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A tent is a shelter consisting of sheets of fabric or other material draped over, attached to a frame of poles or attached to a supporting rope. While smaller tents may be free-standing or attached to the ground, large tents are usually anchored using guy ropes tied to stakes or tent pegs. First used as portable homes by nomadic peoples, tents are now more often used for recreational camping and temporary shelters.
Tents range in size from “bivouac” structures, just big enough for one person to sleep in, up to huge circus tents capable of seating thousands of people. The bulk of this article is concerned with tents used for recreational camping which have sleeping space for one to ten people. Larger tents are discussed in a separate section below.
Tents for recreational camping fall into two categories. Tents intended to be carried by backpackers are the smallest and lightest type. Small tents may be sufficiently light that they can be carried for long distances on a touring bicycle, a boat, or when backpacking.
The second type are larger, heavier tents which are usually carried in a car or other vehicle. Depending on tent size and the experience of the person or people involved, such tents can usually be assembled (pitched) in between 5 and 25 minutes; disassembly (striking) takes a similar length of time. Some very specialised tents have spring-loaded poles and can be ‘pitched’ in seconds, but take somewhat longer to strike.
Tents are often used in humanitarian emergencies, such as war, earthquakes and fire. The primary choice of tents in humanitarian emergencies are canvas tents, because a cotton canvas tent allows functional breathability while serving the purpose of temporary shelter. Tents distributed by organisations such as UNHCR are made by various manufacturers, depending on the region where the tents are deployed, as well as depending on the purpose.
At times, however, these temporary shelters become a permanent or semi-permanent home, especially for displaced people living in refugee camps or shanty towns who can’t return to their former home and for whom no replacement homes are made available.