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Illustrated Tent Terminology Guide

Do you find the jargon and terminology around camping and backpacking tents confusing? This handy illustrated guide helps demystify tent terms and technology, so you can find the tent that best suits your needs.

Eureka Timberline A-frame Tent
Eureka Timberline A-frame Tent

A-Frame Tent

Classic pup-style tent patterned after old army tents where the walls form an ‘A’ shape. Eureka makes a lot of tents in this style, including the classic Eureka Timberline tent.

Cabin Tents

Cabin styles tents have near-vertical walls that maximize the amount of interior space for occupants. They’re most commonly found on larger, freestanding car camping tents, like the Eureka Copper Canyon  6-Person Tent shown here.

Eureka Copper Canyon 6 Person Camping Tent
Eureka Copper Canyon 6 Person Camping Tent

DAC Tent Poles

DAC is the name of a company that specializes in making aluminum tent poles, which are bundled with many commercial tents. Aluminum tent poles are more durable and higher quality than shock-corded fiberglass tent poles, which break more frequently

Dome Tent

Dome style tents are shaped like domes and provide good interior volume for occupants, making them a very popular design for family camping tents. They are usually pitched using an interlocking, exoskeleton style tent poles that can help the tent withstand challenging weather conditions, including heavy winter snow loads.

An REI Dome Tent
An REI Dome Tent

Double Wall Tent

Double wall tents have an interior living compartment that usually has mesh panels or doors for ventilation (the inner tent) that are covered by a separate rain fly (the outer tent), and separated from one another by a wide air gap. They are designed so that internal condensation passes through the mesh of the inner tent and adhere to the inside of the outer tent/rain fly instead, keeping occupants and their gear dry.

The Big Agnes Seedhouse Tent is a double wall tent with an inner mesh tent and an outer rain fly.
The Big Agnes Seedhouse Tent is a double wall tent with an inner mesh tent and an outer rain fly.

Dual Apex Tent

Dual Apex tents have two points in their ceilings that help provide more headroom and more vertical walls that translate into more interior volume and comfort for occupants. The Zpacks.com Duplex Tent is a good example or a dual apex tent.

Zpacks.com Duplex Tent
Zpacks.com Duplex Tent

Fast Pitch Mode (or Minimalist Pitch Option)

Fast Pitch mode provides a way for hikers to pitch a double wall tent in the rain without getting the inner tent wet, which is a vexing problem with most double wall tents and usually requires the additional purchase of the tent footprint. Instead of pitching the inner tent first, hikers can set up the poles of a tent and rain fly first, attaching them to the guy lines of the footprint to keep them open. The inner tent is then hung under the rain fly, out of the rain. Tents like the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 can be pitched in Fast Pitch Mode.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 pitched in Fast Pitch Mode
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 pitched in Fast Pitch Mode

Freestanding Tent

A freestanding tent is a tent that will stand up by itself (with taut walls) without having to be staked down. freestanding tents are handy in winter since they don’t have to be staked out or if you have to camp on wooden platforms. True freestanding tents, like the Black Diamond Firstlight can be picked up with one hand and moved to another tent site without any reassembly.

Black Diamond Firstlight Tent - Single Walled and Freestanding
Black Diamond Firstlight Tent – Single Walled and Freestanding

Front Porch

Many family camping tents have a screened in front porch where occupants can sit during the day. These “porches” are typically floorless, but provide insect and rain protection, and make big tents more livable. like the LL Bean King Pine 4 tent, shown below.

Many family camping tents have a screened in front porch where occupants can sit.
Many family camping tents have a screened in front porch where occupants can sit.

Footprint

Tent footprints are large pieces of fabric that can be placed under the floor of tents in order to protect them from abrasion on coarse ground, including gravel or sand. They can also some in handy as an emergency rain fly if the roof of your tent develops a leak. While most tent manufacturers sell tent footprints, they’re often overpriced, and can be replaced with much less expensive pieces of Tyvek house wrap or plastic wrap, like the kind that you use to weatherproof windows.

Tent Footprint
Tent Footprint

Four Season Tent

The difference between a three season tents and a four season tents is somewhat vague, but four season tents are usually designed to withstand winter conditions with heavier snow loads and high velocity winds that can break lighter weight tent poles and fabrics. This is why most four season tents have bomber tent pole skeletons and solid fabric doors instead of ones that are mostly made of insect netting. A good example of a four season tent is the North Face Mountain 25 tent which has an exoskeleton pole structure and solid door panels.

North Face Mountain 25 Tent
North Face Mountain 25 Tent

Gear Closet

A gear closet is another term for a gear storage vestibule coined by Sierra Designs.

Gear Garage

A gear garage is usually an expanded vestibule that is large enough to store bulky gear. A good example is the front vestibule on the Big Agnes Super Scout UL2 Tent, which can be used to store touring bikes overnight and out of the rain.

The Super Scout UL2 Tent has a large front vestibule for storing bulky gear out of the rain.
The Super Scout UL2 Tent has a large front vestibule for storing bulky gear out of the rain.

Gear Loft

Gear lofts are usually sold as a tent accessory that can be hung below the tent ceiling. Usually made of mesh, they provide a place to dry wet clothing or position an overhead lantern.

Gear loft in a Kelty Salida 2 Tent
Gear loft in a Kelty Salida 2 Tent

Guy Out Loops

Webbing straps attached to the inner tent or tent rain fly that must be staked out when pitching the tent.

Jakes Foot

A Jakes Foot is a plastic ball and clip style guy out point on a tent that makes it easy to set up a tent and rain fly without a lot of extra tent stakes.

Jakes Foot
Jakes Foot

Internal Condensation

Describes the moisture and water droplets which accumulates inside a tent that can wet gear and clothing. Internal condensation is caused by moisture in the air or occupants exhalations, which are trapped when a tent is not well ventilated.

Line Locs

Plastic cord adjusters that eliminate the need to tie self-tensioning knots. They’re very useful for quickly eliminating sag in rain flies.

Line Loc (photo courtesy Yama Mountain Gear)
Line Loc (photo courtesy Yama Mountain Gear)

Mesh Panels

Tent walls or doors covered with insect netting to provide better ventilation and reduced internal condensation.

Minimum Trail Weight

Made up marketing term that describes the total weight of a tent minus tent stakes, stuff sacks, and tent documentation. It’s purpose is to give you an approximate weight of the tent so you can compare tents from different manufacturers, even though you can’t pitch it without stakes. (The weight of the tent stakes is left out since many people throw out factory tent stakes and replace them with better and lighter weight ones.)

Pole Clips

Plastic clips which connect a tent body to an external pole system.

Tent Pole Clip
Tent Pole Clip

Pole Hubs

Tent pole connectors which enable the creation of complex pole configurations, increasing the volume and livability of tent interiors.

Three way tent pole hub
Three way tent pole hub

Pole Sleeves

Sleeves on the outside of a tent that hold tent poles in place. These are often found on European tents like this Vaude Taurus.  Thought to be more durable than pole clips.

Vaude Taurus UL 2P w/ pole sleeves
Vaude Taurus UL 2P w/ pole sleeves

PU

PU stands for polyurethane. It’s a coating applied to tent walls and floors that makes them more durable waterproof.

Rain Fly

A waterproof outer tarp covering the inner tent and protecting it from rain or wind.

Open Rain Fly
Open Rain Fly

Seam Tape

Factory-applied waterproof tape which is applied over tent seams to prevent water from leaking onto a tent floor or through the walls.

Seam tape
Seam tape

Semi-Freestanding Tent

BS marketing term that tent manufacturers use to describe tents with poles that will stand up by themselves, but require staking of the inner tent and rain fly to fully stretch their walls and interior volume.

Single Wall Tent

A tent with only one wall, that doesn’t have a separate rain fly. Mainly found in ultralight tents, where solid fabric overhangs mesh, providing rain protection with superior ventilation to prevent internal condensation.

Tarptent Squall 2
The Tarptent Squall 2 is a single wall tent

Tarp Tent

Tents made by a company called Tarptent which used to specialize in single wall tents that just had one layer of fabric and mesh (see above). Tarptent also makes double wall tents with separate rain flies and inner tents even though they’re not single-wall tarp tents anymore.

Three-season Tent

Vague term used to describe non-winter tents that tend to have more mesh ventilation panels and are lighter weight than their four-season counterparts.

Trekking Pole Tent

Trekking pole tents can be set up using trekking poles instead of regular tent poles. They became popular on ultralight backpacking tents, but have now spread into mainstream tents like MSR’s FlyLite tent.

MSR FlyLite Tent
MSR FlyLite Tent

Tunnel Tent

Tunnel-shaped tents with excellent livability like this Hilleberg Keron 3 Tent.

Hilleberg Keron 3 Tent
Hilleberg Keron 3 Tent

Ultralight Tent

The definition of an ultralight tent is fairly vague. It usually refers to a tent that weighs less than 3 pounds, regardless of the tent style.

Ventilation

Refers to vents or mesh panels and doors that facilitate air flow through a tent and help cut down on internal condensation.

Vestibule

A tent vestibule is an unscreened covering, usually over a door that provides extra dry storage for tent occupants outside the main body of the tent, but under the rain fly. The MSR Nook 2P shown here.

The Front Vestibule provides a dry place to store a backpack.
The Front Vestibule provides a dry place to store a backpack.

 

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7 comments

  1. OK. I know you got into trouble here with the length of the post. Front Entry: Opening at the front, usually narrow, portion of the tent. Side Entry: On smaller tents, the side opens for entry. Some tents have two side entry doors. Internal Gear Loops: loops inside a tent to hang a light from. Internal Pockets: Often mesh, sewn into the lower portion of a tent for stashing small gear while sleeping. Storm Flap: Any extra fabric used to cover vents and zippers against rain. Zipper Pull: Often a piece of line attached to a zipper for easy pulling. Tent Architecture: the overall design of the tent.

    Materials: Silnylon – silicon coated nylon. PU coated – Polyurethane coated fabric. Polyester or poly fabric – water proof fabric that does not absorb water often used on less expensive tents. Ripstop fabric: every 30-50 threads a heavier thread is woven into thin fabrics leaving a grid like pattern used to stop tears. Cuben fabric: Internally reinforced double plastic film made into sheets, very light, very waterproof, but lacks abrasion resistance. Waxed canvas: Old school tent fabric with fair water resistance, heavy and rugged.

    Storm mode: Usually a lower pitch to resist wind. Storm lashing: Often extra stakes with criss-crossed lines over larger panels to prevent the panels from pulling out stakes in 40+mph winds and/or flapping. Tent Misting: condensation is knocked off from the interior portion of the tent resulting in a light mist, often confused with a tent leak or inadequate waterproofing of fabrics.

    I am forgetting a large number of other terms, no doubt. But, this is a bit of a help with your article.

  2. To me it seems that while Tarptent is the name of the company, the phrase “tarp tent” is now being used to describe tents made by a variety of companies that have a style that is intermediate between a tarp and a tent (a tarp with integrated walls (usually mesh) and floor. Admittedly vague term with some being more tent-like and others being more tarp-like in that tarp to tent spectrum. One could argue that this generic use of “tarp tent” devalues the company name Tarptent, but I do see it used in this generic way.

  3. “Semi-freestanding tent” — sounds like gear I used in college on the nights I was semi-freestanding.

  4. General thank you, Phillip, for compiling. Very helpful!

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