Buying a tent? There are lots of choices! Check out our shopping guide to our favorite backpacking and car camping tents.
Are you shopping for a new tent?
The choices (and price range) can be a little (or a lot) overwhelming. Here are some tips to point you in the right direction when buying a tent.
Tent prices can range from under $30 to several hundreds of dollars. Why do some tents cost so little, while others are so expensive? Let's find out!
Plus, we'll review our favorite tents, and why we picked them.
Inexpensive Tents Can Be Amazing
First of all, know that you can have amazing camping trips with remarkably inexpensive tents.
I found this orange tent on sale at Kohl's (random, I know!), and paid next to nothing for it because I had Kohl's cash.
Why We Chose to Upgrade Our Tents
As we’ve continued to camp, we’ve slowly upgraded our gear for a few reasons.
One, our priorities changed. In other words, my tall husband wanted to be able to stand up in the tent.
Two, the outdoors is HARD on gear, and in time things needed to be replaced.
Three, we saw the benefit of using higher-quality gear since we camp so often.
And finally, I try to use gear that’s currently available so that I can recommend our favorite gear to you.
What to Consider When Buying a Tent
When you're tent shopping, there are some things to be aware of! Let's start with some of the key things to look for.
The main differences in tents include: Type of tent, capacity (number of people the tent holds), height, style + shape, and the materials the tent (and poles) are made out of.
Types of Tents
Let's review some of the main types of tents.
If you’re carrying your tent with you, you want it to be lightweight. Backpacking tents come in a range of weights, some weighing less than two pounds!
The price often increases as the weight decreases.
Some backpacking tents come without poles and require the use of trekking poles instead, which can be a nice way to cut down on weight if you’re already using a trekking pole.
Pop-up tents are designed for easy assembly and disassembly.
If putting a tent together feels like a struggle, these tents can make your life easier.
A drawback could be the weight. These tents may be on the heavier side.
Also, if you want the tent to be extra-sturdy because of wind or a storm, you might need to tie it down more.
Cabin tents tend to be much larger than dome or tarp (triangle-shaped) tents, often both in height and footprint.
These tents are nice if you’re using an oversized air mattress, if you like to be able to stand up to change clothes, or if you just like the roominess.
Cabin tent drawbacks include a tendency to be noisier on windy nights than a dome tent. Also, the larger ones may not always fit on the provided tent pad area at campgrounds.
If you’re short, you may have trouble setting these taller tents up without help.
Rooftop tents are designed to fit on top of your SUV, crossover SUV or truck.
In these setups, the tent is raised above the ground and you’ll use a ladder of some sorts to get in and out. We’ve never used a rooftop tent, and given my lack of coordination when I’m tired, probably won’t.
These tents are meant to provide a shady outdoor space and aren't full tents. But some of them look a lot like regular tents, so it's good to know the difference!
These shelter tents are great for sheltering from the rain or sun to play cards, eat a meal, or enjoy time with friends. Some shelter tents are stand-alone, while others (like this Kelty backroads shelter) attach to vehicles.
Note that shelter tents often do not have doors that fully shut, and are typically not a great substitute for a regular tent. These are more of a bonus item than a staple item.
Tents are labeled by the number of people that they hold. This number is typically the maximum amount of people that can sleep side-to-side in a tent.
If you want a place for gear or to spread out a little, you'll want to buy a tent that holds more people than you technically need room for.
For car camping, my husband and I typically go for a four-person tent (even though it's just the two of us). When backpacking, we prefer either a 2- or 3-person tent.
Tents are made out of various materials (and grades of material), such as rayon, polyester and nylon.
Some high-end tents are made from pricier Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) (a lightweight, very water-resistant fabric).
Poles and stakes are typically made of fiberglass (which is fairly heavy), or different grades of aluminum.
Some tents (especially high-end backpacking tents), come with carbon fiber poles, which are pricier and lighter.
Special Features to Consider When Buying a Tent
Don't want to wake up with the sun? Some tents use light-blocking fabric like this Coleman Dark Room Tent.
Some tents include vestibules, covered areas outside the main tent room to store things like chairs, gear or muddy boots.
Not all tents include a rain fly (also called a rain cover). Most do, but it’s something to double-check if you camp anywhere where there could be rain.
Some tents have a footprint available. This is a small (often lightweight) tarp used underneath the tent to help protect the fabric on the base. If you are investing in a pricier tent, getting the footprint is a great way to help make the tent last longer.
If a tent doesn’t have a footprint available, we’ve sometimes created makeshift ones by folding a lightweight tarp to fit underneath.
Buying a Car Camping Tent
Budget-friendly dome tent
Our first tent was from Aldi, and isn’t available online (although I do see similar tents at Aldi every summer). It was very similar to this Coleman Sundome tent.
We gave this tent to a friend when we replaced it.
Budget-friendly cabin tent
We loved this UNP 6-person tent, and used it on lots of camping trips. You’ll likely see it in several of our campground guides or campground cooking recipe photos.
It’s a spacious tent with great vertical height, and we didn’t have problems with it being too large for campground tent pads.
Over time and with heavy usage, we did need to repair the elastic in one of the tent poles, and eventually replaced it for a higher-end tent. But I feel like we definitely got our money's worth with this tent!
Favorite high-end car camping tent
Our current tent is the Nemo Aurora tent.
This 4-person tent is sturdy, and is made with a thicker, higher-grade nylon and heavier, sturdier tent poles compared to our budget-friendly tents. The aluminum poles are also heavier and sturdier.
We like that the tent is more dome-shaped than most cabin tents, which should cut down on some of the noise on windy nights.
This tent also has vestibules and a really well-made rain fly. There’s also a footprint available that fits under the tent.
Backpacking Tent Recommendations
Budget-friendly backpacking tent
We’ve been using this River Country trekking pole backpacking tent for years, and have been relatively happy with it. For the price, you can’t beat it!
This tent requires two trekking poles and uses no other tent poles, which makes it incredibly lightweight.
Because this tent is single-walled (there’s only one layer of fabric), there is some condensation that will come through, especially if it rains. On a recent trip through Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness (with lots of rain), we also noticed a small amount of leaking on the corners of the tent.
That said, it’s performed fairly well. If you’re on a tight budget and plan on hiking in areas where lengthy rain storms aren't too likely, I absolutely recommend this tent.
Just make sure to bring along a lightweight towel to dry up any rain that sneaks into the tent.
Read up on my favorite other kinds of backpacking gear too!
High-End Backpacking Tents
We've found two ultra-light backpacking tents that we really love, and will post a full review and comparison soon.
We've been trying out the TarpTent Double Rainbow (DW) and the Durston X-Mid 2. Both are extremely lightweight two-person tents. They're both double-walled (to help with condensation issues), made with high-quality materials, and have great reviews.
You can't go wrong with either tent, but my preference would probably be the Durston X-Mid 2 if you typically hike with trekking poles. Of the two, it felt slightly roomier and less stuffy.
If you don't use trekking poles, the TarpTent Double Rainbow is also a solid choice.
Do you have another backpacking tent (or other tent) that you love? Do you still have questions about buying a tent? Let us know in the comments!