I love camping! There's something about sleeping in a field that works for me. Early memories of holidays without parents in north Wales, a farm by the sea and, my, how tents have improved since those days.
Apart from the obvious benefit of life in the fresh air, close to nature and all that, camping is a cost-effective way of taking a much needed break from the daily grind, spending time with friends and family in a unique environment, an investment in your physical and mental well being.
So... Tents. Assuming your camping holiday is on a campsite with toilets and showers, communal washing up and food preparation areas, and is in the Easter to Autumn holiday period, in the UK.
There is a massive choice of tents on offer these days.
Family tents : Dome tents, where the poles cross over each other are very stable, they offer flexible designs which can incorporate 'bedrooms' off a central area which can be used as a 'living room', and can be used for cooking or communal activity. It has been known to rain on occasion in this country so a bit of sheltered space can be a real advantage.
Tunnel tents, as the name suggests, tend to be designed on a longitudinal floorplan and give good headroom but need to be well pegged out with guylines, they are not free standing and can be less stable.
Both styles should have a waterproof outer skin and a breathable inner tent, usually in the form of 'hanging bedrooms' which are attached inside the outer, after it has been set up.
The bedrooms will have a sewn in groundsheet which is waterproof and normally has a side wall of around six inches, also waterproof, just in case your pitch becomes a puddle. The 'door' will be a zip entry and could have a mesh layer to keep the flying thingies out! You can usually buy a 'footprint' groundsheet which fits the shape of the tent, and can be used to add protection to the tent's fitted groundsheet, put it under the groundsheet.
Tent manufacturers, in my opinion, tend to underestimate the amount of space a real family needs to be comfortable, so if possible go up a size i.e. a six person tent will be a good size for a four person group.
Try to visit one of the stores where you can see the tent and walk around in it, check the seams, double stitching for strength, fibre glass poles are common and are fine, but alloy/steel poles are stronger and lighter (but more expensive). Ripstop mesh in the tent material will stop small tears becoming gaping holes, but, again, costs more. Are the poles colour co-ordinated to help with erecting it after a long journey and the family wanting to get to the beach, and you looking forward to a cuppa?
Smaller tents: Two or three person tents, backpacking tents, festival tents; also a large selection available at very cheap prices. Essentially same thoughts about these tents when buying your first tent. You can also still get the traditional ridge tent e.g. the Vango Force Ten, my first 'proper' tent, the triangular shape still used as the symbol for campsites throughout the world, and now retro tents like teepees are coming onto the market, I've even seen a tent that looks like a VW Campervan!
Bear in mind the size issue, the quality of materials and manufacture as above, weight could be an issue so consider alloy poles, and you won't be standing up either, so how's the back these days?
There's nothing to be afraid of here, it's a lot of common sense and not being afraid to ask for help and advice, gradually you will build up your own ideas and preferences. At Catstycam, The Outdoor Shop we carry a selection of smaller tents and lots of camping accessories and, of course, we are happy to advise.
When you have made your choice and bought your tent, try putting it up and down a couple of times before you venture out on your first trip, get a feel for it and make sure the pegs and poles are all present and correct!
Next thing you need to think about is what you need to do to make your tent a comfortable home from home.
But that's for another day.