Camping tents can be classified in a number of ways: By how many people they sleep, by what kind of activity they’re intended for, by weight, by number of entrances and by price. Yet the single defining characteristic that sets one tent apart from another more than anything else is tent shape. This in turn is defined by how many poles, and of what sort, are used to put the tent together.
A-frame tents look just like the classic pup tent, sporting a triangular support on either end. The resulting tent looks like a triangular prism sitting flat on one long side. You may also find A-frame tents with a ridgepole between the two end supports and a center hoop to create a roomier interior. You’re not likely to see this type of tent in contemporary models because other designs have proven to be much roomier.
Pyramid tents look like exactly what the name suggests. A single central pole--some hikers may substitute a hiking pole, walking stick or even a convenient branch for an actual tent pole--supports the center of the tent. The tent fabric then falls away on all sides. While having a pole in the center of your tent can be a hassle, this type of tent is light to carry and both quick and easy to set up.
A series of parallel hoops with fabric stretched over them give a hoop tent its characteristic shape. The tent may have one to three hoops of varying sizes. If the tent is set up with two intersecting hoops that cross instead of sitting parallel, forming a tall, skinny “X” with a rectangular footprint, it’s referred to as a wedge tent.
Dome tents are complex hoop tents, usually made up of four or more hoops that criss-cross over the middle of the tent. There may be another smaller hoop to create a freestanding tent entrance or vestibule. Dome tents are very strong and readily withstand inclement conditions, but the intersecting poles can make them difficult to set up. If you have a tent supported by two hoops that cross in the middle--like the wedge tent, but creating a square “X” footprint instead of a rectangle--it is technically a dome tent, too. Two-hoop or “square” dome tents aren’t as sturdy than their more complex cousins.