The Best Camping Tent Review
What is the best car camping tent? OutdoorGearLab braved the maze of marketing to filter through the quirks and gimmicks and find the best camping tents. In this review, we put eight of the industry's best six-person tents head-to-head, or shall we say, tent-to-tent. We assessed and compared the tents based on five criteria: livability, weather resistance, ease of setup, workmanship, and packed size. Read on to find out which ones were marketing myth and which ones really weathered the test of time.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Camping Tent
REI Kingdom 6
Best Bang for the Buck
Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6
Top Pick for Weather Resistance
Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6
Top Pick for Versatility
Mountain Hardwear Optic 6
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Analysis and Test Results
A camping specific tent is a general use tent, typically intended for car camping, where your campsite is a mere stone's throw (or tent's toss) from where you park your car. On the lighter end of the spectrum, you might find a few tents that are light and small enough for a group of friends or a family to hike it in a few miles, for a short overnight trip to their favorite lake. On the heavier end of the spectrum, you will find exceptionally durable tents made of materials that will likely last a lifetime, but require a handful of tools and scout training to assemble.
In this review our tents range from just under 12 pounds to nearly 70 pounds, and neither end of the spectrum proved to be award winning due to costs associated with durability and weather resistance on the light end, and difficulty with transport and set up on the heavy end.
In the camping specific tent category, prices range so broadly it can be daunting to wade through the marketing and figure out what matters--and what is or is not worth the price. In this review, we factored in the important things, like livability and comfort, weather resistance, and ease of setup, but with careful consideration of the cost. Be sure to check out our discussion on value in each review where we try to synthesize the pros and cons into an overall impression, and answer the hard questions: Is this tent worth the extra $200? Or, is that tent going to be miserable, or fall apart and be a waste of money, making me wish I had spent that extra $200?
In this review, we assessed eight popular tents, subjecting them to wind, rain, sun, heat, cold, late nights, late mornings and energetic young campers. Take a look at our Buying Advice article for tips on how to find the tent to fit your camping needs.
Types of Camping Tents
This is a review of camping tents. It's a broad category, but typically designates a class of tent which is more spacious, fully featured, comfortable, durable, and not as focused on being light weight or compact like backpacking and mountaineering tents. For reference, let's discuss a few types of tents
A four season tent is what you would think of as a winter tent. This is a burly, snowstorm-ready tent that is at home in the mountains and on expeditions. This is not the tent you would typically select if you're a fair weather camper that goes out only in the summer months and pitches a tent by the river or at the beach for some rest and relaxation. There are only two tents in this review listed as four season tents.
The Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 is a sturdy, weather resistant tent which can withstand winter use. The dome shape will slough off snow, the low profile will be strong in winds, and the generous guy lines give you many options to anchor the tent in the snow. It is probably not one you're going to take out for winter mountaineering trips, due to the size and weight, but it will be more than adequate for a family snow camping adventure.
The other listed four season tent is the Kodiak Canvas 6-Person Flex-Bow. On the website, Kodiak says the tent is for "use year-round, but not designed for extreme winter mountaineering or heavy snow accumulations." Different people have different opinions of what is or is not extreme, and someone from Colorado has a very different perspective on heavy snow accumulations compared to someone who has spent a winter in Washington's Cascades. Given this caveat, and the fact that there is no vestibule and minimal guy lines on the Kodiak, we greatly question the claim that this tent is made for year round use--that is, unless your version of four-season camping is spending some of the winter months in the desert.
Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 is a self-supporting tent, and one of our favorites in this review. A tent can also be tunnel style, which must be pulled tight and staked out at either end to stay upright. The REI Kingdom 6 is technically a self-supporting tent, but it has a shape similar to tunnel tents, which do very well in wind if oriented appropriately, and which tend to be simple, spacious, and lighter weight for their size.
Single wall tents are typically used for mountaineering purposes. Overall, they are lighter weight and more compact than a rugged double wall tent intended for the same purpose. There were no true single wall tents in this review. The Kodiak has no fly, so technically it has just one wall, but it is made of canvas which, being a natural fabric instead of a synthetic polyester or nylon, is a pretty different thing. The trade off with single wall tents is that they can be harder to ventilate and the material does not breathe very well, so they tend to accumulate condensation.
Camping tents are designed to be comfortable, enjoyable shelters, used in situations where camping is the point of the trip. Since they are not intended for climbing or backpacking, there is no need for compromises to campground comfort in order to lighten the load in your backpack. As such, the tents in this review are mostly traditional double wall designs, making them easier to ventilate, and also giving you the freedom to pitch only the inner tent to keep bugs out and allow you to drift off to sleep while gazing at the Milky Way.
The Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 had our favorite design for stargazing, offering a broad, unobstructed view of the sky if you pitch only the inner tent. Yet the taller overall design meant we still enjoyed some privacy and wind protection without the fly installed.
Best Uses for Camping Tents
This is a very broad category of tents. To streamline our review, we looked only at six person tents. This allows for much better comparison between brands and types of tents. Most of the tents in this review also come in four and eight person versions which may better suit your needs. You will also find simple camping specific tents for two people, which will be cheaper, smaller, and typically easier to handle. Six person tents are a good general purpose tent, which will be comfortable for families of four, but still reasonable for one or two people who want more space and the opportunity to offer tent space to friends for more social camping trips. For this, the tents which have two rooms, such as our Editor's Choice, the REI Kingdom 6, and our Top Pick, the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 are a great option.
The tents in this review are best used for camping trips where you drive up and park next to your tent site. Some are light and compact enough that you might consider taking them backpacking, such as the Eureka Midori 6, and others would make great basecamp tents if you have porters or mules carrying your gear in to a remote wilderness campsite, such as our Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 or the Marmot Limestone 6. But others will be challenging enough just to haul out of the trunk, such as the 68 pound Kodiak Canvas 6-Person Flex-Bow.
A good family camping style tent should be quite durable and well made to withstand rough use; comfortable to ensure a positive camping experience; and fun, a very subjective, know-it-when-you-see-it kind of criteria.
Durability is important as playful kids can strain a tent in highly unpredictable ways. Zippers and seams should be strong, tripping hazards should be a minimum, things should be tight and tidy overall. The Marmot Limestone 6 is a well crafted and simple tent that will stand up to a wide range of uses and abuses.
Comfort is of utmost importance, too. If parents are taking their kids camping, it's likely they had good camping experiences as kids themselves And that probably doesn't involve being cramped in a too-small tent through a weekend-long rain storm, nerves strained and patience duly tested. Our winner, the REI Kingdom 6 is tall, spacious, and has two rooms for a little privacy, or perhaps even a time-out when the kids get too rowdy.
Fun is also an important consideration when looking for a family camping specific tent. This is a very fluid criteria, and will mean different things to different families. As reluctant adults with and without kids, we really enjoyed the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 tent. It has two rooms, and one is smaller than the other giving a cubby-like feeling that kids seem to love. It is shorter, which takes away from the comfort factor, but adds to the fun because it feels more like a sleepover shelter and is fun to crawl around in.
If you are lucky enough to be going on a basecamp style camping trip, with porters or mules carrying your gear in to a beautiful backcountry destination where you'll stay for a week with friends and family, it is great to take a bigger tent. This review has lots of great options for your base camping needs. Some are more mountain-ready, like the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6, the Mountain Hardwear Optic 6, and the Marmot Limestone 6. And some will break your poor mule's back, like the Kodiak Canvas tent.
REI Kingdom 6 has a carrying bag made into a backpack, an excellent choice for walk-in site camping. Several others have reasonably easy bags to carry. The Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 has a nice shoulder sling, the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6, the Nemo Wagontop 6, and the Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6 have large dual loop handles, and the Marmot Limestone 6 has a small handle. The Eureka Midori 6 has a plain stuff sack, but it is small and light enough for an adult to throw it under his or her arm and walk it in.
Other reasons to camp with big tents
Sea kayaking and river rafting are two other activities which may give you more packing freedom to bring heavier and bigger tents. Keep in mind that you can separate the fly from the tent body and poles in order to cram these tents into kayak hatches.
Even more rare camping options might include those where you are flown in by airplane. In these situations, light weight is probably still a concern. For our reviewer's Antarctic field camps, they flew in rugged four season tents and industrial strength group shelter tents designed for mountain expeditions. In milder climates, we could imagine using the strong and tall tents in this review, notably the Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 and the Marmot Limestone 6.
Criteria for Evaluation
(40% of overall score)
For a camping tent, comfort reigns. Most camping trips are meant to be fun, stress-free, family bonding experiences, or a chance to catch up with friends over a beer or s'more. Different campers will have different ideas of comfort, and will define livability according to different standards. Taller families will be at each others' throats in a too-short tent; bigger families might want more space and separate rooms; mountain lovers will want a more sturdy and solid tent with a good vestibule; and beach goers will want windows, air circulation, and shelter from the sun. For longer trips with several campers, more pockets for storage and organization in the tent might help everyone have a sense of personal space.
Our overall winner, the REI Kingdom 6, was the most comfortable tent in this review. It performed well, rain or shine, and didn't get too hot in the sun. It was a great performer for a broad range of camping scenarios. For more specific comfort requirements, such as shelter from the scorching hot sun in the desert, you might prefer the Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6.
Be sure to check out the floor plan images with each tent, too, in case specific sleeping arrangements or patterns are a priority for your camping needs.
(25% of overall score)
At first, we thought of weather resistance as the ability to keep you dry in the rain. However, campers are outside through all types of weather, which includes scorching heat, blowing sand and dust, wind, and even hail storms.
The Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 was the burliest tent in this review. It is the only tent we felt inclined to pitch in the snow for a winter camping adventure. It has a low profile and solid guy lines to keep it stable in high winds. The Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 also scored very highly with its aerodynamic design, solid guy lines, and burly poles.
This category factors heavily into our rating for each tent, and our discussions will let you know how each tent does in inclement weather, of course, but also in the stagnant heat of the midday sun when a tent becomes a veritable greenhouse.
Ease of Set Up
(15% of overall score)
This is the category to consider carefully if your number one priority is to avoid arguments while pitching your tent late at night when you finally arrive at the campground after a long and stressful week followed by a long and stressful drive and all you want to do is chill out and relax already.
Some tents were extraordinarily intuitive to set up while others reminded us of an adult-sized erector set. We weigh ease of setup slightly less than overall livability and weather resistance, but not far behind. Look to this category, however, if you have any specific needs for setup, like one that is easy for kids to set up, or one that is easy for solo setup.
The Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 ran away with a perfect ten in this category. With only 3 poles and an intuitive dome shape, it was fast and easy to set up, even after a long drive to our favorite camping spot. The Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6 was also easy to set up, and lived up to its name: we set it up in 12 minutes on our first try! The Eureka Midori 6 and the Marmot Limestone 6 also scored highly for ease of setup, though they did not earn any of our overall awards.
(15% of overall score)
The overall quality of materials, design, and manufacturing gives consumers a good idea of the long term durability and shorter term reliability of a camping tent. This is also weighed at 15% for consumers who are not interested in wasting their money on a disposable camping tent.
We were very impressed with the rugged Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6. It had solid, clean, and strong stitching, tensioned nicely, and the fly fit snugly around the tent body. The REI Kingdom 6 was close behind, with big, strong poles, a simple and sturdy design, and strong guy line attachments.
(5% of overall score)
The Eureka Midori 6 picked up some points in this category as the smallest and lightest tent in the review. However, the REI Kingdom 6 still managed a high score because the backpack design was such an asset on a car camping trip.
Camping Sleeping Bags
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buying advice. Happy trails!
— Lyra Pierotti
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