The Best Camping Tents

The Best Camping Tents
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One of the most important pieces of gear while camping is your shelter. Yes, your sleeping bag is also vital, but if it’s raining, the right tent can mean the difference between a nightmarish camping experience in the cold and a relaxing time spent enjoying nature. 
With this in mind, it’s important to put some serious thought into what tent you want to invest in. “You don’t want to have to buy a new one every few years because you skimped the first time around,” says outdoors freelance writer and photographer Emily Reed. However, Reed also notes the best tents can get expensive fast—think anywhere from $100 to upwards of $1,500. 
Sometimes that hefty price tag can be worth it, but in most cases you can get everything you need within the $150 to $400 range. Think about how you plan to use your tent so you’re not spending extra on unnecessary upgrades.
The four main categories to consider are car camping, backpacking, family camping, and winter camping. While there is a lot of overlap, each of these activities has specific needs that require special tent features.
Regardless of camping style, durability and weather worthiness are the two golden rules that can make or break a tent. Next, you’ll want to ask how many people you plan to camp with. Larger tents will generally be heavier and more expensive than similar smaller tents, but the extra room for bags or more people can be worth it. Most of the time, a two-person tent really means just two people. Sometimes there’s space for a change of clothes and vestibule area (the outside space your rain fly covers) for a bag, but if you want some extra breathing room, you may want to size up.
To find out the best tents for every type of activity, we talked to more than a dozen camping and outdoor experts about their favorite tents, and these were the ones they loved.
Car Camping
With car camping, you’re driving up to a campsite and setting up right there, meaning you don’t have to worry as much about the bulk or weight of your tent. Asia Bradford, the founder of Black Girls Camp, recommends getting a tent that’s designed to fit more people than you need. “What I really tell people is that if they’re new to camping and they know that they want to have an air mattress or what have you, they’re going to need to at least cut that number in half.”
Technically, all the bubble tent in any of these categories would work fine for car camping, but these ones specifically maximize comfort and space for couples or small groups. In this category you’ll also tend to find a lot of extra features that you may or may not need or want. Wildlife photographer and Backpackers gear reviewer Deirdre Denali Rosenberg suggests avoiding “gimmicky things like built-in lights,” because they drive up the price tag and often aren’t worth the extra money.
Two-Person Tent
For people camping in pairs, Reed highly recommends REI Co-op’s Half Dome tent because it has extra wiggle room. While this tent is also light enough for backpacking, at 4 lbs. and 14 oz., Reed has found it really shines in “scenarios where weight isn’t a priority.”
“It’s larger than traditional two-person tents to allow space for your pup or additional gear,” she says. The car tent also features two doors so you don’t have to climb over your partner to get out, mesh side pockets for storage, and ripstop nylon fabric for durability, which Reed notes is a must for any tent. “I’ve had this tent for almost five years, and it’s my go-to for car camping.”
Four-Person Tent
Outdoor adventurer, expedition guide, and co-owner of Dreamland Safari Tours Sunny Stroeer recommends Kelty’s Dirt Motel, a tent that provides a luxury outdoor experience with super-easy assembly and a cool stargazing rain-fly design. She uses this tent for car camping or when guiding on truck-based overnight trips.
“I have found that the Kelty Dirt Motel performs better in wind and is faster to set up than most other brands and models I have used in the past,” Stroeer tells SELF. Along with standing up to 30-mph-plus winds and solid waterproofing, the Dirt Motel has two doors and vestibules and plenty of room inside to move around.
Eight-Person Tent
For everything from large groups to solo car camping, Coleman’s eight-person Instant Family Tent is one of Bradford’s top picks. She uses it for comfort camping on her own and on group trips with Black Girls Camp, an Ohio state-registered nonprofit aimed at bringing more black women into camping and providing a safe space to learn and enjoy the outdoors.
The tent sets up in under a minute with snap-in poles that are durable and easy to use. “It sets up in about 50 seconds, and I’ve used it in the wind and the rain and have not had any issues with them,” says Bradford. The only drawback, she says, is that while the instant-pitch tent is great for convenience, especially after a long drive, it doesn’t pack down as small and isn’t quite as winter-friendly as some of her favorite traditional-pitch tents like the Field and Stream Cross Vent 8-Person Tent ($132, Amazon).
Backpacking
When you’re backpacking, you carry all your gear with you on the trail, meaning every little bit of weight counts. Michelle Markel, a long-distance hiker and founder of supportpubliclands.com, says, “Tent weight is one of the most important considerations, because on a long-distance hike, every ounce counts.”
At the same time, you also have to balance weight with durability because you don’t want your shelter to break or tear during a storm or midway through a weeklong trek. “It doesn’t matter if your tent weighs less than a pound if it leaks water on the trail,” says Reed. For durability, look for tents with ripstop nylon material and aluminum poles.
One-Person Tent
The Nemo Hornet tent is Markel’s top choice for her solo trekking adventures. “It hits virtually all of the important features,” she says. For Markel, this means it’s ultralight (1 lb. 10 oz.), durable, freestanding, double-walled, and easy to set up, and has a side door.
With a fully connected foldable-poll system, the Hornet is easy to set up, and since it’s freestanding, you can pitch it on virtually any flat area. Once up, the tent provides enough space for one person to snuggle up on their own, and the side door makes it easy to get in and out. Markel says the side door “makes the tent feel larger when I have the fly open to the side as opposed to one end.”
At the same time, if you only have the cash for one tent and you want to bring a friend sometimes, the owner of Adios Adventure Travel, Jacquie Whitt, recommends getting a two-person tent. In that case, the Hornet also has a two-person version ($370, REI).
 
Car camping with family or friends is a summer pastime for many of us. Whether the campground itself is the main attraction or it’s simply your base camp for nearby activities, this article will help you find the right camping tent—your home away from home. (Prefer backcountry camping? See the REI Expert Advice article, Backpacking Tents: How to Choose.)
 
When choosing your tent, first choose a model based on your group’s size and whether or not you might need additional space for extra friends, gear or dogs. Keep in mind, however, that no industry standard exists that defines per-person tent dimensions.
When evaluating bubble tent capacity ratings, our general advice is this: Assume a close fit. If you seek more room, consider upsizing your tent capacity by 1 person, particularly if you or your usual tent companion(s):

Tents Seasonality
3-Season Tents
By far the most popular choice of tents, 3-season tents are lightweight shelters designed for the relatively temperate conditions of spring, summer and fall. They are usually equipped with ample mesh panels to boost air flow. Mesh panels keep out insects (but can still let in powdery blowing sand). Properly pitched with a taut rainfly, 3-season tents can withstand downpours but are not the best choice for sustained exposure to harsh storms, violent winds or heavy snow.

3- 4-Season Tents
Extended-season (3+ season) tents are engineered for prolonged 3-season usage, suitable for summer use but also trips in early spring and late fall when moderate snow may be encountered. Their goal: offer a balance of ventilation, strength and warmth-retention.
Typically they include 1 or 2 more poles and fewer mesh panels than pure 3-season models. This makes them sturdier and warmer than their 3-season cousins. Extended-season tents are a good choice for those who make frequent trips to exposed, high-elevation destinations. While very sturdy, they are not as fully fortified for harsh winter weather as 4-season tents.
 
4-Season Tents
Engineered to withstand fierce winds and substantial snow loads, mountaineering tents can be used in any season. Their chief function, though, is to stand firm in the face of seriously inhospitable weather, principally in winter or above treeline.
They use more poles and heavier fabrics than 3-season tents. Their rounded dome designs eliminate flat roof spaces where snow can collect. They offer few mesh panels and rainflies that extend close to the ground. This hinders ventilation and can make them feel warm and stuffy in mild weather. But when foul winds begin to howl, a 4-season tent provides a reassuring place of refuge.
 
Key Tent Features
Peak Height
If you like being able to stand up when changing clothes or enjoy the airiness of a high ceiling, then look for a car tent with a tall peak height (listed in the spec charts).
Cabin-style tents feature near-vertical walls to maximize overall peak height and livable space, (and some models come with family-pleasing features such as room dividers and an awning, or a vestibule door that can be staked out as such).
Dome-style tents offer superior strength and wind-shedding abilities, both of which you’ll appreciate on a stormy night. They stand tall in the center, but their walls have more of a slope which slightly reduces livable space.
 
Tent Floor Length
If you’re tall (over 6 feet) or like additional space, consider a tent with a floor length of 90 inches (rather than the more typical 84–88 inches).
 
Tent Doors
When choosing your tent, think about the number of doors you need as well as their shape and orientation. If you’re camping with your family, multiple doors help you avoid climbing over each other for midnight bathroom breaks. Cabin-style tents tend to shine in this area. Also note how easy or noisy the doors are to zip open and shut. YKK zippers on the doors resist snagging and breaking better than others.
 
Tent Poles
A tent’s pole structure helps determines how easy or hard it is to pitch. Virtually all family tents these days are freestanding. This means they do not require stakes to set up. The big advantage of this is that you can pick the tent up and move it to a different location prior to staking. You can also easily shake dirt out of it before taking it down.
Fewer poles allow faster setups. It’s also easier to attach poles to clips than it is to thread them through long pole sleeves. Many tents use both clips and short pole sleeves in an effort to balance strength, ventilation and setup ease. Color-coded corners and pole clips also make setup faster. Aluminum poles are stronger and more durable than fiberglass.
 
Rainfly
A rainfly is a separate waterproof cover designed to fit over the roof of your great tent. Use it whenever rain or dew is expected, or any time you want to retain a little extra warmth. Two rainfly types are common. Roof-only rainflies allow more light and views while offering fair rain protection. Full-coverage rainflies offer maximum protection from wind and rain.
 
Tent Materials
When you’re shopping, be aware that higher-denier fabric canopies and rainflies are more rugged than lower-denier ones. Also, seam tape and high-denier fabrics on tent floors reduce the odds of leakage.
 
Vestibules / Garage
Shelters or awnings attach to your tent for the purpose of storing or sheltering your muddy or dusty boots or keeping your packs out of the rain. They can be an integral part of the rainfly or add-on items that are sold separately.
 
Ventilation
Mesh panels are often used in the ceiling, doors and windows of tents. This allows views and enhances cross-ventilation to help manage condensation. For hot, humid climates, seek out larger mesh panels.
 
Interior Loops and Pockets
A lantern loop is often placed at the top-center of a tent’s ceiling for hanging a lantern. Loops on interior tent walls can be used to attach a mesh shelf (called a gear loft, sold separately) to keep small items off of the tent floor. Similarly, interior pockets help keep your tent organized.
 
Guyout Loops
Higher-quality tents will include loops on the outside of the tent body for attaching guy lines. Guy lines allow you to batten down the hatches—no flapping fabric—during high winds.
 
Optional Tent Accessories
Footprint
This is a custom-fitted groundcloth (usually sold separately) that goes under your tent floor. Tent floors can be tough, but rocks, twigs and dirt eventually take a toll. A footprint costs far less to replace than a tent. For family tents that get a lot of in/out foot traffic, this is especially useful. Also, footprints are sized to fit your tent shape exactly, so they won’t catch water like a generic groundcloth that sticks out beyond the floor edges. Water caught that way flows underneath your tent and can seep through the floor fabric.
 
Gear Loft
Most tents come with an integral pocket or two to let you keep small items off of the tent floor. A gear loft is an optional interior mesh shelf that can tuck greater volumes of gear out of the way.
 
When my sister-in-law bought my kids a giant inflatable Little Tikes Jump ’n slide residential inflatable bouncer for Christmas, my wife and I reacted with a mix of incredulity and mild annoyance. “This looks like a gigantic pain in the ass,” I thought. I was wrong. While we’ve been stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the bounce house has proven to be a godsend.
My kids, 4 and 2, have been cooped up at home with no school, playgrounds, or friends for nearly three months. They are crawling out of their skin. Having a safe-ish space for them to soar and stomp and spring with an exhilaration both joyful and mildly violent has been tremendously necessary during this endless, homebound spring.
Sometimes they just bounce with joy. Sometimes they wrestle. Sometimes the bounce house becomes the buoyant backdrop for intricate games of make-believe. (Ours has played the role of a boat, a birthday party, an airplane, a bus, and a marriage—don’t ask.) But without fail, they gigglingly bounce themselves to the brink of exhaustion.
When my sister-in-law bought my kids a giant inflatable Little Tikes Jump ’n Slide commercial inflatable bouncer for Christmas, my wife and I reacted with a mix of incredulity and mild annoyance. “This looks like a gigantic pain in the ass,” I thought. I was wrong. While we’ve been stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the bounce house has proven to be a godsend.
My kids, 4 and 2, have been cooped up at home with no school, playgrounds, or friends for nearly three months. They are crawling out of their skin. Having a safe-ish space for them to soar and stomp and spring with an exhilaration both joyful and mildly violent has been tremendously necessary during this endless, homebound spring.
Sometimes they just bounce with joy. Sometimes they wrestle. Sometimes the bounce house becomes the buoyant backdrop for intricate games of make-believe. (Ours has played the role of a boat, a birthday party, an airplane, a bus, and a marriage—don’t ask.) But without fail, they gigglingly bounce themselves to the brink of exhaustion.
The Jump ’n Slide Bouncer is the only bounce house I’ve owned. I can’t say it’s the best one out there. I know only that it’s the one I have, and it is very good. (Customer ratings and reviews are also, by and large, very positive.) Bounce houses seem to be a hot commodity right now, judging from how many have gone out of stock. Little Tikes carries a number of similar models that may be available if the Jump ’n Slide isn’t.
My two biggest reservations about the Jump ’n Slide house were bulk (“Look at how big this monstrosity is!”) and labor (“Inflating, deflating, and storing this thing will be a total drag.”). I was wrong on both counts.
When my sister-in-law bought my kids a giant inflatable obstacle course Little Tikes Jump ’n Slide Bouncer for Christmas, my wife and I reacted with a mix of incredulity and mild annoyance. “This looks like a gigantic pain in the ass,” I thought. I was wrong. While we’ve been stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the bounce house has proven to be a godsend.
My kids, 4 and 2, have been cooped up at home with no school, playgrounds, or friends for nearly three months. They are crawling out of their skin. Having a safe-ish space for them to soar and stomp and spring with an exhilaration both joyful and mildly violent has been tremendously necessary during this endless, homebound spring.
Sometimes they just bounce with joy. Sometimes they wrestle. Sometimes the bounce house becomes the buoyant backdrop for intricate games of make-believe. (Ours has played the role of a boat, a birthday party, an airplane, a bus, and a marriage—don’t ask.) But without fail, they gigglingly bounce themselves to the brink of exhaustion.
The Jump ’n Slide Bouncer is the only bounce house I’ve owned. I can’t say it’s the best one out there. I know only that it’s the one I have, and it is very good. (Customer ratings and reviews are also, by and large, very positive.) Bounce houses seem to be a hot commodity right now, judging from how many have gone out of stock. Little Tikes carries a number of similar models that may be available if the Jump ’n Slide isn’t.
My two biggest reservations about the Jump ’n Slide house were bulk (“Look at how big this monstrosity is!”) and labor (“Inflating, deflating, and storing this thing will be a total drag.”). I was wrong on both counts.
Setup is a breeze. You lay the deflated bounce house flat (we do this on the grass in our backyard, but we’ve also done it in my in-laws’ spacious basement in Toledo, Ohio), plug in the included blower (the built-in extension cord easily reaches our garage some 15 feet away), connect it to the bounce house via a yellow fabric tube, and let ’er rip. The whole setup takes maybe two minutes.
And while our bounce house is indeed big when inflated—it has a footprint of roughly 12 feet by 9 feet on the grass, with a height of 6 feet—it’s pretty extraordinary how small and light it is when broken down. When the fun’s over, you simply turn off the blower, and the bounce house deflates and collapses in just a minute or two. From there it’s very easy to pack up. I am a lazy and sloppy bounce-house folder, and even I can get it to a size that is barely bigger than a carry-on suitcase and probably weighs less than 10 pounds or so (without the blower).
There are downsides to a bounce house. I have gasped in alarm more than a dozen times when my daughter has ruthlessly clotheslined her little brother, or when I see their craniums flying toward each other at full speed, a double concussion surely just a second away, before they whiz past each other harmlessly. So far, we’ve been lucky enough to avoid major injuries. But it’s not hard to imagine how multiple kids vigorously jouncing around could smash into each other, cracking teeth, breaking bones, or piercing skin. Please, if you buy a bounce house, set some ground rules. Our kids know that all hard and sharp toys are banned from the bounce house. But on a colleague’s suggestion, I’m now thinking of adding another safety rule: If someone starts crying, everyone has to get out of the bounce house, at least for a minute. (This way, everyone is incentivized to stay safe for fear that playtime could be cut short.)
I also don’t anticipate that a bounce house will last forever. We’ve used ours several dozen times. And while it’s still in great shape, there are a handful of spots where I can already hear the whispering wheeze of a tiny leak. For now, these miniscule apertures are no match for the powerful blower that runs the entire time the bounce house is in use. But one day, hopefully still years away, I imagine one of my kids will carom off a wall with such joyful intensity as to puncture or tear the bounce house beyond repair.
I’m okay with that. These toys may be pricey (ours retails for about $270), and will inevitably wear out. But the fun of a bounce house is its invitation to gambol and twirl and flip and romp with the pure zeal for fun that only children can truly muster. Even if it lasts only a few more seasons, if it gets us through this pandemic, it will have been worth it.