The Best Camping Tent Review
Looking for the most comfortable camping tent? One that will keep your friends and family dry in a storm, and will give you the ventilation you need to stay cool on a hot summer day when the insects start to get hungry? We took eight of the top models on the market and put them head-to-head in a variety of tests in our lab and in campgrounds around the West. We tested their comfort, storm-proofness, ease of setup, packed size, and workmanship to determine the overall best, the best value, and strongest.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
|Displaying 1 - 5 of 8||<< Previous | View All | Next >>|
Analysis and Award Winners
Update Note: April 2015
We have contacted all of the companies and have confirmed that most of the changes in the products that we've reviewed were only in regards to colors, unless otherwise noted in the review.
Best Overall Camping Tent
REI Kingdom 8
Best Bang for the Buck
Coleman Instant Tent 6
Top Pick for Storm Resistance
Big Agnes Flying Diamond 8
Top Pick for Durability
Kodiak Canvas 6-Person Flex-Bow
You may also like:
Analysis and Test Results
We valued comfort as the most important rating category in our tests. The best tents had enough standing room for a dance party, while the smaller tents only had room for one person to stand up in the middle of the tent and crouch or bend everywhere else. We crowned the REI Kingdom 8 the comfort winner. It has enough screen windows and shading for your whole family to hang out in on a hot summer day and still be comfy. It also has a huge vestibule that allows you to keep a cluster-free environment in your tent by giving you more storage space for you gear. On top of that its barn house shape allows you to stand up throughout the tent and lets people circulate throughout it.
This tent exemplifies the qualities of a comfortable design. Other tents we tested that are similar in comfort were the Eureka Copper Canyon 8 and the Kelty Parthenon 8. Both allowed adults to easily walk around in the tent without crouching and also offered good ventilation.
When there is a surprise storm, you want to be ready for it and have a tent that can handle it. The most storm resistant tent we tested was the Marmot Limestone 6. It is the only tent we tested we would trust in a snowstorm. The design is very strong and the roof pitch sheds snow better than the competition. It is also a stable tent in high winds, something that few other tents of this comfort level can claim. The other top scoring tents for storm resistance was the Kodiak Flex-Bow.
If you plan on using a tent for more than just one season you should really think about how well made and durable it's going to be. Our top scoring workmanship tent is the Kodiak Canvas 6-Person Flex-Bow Canvas Tent that won a Top pick award for this category. This tent will last you a lifetime of camping joy, and we used its high quality as a standard for the other tents we tested.
The Eureka Tetragon 8 and the Marmot Limestone 6 packed down the smallest and lightest. The two tents with the best carrying and organizing sacks were the REI Kingdom and the Big Agnes. Both use well-thought-out bags that allow you to organize the different tent components and pack up quickly.
Ease of Setup
The best tents we tested can be set up by one person without hassle, while the hardest tents take at least two people and a lot of time, especially at night by headlamp. The easiest tent to set up was the Coleman Instant Tent 6; with one person it only takes about two minutes.
The easiest tent to set up in windy conditions was the Kodiak Flex-Bow. It is heavy and less likely to fly away. You also don't have to wrestle on a rain fly as you do with many other tents.
Key Tent Accessories
History of the Camping Tent
Modern camping tents derive their inspiration from the portable shelters and homes that humans have been using since time immemorial. The earliest known remains of a tent were discovered in Russia that were carbon dated to 40,000 B.C. Traditionally, tents have been used by nomadic people around the world, a practice that persists to this day. Bedouins in the Middle East lived in tents while they lived a nomadic lifestyle of trading. Mongolian and Kazak shepherds live in yurts or gers, while Native Americans used to live in portable teepees and wigwams.
The use of tents for camping in western cultures began with the Greek and Roman armies. The Romans in particular mastered the art of living in tents, creating whole cities of them wherever they moved. Modern day cities like Torino and Verona are laid out upon the military camp footprint from which they originated. Like the native cultures before them, the Romans used the hides of animals, in this case cows, as the fabric hanging over wooden pole frames. They used many different designs and sizes of tents, depending on the function and rank of the person using it.
During the American Civil War Henry Hopkins Sibley invented the "bell tent," fabric supported by a pole in the center. Its design mimicked the teepees used by the Native Americans and over 44,000 of them were used by troops in the war. However, the predominant tent used by soldiers at this time was a small portable canvas ridge tent that the soldiers derisively referred to as a "pup tent," because they considered it suitable only for small dogs.
It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that the idea of recreational camping as a pastime took hold. The Camper's Handbook, published by Thomas Hiram Holding in 1908 and based on his adventures traveling across the United States in a covered wagon with his parents, inspired the masses with ideas like, "[camping] revives [man's] taste and love of the country." At this time a typical tent was still a wood pole-framed canvas ridge tent.
The economic boom that followed World War II led millions of Americans to buy trailers and tents and head out into the great outdoors to go camping. The advent of new materials as well as high demand led to the innovation of the Draw-Tite tent by Eureka in 1959, the first free standing external frame tent. It quickly gained in popularity. The Draw-Tite was used on an expedition to the Himalayas by Sir Edmund Hillary and on the first successful American expedition to Mount Everest.
In the 1970's Eureka again produced an innovative camping tent known as the Timberline. Touted as the first free standing and backpack portable tent, the Timberline also began the use of brass hooks, a predecessor to modern plastic clips, to ease in setup. Within 10 years annual sales of the Timberline topped one million units. A proliferation in designs and materials, from single walls and geodesic domes to tunnel tents, constructed with nylon or waterproof and breathable membranes, has led to the expansive market selection of camping tents we have today.
Ask an Expert: Catherine Coe
All-around expert mountain woman, Cat has guided groups backpacking and horse-packing deep into the mountains and wilderness areas around the world for many companies. She also works as a guide for National Outdoor Leadership School running backpacking and climbing trips in the Western US. In the summer, she works as a climbing guide for Jackson Hole Mountain Guides in the Tetons of Wyoming.
What are the most important things that you consider when looking to buy a tent?
When I'm looking at buying a tent, I'm concerned with different specs depending on what I plan to use it for. If it's going to be a backpacking/mountaineering expedition tent that I'll be sharing with one or two other people and carrying on my back for days on end, I want the most space possible for the lightest weight, but also something durable that will provide comfortable shelter during a storm. If it's a tent that will be used in a car camping situation, then I don't worry as much about packability and even less about weight, and durability becomes the most important. I look at reviews for how a tent typically holds up in strong winds, rain, and snow. Above all, I'm not interested in waking up to rain dripping on my face or buckling under the weight of a tent filled with unnecessary zippers, plastic windows, or ceiling "shelves." The nitty gritty of durability combined with packability, low weight, and enough space are what matter most to me.
What kinds of things do you look for or tricks do you have to make sure the tent has good ventilation in hot or steamy/wet conditions?
Steamy/wet? GROSS! To avoid such nastiness, I like to make sure a tent body makes as little contact as possible with its fly. A little "space between" can go a long way for ventilation in places like the Pacific Northwest or even the Rockies in a marathon rainstorm. Unless it's blowing rain or snow, I keep all the vents open; the ventilation can actually preserve warmth by moving moisture out.
What tricks do you have to make sure all the bugs don't follow you inside your tent?
If you've ever been banished to the Wind River Range for the month of July, you come up with all sorts of shenanigans to outsmart the relentless mosquitoes. Sometimes I would zip myself between the fly and the tent body, then unzip the tent body and dive in while a tent mate zipped it behind me. Other times I would wait for a gust of wind before entering or exiting the tent. Apparently a breeze as light as 1.5 mph can cause mosquitoes to land, so if bugs are your biggest nuisance I try to choose a tent site that gets a breeze.
What kinds of things do you look for or do to a tent to make sure it will keep everyone dry in heavy rains?
GUY IT OUT. TIGHT. Having a tent with specific spots to attach guy wires/strings is really important in bad weather. The trick is to guy it in such a way that the fly has a little contact with the body as possible. Watch the next time you're caught in a storm: where the fly is touching, the drip begins. I've seen many people stake down corners and skip the sides, or stake the corners of the fly on the same stakes as the corners of the tent body, or simply skip staking or guying out the fly altogether. This is not the way to stay dry. I guy out every side and corner of the fly, keeping as much breathing room between the two as possible. When heavy rains start, I look for any places on the top of the tent or on the bottoms by the guy line connections where puddles might be forming. If there are puddles, I re-guy that side or the entire tent fly altogether. The puddles are a result of lopsidedness, slack fabric, or guying too high and can often be fixed easily.
The tent site/placement also makes a huge difference: if rains are coming, I avoid camping in any sort of depression or runoff zone to avoid water pooling under the tent. I try to find a small rise in the ground where rain water cannot accumulate.
What kinds of things do you look for or do to a tent to make sure it will stay upright and in the ground in a big storm/windy weather?
Two things: BIG rocks and trucker's hitches with backup knots. Unless a stake is deadmanned in snow (a very secure way to anchor things in the snow), I don't often trust them in strong winds. Guying out the tent to really big rocks or even logs or small tree trunks seems to work best. Some tents have loops midway up the sides where you can double-back pea cord or tie on more strands; guying out the tent fly both at its base and higher up helps. Trucker's hitches are easy to undo, tighten, and retie quickly during a storm.
Tents that are taller seem to be more difficult to tame in the wind, and in my experience they are more prone to ripping at the seams in a huge gust. Staking and guying a tent out perfectly in a mega-windstorm only helps so much; if the wind is strong enough, poles are inevitably going to bend and/or seams are going to rip. SO, choosing an advantageous tent site is really the best protection: a place with shelter via rock walls, tall shrubs, trees, or the rise of a hillside. Also, I try to face the shorter side of the tent (often the door) into the wind so the wind hits less surface area of fabric.
What are the most important things to consider when you are setting up or taking down a tent?
I try never to step on the tent body or fly; while I'm setting up the body, I keep the fly in a safe place where it's not going to blow around on sharp rocks or sticks; I stake the tent down and/or guy it out right away to avoid a runaway tent getting thrashed.
I always zip the zippers before taking my tent down. Why? Maybe it's a silly compulsion, but I think it really does help preserve the zippers and minimize the dirt and sand that gets stored in them.
Do you have any tricks for setting up complicated or big tents?
Nothing rocket-science-esque but with any tent, regardless of size, I start by spreading it out evenly on the ground, with the sides pulled straight and the floor flush with the ground. Depending on the design, I'll then either stake down the corners or put the pole(s) in place.
For bigger tents, like the Hilleberg Keron 4 where you really want the tent to go up symmetrically, you really need another person to stake down one end of the tent while I simultaneously stake down the other end. I then have the person move with me to each guy line opposite from the one I'm pulling out so all the opposing guy lines are pulling equal tension on the tent.
When considering space vs weight vs. price - which things are ok to skimp on and which are non-negotiables for you?
A durable fly (or waterproof single wall) is a non-negotiable for me. In places full of mosquitoes, spiders, and small critters, I'd rather carry a tent body with a floor than go floorless to save weight.
Otherwise, I'm all about shedding weight via accessories or unnecessary zippers/windows/hanging shelves/other ridiculous tent furniture inventions. I'm not willing to throw down for the top-of-the-line, lightweight option unless the weight savings is significant and durability hasn't been sacrificed.
What parts of the tent do you think are most important to be durable? What do you look for in general to make sure a tent is durable?
Zippers, seams, fly and poles. I read reviews about how they've performed in wind, rain, and snow. I look at the quality of the seams, poles, and zippers and think about how repairable they'd be in the field. And I look at the quality and thickness of the tent fly fabric. The super duper lightweight tent flies or single-walled tents that feel like tissue paper just don't feel durable enough to me for the amount of use and weather I expect.
Are there any accessories that you find really helpful or essential to use with tents (extra tarps, waterproofing, lights)?
If I'm backpacking, no - saving weight is way more important to me than accessorizing!
If I'm car camping, heck yeah! Black Diamond makes some sweet little battery-powered lanterns that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside when you're bundled up with a book on a cold night in the desert; a Mexican blanket on the ground in the vestibule for a fancy entryway; and of course, mini, battery-powered speakers for tunes. I also use bungie cords or reinstall the tent ceiling shelves to hang damp socks, sunglasses, or headlamps.
How do clean your tent if/when it gets dirty?
If I'm in the field and I'm feeling very motivated, I take it down, turn the body inside-out, and shake-shake-shake. Post-trip, I sometimes rinse it inside and out with cold water and let it air dry; often times I simply spread it out on a clothesline in the sun for a few hours.
If for some reason it were especially gross, I'd wash it with a gentle detergent like Nikwax and air-dry; similar to how I'd wash a raincoat.
How do you store your tent? For short and/or long periods of time?
I treat my tent as I do most anything amongst my small collection of expensive, outdoor-related possessions: as though it were a perishable item that I must preserve as long as possible. I always make sure it is dry before I store it (but I only air-dry it). I store it in a dry place, away from direct sunlight, with the zippers zipped (maybe this is a little obsessive, but I have a theory that if you keep the zippers zipped while packing and unpacking it, the zippers are less likely to get sand or dirt stuck in them).
Any other questions or important things that we missed?
I learned the hard way never to brush snow off a tent with a shovel. No matter how smooth the edge of the shovel looks, there's bound to be little spurs in the metal that are like razor blades against a tent fly.
Choosing a camping shelter is completely different than trying to find the best backpacking tent. While weight dominates backpacking tent decision making, comfort is the number one criteria for camping. Above we identified a summary of the tents we felt were the very best choices and why. Take a look at our Camping Tent Buying Advice article for tips on how to narrow down the choices, and key buying considerations.
— Devin Chance
Table of Contents
Helpful Buying Tips