 to 150 feet (30 to 46 metres) wide and expandable to any length.
- The four Major golf tournaments have tents set up.
- Tents or marquees are often hired from specialist companies.
- A "Rubb Hall" is a large tent used primarily as emergency warehousing.
- A circus tent usually has one or more oval or circular arenas surrounded by tiered seating which might accommodate thousands of people. Nowadays such large tents are made of some artificial fibre (polyester or vinyl) and are often erected with the help of cranes. In earlier times it was common for the circus elephants to be used as a source of power for pulling ropes to haul the canvas into position.
- Spiegeltent, a Belgian tent constructed in wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass, intended as an entertainment venue
Influence on building design
Tent design has influenced many large modern buildings.