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Tailgate tents popping up stadium parking lots, music blaring from car stereos, and burgers sizzling on the grill–there’s nothing quite so American as tailgating! Whether it’s at a football game or some other sports (or even non-sports!) event, tailgaters love the camaraderie and fellowship of sharing food and drink before the big game.

Ready to learn what it takes to have an awesome tailgating experience? Believe it or not, it takes more than just an open tailgate; fortunately, we’ve got everything you need to know right here, including tips on games and food, and how to find the perfect tailgate tent.

How Did Tailgating Get to Be So Awesome?

Tailgating is a uniquely American experience (it doesn’t have a corollary anywhere else in the world), and it’s been around since there were wagon gates to let down. While the concept is used at concerts and even adapted for fancy fundraising soirees, weddings, or barbecues, usually a tailgate party is held in the parking lot of a sporting venue, just before the event.

Football is where it all started, but now tailgating happens before basketball, baseball, and even hockey and soccer events. You don’t have to have a tailgate–or even a vehicle–if you want to attend. Tailgate parties and huge and festive and filled with people enjoy great food and drink.

Most tailgate parties are parking lot “neighborhoods” lined with tailgate tents filled with tables, grills, games, and even televisions and loudspeakers. You might grill your own food or enjoy the hospitality of a fellow tailgater thanks to the unique comradery present at this events. It’s not uncommon for a rival fan to be welcomed and fed, even if he’s jeered at during the actual game itself!

Traditions That Last Generations

Tailgating isn’t just about the food; it’s a valuable way for communities to rally together, share traditions that shape generations and build support around a hometown team. Sometimes, the tailgating experience can be better than the actual game, especially when the team has a rich history of tailgating traditions and a rabid fan base.

It’s not uncommon to see fans braving frigid weather to hide away in tailgate tents before the game, eating their food with numb fingers, and the amount of team spirit in the form of body painting, outlandish clothing, and foam spirit fingers is a sight to behold!

Tailgating at the University of Notre Dame, for example, is often considered to be one of the best in the business. On the Saturdays before football games, you’ll see the Fighting Irish rallying around their team during the player walk and touring the stadium tunnel made famous in the movie Rudy.

Another famously-unique tailgate experience is more of a “sailgate” experience! Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington, was built on the shores of Lake Washington. Instead of parking and tailgating, fans dock their boats and load up on delicious seafood.

Tailgating is huge in the south (maybe it’s the weather?), and Auburn University’s tailgating crowd is no exception. Auburn is infamous for having an exceptionally friendly party, even if you’re a fan of the opposing team, but it’s also famous for tailgating that starts well before the game. Fans are known to start saving places as early as a day and a half before the game. In fact, before the 2013 Iron Bowl, you can see RVs with fans holding spots a week in advance!

How to Throw an Epic Tailgate Party

One of the most important elements to throwing a fantastic tailgate party is the tailgate tent (don’t worry; we’ve got a whole section on that later!), but there are several other things you’ll want to bring. Some tailgaters have had a spot picked out for generations, and create a sort of home away from home in the parking lot. Here are our tips for a great experience:

1. Plan It

Sure, there will be other tailgaters at the event, but it’s a lot more fun if you can bring your friends and family. Plan early enough to make sure everyone can get tickets and everyone knows who is bringing what.

Great tailgating relies on a lot of planning and oversight. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got a vehicle large enough to handle all the gear. It’s not uncommon to see huge trailers pulling in, and after hosting your first party, you’ll understand why!

2. The Gear Is Important

Like we mentioned earlier, we’ll talk more about the tailgate tent later, but you’ll also want to plan on other big items: a grill, for instance. You might also want to bring a generator, especially if you’re planning on bringing a stereo that’s louder than your vehicle’s. You’ll need coolers, places to sit, and maybe even tables to eat on.

Depending on the weather, you might need fans or heaters, and of course, don’t forget the coolers! You’ll want at least one for the food and another filled with ice for drinks.

3. It’s All About the Food

Tailgating food is legendary. You’ll find staples like hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages, potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans. You’ll also find regional favorites. In the south, for example, you might find pimento cheese and sweet iced tea.

Of course, you can’t forget the alcohol, but make sure you include lots of soft drinks and bottled water to stay hydrated. There’s nothing worse than having too much fun at the tailgate party, only to miss the main event!

4. It’s All Fun and Games…

Picnic-styles games are also popular at tailgate parties. You’ll find some people looking for a space for a game of pickup football, Frisbee, or soccer, for example, but you’ll also find more casual games like cornhole or horseshoes. Tailgaters also love to play things like beer pong, flip cup, and washer pitching. Of course, you can beat just sitting around with a beer in one hand while the music blasts from the speakers and your tent fills up with people!

The Right Tailgate Tent Is Everything

Tailgate tents protect you from the elements, define your space, and even announce your team’s colors, so it’s important you choose the right one for your event. It’s also easy to spend a hefty amount on one, so make sure you read through our pointers carefully to make sure you make a purchase you won’t regret later!

1. Size Matters

One of the first things you need to decide is how large your tent should be. Obviously, if you’re at an event strapped for extra room, a huge tent is a no-go, but that’s not the case for most tailgate events. Typically, party planning experts recommend going with about five square feet per person if everyone’s standing, or ten to twelve square feet per person if you’ll be setting up tables.

One of the most common sizes for canopy tents (also called pop up tents) is the 10 by 10, though you can easily go quite a bit bigger. Don’t forget that if you’re bringing large coolers, grills, heaters, or other items, that you’ll need space for those as well.

2. Frame Things Well

Pop up canopy tent frames are usually either constructed of aluminum or stainless steel. Usually, aluminum is more expensive, but it tends to not corrode, so if you’re battling the elements it might be worth the extra price. Stainless steel frames, however, tend to be stronger than aluminum, and also less expensive. The downside? They’re heavier and more difficult to set up and take down. Ultimately, you’ll have to weigh your options to decide which features matter the most to you.

3. Canopy Material

The material the EZ up canopy is made from is important to consider, as well. Since it is, essentially, your roof for the duration of the event, this part of your tailgate tent should be durable and water-resistant. Most tailgate tents are made from polyester that is lightweight and repels water, though the thickness of the material will vary by tent. The thicker the denier of the canopy, the more durable and water resistant it will be.

Another option for your tailgate tent canopy is vinyl. Vinyl is extremely water-resistant and perfect for snow or rain. It does tend to be more expensive, however, so keep that in mind.

A sporting event might just last for a few hours, but tailgating provides a way to extend the fun and camaraderie for hours on end. Next time your team’s playing at home, grab your tailgate tent and grill and hit the parking lot!

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