Most Boy Scouts use tents at their primary shelter. They are versitle and offer a degree of safety for the occupant. But there are different shelters that should be considered based on the activity. This page should provide some of the shelter alternatives, providing the common advantages, and disadvantages, of each. This provided general guideance but does not provide a full comprehensive list of all the options on the market.


Cabin Tents

Great for campers that want lots of space and want to use cots. These type of tents are common at Boy Scout summer camps and are used by alot of families during car camping adventures. They can range in material construction: canvas, nylon, etc and are always heavy.

Dome Tents

The most popular tent on the market today. They are versitile, roomy, and provide good protection for the camper. Favorite amongst those that car camp and do family camping. These are always freestanding and vary in price. The less expensive tents are generally heavier and are constructed of materials that either are heavier or have a shorter life span.

Ridge Tent or A-frame Tents

These tents are either 3-season or 4-season tents, depending on their construction. They can be free standing or non-freestanding. They have less head room and are generally less roomy than a dome tent but can be lighter weight because there are fewer poles.

Geodesic and semi-geodesic

These tents are 4-season tents. Heavy because of the large number of poles and more fabric. They are designed to stand up to high winds and severe weather.

Bivy Tent

A designed to be lightweight and generally for one person only. They are always non-freestanding and have one or two poles only. Sometimes they are refered to as "hoop" tents because there are one or two hoops that create the tent. They are small: not for those that might be claustrophobic. They provide all the protection of a tent.



Differs from the bivy tent only in that it does not have any poles. It is an exterior liner that goes around the sleeping bag and pad to provide water and bug/animal protection. Some have a mesh at the face to reduce condensation within the bivy, which is a common problem with most bivy shelters.


Camping/hiking hammocks are usually made of parachute nylon material with rope that supports the hammock from trees or rocks. You can purchase for your hammock a rain fly and bug net to make it versitile in just about any situation. Alot of people complain about getting cold, especially your butt area as it is where the blood pools (sometimes referred to as "cold butt"). Those that use hammocks alot spend the money get get under quilts that suspend under the hammock to insultate the occupant better. Always remember to get the tree saver straps or wrap the tree with something to protect it from ropes. You don't want to damage the tree!


Tarps can be an inexpensive, or expensive, approach to protecting yourself from the elements. Most consider tarp camping as "roughing it" but is a proved shelter for more ultralight campers. Most tarps include cord/rope, some stakes, and poles. The poles can be hiking sticks or manufactured poles developed for a particular tarp product. The tarp itself can be an inexpensive plastic tarp or can be more expensive material (Silnylon, Cuben Fiber, Poly orTyvek ). The more expensive tarps are generally lighter and more compact. Canvas was used as the go to years ago, but is generally not used no for personal camping because of high weight and maintenance to keep it waterproof and mold free.


  • Lightweight
  • Compact
  • Versitile. Adjustable for different weather conditions and different purposes.
  • Low Impact. The shelters footprint is very small


  • No protection from bugs or animals
  • Limited protection from wind
  • Not a stand alone shelter.
  • Does not provide privacy.

Buying a Shelter/Tent?

Ask yourself the following questions. A tent should be chosen based on the user and how it is going to be used.

  1. Sleeping capacity?
    • Most people, unless you are looking to reduce weight, get a tent that is one occupant over the intended use (2 occupant use 3 person shelter) to add room for gear in the tent and livability.
  2. How much do you want to spend?
    • Higher cost usually means better material quality and lower weight.
  3. What season are you using the shelter going to be used (winter or spring/summer/fall)?
  4. Users?
    1. How tall are they?
    2. Do they claustrophobic?
    3. Do they like to rough it or do they like their luxery?
    4. Backpacking or car camping?

3-season tents are what most tents are on the market. They are designed for spring, summer and fall, but can be used in winter. Most 3-season tents have alot of mesh fabric to help reduce weight and improve breathability (reduce condinsation). 3-season shelters can be used in snow, but the camper has to build snow walls around the outside of the tent to exceed the height of the rainfly. This is to prevent snow from getting blown under the rainfly and into the tent through the mesh. During heavy snows, it is advised to wake up occassionally to knock the snow and ice off of the shelter walls (reducing weight on the tent). If your in high winds, look for a sheltered location to protect your shelter.

4-season tents can be used during all seasons: spring/summer/fall/winter, but it primarily designed to be able to withstand high winds and ice/snow loads. Because of these harsh weather condition designs, there are more poles and stonger, solid shelter wall materials. 4-season tents are usually single walled tents and have very limited or no mesh. This makes the shelter heavy.

Free Standing Tents

1. Support comes from included tent poles

Freestanding tents are supported by a number of poles included with the tent.

Pros: Easy to assemble, re-orient and remove interior debris (just shake it out!).

Cons: Difficult to replace poles if damaged, can increase overall weight of tent.

2. Dual-wall construction

Freestanding tents usually have a dual-wall construction, which consists of the tent itself and the rainfly cover.

Pros: Nylon mesh interior and polyester rainfly exterior provide a good ventilation system. Interior condensation is less likely to form.

Cons: The need to add the waterproof rainfly after setting up the tent makes it more likely for things to get wet during assembly in the rain. The dual-wall system can increase overall tent weight.

3. Structure does not rely on staking the tent

A freestanding tent is structurally sound on its own without the need for stakes and guy lines. Stakes are often used to secure the tent to the ground and to create the vestibule, but guy lines and stakes aren't necessary to the build of the tent.

Pros: Fast and simple assembly. The tent can be used on ground that is difficult to drive stakes into.

Con: Might not hold up as well in conditions with strong winds unless staked in.

Non-Free Standing Tents

1. Support can make use of trekking poles

Often, non-freestanding tents come with poles but give campers the option to use trekking poles as a substitution. Sometimes trekking poles are required in addition to poles.

Pros: Trekking-pole substitution decreases overall tent weight. Trekking poles are easy to replace if damaged.

Cons: Trekking poles must be purchased separately. Adjustable trekking poles can have a tendency to slide down throughout the night.

2. Single-wall construction

Non-freestanding tents have a single-wall construction, meaning the tent does not require a rainfly for waterproof protection.

Pros: Tent interior is less likely to get wet during set-up in the rain. Single-wall construction decreases overall tent weight.

Cons: Might not ventilate as well as dual-wall tents. Interior condensation is more likely.

3. Must be staked for structure

Non-freestanding tents rely on guy lines and stakes to be structurally sound; they can't stand fully taut on their own.

Pro: When staked correctly, non-freestanding tents hold up well in high winds and poor weather.

Con: Properly staking a tent can require extra know-how and practice, especially on hard or rocky ground and soft or sandy ground.