This article sets out to explain the different parts of a backpacking tent, different tent designs, and which tents are appropriate for which conditions. Most tents consist of four main parts, a footprint, the tent itself, and the tent poles. The footprint is a sheet of fabric with the same shape as the bottom of the tent. This prevents the tent from getting worn out by rubbing on the ground. The tent itself is made of a combination of mesh and fabric, and usually has two doors for access. Tent poles are most often made of aluminum, sometimes fiberglass or carbon fiber.

There are several types and classifications of tents. The most general distinction is between three season and four season tents. Three season tents are adequate for most outdoors enthusiasts. Four season tents are designed to withstand heavy rain, snow, and high winds. They accomplish this by having less (if any) mesh ventilation panels in the tent, and having extra poles to help the tent stand up. Four season tents are heavier than three season tents, and do not ventilate as well in hot, humid climates. Then there is the difference between free standing and non-free standing tents. Free standing tents do not need any guy lines or stakes in the ground to stand up. This is very convenient when you are putting up a tent by yourself. Non-free standing tents are trickier to put up, but they often save weight by having fewer poles. Most tents are of a double wall design. This means that there is an inner tent, usually mostly mesh for ventilation, and an optional waterproof cover called a rain fly. This provides excellent protection from moisture along with ventilation to prevent condensation. Single wall tents have only one waterproof layer – this saves weight at the cost of ventilation.

To choose the right tent, first ask yourself do you camp in the winter? If you do, you WILL need a 4 season tent. If you spend most of your time outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall, a three season tent will work just fine. If you spend most of your time car camping you don't have to worry about how much space your tent takes up or how heavy it is. Just pick out the biggest one with the coolest features! If you will be using your tent to hike into the backcountry you then have to balance features, price, and weight together. Very light tents (less than 4 lbs.) must sacrifice weatherproofness, interior space, or helpful features like being free-standing or having a vestibule. Usually all three are compromised to some degree. I feel it is worth carrying a heavier tent that will keep you dry and give you enough space.