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.
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.
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.”