What to Consider When Choosing a Screen Tent
While screen tents are an excellent addition to a backyard or campsite, not all of them have the same setup or serve the same purpose. Before choosing the best screen tent for your needs, there are a few key considerations that are helpful to know. Below are several of the most important factors to keep in mind while shopping for a screen tent.
Before deciding on a screen tent, think about how you intend to use it. Are you taking the tent on a camping trip or setting it up in a backyard? Are you primarily using it to keep bugs out, or does the tent need to serve as sun and rain protection?
If the screen tent is headed to the campsite, it needs to be lightweight and compact when collapsed with enough additional space for equipment and heaters (if required). There are plenty of models that fold down to the size of a large duffel bag, making them an excellent choice for stowing in a car trunk.
Also, look for heavy-duty screen tents with tightly knit roofs if they are intended for protection against UV rays or water. Be sure to check the product description for these types of screen tents to ensure they meet your specific needs.
Screen tents are available in a wide variety of sizes. Some are large enough to cover a picnic table and several chairs, while others offer just enough space for a small table and chair set. In general, most screen tents offer more than 6.5 feet of headspace.
If you have a big family or like to entertain, a larger screen tent is the way to go, and many of these measure 12 feet by 12 feet. While some oversized screen tents take more work to set up, other models require only one person to erect.
A variety of smaller screen tents for tighter spaces are also available. Some are not much larger than a traditional picnic table but still offer enough headspace to easily stand up and move around.
Frame and Canopy Material
The frame and canopy materials are worth some serious thought when choosing the best screen tent. Striking a balance between durability and reduced weight is key. Steel frames are incredibly strong and usually inexpensive, but they tend to be heavier than aluminum frames. As for the canopy, heavy-duty nylon is more durable than polyester, but it also comes with a significant weight boost (though both materials are easy to clean).
Some screen tents can also successfully handle the elements better than others, thanks to their wind- and water-resistant panels. Do keep in mind that water-resistant screen tents are just that: water-resistant. They are not waterproof. After a prolonged rain or thunderstorm, they will take on water, so don’t leave water-sensitive items in these tents for long during rainy weather.
At its core, a screen tent is just a tent: It offers shelter, so you need a way to enter the tent to protect yourself from insects and the elements. Whether you choose two flaps with magnetic closures or one zippered panel, how a screen tent opens and closes should be considered.
The easiest entryways to navigate are those with magnetic closures, but they’re often the least insect-proof and weatherproof. Zippered entries can be difficult to manipulate one-handed, but they do help to ensure unwanted pests aren’t able to pass through to steal food or leave a mess. Regardless of the entryway style, many screen tents feature convenient tiebacks to hold the screen open when you want to pass through freely.
Most screen tents aren’t for sleeping as much as for relaxing, dining, and other activities requiring plenty of headroom. For that reason, most options offer comfortably tall openings, so the height of the entryway is rarely an issue.
The location where you’re planning to kick back and relax has a serious bearing on choosing the best screen tent. A large tent that might be a bit heavy or difficult to carry is fine if it’s just a backyard getaway. However, taking the festivities off-grid requires a screen tent with some serious portability chops.
For portable screen tents, being lightweight and being compact are two essential characteristics. As mentioned earlier, some screen tents can be packed down to the size of a large duffel bag—a real benefit for car camping and other scenarios with limited space.
As far as weight, look for a screen tent that weighs enough to remain safely grounded in a breeze but is not so heavy that one person can’t carry it. The sweet spot might be around 40 to 50 pounds. Lightweight models are great for transport; just be sure to invest in spikes if they aren’t included with the tent.
If you’re concerned about looking like an old-timey cartoon character tangled in ropes, poles, and mesh during setup, it’s understandable. Some screen tents are downright impossible for one person to assemble on their own. However, there are plenty of options that allow for easy setup and breakdown, even for one person.
Some tents feature accordion-style supports and telescoping legs, and they set up in an instant with a little bit of help. Others with pop-up wire frames are simple to expand but don’t offer much support in wind or rain. Screen tents with the most convenience and durability are usually constructed with collapsing panels that users can just pull from the center to set up.
There are plenty of additional features or add-ons that can make a screen tent even more enjoyable. Many tents feature solid panels that lower to offer shade or privacy, providing more flexibility on where to set it up. Also, overhanging roof flaps and outward extending bottom flaps allow rain to drip off and away from the tent.
Most screen tents are open to the ground beneath them, making them lightweight and easy to fold up. These models are simple to install over a picnic table or even a hot tub. Still, many people decide to place a screen tent over a tarp or a rug to limit dirt, debris, and mud. If that sounds like too much hassle, consider a model with an attached floor. Just beware that it won’t pack down as compactly and can be more difficult to clean.
Now that you know a bit more about purchasing the best screen tent, there might still be some lingering questions or concerns. Read on for several of the most frequently asked questions about screen tents, and be sure to check for your answer below.
Q. Why do most screen tents not have a floor?
There are a few reasons screen tents don’t have floors. First, they’re often placed over the top of items like a patio set or a picnic table. Second, the open floor means less fabric and less mess, making them lighter, easier to set up, and easier to clean up.
Q. How do I set up a screen tent?
Every screen tent—or screen house—sets up a bit differently. For those with accordion-type supports and telescoping legs, it’s helpful to extend the legs before pulling the corners away from each other until you can push up on the center support and lock the tent in place.
For standard tent-style screen tents, lay the tent flat on the ground, right side up. Assemble the poles and slide them across the roof from corner to corner. Start on opposite corners, and slide the pole ends into the corner pockets until the tent takes shape.
Wire-frame tents simply pop open or unfold until they take shape.
Q. How long can I expect my screen tent to last?
A screen tent can last up to 10 years if properly cared for. Keep the tent clean, dry the tent before storage, and don’t leave it under sap-dripping trees like pines.
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Tom Scalisi is a freelance writer specializing in the home design, construction, tools, and automotive industries. He has been involved in the trades for over 15 years as both a contractor and a commercial building mechanic. In addition to his professional life, Tom enjoys getting outside on his mountain bike, camping, beekeeping, and fishing. Tom is also an avid racing and baseball fan. He lives in NY’s Hudson Valley with his wife, their three children, and three dogs.