Choosing a tent for emergencies

There are extremely light tents for backpacking, but you’re not backpacking. If you evacuate and you need to stay in a tent, you’re going to be there a few days, with all your gear. Space counts in this situation. 

Pick the right size tent

The size of a tent is described as how many people can sleep in a tent, laying side by side. Since no one in your family will sleep all night without moving, and you don’t want your stuff outside the tent, I would always get a tent that can hold at least one or two people more than the size of your family.

Understanding tent designs

The tent design is an engineering wonder. There are dome, cabin, a-frame, tunnel, and instant pop up tents. You want something easy to put up by two people, and is freestanding, meaning it does not rely on tent stakes to stay up. 

The dome and cabin styles are preferable because they are freestanding, meaning they will stay up without any stakes in the ground. The cabin tents have more room inside, but are generally considered a 3-season tent while the dome tents are great in even the worst weather. There are some really creative pop-up or instant tents which are super easy to set up, but stay away from anything too heavy or too gimmicky, like inflatable tents.

Besides privacy and protection from wind, the most valuable aspect of a tent is protection from rain. There are water resistant tents, but generally a rainfly is the critical feature for keeping water out. With the rainfly off you’ll get more fresh air and a view of the stars. When it looks like it may rain you’ll want to be able to get your rainfly on quickly. Sometimes there’s an in-between that’s tricky. With the rainfly on the tent could be extra warm and toasty, or stuffy. Make sure there’s good ventilation and you like the design of your tent with the rainfly on in warm weather.

Tent stakes

All tents come with tent stakes, but these may not be best for the ground where you will be camping. Tents generally come with either lightweight hook style stakes or fatter plastic pegs. They’re both sturdy enough, as long as you can push them into the ground. You may want to pick up reliable stakes better suited for your ground such as galvanized steel, screw, or a sturdier tri-beam style stake.

Think about a tent vestibule

Finally, look for tents with a vestibule. This could be either an extra overhang from the tent fly, or a second room for stepping into the tent. This is truly the difference between roughing it and glamping. A good vestibule is a place to store your gear, especially wet gear. It’s a great place to stop and remove your shoes before entering the sleeping quarters. It’s a place to hang out while other people are sleeping. Choose this feature carefully to get extra comfort and style points.

What can you do right now?

Tents are the kind of thing that you can't truly understand the features you love until you spend a few nights outside. Go to a camping store and poke your head into a few tents to see what you think about different features. They're a little expensive, but not a major purchase. Buy a tent, go camping, even if it's in your backyard. Think about what would be nice, and buy a nicer tent in a year or two.