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Fresh air. Sleeping under the stars. Peaceful hours spent with loved ones — or by yourself. These are just a few of the reasons why people love camping. If you enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, you need a great tent. There are thousands of tents on the market. When shopping, you’ll encounter an overwhelming number of different shapes, sizes, and types. How do you decide which one is right for you?
At BestReviews, our passion is helping consumers pursue their passions. That’s why we’ve done the legwork for you. If you’re looking for some great tent recommendations, please see the above matrix for our top five recommendations. We perform our own research, testing products, consulting experts, and analyzing customer data. In order to avoid bias, we never accept free samples from manufacturers. Our aim is to provide you with honest, thorough product reviews that you can trust.
Our picks for this guide focus on smaller tents — the kind that would suit a pair of people or a couple with one young child. If you’re looking for something bigger, head on over to our review of the top five family tents on today’s market.
If you’d like more information about how to choose the tent that’s best for you, please continue reading this shopping guide.
So you’re in the market for a tent. Why do you want one, and what will you use it for?
The answers to these questions will help you narrow down the large field of possible products. After all, someone who plans to take their tent mountaineering every other weekend will need a very different type of tent than someone who wants a tent for the occasional backyard campout or festival weekend.
Here’s a look at some of the most common tent types:
More than 40 million Americans go camping each year.
This is a basic tent with a single sleeping area and a small to medium porch. It has no “living area” to speak of. These tents are ideal for the odd weekend away or festival. They should be fairly durable, but they aren't designed for particularly harsh weather or extreme conditions.
Amy is an outdoor addict who began her love affair with nature as a tiny 3-year-old running the trails of Nova Scotia with boundless energy. She has continued to live in close harmony with the outside world ever since, growing up hiking and camping on the East Coast. She moved to Los Angeles after college and lost no time exploring the infinite adventure opportunities that the Southwest offers. She is now a backpacking guide with TSX Challenge on their Eastern Sierra and Grand Canyon routes. She adores nerding out about anything to do with gear, camping, or backpacking in general.
Mountain tents are more durable than weekend tents, as they’re designed to be overnight shelters for those who go mountaineering or hiking. Since they're mostly needed for sleeping, they’re simple on the inside with just a single compartment and maybe a small porch.
A mountain tent’s main features are its geodesic or semi-geodesic design, durable ripstop material, ability to withstand extreme weather, and strong, lightweight poles.
Mountain tents have a sleek geodesic design and more guy ropes than usual. Because of their structure, they’re extremely unlikely to blow away — even in strong winds.
Pop-up tents are so called because they don't require any pitching to speak of; you just throw them and they pop up into tent form. While they're highly convenient, they're often not very durable or waterproof. As such, they're only recommended for short breaks when you can be fairly certain the weather's going to be fine.
Pop-up tents are especially popular at festivals, especially among those without much camping experience.
Single-wall and double-wall tents are sometimes referred to as having a “single skin” or a “double skin.” The terms are interchangeable.
Backpacking tents are designed to be lightweight and pack down small so they're easy to take on a hiking or backpacking trip. Like mountain tents, they're quite basic. In fact, the sleeping area of a backpacking tent may be even more compact than that of some other small tents we’ve discussed. They’re not necessarily as durable or waterproof, either.
Every ounce counts, especially when you are backpacking. It’s worth spending a little extra money for a well-made and lightweight backpacking tent.
Family tents, as the name suggests, are designed with the whole family in mind. Inside a family tent, you’ll generally find two or more sleeping compartments and a central living area which can be used for eating or spending time together.
Family tents are often quite tall, so you may even be able to stand at full height in your living area. Products in this category range in terms of size and durability, so if you’re thinking of buying a family tent, consider how often you’ll be using it before making an investment.
Consider how you'll be using your tent before you buy one. You'll need a much more durable model if you use it regularly and in extreme conditions, than if it's for occasional recreational use.
A single-wall tent has just one layer of fabric between you and the great outdoors; a double-wall tent has an inner and outer layer. There are pros and cons to both varieties.
The single layer of fabric in a single-wall tent is often marketed as breathable and waterproof. However, the degree to which the fabric achieves these goals varies by make and model.
Double-wall tents are made from two layers: an inner layer which is often made of mesh and an outer layer — sometimes known as a flysheet — that's made from waterproof material.
Once you’ve decided which type of tent you’d like, you’re not done making decisions. Keep the following features in mind when choosing which tent to buy:
Tents have come a long way since their heavy canvas days. Today, most tents are made of polyester that’s been coated to make it waterproof. There are still some tents out there made from natural materials, but these products are generally too bulky and heavy for the average camper. They might have some kitsch appeal, but they're certainly not practical.
The waterproofness of a tent is measured in mm. For instance, the rainfly of the Mountainsmith Morrison has a rating of 2000mm, which means it can withstand 2,000 mm of water per square inch. The Mountainsmith Morrison’s floor has an even higher rating of 5000mm. This means that the floor of this tent is even more resistant to moisture than its ceiling and walls.
You don’t have to buy an expensive footprint to go along with your tent. All you need is a thin layer of plastic to protect the bottom of your tent from the dirt and rocks. Try using a plastic party tablecloth, available at many stores. They are super cheap and last quite a while.
Most people dread pitching their tent, but many newer tents are actually fairly simple to put up. For example, the Big Agnes Copper Spur is a freestanding tent with minimal staking requirements. And owners of the Coleman Sundome, also a freestanding model, say their tent is particularly easy to pitch.
Most smaller tents shouldn't be too challenging to put up, even if you're on your own. But if you're really not keen on pitching your own tent, a pop-up model is always an option.
Little perks like having doors on both sides, convenient stash pockets on the inside of the tent, color-coded fasteners and poles, and easy-snap fasteners will make your camping experience so much better.
If you camp often — or camp in extreme conditions — you need a tent that’s appropriately durable. Look for a model that gets rave reviews for its stability in harsh weather. For instance, the ALPS Mountaineering Extreme 3-Person Tent, with its fly buckles, extra-large zippers, and three sturdy poles, receives rave reviews for its ability to withstand the elements.
If you'll only be dragging out your tent out once or twice per year — when the weather's nice — durability probably won’t be as big of a concern for you. As a rule, you get what you pay for with tents. So if you go for a cheaper option, the quality (and therefore the durability) won’t be as high.
Prepare for the worst conditions you might face. Even if it's the middle of summer, choose a tent that can withstand wind and rain. You never know what Mother Nature might throw at you.
The size of tent you need depends on how many people are going to be sleeping in it. Interestingly, the descriptors “two-person tent,” “three-person tent,” etc. aren’t quite accurate. Two people with some luggage probably won’t fit comfortably in a two-person tent.
The majority of tents come in basic colors like black, green, or blue. However, it’s possible to find tents with bright colors or fun patterns if you do some searching. These can be useful at festivals where it’s easy to forget where you pitched your tent, especially if you’ve set it up in a sea of similar models.
A “three season” tent is designed for use in the summer, spring, and fall. It’s not intended for use in the extremes of winter. A “four-season” tent is suitable for use any time of year.
Tent prices can vary wildly, from basic one-person tents that cost $20 to top-of-the-line family tents that cost over $1,000.
If you only need a tent for occasional use and you're not planning to camp in pouring rain or raging winds, you can get a decent three-person tent like the Coleman Sundome for $40 to $50.
If you want a more durable tent that will endure several years of regular use and stand up to tough weather conditions, you'll need to shell out over $100. The ALPS Mountaineering Extreme tent is known for its ruggedness, yet it’s not the most expensive three-person tent on the market.
Expect to pay several hundred for a top-notch tent like the Big Agnes Copper Spur. A tent of this caliber should be able to withstand storms and last for years.
Our recommendation for choosing a tent size: look at the "berth" of the tent — that is, how many people it sleeps — and choose a size slightly larger than that.
Here are a few final tips to help you pick out the best tent for you:
Q: My tent got quite dirty on my last camping trip. How do I clean it?
A: You can use a hose to remove loose dirt. If the tent needs more attention than that, set it up and clean it by hand with mild soap and water, then allow it to air dry. Mineral oil can be applied to areas where tree sap or pitch has come into contact with the tent. Note: don’t use dish soap, bleach, or harsh chemicals to clean your tent.
Q: Can I throw my tent in the clothes washer to get it clean?
A: This is not a good idea, as a cycle in the clothes washer could damage the tent. Specifically, it destroy your tent’s waterproof properties.
Q: What do I do if my tent gets a tear in it?
A: Some manufacturers sell patches you can apply to small tears in your tent. In a pinch, you could use duct tape, but don’t leave it on your tent permanently, as the glue on the tape could eventually eat away at the tent material. A lot of campers say they like to keep a product called Tenacious Tape on hand. This is a sturdy tape with an excellent adhesive that’s designed specifically for outdoor use.
Q: It’s raining out. Can I cook food inside my tent?
A: No. Cooking inside your tent poses safety risks, including fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. And if you’re camping in bear country, don’t cook or eat near your tent at all. Experts recommend that you prepare and consume all food far away from your campsite — at least 300 feet away, if not more.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.