Best Camping Tents of 2018-2019-2020: Reviews and Guide
Best Tents for camping 2018-2019 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. For more information, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks. To complete your kit, we’ve also written about the best camping sleeping bags and mattresses.
Best Tents for camping 2018-2019 For most people, a high-quality tent is one of the most integral parts of a pleasant camping experience. While it can be fun to sleep out underneath the stars on certain nights, camping without a tent can be a potentially dangerous and altogether unpleasant experience in places which are home to native wild animals and bouts of harsh weather.
Best Camping Tents of 2018
Floor area: 83.3 sq. ft.
Weight: 19 lb. 12 oz.
Other sizes: 4P, 8P
What we like: Separate rooms and lots of space.
What we don’t: Super tall construction isn’t ideal for windy weather.
Best Tents for camping 2018-2019 A quality build from a company that knows a thing or two about camping, the REI Kingdom is our top camping tent of 2017 with a ton of livable space at an excellent price. The hubbed pole design creates near vertical walls, so the peak height of 75 inches is enjoyed throughout most of the tent (traditional dome-style tents are only roomy in the very middle). More, the tent has been thoughtfully designed with plenty of interior storage, a center divider, and very large doors on both ends.
The Kingdom’s customizable rainfly is also one of our favorites on the market. The rainfly is easy to secure with Velcro closures that attach to the ends and side poles, and it can be easily adapted to warm conditions by rolling up the sides for extra ventilation (weather permitting). One end of the tent is completely covered by the rainfly, making a vestibule with decent space for shoes or other small outdoor items. The other end has an awning and a weatherproof door, should the rain turn sideways. This end also has the Connect Tech Zipper, which allows you to add either a vestibule or garage—we suggest springing for the ultra-spacious Kingdom Garage if you can.
See the REI Co-op Kingdom 6
Floor area: 100 sq. ft.
Weight: 18 lb. 15 oz.
Other sizes: 4P
What we like: Rigid pole structure and stargazing.
What we don’t: One of the priciest tents on this list.
If car camping is your thing and you want premium weather protection and interior space, we love the Marmot Halo. In terms of structure, the Halo has a lot in common with a backpacking tent, featuring an aggressive and rigid pole design that stands up well to serious wind. With circular poles around the top—hence the name “halo”—you get added mesh panels for ventilation and stargazing in clear weather. Another defining feature of the Halo is bountiful interior space: the walls are nearly vertical and the peak height of 81 inches is one the highest on this list. Only the Eureka Copper Canyon exceeds it at 84 inches.
The biggest downside of the Marmot Halo is price: over $550 makes it one expensive tent. In addition, a number of people don’t love the “pumpkin” colorway that pervades just about everything to do with the tent, and unfortunately it’s the only option. But we love the build quality, which far exceeds most of the competition. If you spend multiple weekends camping each year and want a high quality home away from home, the Halo can be the one.
See the Marmot Halo 6
Floor area: 100 sq. ft.
Weight: 16 lb. 10 oz.
Other sizes: 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Bargain basement price.
What we don’t: Questionable build quality and limited rain fly.
Realistically, a healthy number of people only go camping once or twice a summer in good conditions, and don’t need all the bells and whistles of the tents above. If this sounds like you, give serious consideration to the Sundome 6 from Coleman, which isn’t made from the fanciest fabrics but likely will got the job done. Most importantly, the price that’s often around $80 is a steal compared to some of the fully-featured tents on this list that are six times that much.
What do you sacrifice by going with such an inexpensive tent? You can expect the materials to feel somewhat cheap, including everything from the clips and poles to the tent walls. More, the rain fly covers the main portion of the tent body but leaves part of the sides exposed. This shouldn’t be an issue in most conditions, but we do prefer full coverage for serious rain and blowing winds. However, the roominess, build quality, and weather protection all exceed what we would expect at this price point, which is why we have the Sundome so high on this list.
See the Coleman Sundome 6
Floor area: 86.8 sq. ft.
Weight: 20 lb. 12 oz.
Other sizes: 4P
What we like: Sturdy structure, ease of use, full coverage rainfly.
What we don’t: Not as roomy as the Kingdom 6.
Built for 3+ season use, the Base Camp from REI is the sturdier cousin to our top-rated Kingdom tent, and shares the same excellent mix of material quality, organization and design features. The dome shape means the walls aren’t as vertical as the Kingdom, but it’s still very easy to move around inside. More, the strong 5-pole design can withstand cross winds better than any other tent on this list, save the 4-season Big Agnes Flying Diamond. There are vestibules on both ends and the extremely wide doors provide easy entry/exit. In choosing between the Kingdom and Base Camp, they’re both excellent values for what you get. In the end, the decision should come down to maximizing space or a bump in weather resistance. And really, you’ll be getting an excellent tent either way.
See the REI Co-op Base Camp 6
Floor area: 57 sq. ft.
Weight: 10 lb. 7 oz.
Other sizes: 6P
What we like: Good price and a nice overall design.
What we don’t: One door and thin, delicate fabrics.
Kelty’s Discovery line offers a competitive mix of features for value-oriented campers. At $150 for the 4-person model, it’s affordable but includes a number of upgrades from cheap tents like the Coleman Sundome above. First off, you get a full coverage rainfly and vestibule for rainy and windy conditions. Kelty also uses quite a bit more mesh in the construction so the tent makes it easier to keep cool in the summer heat. We would prefer a second door for easier access and more storage, but it’s not a deal breaker at this price point.
For those looking to step up from a Coleman tent, the Discovery is a nice option. However, it’s still a relatively cheap build—the tent body and floor fabrics are thin and lower in quality than the REI models above. More, the tent is short at 4 feet 9 inches and uses fiberglass poles, which don’t hold up well to rough use. But these are sacrifices we’ve come to expect at this price, and the Discovery remains a good mid-range option.
See the Kelty Discovery 4
Floor area: 100 sq. ft.
Weight: 26 lb. 8 oz.
Other sizes: 4P, 8P, 12P
What we like: Almost like a second home.
What we don’t: Not ready for bad weather.
The Copper Canyon excels in one key area: its size. This mansion-like 3-season shelter is big enough for a group of six-foot adults to walk around in comfortably. All this space make it a prime choice cot sleepers and families with kids. With a full mesh roof, air circulation is excellent even with the rain fly on.
The Copper Canyon is water resistant and the windows and doors zip up, but the rain fly only covers the mesh roof and doesn’t extend much further. Accordingly, those that might see sustained rainstorms like in the Pacific Northwest may want to opt for more protection. The tent walls also are essentially vertical, so it looks like a house—but one that’s been made of polyester fabric and fiberglass and steel poles. Use the guylines if the wind picks up to keep everything in one piece.
See the Eureka Copper Canyon 6
Floor area: 63 sq. ft.
Weight: 9 lb. 13 oz.
Other sizes: None
What we like: A true camping/backpacking hybrid.
What we don’t: Only one door.
The MSR Papa Hubba and REI Half Dome on our list are true backpacking tents that can be used for camping, but Nemo has made a very interesting adaption with its 4-person Bungalow. This tent is a true hybrid: the Bungalow builds off the success of Nemo’s Losi backpacking line, but adds significant interior space for the family version that is more akin to a camping tent. At under 10 pounds total, you can use this tent for car camping and it’s light enough to bring on backcountry adventures as well (not ideal, but light enough, and especially if you split up the components).
Other good news is that Nemo’s build quality is very impressive. Compared to a tent like the Kelty Trail Ridge 6 below, the Bunglaow has better poles, more rigidity, and a higher-end feel. At 63 square feet of interior space and with a peak height of 60 inches, this is not the ideal tent for those who like to spend significant time under cover, but it’s cozy, well built, and the only true hybrid on this list.
See the Nemo Bungalow 4P
Floor area: 100 sq. ft.
Weight: 25 lb. 8 oz.
Other sizes: None
What we like: Fast set up yet with quality materials.
What we don’t: Only partial coverage rainfly and very large packed size.
For those that prioritize a fast set up, tents that have the poles permanently attached can cut down on the total time substantially. Caddis isn’t the only company to use this quick pitch design but we think it’s the best on the market. Unlike the popular Instant Tent from Coleman below, the hallmark feature of the Rapid 6 is the quality of materials. True, the poles are heavy steel, but everything else stacks up very well at this price point. It’s also massive inside, with 100 very usable square feet thanks to near vertical walls.
What are the downsides of the Rapid 6? The most significant is the rainfly, which only provides full coverage on 2 sides and doesn’t have any vestibule space. For fair weather camping, however, this shouldn’t be an issue for most people. More, the packed size is very large, and at 50 inches in length, it can be an issue fitting into a full trunk. But if you want a tent with a fast set up and few compromises, the Rapid 6 is a great choice.
See the Caddis Rapid 6
Floor area: 170 sq. ft.
Weight: 22 lb. 6 oz.
Other sizes: None
What we like: Absolutely massive interior; room dividers.
What we don’t: Partial rainfly, cheaper materials.
Among Coleman’s extensive lineup of camping tents, the Red Canyon is our favorite 8-person model. Breaking from the traditional Sundome above, the tent has essentially 3 rooms: a tall center area and two shorter side rooms that can be divided with curtains. This makes it easy to push aside your sleeping gear for a large, open space to hang out in during the day. And on the topic of space, it’s worth noting just how massive the Red Canyon is. Measuring 17 feet by 10 feet (170 square feet), it’s by far the largest on this list—exceeding even the spacious 8-person Eureka Copper Canyon above by 40 square feet.
As with nearly all budget camping tents, it’s important to set reasonable expectations on build quality and longevity. The thick fabrics offer impressive waterproofing and are strong, but issues like pole sleeves tearing and zippers breaking can crop up over time. More, the rainfly only provides partial coverage and will eventually succumb to sustained wind or rain. But the Red Canyon’s combination of space and price easily earns it a spot on our list.
See the Coleman Red Canyon 8
Floor area: 92 sq. ft.
Weight: 20 lb. 6 oz.
Other sizes: 4P, 8P
What we like: Weather resistance and true 4-season usability.
What we don’t: Peak height is a bit short for recreational campers.
If you camp year-round including occasionally on snow, then we recommend picking up the Big Agnes Flying Diamond. With robust fabrics and a sturdy pole structure, it lets you hunker down and seal out the outside world. In achieving this awesome weather protection, Big Agnes does cut out the kind of interior space that lets you stand and move around in all areas. The back sleeping area peaks at just over 4 feet in the 6-person model, but the front room is a more manageable 5.5 feet.
It’s not the best breather in the group, but the two-piece doors have zippered mesh panels and there are a few mesh windows in the tent body to move hot air. In good weather, a creative fly design lets you convert the vestibule into a front porch awning with some trekking poles or tarp poles.
See the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6
Floor area: 82 sq. ft.
Weight: 15 lb. 10 oz.
Other sizes: 2P, 3P, 4P, 8P
What we like: Epic rainfly system and the best field-of-view on the list.
What we don’t: Not as well designed as the premium REI tents.
Playing off the popularity of its TN2—a backpacking tent with tons of mesh and a retractable Stargazing Fly—the Kelty Trail Ridge hits the car camping scene with a splash. There is a lot to like about this tent: it offers easy entry and exit with 2 large doors, a spacious interior, and excellent visibility with heavy use of mesh on the tent body. The Stargazing Fly allows you to roll back the rainfly when the conditions are clear, and you simply reach your arm out of the door, unclip, and secure it at the corners for full coverage if weather rolls in. For car camping in good conditions and under bright skies, it’s tough to beat this tent.
The main shortcoming of the Kelty Trail Ridge 6 is the price. $400 is a lot to spend for a camping tent, and the build quality, features, and weather resistance aren’t quite up to the standards of tents like the REI Base Camp or even the very spacious Kingdom. It is notable that a footprint is included (it’s not with REI tents), saving you an extra $60 or so compared to the manufacturer’s version.
See the Kelty Trail Ridge 6
Floor area: 53 sq. ft.
Weight: 6 lb. 8 oz.
Other sizes: 3P, 2P, 1P
What we like: Lightweight and great for family backpacking.
What we don’t: Very expensive and cramped inside.
Most of the tents on this list truly are of the “camping” variety, meaning they’re heavy enough that you won’t be carrying them more than a few steps from your car. However, there is a whole world of family backpacking tents that also can be taken into the backcountry much farther from civilization. If you don’t mind sacrificing interior space, a family backpacking tent is a very viable option that could save you in the long run—no need to buy a separate backpacking tent when the time comes.
To provide the proper background, the MSR Papa Hubba NX 4 weighs a feathery 6 pounds, 8 ounces. Our top pick, the REI Kingdom, weighs nearly 20 pounds and some tents on this list far exceed that. The biggest sacrifice is interior space and the peak height of 44 inches, which is far less than most camping tents that are 72 inches or more. This means that the Papa Hubba isn’t ideal for things like extended card games and standing up, but we do love the versatility.
See the MSR Papa Hubba NX
Floor area: 75 sq. ft.
Weight: 13 lb. 11 oz.
Other sizes: 4P
What we like: Tall walls and airy feeling inside.
What we don’t: Less weather worthy than the competition.
Aptly named, the Big Agnes Big House Deluxe offers excellent interior space at a competitive price. The Big House has been updated for 2017, and Big Agnes has switched from a dome shape to a cabin style for improved roominess. The new design is quite tall, with the sidewalls sloping upward aggressively to a peak height of 78 inches in the 6-person model. Keep in mind that this extra real estate creates a sail-like effect in the wind, so make sure to stake the tent out completely and use the included guylines.
Offsetting mesh and polyester ripstop panels on the tent body make it a good ventilator, and with two doors on all versions, the Big House is a solid bargain starting at $400 for the 6-person. You do miss out on a vestibule at that price, as the standard rainfly does not cover the front door. For extra storage, pick up the accessory vestibule that creates a front garage, similar to the REI Connect Tech system. Overall, we prefer the more weather-worthy designs from REI, Marmot, and Kelty above, but the Big House is still a compelling tent for those that camp in mild conditions and prioritize interior space.
See the Big Agnes Big House 6 Deluxe
Floor area: 56.1 sq. ft.
Weight: 7 lb. 3 oz.
Other sizes: 2P
What we like: Lightweight, small packed size.
What we don’t: Lower ceiling and more cramped than a true camping tent.
Not everyone is able to drive right up to their camping spot. The site could be a short walk or even a half-mile trek, which means trimming weight and bulk from your gear is quite important. The 4-person REI Half Dome is our top pick for these needs. It’s actually just a variation of one of our favorite lightweight backpacking tents, the Half Dome 2, but in a grown-up size that fits a growing family. The Half Dome can also be easily taken on casual backpacking trips if you divvy up the poles, rainfly, and tent body.
Interior space is a lot smaller than a more traditional camping tent, and its peak height is only 48 inches, which makes changing in the tent a little more challenging. Those with families that like to hang out in the tent should stick to the larger options above, but for a hybrid backpacking/camping tent, the Half Dome is one of our favorites.
See the REI Co-op Half Dome 4
Floor area: 90 sq. ft.
Weight: 25 lb. 8 oz.
Other sizes: 4P, 8P
What we like: Cheap and easy to set up.
What we don’t: Really should include the rainfly from the start.
At the budget end of the spectrum, the Coleman Instant Tent offers ease of use and ample space for a family. The Instant Tent name comes from its pre-attached poles and incredibly basic setup—simply take the tent out the bag, make a few adjustments, and stake it in. For summer camping where wind and rain aren’t factors, this tent performs reasonably well and is a good value.
The tent body is fully seam sealed and uses very thick fabrics in an attempt to make it function without a rainfly—it’s somewhat successful but extremely heavy. You can purchase a separate fly that covers the top of the tent should you want to open up some of the windows in a light rain shower. Among our budget options, we prefer Coleman’s Red Canyon and Sundome to the Instant Tent, which have more complete feature sets and offer better weather resistance. But if a convenient setup is a big selling point, the Instant Tent is hard to beat.
See the Coleman Instant Tent 6
Floor area: 106 sq. ft.
Weight: 11 lb. 4 oz.
Other sizes: None
What we like: Living the yurt life.
What we don’t: Low on the practicality scale for most car campers.
Just about every camper goes for a classic dome or cabin-style tent, but why not a yurt? Legendary Swedish tentmaker Hilleberg has created an intriguing and offbeat option with the Altai XP, which essentially amounts to a lightweight and portable yurt for less than $1,000. And if you know anything about Hilleberg—they make some of the finest backpacking tents on the planet—it’s going to be very well thought out and built to last.
Caveat emptor: We don’t want to play up the Hilleberg Altai too much. It’s a specialty tent designed mostly for basecamping in alpine conditions and is not something you’ll often see around your average state park campground. More, the $885 price tag is only for the exterior tent. The inner tent—which you’ll certainly want for any real weather—is a $365 add-on and the floor is another $199. But around $1,500 all-in isn’t all that bad for such a cool set-up. If you feel the urge to be different, buck the trend and go for a yurt.
See the Hilleberg Altai
|Tent||Price||Floor Area||Doors||Weight||Height||Other Sizes|
|REI Co-op Kingdom 6||$439||83 sq. ft.||2||19 lb. 12 oz.||75 in.||4P, 8P|
|Marmot Halo 6||$559||100 sq. ft.||2||19 lb. 7 oz.||81 in.||4P|
|Coleman Sundome 6||$79||100 sq. ft.||1||16 lb. 10 oz.||72 in.||2P, 3P, 4P|
|REI Co-op Base Camp 6||$429||86.8 sq. ft.||2||20 lb. 12 oz.||74 in.||4P|
|Kelty Discovery 4||$150||57 sq. ft.||1||10 lb. 7 oz.||57 in.||6P|
|Eureka Copper Canyon 6||$260||100 sq. ft.||1||26 lb. 8 oz.||84 in.||4P, 8P, 12P|
|Nemo Bungalow 4P||$370||63 sq. ft.||1||9 oz. 13 oz.||60 in.||None|
|Caddis Rapid 6||$270||100 sq. ft.||1||25 lb. 8 oz.||78 in.||None|
|Coleman Red Canyon 8||$140||170 sq. ft.||1||22 lb. 6 oz.||72 in.||None|
|Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6||$700||92 sq. ft.||2||20 lb. 6 oz.||67 in.||4P, 8P|
|Kelty Trail Ridge 6||$400||82 sq. ft.||2||15 lb. 10 oz.||72 in.||2P, 3P, 4P, 8P|
|MSR Papa Hubba NX||$600||53 sq. ft.||2||6 lb. 8 oz.||44 in.||3P, 2P, 1P|
|Big Agnes Big House 6 Deluxe||$400||75 sq. ft.||2||13 lb. 11 oz.||78 in.||4P|
|REI Co-op Half Dome 4||$299||56.1 sq. ft.||2||7 lb. 3 oz.||48 in.||2P|
|Coleman Instant Tent 6||$180||90 sq. ft.||1||25 lb. 8 oz.||60 in.||4P, 8P|
|Hilleberg Altai||$885||106 sq. ft.||1||11 lb. 4 oz.||78 in.||None|
- Camping Tent Types
- Interior Space: Floor Dimensions and Tent Height
- How Many People Actually Fit in These Tents?
- Build Quality
- Weather Resistance
- Storage Space: Vestibules and Garages
- Weight and Packed Size
- Ground Size
- Use a Footprint
- The Rest of Your Camping Kit
Premium Camping 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.
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.
Budget Camping Tents
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 Camping/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 REI Co-op Half Dome 4, which will fit 4 pads side-by-side (and is very roomy for 2 or 3 people). 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 Half Dome 4 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 Half Dome 4 or MSR Papa Hubba NX is a great pick up.
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.
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 and Big Agnes Big House are other standouts in maximizing interior space.
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.
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 Kelty Discovery, Coleman Red Canyon, and 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.
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.
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).
The two strongest tents on the list are the REI Co-op Base Camp and Big Agnes Flying Diamond, which utilize advanced pole designs that are inspired from mountaineering tents. The Big Agnes can even be used for snow camping in less extreme conditions. 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).
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.
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. More, you can prop up the zippered door with trekking poles to open your garage, turning your campground into polyester and nylon suburbia.
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.
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.
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.
We always recommend 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.
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.