Key things to consider when buying a tent

The crucial things for anyone when they're buying a tent are simple:

  • What do I want?
  • What do I need?
  • And, what does it cost?

But, to truly get a grip on that you've got to understand the different features, functions and technologies available to you.


Polyester, Nylon, 20D, 210T, PU Ratings… What does it all mean?

Well, that’s a pretty fair question. Firstly, I’ll walk you through the two fabrics we use in our tents, polyurethane coated polyester, and silicon infused nylon. In short, the polyurethane impregnated polyester is the cheaper alternative. It’s relatively lightweight, but not as durable as nylon. It'll keep you dry for a while, be light, and it will serve its purpose (basic construction being to a decent standard obviously). The other thing to consider with polyester based tents is that the PU or polyurethane coating has the potential to breakdown over time and with exposure to humidity and UV, reducing the waterproof quality of the fabric.

Silicon coated nylon however is a winner. It’s tougher, stronger and with its silicon infused fabric has a longer lasting waterproofing capability. The other benefit, particularly for winter campers is, the silicone infused nylon is a slipperier fabric. Snow tends to slide straight off it and heck, who wants to get back to camp after a day snow hiking or skiing to a collapsed tent?



naturehike cloud up 1 made with silver and maroon 20D silicon nylon NatureHike's Cloud UP 1 Man - SilNylon

The real question when buying your next tent is, what will you be using it for? Horses for courses, if you’re a fair weather camper who wants a lightweight tent at a reasonable price, polyester could do the trick for you. I took a new polyester tent on a 26,000km, 2 month trip across Australia camping the entire time. We had rain every evening for a week and a half without any issues whatsoever. (Not quite this wet...) 

Just checking out the Great Barrier Reef 

So, the ratings systems. PU, 210T, 20D…

Huh? Exactly. Now bare with me while I clear things up. A PU rating refers to the level of PolyUrethane (PU) impregnation of a fabric. If you see a higher PU, you should see a higher MM, which refers to the amount of water in millilitres that can be poured onto a piece of fabric within 24 hours before the waterproofing fails. It’s not gospel truth and most water leakage happens at seams however, this is a good indicator of a tents waterproofing qualities. The other thing to look out for is taped seams. Silicon taped seams play a large part in reducing seam leakage and improving the overall waterproofing of a tent.

What’s the D about? That’s what she said… Umm.. Anyway….

The D. It stands for Denier. A fabrics denier is an indicator of weight and durability and hence, often the footprint/base of tents have a higher D rating than the ceilings and sides. Makes sense right? At the end of the day, they’re the part of the tent interacting with the sharp, pointy bits!

What’s the T? You know those cotton sheets at home? The flash 1000 thread count ones? Same concept. The T represents the thread density of the fabric. The higher the thread count, the heavier, sturdier and stronger the material. The question to keep in mind is, how much do I want column A and how much do I want column B? (Weight, Strength)

Tell me about the stuff that holds it up and pins it down…

Poles, guy ropes and pegs. Generally speaking with modern tents, your poles are a pretty safe bet - mostly high grade aluminium or carbon fibre they’re sturdy, well-made bits of kit. The thing to consider here is, the number of joints in the pole. Not because more joints will make it weaker but because less joints will make your minimum collapses pole link longer. If you’re chasing compact, you’re chasing compact. The point of failure you can come across is more so with your pole joints/adaptors. Some of these are less sturdy and once they’re broken they’re a bit of a pain to repair or replace.

NatureHike Cirrus 2 - packed components


Ropes and Pegs. Kinda crucial when you’re headed off the beaten track. Again, our biggest observation here is picking the right tools for the job. If you’re camping across the African subcontinent with harsher, drier weather, you’re going to need sturdy, steel pegs irrespective of lightweight intentions. If you want the tent to stay in hard ground, you’ve got to have pegs that can get a bite. Across the wetter climates through a large swathe of Europe, lighter, slighter pegs are a smart choice. When we start talking snow, shovel nose pegs are the go.


When things get a little ropey, we start to look at a number of things, rope composition, slider/buckle design and material. The majority of new tents are coming with the same basic nylon/polyester cord. In our opinion, most are sturdy enough, the thing to be more concerned about is having enough guy ropes supplied and the buckle and clip designs or construction. There’s nothing worse than breaking a tensioning buckle on your first night of a week long hike! To prevent this, obviously try and buy a tent with a sturdy buckle system, store tents out of direct sunlight to prevent UV damage to both the tent fabric, fly and any plastic buckles. And, try not to be too rough!!!


Clip System on NatureHike's 2 Man Ultralight Silicon Tent

Clip System on NatureHike's 2 Man Ultralight Silicon Tent





A quick summary of terms:

Denier or D - How heavy is the material. Generally correlates with level of waterproofing.

T - Thread count. The higher the thread count, the less likely the material is to tear and also the heavier it will be. Too much of a good thing can make for a heavy bit of kit, too little, tissue paper tents don’t tend to last too long…

PU - Polyurethane. How much poly equates to how waterproof the coating on your tent fabric is.

MM - measure of waterproofing represented as how many MM can a tents materials encounter in 24hrs before becoming saturated and the waterproofing failing.

T - thread count. The higher, the heavier. Also, the higher the stronger and more durable.


If anyone has any questions or wants to get in touch feel free to drop me a line or shoot me an email. Otherwise, share, follow and like All Four Outdoors.



Sean Clanchy

Founder - All Four Outdoors 

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