Best tents for any budget
Tents can be wonderful or a nightmare. There are thousands of designs, models and brands make of different fabrics, styles and materials. Muilt-season tents, instant tents, lightweight backpacking tents and more. But here's what really matters:
- Fast and easy to put up and take down,
- Sturdy and won't break on your trip,
- Keeps out rain and bugs.
That's about it. Features and different types of openings and gizmos are nice, but really not that important. If your camping on a road trip, you don't need (nor want) a lightweight backpacking tent. So, let's focus on fast, easy, sturdy tents that will keep you dry and help you get a good night's sleep. It boils down to cost. The more you spend, the better a tent you (generally) get. But, if you're like me, you're not made of money! Meaning, the mid range tents are usually the best performing for the money.
Prices on tents are skyrocketing as more people try to avoid the congestion, COVID , riots and violence in the cities and head outdoors to national parks, The Coleman Instant Cabin tent I bought in July for $146 plus tax now sells for over $202. That's a 38% increase IN ONE MONTH. Increased demand and cities implode with riots and crime and global supply chain problems thanks to covid are causing prices for camping equipment to skyrocket. Don't wait to get a tent, this trend is not likely to change for at least a year or two.
Selecting a tent
Disregard the number of people the makers claim can sleep in a tent. That is only true if all of the people are children under age 10 or Siamese twins. In general, multiple the number of people intended to fit in the tent by, 1.5. So, for 2 persons, a 3 man tent will do, for 4 persons, get a 6 person tent, etc.. Of course, larger tents make everything easier, especially if they are tall enough for you to stand up in them while changing clothes.
Caveat: If you family is... well, fat or just plain big, double the number and get an 8 man tent for 4 people. Sorry, if this offends anyone but nonsensical crap advice isn't going to help anyone!
Dome or Cabin?
Dome tents tent to be a bit more resistant to high winds and more waterproof. But they are rarely available as an instant tent. And not all dome tents beat cabin tents for resisting rains. Especially not when you throw a $10 tarp over a cabin tent, making it utterly waterproof, anyway.
With most tents, you either assemble aluminum or fiberglass poles and thread them through sleeves on the tent, or attach them with clips. Frankly, I find this a pain (especially in the dark) , absurdly time-consuming, and if you lose anything, you're screwed. Hence, the instant tent. Everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING you need (with the exception of tent pegs (which are easily replaced) and a rain fly, everything else is built into the tent and cannot be lost.
An instant tent takes, quite literally, less an 60 seconds to assemble. Disassembly is equally fast, although stuffing ANY tent back into it's bag can take a few minutes. I'll show you both types below.
It is best to stay away from the unknown brands. Many of them have positive (and FAKE) ratings and reviews on Amazon. The established, known brands are Coleman, The North Face, REI Co-op, Kelty, Ozark Trail, Kyamm, NEMO and Thule. Amazon also sells Campros and Moon Lence which are newer to the market, but seem to be gaining acceptance.
Tent Accessories and Essentials
Before we talk about the tents, I want to remind you that you will need
- a ground tarp under the tent,
- a rain fly and/or tarp over the tent (on rainy days) and
- better tent stakes (the ones that come with tents are always crap.
See the links at right. There are also accessories such as lights and fans.
The cheapest tents are generally the Ozark Trail brand sold at Walmart (and Amazon) . These tents work just fine and serve most purposes. If you have a child in the Boy Scouts (a.k.a, BSA) these are a great tent. The Scouts usually share a tent, 2 to a tent, so always get a 3 man or 4 many tent, and go lightweight, (avoid the "instant" tents since they are heavier) as they may be backpacking with it. Of course, with less-expensive tents, it can be practical to get 2:
- One lightweight 3 man tent for backpacking
- One 4-man instant set-up tent for car-site camping
Like ALL tents, if you are expecting heavy rains and/or prolonged days of rain, you'll need to put a tarp over them, but that's easy and tarps only cost about $10 - $20.
Coleman Sundown Tent
The Coleman Sundown tent comes in sizes from 2-person to 6-person (keep sizing in mind, see above). It is a simple manual assembly dome tent that gets very high ratings from tens of thousands of reviews.
Ayamaya Pop Up Tent with Vestibule for 4 Persons with Double Layer Waterproof Easy Setup Family Camping Dome Tent
Mid range tents are reliable, long lasting and will give you few problems over many years. Like budget tents, their one weakness tends to be heavy downpours, which, again, is overcome with a tarp.
Coleman Cabin Instant Tent
The Coleman Cabin Tent with Instant Setup in 60 Seconds really does assemble and take down in 60 seconds. I know; because just spent 2 weeks going cross-country using this tent every night. So easy to put up and take down, I had the 6 person size,, which was 6 ft tall inside and had plenty of room for 4 adults. Be sure to get the optional rainfly - and like all but the top end tents, plan on bring a tarp (15ft by 20 ft) and paracord to cover the tent IF you think there will be heavy or multi-day rains.
Top of the line tents
Four-season tents from REI... oh, what can one say about REI, mecca of camping goodies? Amazing, high tech... and expensive! But if you have the money for them, these tents are great! The keep you dry even in the heaviest rains. Keep in mind, REI is not magic. The same tents they sell are available on Amazon, often for less.
The North Face Wawona 6-person tent
The North Face Wawona 6-person tent is sold on both Amazon and REI. It is not an instant tent
It has a large double-door front vestibule and a rear door with a vestibule. It has a full stand-up height, windows with great visibility and breathability.
It has inside clothes drying lines, hang loops, a hook-and-loop lantern loop, a tablet pocket plus extra mesh pockets. The tent has athe usual double-wall design which the mfg'er s says it is fully waterproof.
This is a 6-person, lightweight fiberglass and aluminum tent.
OK, money's no object and you've hired Sherpa's to put your tent up for you, so time is no problem... then why not get a DANCHEL OUTDOOR 4-Season Cotton Canvas Yurt-style Bell Tent
Geez, it's huge and durable and massive and rainproof. I'm pretty sure even Genghis Khan would be impressed with this one.
You can even get tents designed to fit in the bed of a pick up truck. Which sounds good, but of course, you'd have to empty the truck every day and take the tent down if you need to go anywhere.