Planning your summer camping trip and looking for a new tent? You've come to the right place! After researching over 30 camping tents, we chose 10 top models to put through our side-by-side tests. We subjected them to heavy rainstorms and humid environments in the Pacific Northwest, took them inland to Oregon's high desert, where harsh sand, bright sun, and spiky plants abound, and even spent time further south at Joshua Tree National Park among wind and high temperatures. All the while, we paid attention to key features, like how easy they are to set up and if they provide a comfortable camping experience. Keep reading to see which are our favorites. We also have some individual recommendations for those on a budget or who need a seriously waterproof model.
The Best Camping Tents of 2018
Sometimes we have trouble picking one absolute favorite product. We've been a fan of the REI Kingdom 6 for a long time, and it's won our Editors' Choice award several years in a row. We keep testing new tents and trying to find one we like more, and this year we almost, but not quite, dethroned the Kingdom 6 with The North Face Wawona 6 and the Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6. Which one is best for you? We lay out the pros and cons below. We also have some top budget-friendly options for you to consider, and the best one for keeping you dry when it's pouring.
REI Kingdom 6
The REI Kingdom 6 continues its reign as our Editors' Choice award winner for another year, but it now has some close competition (see the Tensleep and Wawona reviews below). The Kingdom stayed on the throne thanks to its spacious and comfortable design. The hooped poles give it a lot more room than a standard dome tent, and greater head clearance throughout (6 ft 3 in!). It was surprisingly wind-resistant; usually taller equals less stable in high winds, but the Kingdom stayed strong and also kept us dry in torrential rains. We loved the "room" divider, and one side of the tend is solid while the other is mesh. That gives you some options for ventilation on warm nights and extra privacy even when the fly isn't on top.
While there are two doors, we thought the awning over the rear door was a little small. It's not a deal-breaker, but a pair of sneakers left under there at night would probably get soaked if it started raining and it didn't do much to protect the door from moisture. You can purchase an additional vestibule for that side, called the "Garage," which is massive and has an awning, but it'll set you back another $100, making this a spendier option. Small quibbles aside, we enjoyed everything else about the Kingdom 6, including the handy carrying bag that doubles as a backpack. And if you need something even roomier, it's also available in an eight-person size.
Read review: REI Kingdom 6
Simple with a Versatile Vestibule
Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6
The Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6 comes with a large vestibule included. (You have to purchase the REI Kingdom 6 vestibule separately). It's also made with quality materials by a company that has a long history of outstanding tents. In both of these ways, it's very similar to the Wawona. It sets itself apart with the versatility of its vestibule. The Tensleep offers double vertical zippers on the vestibule, meaning you can zip the vestibule apart into three separate pieces and then configure them to suit your needs. It can be directional, with one side open and the other side closed (think side wind and afternoon sun). It can be open in the middle and still up on the sides, giving you a little privacy while still maintaining your view. While it takes a little practice (and your hiking poles), you can even pull the front flap up veranda-style and enjoy an afternoon cocktail in the shade of your vestibule. The Tensleep also has large mesh ceiling, offering a brilliant view of the night sky on warm, clear nights.
The only complaints we can conjure up are that the interior pockets orient to one tent door only and that the vestibule's veranda configuration can be troublesome to set up. Again, the Tensleep and the Wawona are very similar, and if you're intrigued by one, we'd recommend reading through both reviews. They're both great tents, and what sets one apart from the other will likely come down to your personal preference.
Read review: Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6
Most Spacious Vestibule
The North Face Wawona 6
The North Face Wawona was the first tent to challenge the Kingdom 6's dominance in a long time. Now the new Tensleep is also creeping up in the ranks. While The Kingdom and Tensleep edged ahead in our overall scoring, the Wawona impressed us in all of our testing metrics. It has great ventilation, with two large picture windows and vents at the top, and its weather resistance was also solid. Setup was fast and easy, and we were even able to do it with only one person, which is impressive for a larger tent, and key if one parent needs to be wrangling kids while the other is setting it up. Best of all is its vestibule, which is almost as tall as the tent, very spacious, and has a huge door.
We did have issues venting the vestibule when we tried to cook in there in bad weather. The only option is to open the door, but you don't want to do that when it's raining hard. The Wawona also lacks a few of the creature comforts found in the Kingdom, like a room divider. However, the TNF Wawona retails for $400, which saves you a little over the Kingdom 6 and Tensleep and includes the excellent vestibule.
Read review: The North Face Wawona
Best Bang for the Buck
Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6
The Carlsbad Fast Pitch is a tent that lives up to its marketing claims. It took us only 12 minutes to set it up for the first time, solo and in the dark. Wow! It is also noticeably cooler and darker in the sun, allowing us to sleep in late, or get out of the hot midday sun. The front mesh "porch" increases the sleeping area on dry evenings, providing bug protection but still giving you that sleeping-under-the-stars feeling.
This tent is not the best for cold or inclement weather. The fly doesn't cover the entire body or the mesh porch, and it's also permeable to sand and dust. It's a perfect beach-camping tent, but not for windy locales. We were less than impressed with the carrying bag, which, while compact, is virtually impossible to get the tent back into once everything has expanded. However, since you are only spending $280 on the Carlsbad, you could also buy a small duffel bag to go along with it. Our Best Buy winner is half the price of some other models! Check out the Coleman Instant 6 below for even more savings.
Read review: Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch
Best On a Tight Budget
Coleman Instant Tent 6
Putting the word "Instant" in the name of a tent is cocky. Arrogant. Confident. Egotistical. The Instant Tent 6 lives up to its name. The outside of the storage bag claims it can be set up in sixty seconds, and at even a reasonable pace, this is wholly achievable. The poles are pre-attached, so aside from the fly, the entire tent is one piece. Just extend the poles until they click into place, attach a couple of clips on each pole, and you're good to go. It's super quick and super easy. If you've ever gotten poles tangled up through the wrong sleeves or wrong holes, you will delight in the ease of the Instant Tent. Beyond that, it's roomy (90 sq. feet), has a great height (6'2") and venting windows on all sides. At a retail of $260, it's one of the cheapest tents we reviewed, so it fits the bill for those who want to be out there, ready to go, with a minimum of time and money. Despite one sizeable shortcoming, the Coleman Instant Tent 6 is a great value.
The Instant Tent 6 does have its flaws. The rain fly, now included, is inadequate. It covers the top, just the highest part of the walls, and that's it. Furthermore, the walls of the tent, part of Coleman's patented WeatherTec technology, are only weather-resistant. In moderate to heavy rain, you're going to have some leakage. Of course, if you live somewhere that tends to be sunny more often than not, keep tabs on the weather forecast, and try to avoid bad weather, this won't be an issue. This tent wouldn't be our first choice for camping in and around the Puget Sound, but the sunny beaches of California? The Instant Tent 6 will exceed expectations.
Read review: Coleman Instant Tent 6
Top Pick for Weather Resistance
Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6
The Flying Diamond 6 is the only model in this roundup that is a genuine four-season tent. It would not be our first pick for polar expeditions, (see our Four Season Tent review for that), but it's a great choice for a family snow camping trip. There's a "kids-room" or storage compartment at the back, and the whole thing folds into a handy carrying case.
The main downside to this tent is its internal height. At only 5'6" in the main room and 4'1" in the cubby, it's not the best for tall people. The setup is a bit involved as well. Big Agnes color-coded the poles and corners to help make it go faster, but it takes significantly longer to get it set up than tents like the Coleman Instant 6. However, once it is set up and guyed out, this tent can withstand a lot, so if you love year-round camping even in miserable conditions, the Flying Diamond is our top choice. If you need even more space, check out the larger Big Agnes Flying Diamond 8.
Read review: Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6
Analysis and Test Results
We assessed the performance of twelve popular camping tents by subjecting them to wind, rain, sun, heat, cold, late nights, late mornings, and energetic young campers. The above table shows how each tent ranked overall after our side-by-side testing process. Below, we'll delve into the criteria that we rated them on, explaining their importance, in our estimation, and how all of the different models compared to each other.
There are many important things to consider when purchasing a camping tent, and the price is certainly one of them. The models that we tested ranged between $180 and $700, a pretty staggering difference. And while a higher price tag usually correlated to higher-quality materials or bomb-proof construction, sometimes there is a sweet spot between the more expensive models and the bargain basement ones where you can find exceptional value. In short, a lower price doesn't always equate to a better value, nor does a higher price necessarily mean a worse value. Consider your price-point, then look for tents to match it with the highest scores and the features you want. You might find higher priced tents that didn't score as well. At only $20 more than the lowest-priced tent we tested, the Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6 ($280) exemplifies this kind of value, and earned our Best Buy award.
Comfort is one of the most important considerations when purchasing a camping tent, and we tallied each comfort rating as 40% of the overall score. 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'mores. Different campers will have different ideas of comfort and will define livability according to different standards. Taller families will be at each other's throats in a too-short tent; larger families might want more space and separate rooms; mountain lovers will want a more sturdy and reliable tent with a spacious vestibule; and beachgoers need 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. Here are our comfort ratings for each model.
Our overall winner, the REI Kingdom 6, was the most comfortable tent in this review. It was a top performer for a broad range of camping scenarios. There is ample headroom (6'3"), a room-divider, a large vestibule for your gear and lots of pockets inside. 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.
The North Face Wawona 6 came in just behind the Kingdom for comfort. It has tall ceilings and a substantial built-in vestibule. The three large doors and four windows/vents helped with air circulation and kept us comfortable on hot days. You can add a vestibule to the Kingdom but it will cost you an extra $100 ($170 with awning poles) and adds one more step to the setup process.
The Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6 also scored high in comfort, due in large part to the versatility of its vestibule. Dual front zippers that split the vestibule into three parts give you a ton of different configurations. Storage? Done. Privacy? Got it. Sun-shaded veranda? Oh yeah.
The Wagontop 6 is comfortable due to the high ceiling and great ventilation, but it's not very stable in high winds. We loved the "dark-room" in the Coleman Carlsbad, which let us sleep in on sunny mornings without overheating. The Coleman Instant Tent 6 is also comfortable in shaded weather due to its high ceiling. However, while it scored high, it's dark materials soak up the heat making it uncomfortable in hot weather.
For sheer size alone, the Eureka Boondocker Hotel 6 scored well for comfort. With 82 square feet inside, a front vestibule that adds another 22 square feet, and the very nifty "Gear Garage" at 36 square feet, you will have no shortage of space to pitch gear or bodies. I mean, it's got the word "Hotel" in the name, it has to be huge, right?
When we considered the weather resistance of each model, we included more than just keeping us dry in the rain. Campers are outside through all types of weather, from scorching heat to blowing sand and dust, wind, and even hail storms. The chart below shows our weather resistance ratings.
The Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 was the burliest tent in this review. It's the only tent we reviewed that we'd take on a winter camping adventure. It has a low profile and reliable guylines to keep it stable in high winds. The North Face Wawona scored highly as well with its aerodynamic design, solid guylines, and burly poles. The Wawona also had the best built-in vestibule for hanging out and cooking in during storms. The Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6 crushed the competition when it came to keeping cool in the hot summer sun.
The Eureka Boondocker Hotel 6 offers an innovative way to deal with adverse weather. The attached "gear garage" also doubles as an enclosed patio with enough room for a couple of chairs, a small table, and a cooler full of your favorite beverages. It gives you more room, and more options when the rain rolls in.
The Instant Tent 6 was our lowest rated tent for weather resistance, mainly due to the rain fly, which acts more like a cap, covering only the top of the tent, than a full rain fly. While Coleman's WeatherTec technology makes the walls weather-resistant, that's not the same as water-proof, so you're going to get wet if it rains much more than a brief sprinkle. On the plus side, the Instant Tent had one of the more durable floors tested, basically a sewn-in tarp, which will help if the ground is wet.
Ease of Set Up
Ease of set up is the category to consider carefully if your number one priority is a quick set-up. Like when you arrive at the campground late at night after a long and stressful week followed by a long and stressful drive. Some tents were extraordinarily intuitive to set up, while others reminded us of an adult-sized erector set. We weighed ease of setup slightly less than overall livability and weather resistance in our scoring (only 15%), but not far behind.
The Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 was a top scorer for ease of set up. With only three poles and a simplrgue dome shape, we pgainstched the Optic 6 in mere minutes. It's hard to argue against the Coleman Instant Tent 6 when it comes to quick set-up. While it's not quite "instant," we did find that it could be done in a minute (maybe ninety seconds if you're moving a little slower). With fully-integrated poles that just have to be pulled to length, it's as quick and easy as they come.
Of the overall top-scoring models, The North Face Wawona 6 was the easiest to set up. There is no extra fly to install, and the pole design is relatively easy for one person to raise. The Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6 was close on the Wawona's heels. The only issue is that the Tensleep has a separate fly. It's not difficult, the webbing and clips are color coded, it just adds one more step to the process. Both the Wawona and the Tensleep feature a similarly simple design, making them straightforward and intuitive.
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 Marmot Limestone 6 also scored highly for ease of set up.
Having multiples poles in different configurations slowed down the set up on the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6. Main tent poles that protrude and catch on the rain fly made the Marmot Limestone 6 setup more complicated. And a vast rain fly demands multiple people to get it over the Eureka Boondocker Hotel 6.
Things that made the set up of some tents more arduous were multiples poles in different configurations, as on the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6, main tent poles that protrude and catch on the rain fly (as on the Marmot Limestone 6, or a vast rain fly that almost demands multiple people to get it over the tent, like the Eureka Boondocker Hotel 6.
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. Workmanship is an important category to consider if you want your tent to last for more than one trip.
We were very impressed with the rugged Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6. It had clean and durable stitching, tensioned nicely, and the fly fits snugly around the tent body. The same can be said for the other Big Agnes tent, the Tensleep Station 6. The REI Kingdom 6 was close behind, with big, sturdy poles, a straightforward and sturdy design, and secure guyline attachments.
In general, you get what you pay for when it comes to outdoor gear. The Coleman tents were the cheapest and scored the lowest in this category. That's fine if you only camp a few times a year. However, if you plan to use a tent with a poor workmanship score regularly, expect things to start unraveling and breaking after a dozen uses.
We accept that camping tents are big and heavy, but only to a point. You still have to fit it in your trunk, and you might have to carry it a few hundred feet to a walk-in campsite. As such, we took each model's packed size into consideration, but not too heavily at only 5% of the overall weighting.
Despite not being the smallest, nor lightest tent we reviewed, the REI Kingdom 6 still managed a high score because the backpack design makes transporting it to and from the car very easy.
The Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6 scored well for its innovative storage bag with two open pockets on either side (one for the tent and one for the fly) that then fold over a sewn-in pole bag and an attached and zippered stake/guy line sack. Gone are the days of looking all over camp for those tiny bags.
Similarly, for an otherwise massive tent, the Eureka Boondocker Hotel 6 packs down into a duffel bag size, with two pouches and velcroed pockets for the poles and stakes. They're not all attached like the Tensleep, but still pretty handy.
The Flying Diamond 6 also had a well-designed carrying case. It carries reasonably well, like a duffel bag, but it was pretty bulky.
The Marmot Limestone 6 had the most traditional storage bag, a long cylinder with closures that cinch at both ends. You had to pay attention to roll everything back up efficiently to get it back in the bag, but Marmot provides an oversized one, so in the end, it's doable. The North Face Wawona uses an open-topped, oval-shaped bag that cinches. It works, but some precise folding or rolling is required to get it all back in the bag.
The Coleman Instant Tent 6 was one of the more bulky tents we reviewed, all packed away, but even then it wasn't unwieldy. At 44" long it just wasn't going to fit in a daypack. You shouldn't be overly troubled getting it in your car or from your car to your campsite.
We understand that the process of finding the right tent can be a big undertaking. So many options and so many features can make finding the right fit overwhelming. We hope we were able to help you make an educated decision on whether or not a camping tent will best suit your needs, and which one is the perfect model for you, your family, and friends. Happy trails!
— Lyra Pierotti and Wes Berkshire