The tent is a simple invention, yet so ancient it makes the idea of permanent buildings seem like a modern fad in comparison. Once upon a time, our nomadic ancestors relied on these portable homes as a primary form of shelter, very literally the difference between life and death. Nowadays outdoor activities are mostly recreational, but Mother Nature is as wily and dangerous as she ever was, and protection from the elements is no less vital for campers, hikers, rafters, or any other type of outdoor adventurer.Even a family just trying to enjoy a nice weekend at a campsite will need to make sure they have the proper gear to ensure a safe, comfortable, fun trip. Fortunately, we’ve put together this little guide to the types of things you should look for.
Best Camping Tents
[table id=15 /]
Camping Tents Reviews
So, you’ve done the research, considered the needs of yourself and your adventuring party, and maybe even done a little comparison shopping. All that, but you’re still not sure which tent to go with.Well, no worries, because we’ve put together a little list of the very best across a variety of sizes and styles, and all with three-season protection designed to stand up to all but the harshest conditions.
Kelty Salida (2-Person Dome)
Winner of the Backpacker Magazine Editor’s Choice Award 2011, the Kelty Salida’s weatherproofed polyester panels, nylon floor and heavy-duty, full-length 75D polyester rain hood provide excellent cover from the elements. And when the sky is clear? Off comes the rain fly to reveal walls of No-See-Um mesh, providing protection against insects while allowing air to flow freely. As such, this model offers maximum comfort and minimal condensation in all types of weather. Boasting 30.5 square feet of floor space and a 10-foot vestibule, the Salida is downright roomy for two people, weighs just over three pounds out of the package, and with only two DAC Pressfit aluminum poles, it’s a snap to set up! Featuring great extras like fully-taped seams, noiseless zippers, gear-loft loops and internal storage panels, the Kelty Salida is a can’t-miss item for the duo who wants comfort and convenience in a single great package.
Coleman Montana (8-Person Tunnel)
When you’re traveling in numbers and space is a priority, it’s hard to beat the 8-person Coleman Montana. Designed for families, scout troops, and any other voyagers who’ll need to keep large groups happy and comfortable, the Coleman Montana offers a magnificent 112 square feet of floor space and a 6-foot, 2-inch peak height for one of the roomiest offerings on the market. Moreover, extra ventilation ports and privacy windows are built in to help keep the air fresh. But the Montana isn’t just big, it’s tough too. With Coleman’s proprietary WeatherTec System in place, wind and rain would have a hard time beating the fully-taped, inverted seams connecting weather-treated polyester panels and a high-density polyethylene floor. Moreover, the stylish taffeta fly creates a covered porch and wings, providing a pleasant place to take in the beauties of nature, and shock-corded fiberglass poles will keep the whole thing rigid. Clever features like the brilliant hinged door, electrical access port for campers who like some modern amenities, and the interior gear-storage pocket will keep your group in style.
Suisse Sport Yosemite (5-Person Dome)
A great starter for those new to the outdoors, or who expect to be camping only occasionally and in not-too-rough weather. Uncommonly large and spacious for a dome tent, the Suisse Sport Yosemite offers trekkers a bit of extra luxury and privacy with a divider that separates the tent into two separate rooms. Though advertised for five, the Yosemite’s footprint of 80 square feet is considered by some to be ideal for four, as it’s extremely roomy with only four occupants and can just fit two Queen-sized mattresses. Consider the sizes of your fellow adventurers before heading out with a Yosemite, as broad shoulders could make a crucial difference between comfort and cramming. Nylon taffeta panels and large mesh windows mean that the Yosemite excels most of all in warmer-weather camping, but its solid construction and tarp-like floor provide excellent protection, especially with a little bit of extra seam-sealant, and an electrical port makes it easy to run a space heater inside to ensure toasty warmth all night long.
Coleman 14 x 10 “Instant Tent” (8-person Cabin)
Even leaving aside the innovative engineering– featuring poles permanently attached to the tent’s exterior– that makes Coleman’s enormous “Instant Tent” a snap to set up in a minute or less, this shelter is an industry leader in being comprehensively full-featured. As in the Montana (see above), Coleman’s unique WeatherTec system will keep your whole group cozy with a high-grade welded polyethylene floor and inverted floor seams to help keep rain out. Best of all, the 150-Denier polyester taffeta panels are double– yes, double– the density of Coleman’s usual heavy-duty offerings, and so tough that you can stay warm and dry without a rain fly. Though, of course, there’s a fully-taped fly to offer an extra layer of protection just in case. Additionally, the enormous polyester mesh windows on all sides of the shelter offer a 360-degree view and great ventilation. Not only does this tent boast 140 square feet of floor space and almost six and a half feet of vertical clearance– along with upright, cabin-style walls that ensure roominess all around– it comes with a divider to split that massive space up into two rooms for privacy. Note that cabin-style construction and the large size can leave the Coleman vulnerable to high winds, but this is a fantastic tent for comfort on a campground.
Eureka! Solitare (1-Person Tunnel)
Finally, we close out this overview of fantastic collapsible shelters with a great little product for the solo voyager or walkabout enthusiast: the Eureka! Solitare, a snug “bivy” (short for “bivouac”) style hideaway for one that combines exceptional portability with serious protection. Of course, solo journeys aren’t for beginners, so this model is designed to satisfy the hardiest nature-lover, especially since it can brag about Eureka’s impressive StormShield technology. The two-hoop design is generously-sized for one, with over 21 feet of space (the most floor area per person of any tent featured here), and the wide-open No-See-Um mesh roof provides for great ventilation (and sky-watching) on summer nights. 70-Denier nylon taffeta in the bathtub-seamed floor and the weatherproofed 75D StormShield polyester fly provide a nice bit of protection against precipitation and chill, while shock-corded fiberglass poles offer solid structure. Beautifully minimalist, this bivy weighs in at just 2 pounds, 9 ounces, meaning it will never weigh you down on your adventures.
Why Use This Guide
The main use of a tent is, of course, to provide protection against the elements: rain, snow, intense sunlight and even insects are discomforts all campers are familiar with, but even the hardiest and most nature-loving individual will generally prefer safe, stable, comfortable accommodations in their time outdoors. Fortunately, modern science and engineering have developed a wide array of different styles and materials to ensure that savvy shoppers can get the gear that best suits their needs. Whether you’re staying in a well-tended campground, on a rafting trip, or hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, the right tent for you is out there.The marketplace for different styles of tents is as diverse as nature itself, providing a would-be camper with a great deal of variety to choose from. The size and shape are perhaps the first things that would come to mind, but a wise outdoor enthusiast knows that things like the materials used for the poles and fabric panels, the type of flooring, and other features like the rain fly, will make a huge difference in determining whether a certain shelter is right for your needs.
Types of Tents
Here are some things to consider as you begin shopping:
SETTING— An abode designed to be set up at a fixed site on a campground may be very different from one intended for multi-day trail hikes, which are optimized for portability so as not to become a burden when carried along with other gear. Both styles may be very different from a true wilderness tent, which will focus on maximum protection from even the roughest conditions.
SEASON— One common way of dividing different types of shelters is by the season or seasons for which they’re intended. For instance, a “summer” tent is generally the lightest variety, and will generally excel more at protecting from UV rays and insects than heavy rain or strong wind. On the other end of the spectrum, a heavy-duty “five-season” (or “expedition”) model could be expected to stand up to the hazards of all four seasons, including particularly extreme conditions.
SIZE & SHAPE—There are many different shapes and styles out there, from a “cabin” with vertical walls and windows, to a “dome” that sacrifices some usable space but is shaped to ensure the maximum amount of wind and rain will shear off before it can inconvenience the occupants. Though cabin tents tend toward larger sizes and domes are often ideal for single campers, and can even be designed to fit in a backpack, you can expect to find a wide range of sizes in any model.
MATERIALS—With the advent of synthetic materials, modern tents are lighter, more durable, and offer more protection than our ancestors could ever imagine. Still, there are pros and cons to any material, for instance a tradeoff between weight and protectiveness. As with any other category, it’s important to assess your specific needs before you buy.
Choosing The Right Shelter
In this section, we’ll endeavor to lay out in more specific terms the types of options you’ll need to navigate to ensure that you buy the best shelter for the outdoor adventures you’d like to have.
SETTING: As mentioned, tents tend to break down into three main categories, based on where you would expect to use them. These categories are…
Campground: Ideal for situations where you just want to set up your accommodations once when you arrive, and keep them set for the duration of your stay, campground tents are best for the more casual outdoorsperson, who may value convenience and comfort over durability in extreme conditions.
Trail: For the highly mobile adventurer, trail tents are tough, lightweight, and easy to transport. The end product is a shelter that provides a great deal of protection without being heavy, bulky, or otherwise burdensome, though often at a sacrifice to size.
Wilderness: Perfect for the hardcore outdoor enthusiast, wilderness tents emphasize sturdiness and high-grade protection above all else. Expect a product designed to stand up to some of the worst conditions, with extra proofing against rain and wind.
SEASON: The love of nature knows no season, but a wise camper will be prepared for what the seasons have to throw at them. After all, nobody wants to be woken up by a too-light shelter collapsing under a snowfall.
Summer: Light and breezy, summer tents won’t generally stand up to much more than light rain, but provide the greatest degree of air-flow, helping to ensure comfort on hot summer nights.
Two-Three-Season: A shelter designed to work best in spring, summer, or fall, a two-three season facility is highly versatile and capable of standing up to most weather, but shouldn’t be expected to endure intense storms or heavy snowfall.
Four-Season: A step up from the two-three season model, the four-season variety may not be what you’d take on a trip up Everest, but can be trusted in most “ordinary” weather conditions from sunshine to snowfall, and will often have mesh windows to improve airflow on warmer nights.
Expedition: The expedition tent is heavy-duty gear for serious campers. Designed to handle all four seasons and even a little extra (hence the nickname “five-season”), even heavy rain or strong winds are no match for a good expedition five-season.
SHAPE: Though sizes will vary, requiring the purchaser to consider closely the quantity of people and gear that may be kept inside, there are common shapes or designs that will provide a baseline for the type of experience the occupant(s) can expect. These are…
Cabin: Highly spacious and generally full-featured, cabin tents are designed to bring comfort and amenity into the outdoors. Though the relatively elaborate structures can require some work to set up, vertical walls ensure the greatest possible amount of usable space inside, and some larger models are even partitioned into separate sleeping areas. Cabin designs are also likely to include additional features like windows and vestibules.
Dome: While the sloped walls of a dome tent will help redirect wind and rain, they also cut significantly into the available headroom. On the plus side, domes are generally quite simple to set up and break down, and the lost room also means less to transport when portability is a factor. Note that the “Height” description will be the highest point.
Hoop/Tunnel: Designed to incorporate the best features of cabin and dome types, hoop tents usually shear off less wind and rain than domes, but retain their ease of setup while offering some of the spaciousness of cabins.
Describing the removable fabric covering that forms the body, the panels are naturally a major component, and the strengths and weaknesses of different materials will go a long way to determining whether a certain model is right for you. Common materials are…
Nylon: The lightest common material, nylon will generally be treated to improve its water resistance and to prevent damage to the material by sunlight. Note however that wetness will cause noticeable sag, and over time exposure to UV rays can cause dry-rot.
Polyester: Better than nylon at standing up to both rain and shine, polyester brings improved water-resistance and UV protection, at the cost of breathability.
Mesh: Compared to the “solid” fabrics above, mesh emphasizes ventilation above all else, but in terms of protection it’s unlikely to keep out rain or UV rays to any meaningful degree. Mesh falls into two categories, “Open weave” (maximum air-flow, but some bugs might get through) and “No-See-Um,” which doesn’t breathe quite as well, but is more likely to stop bugs.
Easy to overlook, poles provide the skeleton to the panels’ body, and there are significant pros and cons to the two main varieties.
Aluminum: Poles made of aluminum are lighter than fiberglass, as well as less rigid. This material is more likely to bend than to break, meaning that bending it back into shape is usually easy, and when broken the “clean” breaks should be easier to fix. Aluminum can, however, be more expensive, prone to corrosion if protective coatings wear off, and in harsh cold the metal can transmit frostbite.
Fiberglass: Though less expensive than aluminum and more resistant to corrosion, fiberglass supports are somewhat more brittle (particularly in the cold) and when broken they’re likely to shatter or splinter in ways that make repair all but impossible. Additionally, fiberglass poles need to be thicker to provide the same degree of structure as aluminum, making them heavier.
The floor is the toughest part of the tent, caught between occupants and the often-rough ground underneath. Good flooring will also improve water resistance and overall comfort.
Vinyl: The ultimate in waterproofing, large sheets of vinyl are not necessarily easy to pack, and are recommended mainly for serious wilderness camping.
Polyethylene: Comparable to a tarp, polyethylene is inexpensive and highly waterproof, but heavy, difficult to pack, and unfortunately easy to puncture, as well as being quite loud.
Nylon/Polyester Taffeta: Light and almost silent, as well as quite water resistant when seam-sealed, synthetic taffeta is favored by trail campers.
Oxford: This type of flooring falls between polyethylene and taffeta in terms of weight and convenience, and offers high puncture-resistance, ideal for campers using cots.
Waterproofing & condensation resistance: As most campers prefer to keep themselves and their gear dry overnight, there are many methods intended to achieve this effect. Waterproof coating may be necessary on the top or rain fly, its floor, and at least some of its siding, as well as along seams.Double walls excel at preventing condensation from accumulating , and greater ventilation helps as well. A “bathtub floor” describes a seam between floor and walls that meets partway up the walls, several inches off the ground, preventing water from coming through the seam at ground-level.
Rain fly: A major weapon in the fight against wetness, a rain fly is a sort of removable umbrella for the top of your abode, redirecting water away from the top and seams. Full-length flies extend nearly to the shelter’s base, providing almost total coverage, and are common on wilderness tents, whereas partial flies improve ventilation by covering only the top.
Vestibule: Often an extension of the rain fly, a vestibule is basically a covered area outside the main walls, ideal for things like gear storage.
Windows: Generally covered in mesh to resist insect infiltration, unzippable windows give the camper a choice between more ventilation or more protection against the elements. Warm-weather camping without ventilation may be uncomfortable, so most multi-season varieties will include this feature.
Footprint: An inexpensive protective layer beneath the floor and the ground, a footprint will absorb damage from rocks and sharp sticks, helping preserve the more permanent components and protecting your investment. A footprint will also contribute to all-important waterproofing for your comfort.
Ready, Set, Camp
Armed with the knowledge in this guide, you should be well on your way to deciding on the right gear for your adventures. Think long and hard about your specific needs—portability versus durability, or size versus ease of setup—and you’ll be able to tackle the job of buying the perfect tent with the confidence of a seasoned expert!
There you have it! We hope this guide has been helpful to you, your family, or your camping group in deciding what kind of tent is best-suited to your adventures. There are countless products on the market, but these are great offerings from trusted manufacturers, and can be relied upon to offer superior quality, comfort and protection. Remember, stay safe, and have fun!