Car Camping Tent – How to Choose

Thats me and my family trying out a new setup

Car Camping Tent – How to Choose

This is the second instalment in my Camping Tips for Newbies. Here I discuss Car Camping Tent options (as this will probably be the way you start out) and how to choose one.

In the first instalment I gave you a quick insight to the camping essentials to get you started.

In this article I am going to delve a little deeper into the first item on that list (tent) and how you should choose the tent that is right for you. Also for the purposes of this article, as a newbie, we are going to only cover tents that you would use for car camping, not necessarily hiking or wilderness camping

Choosing the Right Tent

Let’s first start with: –

Tent Material

This is a topic that inspires many a debate between campers.

Nylon OR Canvas?

I think the best option here is to point out the pros and cons of each type and then try and match it to your needs. Please note that the below comparisons are made with regard to the nylon and canvas tents being of the same sleeper size.

Category Nylon Canvas
Weight Light Heavy
Pack Size Small Large
Poles More Less
Assembly and Disassembly Easy Moderate
Water Proofing Excellent Excellent
Drying Ability Fast Slow
Breathability in Summer Less More
Warmth in Winter Less More
Cost Cheap Expensive
Longevity Short Long
Total Points in Favour 6 4

Some other points worth considering – and again I reiterate comparisons are made with regards to the same sleeper size. For this purpose let’s use a 4-man tent for 2 people as an example: –

Category Nylon Canvas
Head Room Low High
Floor Space Less More
Frills/Trimmings/Features More Less
Weekend camping Easy Moderate
Longer Camping Period Good Better
Camping Ability Beginner – Expert Intermediate – Expert
Fire Proof No Somewhat
Extreme Weather Camping Average Good
Total Points in Favour 3 5
Grand Total 9 9

So there we have it. It’s a TIE!!!! Nothing simple in this first choice is there? Ok, don’t stress out, let me put it to you this way rather.

As a newbie I recommend you start off with a Nylon Tent and for these reasons: –

  • Cheap
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to Setup and disassemble 
  • Great for short camping trips
  • Compact
  • Good beginner option
  • Lots of variety to choose from

Tent Size

As a beginner camper, we have chosen a nylon tent as your best option-Right? Right! Now we need to see what size will fit best for you and your crew.

You’ve obviously seen tents advertised as a 2 sleeper, 4 sleeper, 12 sleeper etc. This indicates the tent size that you should initially be looking at. HOWEVER, I recommend that, as a rule of thumb, you double it for your needs.

If there are just 2 of you then go for a 4-man tent. If there are 4 of you then an 8-man tent will be better. This is to give yourself comfortable room to move around in and space for your luggage too.

The way the tent label illustrates the number of sleepers is very ambitious – See image below.

Now there is no way I would be comfortable camping like this as a family of 4. I’d be happier in this size tent as a couple, giving us room for luggage and changing.

Tent Shape

In this discussion we will include ceiling height, as it has a major part to play in the tent shape that you choose.

For me, not being quite as young and agile as I used to be, I prefer a tent with a high ceiling, so I don’t have to get changed sitting on my bum and crawl around on my knees looking for things. Also because I camp with my family, most family tents have high ceilings as opposed to smaller tents, so this suits me perfectly.

Some common nylon tent shapes include: –

  • Dome
  • Tunnel
  • Geodesic
  • Cabin
  • Pyramid
  • A-frame

As a newbie fair-weather car camper I will recommend just 2 kinds of tent shape for you.

  • Dome – 2 people
  • Cabin – family

Dome Tent

Dome tents are one of the most common types of tents around. They are made up of two flexible poles that cross at the top of the dome and bend to be anchored to the floor on each of the four dome corners.

These are very quick and simple to setup and a 4-sleeper is ideal for a couple.

In the picture below you can see there is some good headroom, lots of ventilation and with the rain flysheet (once attached) will keep you nice and dry as well as cosy on the cooler nights.

Dome tent

Cabin Tent

Cabin tents are best suited for families, but saying that, if you really like to have some “legroom” as couple then these would be great for you.

They are made up of a number of different sized poles and be quite tricky to setup at first, but after the first time it’s a breeze.

They generally come with a couple of rooms/partitions and are good for cordoning off areas for sleeping and luggage. They are quite cheap and come in many different shapes and sizes to suit your needs.

These are definitely only fair-weather camping tents, but hey, that’s how we’re getting you started here, so all good.

In the picture below you will see that in a basic cabin tent there is sleeping section on each end with a living area in the middle that can be used to sit in on a rainy day or for luggage space. Also, there is lots of ventilation a large entrance, allowing for all-round comfort.

Tent Extras

Some extras are worth having in your tent, especially in a family tent where space and privacy becomes more important

Extras might include:

  • Awnings – mostly only good for shade
  • Extra panels  – create extra rooms or provide shelter outside the main tent vestibule
  • Screen rooms

You may not want, or even really know these features at time of your initial outlay on the tent, but do see what is available should you wish to buy any of them in the future. 

Remember you’re just starting out so don’t feel that you need to have everything right away. It’s always good to test out your setup before you realise what’s important and what you can do without.

Other Factors Worth Considering

  • Number of doors – 2 doors are ideal OR 1 very large door
  • Number of windows – important for ventilation in warmer climates
  • Storage pockets – keeps the tent less cluttered, and key items easy to find
  • Ceiling hooks – great for hanging lanterns – NO open flames please!!!
  • Flooring – family tents with a lot of traffic should have a decent ground sheet
  • Tent Floor Tarpaulin – adds longevity to the tent’s groundsheet

So there you have it! Hopefully these pointers in how to choose a tent will help you make the right decision and get you out there. Look at my Review of these two types of car camping tent suggestions

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will be happy to answer them.

Happy Camping Guys!!

Warm regards,


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