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Dome tent vs. tunnel tent

What is the difference between these two types of tents and how to choose the one that suits you best?


There are so many tents from many different manufacturers and in dozens of different models, not to mention online shops. Prices start from a market versions of tens of euroes and go up to well over a thousand euros. So how do you choose the right tent for you? The choice might seem difficult, however, It is worth mentioning that there are not so many different types of tents on the market, and majority of selections is made of dome tents and tunnel tents. This makes it easier to understand the overall picture when you can narrow down the type of tent that is most suitable for you. If this gives you a bit of a headache at the start, you can rent a tent by contacting info@talesntents.fi and let us know what kind of trip you are planning, and we will look at the most suitable tent for you. But now let's get down to business and consider how to choose a tent for you in more detail.




Well, lets not make it this easy yet, there are also combinations of dome tents and tunnel tents, so-called hybrid tents, where the dome tent has a separate vestibule. However, in addition to the dome tent, tunnel tent and hybrid tent, there are a few other types of tent, such as the tipi tent, pyramid tent and these days less frequently seen ridge tent. In campsites you will see camping tents and pop-up tents suitable for camping sites. However, these are not suitable for hiking use.



This time we’ll focus more on dome and tunnel tents used for trekking, their usability, differences and where to start when choosing a tent for trekking. Many people know from experience that choosing a trekking tent is not always a simple matter and wonder whether one tent is enough for many purposes. Renting a tent is an option to try out different models and find the most suitable tent type and tent for you.


Dome Tent

A dome tent is identified by its self-standing shape and usually these have at least two crossing arches, which makes it easy to pitch. Depending on the model, dome tents are equipped with one or two doorways and a vedtibule or two. Dome tents are often made of an inner and outer tent. The advantage of this is that in hot weather some models can be used only with the inner tent, which makes them more comfortable to use. This is offered, for example, in the MSR Hubba Hubba model. Dome tents are also available in very low weights, starting at just over a kilo, ensuring lightweight portability. On the other hand, the lightness of the tent affects the durability of the tent in uncertain weather conditions and the different seasons when the tent can be used. However, this does not take away from the fact that dome tents are also used in mountainous conditions and in winter. The materials have more to do with the usability, than just the model of the tent.


The best thing about a dome tent is that it stands on its own and you don't always have to get pegs in the ground to pitch it. Here in the Nordics, it’s common to see a lot of dome tents in use in the archipelago by paddlers.


Tunnel Tent

Tunnel tents are distinguished from the dome tent by its tunnel-like shape. Tunnel tents are also longer than dome tents. Depending on the model, tunnel tents have two, three or four arches. The more arches, the more space, fabric and weight the tunnel tent has. The arches always come in line with the longer side, not crosswise as in a dome tent. More arches allow for more inner space and also more spacious vestibules than in dome tents. A good example of a spacious vestibule is offered in Helsport's Fjellheimen Superlight 4 Camp tent, which has three arches. Two-arch tunnel tents usually have a small vestibule and three arches allow for a very spacious vestibule, where you can also cook food. Winter tents, not just four season tents, usually have three or four arches, allowing for two vestibules and also two entrances. The advantage of two entrances, especially if the doorways are on different sides of the tent, is that one doorway is always sheltered from the wind. This can be seen in practice in the Hilleberg Kaitum 3 tunnel tent, which is a four season tent.

Currently, the tunnel tent is the most common tent choice in the Nordics and well known tent manufacturers such as Hilleberg, Fjällräven and Helsport come from the Nordic countries. Each of these manufacturers has both types of tent in their range. Tunnel tents from these manufacturers are very often seen on hikes in Finnish Lapland in fjells, although a dome tent is not necessarily a bad option in fjell conditions. The best thing about a tunnel tent is that it is weatherproof and can be used in very demanding conditions, which is why it is usually the first choice when heading to the North Pole.



Dome and tunnel tent pitching, usability and seasons

Pitching a tent

A tunnel tent requires more land to pitch and a dome tent can be pitched in slightly more packed spaces, thanks to its square shape. This is a good factor to consider when choosing a tent, for example when heading to southernmost national parks in the Nordics, where there may not be enough space for a tunnel tent. Dome tents are also easier to pitch on top of the wooden platforms that some of our national parks have on the tent sites.

Some of the dome tents require the inner tent to be pitched first and then the outer tent to be put in place. This makes the tent vulnerable to rain and for other wheather conditiona. In a tunnel tent, the arches are attached to the outer tent and the inner tent is then put in place when the tent is already standing. This ensures that the inner tent does not get wet, regardless of the weather.

Both tent options can easily be pitched in less than five minutes, once you have had gained some experience.


Windy conditions

For usability, both dome and tunnel tents can be used all year round, depending on the design and durability of the materials. The tunnel tent is suitable for the windiest conditions and the tent is pitched in the direction of the wind, whenever the conditions allows to do so. A dome tent can also be used in windy conditions, but the wind can grip the dome more easily and even take the tent with, it if the tent is not properly secured. However, this applies in very windy conditions, but it is good to bear this in mind, especially when pitching the tent when there is no weight inside to hold it in place or the pegs are not secured to the ground.

Three or four season tent

The shape and arches of a tunnel tent are more resistant to snow, as well as harsh winter wind gusts. The more durable three-season tunnel tents are also suitable for winter use, but it is recommended to choose a four-season tent or winter tent for use on winter trips. A winter tent is usually distinguished from a four-season tent by snow flaps, heavy weight and the possibility of using double arches. In this case, we can also talk about expedition tents, which in many cases are winter tunnel tents. Dome tents are also used in winter conditions, of which Helsport Reinsfjell Pro 3 Camp is a good example.


What to consider when choosing a tent?

First of all, it is good to consider the purpose for which the tent will be used for. Is your main outdoor activity hiking, fjellskiing, packrafting, cycling, or a combination of some of these?

Helsport tent and packrafts
Picture: Laura Tuomisto

For hiking in the open fells and for fjellskiing, a tunnel tent offers more versatility. In case of bad weather, the tent can withstand heavier use and the vestibule offers plenty of space for cooking, for example, when the weather outside can give you headache or play trick with your bladder.

For paddling, the self-standing possibility of the dome tent is a considerable advantage, as it can be pitched on rocks. The smaller packing volume may be the deciding factor also for packing a dome tent for a bike trip. A dome tent does not require to put pegs in the ground, and this is sometimes a challenge with a tunnel tent due to the soil or rocky terrain. However, these are only indicative factors of what different types of tents can be used for. After deciding on the tent type, usually the question of the weight and packing capacity of the tent comes into play. Dome tents are generally available in lighter weights and packing volumes than tunnel tents. There are also lightweight models of tunnel tents starting from two kilos upwards, of which Fjällräven Abisko Shape 3 is a good example. The lightest models have compromised on the durability of the fabrics, but otherwise these are extremely good options for three-season use. If you are heading out on to a bike tour, the packing capacity may influence your choice of tent. If you are carrying a tent in a backpack, you should consider how heavy backpack you are prepared to carry and where you are going. However, in autumn and more unexpected weather conditions, it is not worth compromising on the weight of the tent. In winter, it is best to pack a larger tent, as the volume of the inner tent is key for comfortability in winter, therefore weight nor the packing volume is not that big of a deal.


Testing and selecting tent types

When choosing a tent or type of tent, don't rush into it, but take your time to test out the different options and models to see which may be best suited to your needs. At the same time, it is worth bearing in mind the old rule that a two-person tent is most comfortable for one person and a three-person tent for two persons. A four-person tent will fit two people very comfortably, and three will be fine, but for four people, usually two tents is the more comfortable option, excluding camping tents.

To find your own tent, it's worth testing different tents and the table below shows the different tent options, weight, for how many persona the tent is suitable for, packing capacity and season for which they are suitable.

Tent

Persons

Weght

Packing volume

Water pillars

Seasons

Type

1-2

2,9kg

20x47cm

3000/6000mm

Three

Dome

1-2

1,75kg

15x46cm

1200/3000mm

Three

Dome

1-2

1,3kg minimipaino

20x40cm

5000mm

(pohja)

Three

Pyramid

1-2

2,7kg

18x42cm

3000/3000mm

Three

Tunnel

2-3

3,5kg

19x50cm

3000/5000mm

Three

Tunnel

2-3

2,6kg

16x41cm

3000/6000mm

Four

Tunnel

2-3

3,4kg

18x51cm

5000/15000mm

Four

Tunnel

2-3

3,8kg

23x40cm

3000/5000mm

Four

Dome

2-3

2,5kg

18x40cm

3000/5000mm

Three

Tunnel

2-5

8,8kg

24x65cm

3000/5000mm

Four

Tipi

How do I choose a tent?

It’s always depending on the purpose and circumstances, where the tent will be used. I generally prefer to use a tunnel tent for its volume. However, most often I pack a dome tent for kayaking trips at sea and in the summer heat, allowing for better ventilation.


Pyramid tent for rent
Picture: Maija Koskinen

I strongly recommend to come and test dome tents, tunnel tents, pyramid tents, tipi tents and their various models by renting a tent for your next adventure by sending an email to info@talesntents.fi


J-T

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