The Living Clean Guide to Less-Toxic Camping Gear – Choosing A Tent


The Zpacks Triplex Tent. (Photo Credit: Zpacks/Nacho Pellejero.)

By Lisa Petrison, Ph.D.

This page provides information that may be especially useful for camping novices on how to choose the right tent for particular situations.

Following is a list of links to additional articles in this series on non-toxic and less-toxic tents and shelters.


Tents Without Fire Retardants

Lightweight Tents

Heavier Tents

Day Shelters

Affordable Tents & Shelters

Tarps & Supplies

Tent Companies

Choosing A Tent

Tent Contamination


Especially for those who are just starting out camping, deciding on the right tent (or tents) to bring along can seem like an overwhelming process.

Here are a few question and suggestions that might be worth considering when making decisions about tents and shelters for campground use.


* How many people will be camping?

For those camping alone (or maybe with a smaller dog), a two-person tent may be adequate for sleeping purposes. However, especially for those solo campers who plan to spend more time at the campsite, I suggest a larger tent or (preferably) the addition of a separate day shelter that can be used during the waking hours.

For those who are car camping with another person, I suggest at minimum a four-person tent. Multiple sleeping tents (one for each person) in addition to a day shelter also could be considered.

For larger families, a lot depends on how old the children are and whether they likely would be comfortable sleeping on their own rather than with parents or siblings. In some cases, such as when a family has a few young children, a larger tent may be essential even though there may be some downsides to that.


* How much time will be spent at the campsite?

Even when individuals are very active, a shade shelter and/or a screen room can make camping trips much more enjoyable since they can provide welcome respite from bugs, rain or sun during the non-sleeping hours spent at the campground.

For those who are going to be spending a great deal of time at the campsite (either relaxing or working), having some kind of day shelter in place seems to me almost mandatory in terms of maximizing the likelihood of having a good trip.


* What will the weather conditions be like?

The biggest enemy of tents is wind, which can be a particularly big problem in the desert Southwest during the spring months (and to a lesser extent year-round).

Although some tents are more wind-resistant than others, I don’t think that it’s a good idea in areas where winds can be fierce (such as 30 mph or above) to assume that that a tent is always going to be sufficient to hold up to the wind.

Therefore, for those camping in windy areas, I strongly suggest putting plans in place to be able to sleep in the vehicle on nights when the winds pick up.

For instance, I stored all of my belongings neatly in plastic bins, which I then stacked outside (covered by a tarp) so that I could sleep comfortably in the back of my SUV when winds were too strong to use a tent.

Depending on people’s temperature sensitivity, most three-season tents may be fine down to 30F or even below if they bundle up enough with regard to clothing and sleeping bags. (I found that using a hot water bottle and having a thermos of hot tea that I could drink if I woke up cold was additionally helpful in allowing me to make it through some cold nights.)

For those who are needing to spend more time in cold or snow, a more expensive four-season tent could be considered.

Although I think that good ventilation is important no matter what, it may be a particular consideration for those camping during the hot summer months. (A battery-operated ceiling fan or other fan also can be helpful for those camping without electricity in the summer.)


* How easy does the tent need to be to put up?

Individuals camping alone may want to be cautious about larger tents or shelters designed to be erected by two people.

In addition, if a shelter takes more than a few minutes to put up, it may get less use than one that goes up more easily.

It’s generally a good idea to try putting up any new tent or shelter near home (such as in the backyard, a friend’s yard, a nearby park or a local campground) before heading out on the road with it, to see how difficult it turns out to be to erect as well as to make sure that all needed parts are included.


* How important is it to be able to stand up in the tent?

In many cases, I suggest a small tent for sleeping and then a larger shade or insect shelter for day use.

However, some people – including those who would like to be able to stand up in the tent or to use a full-size cot in it – may need a larger home-style tent.

Some good choices for this could be the REI Grand Hut, the Nemo Wagontop or the Big Agnes Big House, for instance.


* Do you have a dog?

A dog’s toenails can damage a tent bottom, and so you may want to consider a tent with a pet-proof bottom (such as the new Nemo Aurora with Pawprint liner) or some other kind of floor protector if the dog is going to sleep inside the tent.

If the dog is going to sleep on the ground outside, then choosing a tent with a vestibule or other sheltered area may be worthwhile.


* How long do you plan to use the tent?

Those who are just starting camping, or who are not sure what features they want, or who are uncertain about their ability to keep a tent feeling pristine enough for them to use may be hesitant to spend a great deal of money on a tent.

On the other hand, used tents in good condition sell well on eBay, and so buying a more expensive tent and then taking good care of it could be less financially risky than it may seem.


* How reactive are you?

Those who are especially sensitive to mold or chemicals may want to consider tents that have been reported as tolerable by many people pursuing mold avoidance, such as those made by Nemo or Tarptent.

Certain other tents – such as the REI Half Dome and The Tent Lab MoonLight – have gotten good reports from many (though not all) sensitized people who have tried them as well.


* How much can you afford to spend?

If funds are tight, then it could be worthwhile to try a less expensive tent even if it is not the best with regard to being non-toxic, with the hope that it will start to feel better in time.

This is not as good of an option if a tent is needed for use right away, however.

There also is the possibility that if a tent does not feel good at the beginning, it never will feel good.

The good news is that there now are quite a few tent choices that have been reported to be good or acceptable with regard to toxicity issues available at a moderate price point.

I am hoping that companies making even more affordable tents follow suit soon, so that people who want to camp do not need to be poisoned by their equipment just because they are of limited means.


* What are your size and weight limitations?

If you are going to be backpacking, then choosing items that are small and compact is going to be critical in terms of making the trip a success.

For those who are car camping, the main issue likely will be how much room the item takes up in the car on the way to the destination.

For those who are limited in storage space, bulky items like tent cots or large pop-up shelters may turn out to be less appropriate options.


* What kind of backup plans do you have?

For some people on some trips, a backup plan of checking into a hotel if something goes wrong with the tent is sufficient.

However, for those who cannot tolerate hotels (or Walmart-type emergency tents) or who are camping far away from any civilization, having an additional backup plan in place may be really important.

For instance, when I was camping full-time, I carried a small extra tent with me in addition to being able to sleep in the back of my SUV.

A day shelter that can do double-duty in an emergency for sleeping purposes could be another good backup option.


Camping at Red Rock in Las Vegas in Summer 2009. (Photo Credit: Lisa Petrison.)

About This Blog

Living Clean in a Dirty World provides useful information for those working to recover from chronic illness through mold avoidance, clean living and related therapies.

It is presented by Paradigm Change.


Previous Living Clean Guides include:

The Living Clean Guide to Less Toxic Camping Gear – Vehicles

The Living Clean Guide to Less Toxic Mattress Options

The Living Clean Guide to Avoiding Glyphosate – Produce


Lisa Petrison is the founder of Paradigm Change and Mold Avoiders. She holds a Ph.D. in marketing/psychology from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Paradigm Change also provides a wide variety of additional information on the topic of the role of mold toxins in chronic illness.

The remarkable life of Erik Johnson (including details about the Lake Tahoe epidemic) is summarized in the book Back from the Edge, written by Lisa Petrison.

A PDF copy of the book is available for free to those signing up for occasional email newsletters from Paradigm Change.

Erik’s approach to mold avoidance is outlined in the book A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance. 

It is available for free in PDF format to those signing up for occasional email newsletters from Mold Avoiders.

The book is also available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.

The Mold Avoiders discussion forum is run by Paradigm Change and is designed to help those who are seriously interested in pursuing the approach to mold avoidance described in the book to get their questions answered.

Only those who have been approved as Mold Avoiders Participants can read or post in the forum.

The Mold Avoiders Facebook group is designed for more casual conversations among those who are interested in this approach to mold avoidance.


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