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.
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 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.
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 of higher quality than shock-corded fiberglass tent poles, which break more frequently
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 interlocking, exoskeleton-style tent poles that can help the tent withstand challenging weather conditions, including heavy winter snow loads. The REI Half Dome Plus is a popular dome style 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 adheres to the inside of the outer tent/rainfly instead, keeping occupants and their gear dry.
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.
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 HV UL 2 can be pitched in Fast Pitch Mode.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A gear closet is another term for a gear storage vestibule coined by Sierra Designs.
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 Copper Hotel HV UL 2 which can be used to store touring bikes overnight and out of the rain.
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.
Guy Out Loops
Webbing straps attached to the inner tent or tent rain fly that must be staked out when pitching the tent.
A Jakes Foot is a special guy out point on double-walled tents that makes it possible for the inner tent and rain fly to share the same tent stake because they clip or buckle to shared hardware. This makes it much easier to set up the tent.
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.
Plastic cord adjusters that eliminate the need to tie self-tensioning knots. They’re very useful for quickly eliminating sag in rain flies.
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. Its 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.)
Plastic clips that connect a tent body to an external pole system.
Tent pole connectors that enable the creation of complex pole configurations, increasing the volume and livability of tent interiors.
Sleeves on the outside of a tent that hold tent poles in place. These are often found on European tents like this Vaude Taurus. and made the tent more durable and wind worthy than tents that are secured to poles using clips.
PU stands for polyurethane. It’s a coating applied to tent walls and floors that makes them more durable and waterproof.
A waterproof outer tarp covering the inner tent and protecting it from rain or wind.
Factory-applied waterproof tape which is applied over tent seams to prevent water from leaking onto a tent floor or through the walls.
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.
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.
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.
Tunnel-shaped tents with excellent livability like this Hilleberg Keron 3 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.
Refers to vents or mesh panels and doors that facilitate airflow through a tent and help cut down on internal condensation.
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.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
I really appreciated this article! I chuckled at “Marketing Term” and “Vague Term.”