Choosing a Camping Tent: To Pole or Not To Pole


As an outdoor and camping enthusiast, I’ve experienced my fair share of outdoor adventures. One common question I often encounter from fellow campers is: “Which camping tent should I choose, an air tent or a pole tent?” In this article, I’ll break down the differences between these two types of camping tents, discussing their pros and cons, and providing helpful suggestions for making an informed decision.

Understanding Air Tents

Inflatable Technology

Air tents, also known as inflatable tents, use air beams in place of traditional poles. They’re designed with a system of air-filled tubes that are inflated using a pump, providing the necessary structure for the tent.  For years I used a pole tent.  Not because I was a ‘purest’ but simply because it was what I was used to.  Over those years, I went from a 2-person camping tent to a 6-person camping tent looking for more space and comfort, sometimes simply to escape the mosquitos!   It’s only in the past 5 years that I have been a convert to air tents.  But don’t let me sway the conversation!  Below are the pros and cons of each so you can make a decision for yourself.  

Advantages of Air Tents

  • Quick setup: Air tents can be set up in a matter of minutes, as you only need to inflate the tubes to achieve the desired structure.
  • Ease of use: With no poles to assemble or disassemble, air tents simplify the camping process.
  • Safety: There are no rigid poles in air tents, reducing the risk of injury from accidentally stepping on or tripping over poles.

Disadvantages of Air Tents

  • Potential punctures: The inflatable tubes are susceptible to punctures, which could lead to the tent collapsing.
  • Heavier and bulkier: Air tents generally weigh more and take up more space than their pole counterparts.

Understanding Pole Tents

Traditional Tent Structure

Pole tents are the classic, tried-and-true tent design. They use a combination of flexible poles, typically made from aluminum or fiberglass, to support the tent fabric.

Advantages of Pole Tents

  • Lightweight: Pole tents are usually lighter than air tents, making them easier to carry around.
  • Compact: When packed, pole tents take up less space than air tents, ideal for backpacking trips.
  • Durability: With proper care, pole tents can last for years.

Disadvantages of Pole Tents

  • Longer setup time: Assembling the poles and attaching them to the tent can be time-consuming, especially for larger tents.
  • Potential for damage: Poles can break or bend under extreme weather conditions, potentially damaging the tent.

Comparing Air Tents and Pole Tents

Setup and Takedown

Air tents have a clear advantage when it comes to setup and takedown time. The process is usually much quicker and easier compared to pole tents.

Stability and Durability

Pole tents are generally more durable and resilient, especially when properly maintained. However, air tents can be surprisingly stable, with some models designed to withstand strong winds and harsh weather.

Portability and Storage

For backpackers, the compactness and lightweight nature of pole tents make them a preferred choice. Air tents, while bulkier, could be more suited for car camping or family outings where storage and weight are not major concerns.

Comfort and Space

Air tents often provide more living space due to their tube structure, offering a more comfortable camping experience. On the other hand, pole tents usually have a simpler design that may limit internal space.

Price Considerations

Air tents typically cost more than pole tents. However, the ease of use and comfort they provide could justify the higher price for some campers.

Choosing the Right Tent for You

In determining which camping tent to choose, you’ll need to consider your specific needs, preferences, and camping style. If you prioritize ease of setup and comfort, an air tent may be a suitable choice. But if you’re looking for a more compact, lightweight, and durable option, a pole tent could be a better fit. You should also always check if you are staying in a campground if they have camp size restrictions on the number of tents or size of tents in a ‘space’.


Both air tents and pole tents have their advantages and disadvantages, and the right choice will depend on your personal camping needs. By understanding the differences between these tents, you can make an informed decision and enjoy a more comfortable and enjoyable camping experience.


1. Are air tents suitable for all weather conditions?

Air tents are generally designed to handle various weather conditions. However, it’s important to check the tent’s specific weather rating before purchase.

2. Can a punctured air tent be repaired?

Yes, most air tents come with repair kits to fix minor punctures. However, severe damage may require professional repair or replacement.

3. How long do pole tents last?

With proper care and maintenance, pole tents can last for several years. The lifespan largely depends on the quality of materials used and frequency of use.

4. Are pole tents difficult to set up?

The setup difficulty of pole tents can vary based on the model and size. Some can be set up easily by one person, while larger ones may require more time and effort.

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Kelley Brakstad

Kelley, the voice behind Comfort Camping Insider, hails from the stunning landscapes of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. She passionately shares her tips, tricks, and insider knowledge to enhance your camping adventures, fostering a love for the outdoors with the comforts of home. Join her in discovering the art of comfortable camping.

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