What is a Tent Vestibule and Do You Need One?

Having a vestibule for your tent can significantly improve your storage space when you're out camping. But what can you use it for and just how necessary is it?

Tents are truly amazing things. In a few, short moments, you have a two, three, or four-bedroom apartment with storage space, beds, kitchen utensils, cooking equipment, and more. Whatever you need for your trip, is right at your fingertips. 

If your tent happens to have a vestibule—which is an overhang similar to a patio awning—you have the perfect cover for extra storage space that is out of the rain or just a place to sit and enjoy the evening beneath it. 

Just because your tent doesn’t have one, that doesn’t mean you can’t purchase a tent vestibule as an add-on. The most effective vestibules are the kind that is built-in to the tent, however, because they are designed to go with the flow and form of the tent. 

Vestibules can be either small or quite large, almost an additional tent built onto the main tent if that’s what you are looking for.

Should you get an add-on vestibule?

a tent on the beach with an add-on vestibule
Image credits: Ivan Rohovchenko

As aforementioned, it’s often difficult to find the right one. Unless your specific tent has an add-on vestibule attachment that is sold separately, your only remaining option is to go with a universal vestibule. 

And the term, “universal” is very loosely defined here, since tents come in all shapes and sizes. Most businesses won’t exactly look kindly on you setting up a tent and unboxing an unpurchased vestibule to try it on, so it’s a guessing game at best. 

But honestly, the vestibule is a must-have, especially if you live in an area where rainfall is frequent, like Mobile, Alabama, or the entire state of Florida. Mobile gets the most annual rainfall out of every city in the United States while Florida is a perpetual shower, especially in the summer. Sunshine State? Okay, sure.

💡 Note: We’ve actually written an entire article covering how to waterproof a tent.

Even if it doesn’t rain a lot in your neck of the woods,  a vestibule is a really nice add-on. It provides you with a bit of shade during the hot months and larger ones can make for an excellent picnic area that’s out of the sun. 

The additional storage area with large vestibules, especially when you’re camping with a large group, is invaluable. It ensures that you can pack for the long haul and still have plenty of space in the tent. 

Types of tent vestibules

It may sound like a common enough add-on, however, there are five types of vestibules that you should consider. And, if you’re buying a tent, a nice vestibule will extend that investment far more than you may initially realize. These are the five types of vestibules:

  1. Front vestibules
  2. Add-on vestibules
  3. Side vestibules
  4. DIY vestibules
  5. Zipper Awning

Let’s take a look at the first vestibule which is also the most common type of tent vestibule.

💡 Note: We’ve written another post on the 13 different types of tents.

1. Front vestibules

This is by far the most common type of vestibule and the one that everyone imagines if they have an inkling as to what a vestibule is. It’s like a front porch cover or awning for your front door. 

They either attach or are permanently attached to your front opening. Usually, the ones that are built-in into the top portion of the front opening are bound up with a release strap or another mechanism that unfolds the vestibule.

The front vestibules that are add-ons—the ones that belong with the tent and are manufactured by the tentmaker—will have an attachment mechanism. Typically, it’s the optional vestibules that you can purchase with a tent that is the largest. 

2. Add-on vestibule

When we refer to add-on vestibules in this section, we are referring to add-ons that are either universal or are sold separately. These are often much larger than built-in vestibules for two reasons. 

First, it’s a marketing thing. If you already have one of those gigantic, 15-person tents that you just had to buy for your family of two, a gigantic add-on vestibule is going to be right up your alley. The same could be said for a small tent. Who wouldn’t want an enormous add-on vestibule, complete with flooring canvas?

As we mentioned briefly above, it’s often difficult to find a universal add-on vestibule that will fit your tent really well. Tents come in all shapes and sizes, which makes them difficult to pair with a vestibule. 

If you can’t find the right universal vestibule for your tent, there’s no sense in forcing the issue because you don’t want something that attaches to your tent haphazardly. It can end up causing far more harm than good. 

3. Side vestibule

Side vestibules are either one of two extremes and most tents that come with side vestibules—or are designed with compatible side vestibules in mind—have the capability of installing one on either side. 

One extreme is either a very tiny vestibule that is just enough to keep the rain from coming into your open screen windows, along with an extended windbreak. The other extreme is essentially an add-on tent room that is called a vestibule.

With the tents that accommodate add-on side vestibules, you can turn your 6-person tent into an 8-person tent pretty easily. Side vestibules are usually the most preferred type of vestibule for large groups, especially if you have the type of tent that can accommodate one vestibule on each side.

It also leaves the entryway free. The only problem with the side vestibules is that they cant serve as a mudroom since they aren’t attached to the entryway unless they are connected lengthwise to tents that have secondary entryways. 

4. DIY vestibule

A DIY vestibule is one that you design on your own and it really isn’t that hard to do, so long as you can design something that will keep the rain runoff flowing away from the tent and not through the point where the vestibule connects to the tent. You only need a few items.

  • Large canvas or tarp that has eyelets
  • Rope or paracord
  • Something to stake it down with 

If you already have an overhang on the front entrance, you want to run the vestibule beneath it, that way rain runs down the overhang and directly onto the makeshift vestibule before it ends up on the ground. 

So long as your tarp has eyelets, you can either use some rope or 550 paracord to lash it to the telescoping rod that forms the entryway or the overhang.

Stake your two corners that are farthest from the tent and run your rope or paracord through and out the opposite corner eyelets,  extending the cord/rope far enough from the tent to force the vestibule up against the tent canvas. 

5. Zipper awning

Zipper awnings are just what they sound like, awnings that attach to your tent via a zipper. They’re easy to set up and usually come with the tent, rather than being sold as an add-on separately. 

This type of vestibule isn’t worth much for storage or cooking (even though you can certainly cook under it) but more as a shaded front porch for your tent’s primary opening. However, many of these zipper vestibules fold down and connect to windbreaks on the side, creating a much smaller but enclosed space that is perfect for storage purposes. 

They are easy to set up, with most of the outer weight braced on telescoping poles along with rope or cord and stakes to hold the sides down. 

What else is a vestibule good for?

woman and child walking into tent on grass field
Image credits: Mattias Helge

If the vestibule is well ventilated and opens on the sides, you can cook with a small camper stove. However, it’s not advisable if your vestibule is relatively enclosed.

It’s probably not best to cook in your vestibule if you’re out in bear country because you don’t want to attract bears anywhere near your tent. If you’re camping out in the wilderness,  cook your food well away from your tent.

In a campground, however, with plenty of ventilation, a vestibule is a perfectly reasonable kitchen for all of your outdoor cooking needs.

Vestibules also make good mudrooms. If it’s really wet weather or you’re camping out in an area that’s dirty or damp, the vestibule will save you a lot of grief and keep your tent clean.

💡 Note: If your tent gets dirty after a camping trip, read this post on cleaning a tent.

It’s always better to knock everything off in your vestibule before you enter the tent properly. No one wants to sleep with a bunch of irritating grit and dirt all over the place, where it will inevitably find a way into your sleeping bag or onto your air mattress. 

They’re great for weather protection, however, if you are dealing with high winds and a thunderstorm, it’s probably best to take them down. Most vestibules aren’t as sturdy as the tents that they are connected to and become more of a liability in high winds. 

The only exception would be the vestibules that are essentially extra rooms, with their own flooring, three walls, and an entryway. That kind of vestibule may be more resilient in a nasty thunderstorm.

Final thoughts

There’s a lot to love about a vestibule and it’s certainly something worth considering when you purchase a tent. The advantages of having one are too much to ignore, especially if you have a large family or you prefer to camp in large groups. 

If you already have a tent without a vestibule, there are still some options for you, including an add-on, a universal vestibule (assuming that you can find one that fits) or you can build your own vestibule. Either way, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and it’s certainly worth the effort.

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Thomas Godwin

Thomas Godwin is a writer and Marine Corps veteran with a degree in Creative Writing from the Full Sail University. He has been writing content for HeadlessNomad since 2021. Being a veteran, Thomas knows pretty much everything there is to know about the use of paracord, how boots should fit, and nature in general.