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Camping Tents Buying Advice

Pacious, user-friendly, and feature-rich, tents for camping are made for a relatively luxurious experience in the outdoors. Many of these behemoths offer enough room to set up cots or even chairs and a table for card games on a rainy day. The majority of car campers take only a few trips a year, usually during the peak summer months, and even the cheapest tents on this list will perform well for this type of use. For tougher weather conditions or as a long-term investment, consider springing for a better-built and more expensive model.

Premium Tents

Premium may seem like a generous term for a tent, but considering the price and feature set, they’ve earned the billing. Tents at this price point have the benefit of more extensive R&D and access to advanced materials, which leads to a more thoughtful design. To start, tents in this mid and high-end category make the most of their livable space—near-vertical walls, dividers, and spacious vestibules are a few examples.

Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p

Liberal use of mesh in the tent body ventilates well in warm or muggy weather, and built-in vents in the rainfly help keep moisture from collecting on the inside. In addition, most of these tents can withstand wind and wet weather far better than budget options. Nearly all premium models have a full coverage rainfly (or at least the option) and a strong pole design. It’s true, a tent like our top-rated REI Co-op Kingdom can become prohibitively expensive (the 8-person model is $529), but for the family or group that heads out a number of times a year, even in bad weather, the long-term investment is a worthwhile decision.

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Budget

In theory, camping is a way to simplify life and just disconnect for a while. In that spirit, budget camping tents are basic but fully functional options for fair weather campers. There isn’t a clear line where a tent goes from mid-range to budget, but we’ve found for 6-person options, it happens around $200. Typical budget tents use heavier fabrics, which make them bulky and adds weight to the bottom line, but they’re also durable and resist moisture. Weather resistance is their downfall. When a storm blows through the campsite, more often than not, the budget tents are the ones in a heap of broken poles. If camping is a new thing or you keep it casual in the summer, a budget tent will serve your needs just fine. Just don’t expect anything heroic if the weather turns sour.

Hybrid /Backpacking Tents

As you’ve probably deduced, even tents in the budget category can be a significant investment. And if you’re thinking about both camping and backpacking, the math quickly gets out of hand. If you’re only planning on doing both a couple times a year with the family, it may be worth considering a hybrid camping and backpacking tent. Depending on your space needs, you could get a tent like the Eureka Copper Canyon 6 Person .It’s small and light enough to manage on an overnight backpacking trip but still has enough space to make most campers happy.

Tents that are trying to appeal to both parties will have some sacrifices. For campers, the NEMO Losi 4 Person has a low peak height and is built with lightweight and less durable fabrics to make it easier to pack down. But if you need something to pull double-duty, a hybrid camping/backpacking tent like the MSR Papa Hubba NX is a great pick up.Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p

Rooftop

An up-and-coming category in the car camping world is rooftop tents. The concept is fairly simple: a folded tent attaches directly to the roof rack system on top of your vehicle or pickup bed, and when you arrive at your chosen destination, you simply unfold it, climb the ladder, and go to sleep. Compared with standard camping tents, the rooftop design gets you off uneven ground and makes it easier to set up camp just about anywhere (within reason). Moreover, most rooftop tents include a cushy built-in mattress, which is a notable upgrade from a standard sleeping pad.

There are, however, a few downsides of rooftop tents to be aware of. First, they are very expensive—often $1,000 or more—and this price doesn’t include a roof rack system if you don’t already have one (even if you have a roof rack, we recommend using the fit guides provided by the tent manufacturers). Storing the tent at home can also be an issue.

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Floor Dimensions and Height

Nearly every tent on the market will provide information about floor dimensions (or floor area) as well as peak height. This is helpful for understanding the basic design of the tent—the peak height in particular is an indication of whether or not you’ll be able to stand upright—but it only tells a part of the story. In general, tents with similar sleeping capacities will have similar total floor areas (80 to 90 square feet for a 6-person model), and most car camping-style tents have a peak height of around 72 inches.Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p

Where the tents will differ is their true livable space, which is dependent on the slope of the walls and pole design. Dome tents with simple x-shaped pole structures only allow you to enjoy that peak height at the middle of the tent. On the other hand, a tent with a more advanced pole system can create nearly vertical walls for walking around. This is one of the main reasons we love the REI Kingdom and Marmot Halo: both ends of the tents have vertical walls, and the hubbed pole designs truly opens up the interior. The cabin-style Eureka Copper Canyon is other standouts in maximizing interior space.

Capacity

The tents above are given a “_ person” capacity, which typically ranges from 4 to 8 people. This listing is based on the number of standard adult sleeping pads that can be laid side-by-side inside the tent. For example, the 6-person REI Co-op Kingdom is 120-inches long, so 6 standard pads (20-inches wide) technically will fit. But this doesn’t mean you necessarily want to max out your tent.

If you use wide sleeping pads or air mattresses, or just want a little space to move around, we highly recommend sizing up. From our experiences, nobody wants to sleep in a tent that is jammed to capacity, so it’s best to order a slightly larger size than the actual number of people you have in your party. For example, a group of 4 should sleep comfortably in a 6-person tent, leaving enough living space for playing cards, waiting out a storm, and spreading out while sleeping. And many couples and those with pets prefer a 4-person model, which gives you plenty of room to stretch out.

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Doors

For a large capacity camping tent, we unabashedly prefer two doors. The additional access is convenient if you have a full house, and zipping it open is another way to encourage airflow in summer heat. A single door build is one of the notable downsides of budget-oriented models like the Coleman Sundome. Stumbling and crawling over your tent mates in the middle of the night isn’t the best way to keep everyone happy. The very large openings on these tents do alleviate a little of the annoyance, but it’s still a compromise that’s worth considering when looking at a cheap tent.Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p

Quality

There differences in build quality are noticeable between budget and premium camping tents. Spending more gets you higher quality materials that are stronger relative to their weight, and in theory, should have a longer lifespan. But a good number of campers only make it out once or twice a year—and often in nice weather—which makes spending $400-plus unappealing. There’s a reason campsites are often dotted with Coleman tents: they’re affordable, roomy inside, and simple to set up and use.

If you do plan to camp a lot, are looking for a long-term investment that should last for multiple years, or prefer quality gear, we recommending going for a premium camping tent. Upgraded features like a full coverage rainfly, large vestibules and lots of interior pockets for gear storage, and strong aluminum poles increase a tent’s functionality and weather resistance. A tent like our #1 ranked REI Co-op Kingdom is the whole package—we have a first generation Kingdom that has been through the ringer and still is going strong. But those who plan on camping only infrequently can get away with a budget model like the Coleman Sundome just fine.Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p

Weather Resistance

As we touched on in the section above, a weather-worthy tent is one of the main reasons to upgrade to a premium camping model. In most cases, the pole materials (aluminum is better than fiberglass) and designs are more robust, seam sealing and waterproof fabrics improve in quality, and the inclusion of full coverage rainflies help keep out blowing rain. It’s good to keep in mind that the weather can still get plenty rowdy in the summer, particularly in the mountains (and national parks).

For most 3-season trips, any tent from our premium camping list should do the trick, if it’s been properly staked out (and if the wind picks up, take the time to align the tent and guylines to brace against the wind).

Ventilation

Weather resistance isn’t simply about withstanding wind or rain—the hot summer months bring their fair share of challenges. A tent that is hot and muggy at night can be just as miserable as a rain soaked tent—and either way, don’t expect much sleep. For a tent to perform well in these conditions it needs to ventilate well, so look for healthy swaths of mesh. While a lot of mesh impacts privacy with the rainfly off, the increased airflow is without a doubt worth the tradeoff. If you need to use the rainfly, look for features like roof vents that help expel heat (and the moisture from your breath) or the option to roll up the sides when the rain isn’t coming at you sideways to keep your occupants reasonably comfortable.Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p

Vestibules and Garages

A full coverage rainfly that protects the door(s) of a tent creates a space in front of those doors, referred to as a vestibule. We’ve found a wide range of uses for a vestibule, but a few highlights include a spot to store gear away from rain and putting on/taking off shoes. If you don’t have a car close by to store your stuff, a vestibule should be on your must-have list.

Taking the concept of a vestibule to the extreme is REI’s Kingdom Garage. The palatial pole-supported structure extends out for an additional 61 square feet of space, enough for a card table or area to store bikes. Also, you can prop up the zippered door with trekking poles to open your garage, turning your campground into polyester and nylon suburbia.

Weight and Packed Size

A quick look at the table above shows a wide range in the total weight of our recommended camping tents. On the lightweight end is a backpacking-friendly design like the MSR Papa Hubba NX at 6.5 pounds, while a large 6 or 8-person camping model will easily break 20 pounds. For car camping, the extra weight doesn’t mean a whole lot, but if you’re unable to drive up to your campsite, it’s worth considering total weight. And if you’re looking for an all-in-one hybrid camping and backpacking model, we recommend choosing a tent that weighs less than 10 pounds. Divided between a few people, that’s an acceptable amount of weight for casual weekend or overnight backpacking trips.

The packed size of the tent will typically align with its weight. Hybrid backpacking and camping tents pack down the smallest (the Papa Hubba measures 7 x 21 inches), while a tent like the Coleman Instant Tent will take up a good portion of a car trunk (approximately 10 x 48 inches). Again, if you have the space to store it and haul it around, this isn’t a big downside, but if either are at a premium, we recommend a more compact hybrid design.Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p

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Ground Size

When choosing between tent models, it’s a good idea to take the total footprint or ground size of the tent into account—some of the 6 and 8-person models are absolutely massive. Factoring in some of the large vestibules or “garages” that can be tacked on to the end of a tent, there’s a strong likelihood that it will extend beyond the size of the raised pads at some national parks or campgrounds. If you come from a backpacking background, many car camping tents require a much larger swath of ground.Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p

It’s not uncommon for a raised camping pad to be 10 or 11 feet long, which is a tight squeeze for a tent like the REI Kingdom 6 (10 feet not including the vestibule), and you can forget about the Coleman Red Canyon (17 feet). Typically, however, most locations have large pads available, so we wouldn’t recommend downsizing your tent out of fear of not finding a suitable space. But it’s not a bad idea to check out the dimensions of the campsites you plan on visiting and upgrade to a bigger space if possible. And if you have any doubts or want to use your tent in smaller spots, we recommend going with a hybrid or backpacking model that has a smaller footprint.

Use a Footprint

We always advise using some type of footprint or ground cloth when camping. The extra layer protects the tent’s floor, thus extending the tent’s overall lifespan. But do you need to spend the big bucks and get the one specifically made for the tent? Oftentimes those are upwards of $50, which feels like a lot for a single sheet of fabric and some webbing. The advantage of using the footprint specifically designed for the tent is that it’s precut to the proper dimensions and the grommets will attach to the tent poles directly. It’s an integrated system that you don’t need to worry about.

Alternatively, a decent tarp can suffice for ground protection as long as there’s still space to store it in your vehicle. They are typically quite large, and if you don’t want to cut them up, you’ll need to layer or stuff the excess material under the tent floor, creating some uncomfortable lumps. Another popular choice for making a generic ground cloth is picking up bulk Tyvek. This relatively thin and packable material is cheap and offers sufficient protection. No matter your choice, if you decide to trim the ground cloth, make sure to measure in a few inches in all dimensions to guarantee you don’t have fabric hanging out the sides of the tent floor. This extra material sticking out can collect and pool rain water and compromise your waterproof shelter.

The Rest of Your Camping Kit

Since you’re essentially setting up a home away from home, camping can be heavy on gear. Tents are typically your biggest purchase—both in price and size—followed by items like camping pads or mattresses and sleeping bags. Depending on where you’ll be camping and for how long, other essentials include a gas-burning stove and camping chairs. The beauty in all of this is that the same principles that apply to camping tents transfer to the rest of your gear. You can go cheap and still have a great time, but you’ll rarely regret spending extra for added comfort, performance, and longevity.Best Camping Tent :MSR Papa Hubba NX 4p