Tent Topographics: How One Picture Can Change the Way You Buy a Tent

We’re introducing tent topographic diagrams to our spec charts starting … now. Just like the contour lines you often see on trail maps, tent topos help you see the steepness of the slopes—except instead of showing valleys and hills, it reveals the headroom and livability of a tent.


On a typical topographic map, contours join points of equal elevation (height). For instance, take the Matterhorn,one of the most iconic mountains in the world. By looking at the topographic map, you can get an idea of both the shape of the mountain, and the steepness of the slopes. So, the closer the lines are together, the steeper the elevation (or the walls of your tent).


In the same way, NEMO’s tent topos show you the contours of a tent at various heights so that at a glance, you can understand where in a tent you can sit up, sleep, and fit your shoulders. If you’re not able to set the tent up before buying, this is an easy and quick way to understand the livability of a tent.

Why should you care about this? Because statistics can be deceiving.

The main stats that people look at when buying a tent are weight, floor area, and peak height. If
you only look at these numbers, it’s easy to forget about what’s going on between the floor and the
peak height. Take this example of a pyramid style tent and a dome style tent.


Both tents have more or less the same floor area and the same height—but vastly different
arrangements of interior volume. In the pyramid style tent, you can only sit straight up in the
middle, and height of the walls reduced dramatically as you move to the edges of the floor. The
dome style tent has nearly vertical walls which means that you can sit straight up even when you
are on the edges.

The point here is that you can’t look at tents two dimensionally and only think about floor area.
Even some tents with the same floor areas and peak heights can have a very different amount of
usable interior space. Some people value carrying as little weight as possible and can compromise
with less interior space, and others might value whether you can get dressed easily, play cards side
by side with someone, or easily sit at opposite ends of the tent.

In many ways, you can see why tents like Losi 3P have been so popular (and consequently, have been littered with awards). Losi 2P and 3P bridge the gap of “lightweight” and “enormous usable volume” incredibly well. 

In the category of tents that fulfill the vaunted One-Quiver-Wonder, the topo diagrams and basic stats show that the tents are light enough to backpack with, extremely liveable that you don’t go stir crazy on a 2 week backcountry trip, but spacious enough to take car camping all the same. 

1P, 2P or 3P? If you’re trying to gauge whether you should get a 2P or bump up in size to a 3P, tent 
topos will help you consider the space gains versus the weight gains. It will help you realize what a brow pole can do for head room, and how much extra room you might really want.


Is anyone else doing this? Not to our knowledge, although the groundwork for generating these
types of diagrams was originally laid by the Outdoor Industry Alliance’s ASTM committee. The
committee’s eventual goal is to create a standardized method of generating the topo diagrams. But
these things take time.

Over the last couple of years, NEMO has done much work to refine these methods to create the
most accurate diagrams possible. Taking the measurements and producing the diagrams still takes
some work, but we’ve developed some tools to help the process and we are hoping topo diagrams
will soon be adopted by the rest of the high-end tent industry.

Topo diagrams of our tents will be available on our website. We plan to include them in hangtags
starting 2014, and as many retailer partner websites as possible.

The takeaway

Currently, there isn’t an easy way to compare the livable space between tents without setting them up side by side—a difficult thing to do in many retail stores and certainly when shopping online. At NEMO, we want to help you understand differences between tents, and ultimately, choose the best tent for your needs. We put a lot of thought into interior volume and we think you should get the full benefits.

One thought on “Tent Topographics: How One Picture Can Change the Way You Buy a Tent

  1. John K

    I think this is a great idea. Working in outdoor retail the most common thing I see people look at is floor space and weight. This is a perfect example of a very important but overlooked dimension. I hope this sparks all tent producing companies to follow your lead!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>