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    Large Commercial Tent Buying Guide

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    When you're going to use your tent for business purposes, it's essential to find one that perfectly matches your needs. Unfortunately, the prospect of searching for a shelter can often be quite intimidating. There are quite a few different styles, each with their own unique characteristics and advantages. If you've never purchased a commercial canopy tent or large outdoor canopy before, it can be hard to tell exactly what you need. But you shouldn't be concerned if you feel a bit lost. The following guide will help you pinpoint your needs and find a commercial tent or large canopy tent that can satisfy them.

    Part 1: Basic Types

    As with models designed for personal and residential use, the kind of commercial tent you'll need will depend on what you intend to use it for. Generally, these shelters fall into one of two categories.

    Party Tents

    If you're looking for a shelter that you can use for outdoor parties, conferences, or sales at outdoor venues, a party tent is probably your best choice. Commercial varieties come in three different types.

    1. Pole Tents
    Pole TentsPole tents are supported by perimeter and center poles and rely on the tension from stakes or other tie downs to keep their roofs stable. They're quite popular among business owners because they're relatively lightweight and easy to set up. Many also prefer them because they're the most cost-effective of the party tents; a pole tent is always going to cost you less than a comparably-sized frame or tension tent.

    Pole tents, however, aren't going to be a good choice if you need to place your shelter alongside a building or in other tight spaces. Because the tension from the stakes is the only thing keeping their canopies from collapsing, these shelters have very specific requirements in terms of both the number of stakes they require and the distance those anchors need to be from the tent. It's not unusual to have to leave as much as six feet between a pole tent and its stakes. And it certainly isn't possible to set up this kind of shelter indoors.

    You should also think twice about investing in one of these tents if your event requires unobstructed visibility or a very specific layout. Regardless of manufacturer or style, all pole tents have center supports; they're integral structural features that cannot be moved or repositioned. That means that a shelter constructed with poles simply won't be able to accommodate certain floor plans. Large objects, like dance floors, can be particularly tricky to house. And any guests seated by one of the center poles will have an incomplete view of their surroundings. These limitations may not matter for most events, but it's important to consider them when selecting the type of shelter you want to use.

    2. Frame Tents
    Frame TentIn many ways, frame tents are a direct answer to the structural limitations of the pole tent. Because they use tubular metal structures to support their canopies rather than tension from stakes, they don't require center poles. You can also install frame tents next to buildings, indoors, and smaller spaces where a pole tent typically wouldn't fit.

    This is not to say, however, that a frame tent would be a good choice for every situation. The frame that makes all of that flexibility possible is significantly more expensive than the ones used by other party tents. It's also much more complicated to set up; a frame canopy can easily take four times longer to set up than a pole tent. And, because their frames use such specialized hardware, losing or breaking just a single piece will render your shelter useless until you can obtain a replacement from the manufacturer. You can't just borrow a piece from a similar tent or create a temporary part the way you can with pole tents.

    Therefore, you need to consider your priorities before deciding to purchase a frame tent. Are logistical concerns paramount? If so, then it may be worth spending the extra money and dealing with some practical inconveniences in order to get the flexibility this kind of tent can provide. If, however, you're not worried about creating a particular floor plan and will only be using your tent in open outdoor spaces, a frame model may not be a good investment.

    3. Tension Tents
    Tension TentStructurally, tension tents are just like traditional pole tents. They use perimeter and center poles for support and rely on the tension from tie-downs to keep their canopies in place. The only real practical difference is the height of their peaks. Tension canopies feature peaks that are so much taller than those of other pole structures that they are often called "high peak" tents.

    Why bother with the extra height? Well, the exaggerated peaks of tension tents are more visually striking and can lend an elegant look to your event. They're also more aerodynamic than standard peaks, allowing them to provide better wind resistance and drainage. By increasing the peak height, tension canopy manufacturers are able to offer a shelter that is still relatively lightweight and easy to assemble, yet is strong enough to withstand harsh weather and be left standing for long periods. Some models can even be used as permanent structures.

    Unfortunately, improved strength doesn't allow tension tents to escape the limitations of a pole-based support structure. Like other pole tents, they require a fair amount of room for staking and can't be used next to buildings or indoors. And, even though they may have a very open feel, they still have center supports that can limit visibility and interfere with certain layouts.

    Tension canopies are more expensive than standard pole tents so cost could be a potential issue. They're usually not as expensive as frame structures, but the prices can be close, depending on the model. You'll have to decide if the aesthetic and structural benefits are worth the extra cost.

    For more information about party tents check out our Party Tent Buying Guide.

    Portable Garages and Shelters

    For business owners more interested in general outdoor storage than hosting events, a portable garage may be a good option. These shelters offer reliable weather protection with an emphasis on flexibility. Unlike traditional storage buildings, this kind of structure can be moved from location to location to suit your needs. Some models can even be collapsed when they're not needed, making them ideal for seasonal use.

    In terms of function, they cover just about every outdoor need you could imagine. There are models designed to protect vehicles, industrial equipment, and livestock. Some models can even be used as party tents. And, in keeping with their focus on flexibility, you'll find that most portable shelters are multitaskers; they can easily and effectively serve more than one storage function.

    Think you might be interested in a portable garage or carport? Check out our Portable Garage and Carport Buying Guide for more information.

    Part 2: Finding the Right Size

    Because every situation is different, there's no way to know exactly how big your shelter should be. But that doesn't mean you have to guess. Once you know what kind of commercial tent you want and how you're going to use it, it's possible to get a rough estimate of the amount of space you're going to need.

    Event Tents

    If you're planning to use your shelter for parties and events, it's generally reasonable to allow somewhere between 10 to 12 sq. ft. of space per guest. However, if your event involves a complicated set up or a lot of extra furnishings, you'll probably want a more situation-specific estimate. Here are a few guidelines you can use to calculate how much space you'll need:
    1. Auditorium-Style Seating - If you're hosting a speech or another event that requires your chairs to be lined up in rows, try to allow 5 or 6 sq. ft. of space for each chair. Keep in mind, though, that if you're planning to use particularly large chairs or invite guests that need more maneuvering room, you'll need to provide more space.
    2. Events with Meals - If your event includes a meal, the amount of room you'll need will mostly depend on the dimensions of the tables you use as well as the number of people seated at each one. Generally, it's appropriate to allow at least 10 sq. ft. per person when using rectangular tables and 12 sq. ft. when using round ones. You should also consider the type of service you plan to use; dinners with table-side service will require additional space in order to ensure that your servers will have enough room to work.
    3. Specialty Furniture - If your party calls for additional furnishings like a bar, dance floor, or stage, you'll need to take the dimensions of these items into account when calculating your space requirements.
    4. Caterers, DJs, and Bands - All of these service providers come with a lot of equipment. If you're hiring a caterer, DJ, or band for your event, make sure you find out how much space they'll need before you select a tent size.

    Tents Used for Conferences and Other Business Functions

    In some ways it can be easier to determine an appropriate tent size if you're planning to use your shelter as a sales booth or product display center at a business conference. Because you're more concerned with housing immobile objects than people, you can get a fairly accurate estimate of your space requirements by measuring the items you want to accommodate and adding their dimensions together. Of course, you'll have to provide some maneuvering room for the people manning your tent and its visitors, but because they'll follow whatever path your layout dictates, it's much easier to calculate how much space they'll need.

    Vehicle Shelters

    If you're interested in getting a portable carport or garage for vehicle protection, determining the size you need is relatively simple. First you need to consider the number of vehicles you would like to house. This is important not just because every car, boat, or truck requires its own space, but because you have to allow maneuvering room if you plan to park more than one vehicle underneath your carport. There's no special rule governing how much extra room you should allot for each vehicle; the amount of space you'll need to leave will depend on the size of the vehicle, the type of vehicle it is (a large truck is going to be much more unwieldy than a compact car), and your preferences. And, if you're going to be sheltering cars and trucks, it's generally a good idea to allow a few feet of extra space for the opening of car doors and trunks.

    Once you've thought about what you need to store in a general sense, it's time to examine specifics. Ideally, you want to know the dimensions of every vehicle you plan to put underneath your portable shelter. If you're using your tent for event parking or another situation where you won't know who will be using it, though, that isn't always possible. In those situations you can just use the measurements of a mid-sized car (obtained by measuring one that's readily available) and multiplying them by the number of cars you want to be able to protect. The length and width totals you'll get obviously can't be as accurate as the ones you'd get by actually measuring all of the vehicles to be housed, but it will at least give you some numbers to work with.

    Shelters Used for General Storage

    The first step in determining the right size for your portable garage is to decide what you'd like to store. Once you've done that you can simply measure each item and add up the dimensions. This will give you a good idea of how much space your belongings are going to take up, even if you only measure the larger objects.

    Now, you could use these numbers to calculate an approximate height, width, and depth for your shelter as they are, but you should probably add a few feet of floor space in order to allow for new items. Your storage needs are likely to change over time and the last thing you want to have to do is buy another storage tent because you made an unexpected purchase. It's also important to consider how much maneuvering space you'd like to have inside your shelter before selecting a size.

    Part 3: What Materials are Right for Me?

    The materials used to construct a commercial tent make a significant impact on its strength, weight, and cost. Read on for more information about the different types of frames, poles, and tops.

    Poles and Frames

    The kind of tent you're interested in will determine the materials available for its support structure. Here's some more information about your options for each kind of structure.

    Party Tents
    Party TentsParty tent poles and frames come in either steel or aluminum. The one that's right for you will really depend on what your priorities are. If you're looking for the strongest, sturdiest structure possible, you'll probably want to go with steel. It's less likely to bend than aluminum and is therefore able to create stronger poles and frames. Similarly, steel is heavier and therefore more stable in windy conditions. That extra weight, however, can be a major inconvenience if you're going to be traveling with your tent frequently. If you want a shelter designed to maximize portability, aluminum might be a better option.

    You should also be aware of the difference in the way these two metals resist corrosion. When steel corrodes it creates rust, a substance that weakens its overall structure. However, when aluminum deteriorates it forms aluminum oxide, a hard substance that actually helps prevent further corrosion. Most steel poles and frames are treated to prevent rust, but there's no way to guarantee that you'll never have any problems. You may also have to periodically retreat steel poles in order to keep them performing at their best. It really comes down to how much effort you're willing to put into maintaining your party canopy.

    In terms of cost, party tents made with aluminum can be more expensive than ones made with steel, but the large range of gauges and types of steel mean that there's no universal rule. A tent's style and manufacturer also affect its price so you'll just have to see what's offered in your price range.

    Portable Garages and Shelters
    Steel is the dominant frame material for portable garages and shelters so if you're looking for this kind of structure, you won't really have much choice as to the kind of frame you have. You will, however, have a choice in the diameter of steel used to construct your garage's frame. The diameter of the steel used in a shelter's frame is directly related to its overall strength; the larger the diameter of its steel tubing, the tougher and sturdier a frame is going to be.

    Unfortunately, with that increased strength also comes with an increased price. So going for a frame with a larger diameter may not be your best option if you're on a tight budget. Nor will it be your best choice if you're concerned about weight. Because they contain more metal, portable carport frames made with larger diameter steel are significantly heavier than those constructed with smaller diameters. That means that they're going to be much less convenient if you plan to move your shelter frequently. You'll have to decide if the extra durability is worth the additional cost and weight.

    Tops and Covers

    Because large commercial tents need to stand up to vigorous, long-term use, their tops are made of the toughest materials available. This means that you generally won't have a choice as to what kind you use and that, as with support structures, the types available will depend on the kind of shelter you're looking for. Here's some information about the two most commonly used materials.
    1. Vinyl - Vinyl fabric, which is actually made of polyester that has been given a vinyl coating, is preferred by most commercial party tent manufacturers. It offers excellent UV protection and weather resistance. It's also very easy to clean and many vinyl tops are certified flame resistant.
    2. Polyethylene - Heavy-duty portable garage covers are almost always made of polyethylene. Like vinyl, it's extremely tough and provides very good UV protection. It has no problem withstanding prolonged weather exposure and is usually waterproof.

    Part 4: Customizing Your Party Tent

    If you're buying a party tent for business functions you may want to customize it with some custom graphics or a logo. Most often you'll be able to add your own image to all sides of the peak, the valances, and any sidewalls you choose to order. Quite a few companies will also create customized table covers to match your tent. Keep in mind, though, that not all canopy manufacturers offer custom graphics services so if this is important to you, it's best to ask your retailer what's available before you start your search.

    You'll also probably want to ask your retailer for a quote before deciding what kind of custom graphics you'd like to add. Obviously, your costs will increase with each additional image, but other factors, such as graphic size and the number of colors per image will also affect overall price. It may take some time for you to find a balance between what you want and what you can afford.

    Part 5: Accessories

    When it comes to accessories, large commercial tents have a fairly large range. Some, like stakes and anchors, are purely functional, while others, such as sidewalls, possess aesthetic and practical value. Use the following descriptions to determine which ones are right for you.


    Stakes are the most commonly used party tent anchor and many shelters actually come with them. They are very easy to use and provide a strong hold, but they're not appropriate for every situation. You can't use them in sand because they can't get a solid enough grip and they're not ideal for extremely windy conditions. If you're not sure what kind of staking your installation calls for, check your canopy's manual.

    It may seem somewhat strange to think of your tent's accessories as having accessories, but so many people use stakes that there are quite a few products designed to compliment them. Here are the ones you're most likely to come across:
    1. Stake Caps - Stake caps make your tent's stakes safer to store and handle. They simply slip right over the sharp end. You'll typically find them in sets.
    2. Stake Pullers - These tools are designed to help you remove stakes from the ground. There are manual models that allow you to pull out stakes with just a few pumps of a handle as well as gas-powered ones that do all of the work for you. If you've got a large tent that you plan to set up and take down frequently, a stake puller can save you a lot of time and effort.


    Anchors are used with both types of commercial tent, though they're going to be your only stabilizer option if you're interested in a portable garage. There are three different types:
    1. Auger-Style Anchors - This is the only kind of anchor suitable for use with party tents. Their corkscrew design works well in grass, clay, asphalt, and unpacked soil. You can also remove and reuse them whenever you want to move your shelter.
    2. Hook Anchors - This type of anchor is best suited for grass, clay, gravel, asphalt, and hard-packed or rocky soil. They are simple to use and don't require digging or create large holes the way that auger-style models do. It's not possible to reuse them, however, so you would only want to use them for permanent carport installations.
    3. Cement and Concrete Anchors - If you want to install your portable shelter on a concrete or cement surface, this is the kind of anchor you're going to need. They provide an extremely strong hold, but are obviously only appropriate for permanent installations.

    Ratchet Sets

    Ratchet sets are used in place of a commercial tent's ropes. They're much easier to work with than traditional ropes and, because they can be tightened by a single person, they can save you quite a bit of time if you're setting up a large tent. Many people also prefer them because the greater tension they provide during set up creates an extremely stable top with fewer wrinkles.


    Sidewalls, also known as side walls, are one of the most popular commercial tent accessories. They allow you to provide extra weather protection, add privacy, and give your shelter an appearance more like that of a traditional building. The latter can be particularly useful when you're holding a formal party or business presentation.

    As with other accessories, the choice of sidewalls you'll have will depend on what kind of tent you're planning to buy. Party tent sidewalls come in the largest variety; you'll find solid ones, clear ones, as well as models with faux windows. Some manufacturers even offer mesh sidewalls for events where you want bug protection that won't impede airflow or your guests' view. The walls for commercial party tents sometimes come in sets, but most often you'll find them sold individually.

    Portable garage sidewalls, however, almost always come in sets. In fact, many manufacturers sell their sidewalls packaged as enclosure kits because they enable you to turn your shelter into a completely enclosed space. Sidewalls for this kind of structure are typically completely opaque, though you can occasionally find ones that include windows.

    Repair and Patch Kits

    All commercial tent tops are subjected to harsh use, but party tent tops are even more likely to suffer rips and tears because they're set up and taken down more frequently. In order to prevent you from having to entirely replace your top because of a minor hole, many party tent manufacturers offer repair kits. Also called patch or splice kits, these accessories usually include several pieces of tent material, an adhesive, and instructions. The most important thing to keep in mind when searching for one of these kits is compatibility. Because colors vary from brand to brand and even from model to model, it's important to make sure you look for a kit specifically designed to match your tent. If you're having trouble determining if a particular repair kit is appropriate for use with your shelter, it's best to consult your retailer before ordering.

    Part 6: Other Considerations

    You now have all of the basic information you need to find the right commercial tent. There are, however, a few more things you should consider before making a purchase.


    Even if you're interested in a relatively small party tent or portable garage, you should still find out what your local government's permit policies are before you actually buy one. That way you'll ensure that your tent will be able to meet any necessary requirements and prevent any paperwork problems that could possibly derail your event. If you do need to get a permit, chances are that it will be issued by your fire department since many of the laws governing tent usage pertain to fire safety, but every municipality has its own rules.

    Flame Certificates

    These certify that a tent's fabric is flame-resistant and meets certain fire codes. It's generally a good idea to look for a tent with a flame or flammability certificate because of what it indicates about a shelter's safety, but it's particularly important if you're buying a party tent. They're usually required to get a permit and many indoor venues won't let you set up a tent without proper certification.

    Part 7: Choosing a Tent

    Buying a commercial tent is a big investment; it doesn't matter whether it's for a small agricultural business or a large corporation. But now that you're equipped with some basic information, it's an investment you can make with confidence. As long as you take the time to figure out your needs beforehand, finding the right shelter for your company can be a quick and stress-free process.

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