This is yet another item that has a pretty good range of prices and types available. However this is not one of those items where price necessarily equals quality. Similar to some items, more expensive tents might give you features you just don’t need. The two major decisions you need to make before going out and buying a shelter are how many people you want to fit in in and what conditions will you want it to withstand.
General Buying Advice:
Number of people (size) – Really think hard about how big you want it. If you often go tramping with a partner, or a dedicated group of friends, you might want to think about buying a 2-3 person tent, as you can all share the weight. If, on the other hand you often go tramping by yourself or with people you don’t know it’s probably better to buy a 1 or 2 person tent. A 2-person tent is probably the best balance between weight and versatility, as they aren’t too heavy to carry just yourself, lots of room for your gear or another person if you need to.
If possible, try and get the salesperson to set up the tent in the store, or have a look at a video of one online, this will give you a good idea about how big they really are inside, and whether they will be comfortable.
There is no standard measurements for how many people a tent can fit, so brand A’s 2 person tent might be the same size as brand B’s 3 person tent. This is why it’s worth trying to see one in real life.
Your tent is probably going to be one of the single heaviest items in your pack, so get one as light as possible on your budget, without compromising on the level of waterproofness you want.
Some people make a lot of the distinction between dome and tunnel tents. I don’t think there’s much there, as there are so many different tent designs that aren’t able to be easily sorted into either category. It was said that tunnel were better at shedding wind and dome tens were more spacious and free standing (able to be setup without pegs). I simply like to think that the more aero-dynamic the tent, and the more structural poles it has, the more wind it will resist; know what level of wind you want it to take, then find the most comfortable tent you can.
There are five main types of shelters:
Double-walled tents – these are what first comes to mind when you think of a tent, and are the most common type available. They have an inner tent made of bug-resistant mesh sewn into a waterproof floor, with a fly (the waterproof bit) over the top. The reason for this is to try and reduce the problem of condensation. The idea is that condensation will develop on the fly, and the net will absorb any drips.
Pros – less problems with condensation, warmer, lots of available options to choose from.
Cons – heavier than other options, less versatile than tarps.
Best for - camping in cold weather
Tarps – about the simplest form of shelter you can get, basically a rectangular piece of waterproof fabric with guy-lines, no floor and no bug net.
Pros – Extremely versatile, can set them up pretty much anywhere, very light, quick to set up, can often sleep a large number of people under them, can be set up with sticks or trekking poles.
Cons – not usually as weather proof as double-walled tents, not as warm, not bug proof.
Best for - camping in warmer weather when there aren't many bugs.
Tarp-tents (shaped tarps) – Sort of a cross between a tarp and a tent, they are basically the fly of a regular tent. So they have no internal bug mesh. They sometimes have a sewn in floor, sometimes not, and they sometimes have bug mesh sewn to the bottom.
Pros – lighter than double walled tents, more weather proof than tarps, lots of different options, often set up with trekking poles.
Cons – not as warm as double-walled tents, won’t be as effective at mitigating condensation issues.
Best for - camping when the weather isn't too cold.
Bivy-bags – One of the most basic types of shelter, basically a waterproof covering for your sleeping bag.
Pros – very light, easy to set up, very versatile.
Cons – some people find them claustrophobic, can’t take much if any gear in with you.
Best for - fast and light trips where you want to be able to sleep anywhere and when it isn't too wet. Combine with a tarp for more versatility.