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Tents | What to know | Sales tipsPhoto courtesy of Messe Friedrichshafen. © anja köhler |
November 2015

What tent customers

want to know

What are consumers concerned about when purchasing tents? CARIN HARDISTY asked retailers what questions their customers have when buying tents and what elements in a tent are important to them

Consumers are a curious lot who ask many questions when in-store — both informed and those with seemingly obvious answers. No matter the level though, these questions give a retailer insight into what his customer is concerned about and what interests him about the product he is considering buying.

To find out what goes through the minds of consumers when buying tents, Sports Trader asked outdoor retailers to complete an online survey* based on their experiences with customers when selling tents.

There are two main groups of customers who either look for camping tents for families or one or two people, and those looking for hiking tents. Even though these retailers sell to different types of tent customers, the consumers unknowingly share common interests with regards to their needs when selecting a tent.

No matter the type of tent being bought, the size is the most important aspect for their customers. After all, if too small the consumer won’t be comfortable. After size, customers are concerned about the waterproofness, the weight and the price of the tent.

To a lesser degree, they also value the shape of the tent, the material of the fabric, frame and poles, and the ventilation.

Family camping

Most of their tent sales fall in the family camping category, more than two thirds (69%) of our retail respondents indicated.

“But families doesn’t necessarily mean that they include kiddies as well,” says a buyer for Outdoor Warehouse. “Our family tents are particularly popular with couples as they like the more spacious tents with different compartments that keep the sleeping area, kitchen and packing space separate. Couples also see buying a family tent as an investment into future family planning.”

Customers shopping for tents at Dirt Road Trades are either families or couples seeking a one- to two-person tent, “it is a 50/50% ratio,” agrees Boysee Mhlongo.

Different rooms inside the tent, is one of the most important requests they receive from customers — the number of separate rooms inside the tent play a big role in its perceived value, the buyer adds. “Customers like to separate the bedroom from the kitchen and the packing area, so removable room dividers add value.”

Younger couples or groups of friends will generally choose a dome tent, because it pitches easier and is generally more compact, says Mhlongo.

“Cabin style tents boast more head room and you can utilise more of the floor space due to the almost vertical walls. These vertical walls come at a price though: their poles generally need to be made of steel due to the rigidness required, which makes the tent heavier and bigger when packed.” But, family campers don’t necessarily want the biggest possible tent. Will the tent still fit on a normal camping stand? is a question George Thom of Outdoor Geek hears from his family camping customers.

The family camper tends to travel with a vehicle to a campsite and is therefore less restricted by the packed weight and size than other types of campers. He does, however, still need to fit the packed tent into the vehicle.

“Customers concern themselves mostly with the packed size and weight relative to the pitched size, as this will affect the holiday packing ritual,” says the buyer. “Customers with a sedan tend to be more cautious.”

Family and 1-2 person campers also want to take some luxuries with when camping. This includes items such as stretchers. Can a stretcher fit into this tent; not just a mattress? is not an uncommon question from customers, says Diane Jones of PackRat.

Not only do stretchers take up more space than a mattress, they are also more hard wearing on the floor of the tent. Consumers want durable flooring that can handle wear-and-tear, she adds.

Hiking tents

Almost a quarter (23%) of respondents mostly sell tents for hiking.

Hikers are more inclined to be interested in the aerodynamics of the tent’s shape, says a retailer who wishes to remain anonymous. A dome tent will be more aerodynamic than a cabin. Due to the shape, most hiking tents are lower in height than camping tents, Ricky Gericke and Rowan Sarakis of Trappers Cresta point out.

A hiker, biker or cycle traveller, for example, will also be concerned about size, but at the other spectrum: he wants to travel small and light.

“If the rolled up tent is too long, it won't fit into the motorcycle pannier bags or in the backpack,” Pattenden points out.

Hikers want their tents as light and compact as possible, because they’ll have to carry it, says Gericke and Sarakis, but, “a hiking tent without space for a backpack is not ideal. Size all depends on how many people will need to share the tent. Our highest selling hiking tents range from 1-2 persons, while our leisure tents are usually big and heavy, as most people go for a 4-6 person tent.”

The weight plays a crucial role for a hiker. “This determines the decision to buy or not,” says Duncan Pattenden of Orca Industries.

Space is comfort

Consumers are interested in the space available for people and gear, how much space the tent will take up when it’s packed up for storage or transport, as well as the space it will take up when pitched.

“People always ask about the dimensions for travel and carry purposes,” says Mhlongo.

“Like most things in life, bigger is better,” says the buyer. “Customers tend to ask for a tent according to its man size rating.” The bigger the tent, the more space there is to be comfortable in, he explains.

“It’s important for our customers to be able to stand up inside the tent,” Jones points out.

All good things have to come to an end at some point and with camping that entails packing up the tent. To make the act of packing up and storage easier, customers want to know if the tent comes with a carry bag as well as the size of this bag, she adds. It’s important for consumers that the bag is a decent size. “Even family campers want to know if the tent is easy to lug around.”

Withstand the elements

Waterproofness is one of the factors that play a role in determining if the tent is used a second time. But, when told about the water column rating, not all consumers necessarily understand what this is, or how it works.

“After explanation, they will generally still ask OK, so is this tent’s water column good or bad?,” says the buyer.

This, however, doesn’t mean that they don’t want to know more. The vast majority, about 80%, of their customers ask what the tent’s rating is, says Mhlongo.

Most family campers just want to know if the tent is rainproof, says Roger Wood of Massdiscounters. But, the higher the water column rating, the better for family campers, says anonymous retailer one. “5 000ml should be the standard.”

Their 1-2 person campers want to know what their options are in the event that the tent does leak, and if it can be fixed, says the second anonymous retailer.

Hikers want a tent with a good water column rating, says Gericke and Sarakis. “For camping tents it doesn’t play as big a role, but the tent still needs to be able to withstand a good rain.”

“Factors like the tent’s shape play a large role in the water column rating,” The buyer points out. “A dome tent with a 1 000mm water column will be less likely to leak than a cabin tent with a 2 000mm water column, because the design does not allow the water to be in contact with the tent for a long time.”

The flooring has to tick several boxes with customers. For example, family campers want to know if the flooring is built-in, says Thom.

The flooring should also be able to keep water out. Her family camping customers want to know about the height of the bath, says Cindy Powell of Durban Campworld. “Is it high or low and will it prevent water from coming in over the entrance?” Also, is the flooring waterproof? adds Mhlongo.

A footprint — a smaller, lighter version of a groundsheet — will protect the hiking tent’s thin bath, adds Pattenden.

Value for money

Price is one of the most important considerations for consumers when buying a tent, and they will shop around to find the best deal.

The notion of getting value for their hard-earned money is very important to consumers, explains Wood.

The price must fit the purchase and its perceived value. “People always ask about the best possible price, but at the same time they want quality products,” says Mhlongo. They will, however, pay for quality, adds a second anonymous respondent.

“As with any other product in any department, price is always a fair question with regards to the value received,” says the buyer. “Qualities like zips, inner tent quality, ventilation gaps, warranty, spares availability (this is a big issue), etc. need to be taken into consideration when buying any tent.”

Consumers know that a tent with better quality fabric, for example, will cost more money, says Powell. They do, however, also take into consideration how often the tent will be used before making the monetary investment.

“If the customer feels they get a tent worthwhile for the amount spent, they are happy” says Gericke and Sarakis. “We inform the customer as far as possible about every detail on the tent. Hiking tents, due to being as light and compact as possible with a high water column rating, are usually higher priced than camping tents.”

In the end, you get what you pay for, adds Pattenden. “Tents made under license from the East are generally better than most cheap imports from there. If in doubt, I recommend tents from a well-known brand.”

Keeping cool

When it comes to questions about ventilation, family campers want to know how many windows or doors there are, says Powell. They also want to know if there are doors on both the front and back of the tent, adds Jones.

Consumers even want to know if the temperature can be self-regulated, says the second anonymous retailer. It’s especially their 1-2 person campers who ask this.

“Ventilation is generally only an issue with family camping tents,” Gericke and Sarakis found. Two, three and four season tents are made with ventilation in mind, adds Pattenden.

The shade cover, which also helps to keep things cool, is one of the least important features of the tent for their customers, the respondents indicated.

It also only a factor for campers, says Gericke and Sarakis. Typically, family campers want to know if the shade cover is built-in or separate from the main tent, and if it is replaceable, says Jones. Her customers also want to know if they need additional poles for the patio area.

The size of the stoep area is of interest to 1-2 person campers, reports the second anonymous retailer.

Mhlongo’s customers never ask about ventilation. This is common among family campers: they often only think about ventilation once they are suffering due to a lack of it … while already camping. This can potentially put them off a second camping trip — a retailer should therefore also be ready for the questions that the customer is not asking.

Tent fabrics

Campers also want to know if the fabric of the tent is fungus resistant as well as if it’s durable and made of ripstop material.

“Ripstop is generally the choice of most tent manufacturers,” comments Pattenden, who adds to beware of “cheap manufacturers as the urethane coating suffers from short term delamination”.

The materials used in the fabric, frame and pole are equally as important to consumers as the shape of the tent. “Most of our customers ask about the type of material used, as well as its weight,” says Mhlongo.

Family campers want to know if the tent will be able to withhold the wind and rain without the seams ripping, adds Jones.

The fabric will also play a role in temperature inside the tent. “Customers want to know if the tent is cool in the summer,” says Powell. “They also want to know how heavy the fabric is.”

Outer cover

“The outer cover is very important,” says the buyer. “It also impacts on what the price of a tent will be. Standard camping tents use a nylon threaded material — different brands have different ratings on the thread count and thickness of the threads. Thicker and more threads mean better durability, but heavier weight and a bigger price tag.”

Family campers also want to know if the outer cover can be replaced, if needs be, says Powell, who adds that her customers also enquire about how the cover is attached: is it built in or separate from the main tent structure?

Can the outer cover withstand the wind and rain, and can it be tied down? Jones’ family campers often ask of her. The outer cover is the part with the water column rating that actually matters, says Gericke and Sarakis.

Is the cover heat resistant? is a question the second anonymous retailer’s 1-2 person campers ask.

Hikers want to know whether they should go with a nylon or polyester outer cover, says the first anonymous retailer. “Nylon is far more durable and breathable.”

“You also find canvas tents, which are the old army material kind of tents,” he continues. These materials can also be found in different qualities: pure polyester or a polyester and cotton mix. The best way to measure the quality of a canvas tent is in the weight p/m2 of the material. Generally this info will be provided by the store in grams.”

Set up

While it is common knowledge that tents require assembly, the degree of difficulty of that assembly is a key factor for consumers. “Campers want a tent that can be assembled as quick and as easily as possible, especially for kids,” says Gericke and Sarakis.

When her family camping customers ask about the shape of the tent, they are actually also concerned about how many people it will take to set it up and how difficult it will be, says Powell.

They want to know if the tent is easy to pitch, as well as how long it will take to pitch it, adds Thom.

It should be safe to say that the fewer the people the tent sleeps, the fewer people there will be to set up the tent. It is therefore understandable that Mhlongo’s 1-2 person camping customers would want to know how many people the tents require to set up.

“Pop-up is a huge advantage for campers when it comes to time taken pitching a tent,” says the buyer. “Because of their unusual way of folding back up again, however, frustrated campers tend to bend or break the poles.”

But, in the end, the choice whether to buy a pop-up or traditional pole tent comes down to personal preference as well as the ability to erect, and if you can stand up or can only crawl inside, says Powell.

Their customers “prefer poles 90% of the time,” says Mhlongo.

Consumers also want to know if the poles are easy to replace, should the need arise, Powell adds. Is there a guarantee on the tent? Are there spare parts and how easily are they available? These are all questions her customers have when considering which tent to buy.

When it comes to the poles’ construction, hikers generally prefer aluminium poles as this is the lightest option available, while still being durable, says Gericke and Sarakis.

Their 1-2 person tent buyers are interested whether the poles are hollow or solid, which will affect the overall weight, says the second anonymous retailer.


Overall, colour isn’t that important to the respondents’ customers. As long as it looks good in the colour, says Wood.

The prettier the colour, the more attractive the tent for the family camper, says the buyer, who recommends that colours should be towards a darker shade, as they will keep the sunlight out longer than lighter tents. But, if the tent is too dark, it will attract heat, cautions Powell. “Green or olive colours are the best suited for use in the hot sun.”

Hikers tend to prefer natural colours, says the second anonymous retailer. Mhlongo agrees, saying that “most people prefer colours like brown or green. No bright colours”.

“Colour is not important if you are camping in protected campsites, however bright colours are not advisable when traveling through Africa,” says Pattenden.

“If you are an adventure motor- or bicycle rider, however, colour is all important. You seldom know where or when you are going to stop for the night in Africa, so you tend to find a secluded spot, pitch your unobtrusive green tent and hope that nobody sees you.”

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