Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Camping Tents

By Rob Gaedtke ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday May 5, 2021

At GearLab, we buy everything we test just like you. That keeps our reviews and thoughts pure and untainted by manufacturers, influencers, and advertising. This means the reviews you read are based on research and actual use without any agenda other than helping you pick the best product for your needs.

All lined up and ready for testing!
All lined up and ready for testing!
Photo: Rob Gaedtke

In this review, we tested a variety of tents found at campsites across the country and beyond and put them to the test. Literally. We laid out a testing plan that has been perfected for more than a decade, and then we pitched each tent and went to work. Some of the latest and greatest tents were picked apart, slept in, and subjected to a variety of unique scenarios. Specifically, we looked at five key categories: space and comfort, weather resistance, ease of use, durability, and family friendliness.

Space and Comfort


In general, this category is about size and features — meaning the bigger, more feature-rich, the better. Walk-in closets, powder rooms, and timeout corners score highly here, but they will take a hit when we get to ease of use and weather resistance. When assessing this metric, the primary areas we looked at are: the overall use of space (based on stated size), pockets, clips, storage, vestibule space, height/headroom, how many beds/what size beds will fit. This category accounts for 35% of a product's total score because we believe it to be the most important factor for a happy camping experience.

The REI Kingdom 6 is all about size and comfort with ample headroom...
The REI Kingdom 6 is all about size and comfort with ample headroom and more pockets than you will know what to do with.
Photo: Rob Gaedtke

Weather Resistance


The hot sun, summer rain, or a major gust are all things that happen camping. Will your tent hold its own against them? Though we didn't camp in each tent for weeks at a time or through every single thing mother nature has to offer, we did spend several very focused days testing each one as well as subjecting each to a good sprinkler bath and backpack blower. In the end, materials, shape, and some basic knowledge of physics helped us make our recommendations. Specifically, here is what we analyzed: hot day options, cold day options, rainfly coverage, aerodynamic(ness), stakes, poles, and guylines. This category accounts for 25% of the total score of each product.

Rain collects on the Marmot Halo 6.
Rain collects on the Marmot Halo 6.
Photo: Rick Baraff

Ease of Use


For many, this is a make or break category. Getting your tent pitched is only one step in the camping process, and typically, it is one of the first. Will you be starting your trip off on a good foot or by having a yelling match with your new home? Likewise, when your checkout is at noon and you slept in, will you be able to tear everything down in time and remain calm, cool, and collected? Here is what we assessed: total setup time (with two people), total teardown time (with two people and kids watching), if everything fits into the bag easily, packed size, packed weight. This category also accounts for 25% of the total score.

The North Face Wawona 6 poles are a tight fit, getting the last one...
The North Face Wawona 6 poles are a tight fit, getting the last one in the hole is a struggle, though you'll sleep confidently knowing your home is secure.
Photo: Rob Gaedtke

Durability


Though we may wish otherwise, we're not experts in the half-life of nearly every material made, but we do have solid experience with various fabrics, poles, and stakes. Likewise, this is where our previous research scouring the internet and reading reviews from hundreds of real-life users discussing where the tents are flawed comes into play. Here we looked at fabric/material, poles, stakes, bag quality and size, seams/stitching. This category accounts for 15% of the total score.

While fine for light and occasional use, the plastic clips...
While fine for light and occasional use, the plastic clips, fiberglass poles, and tarp-like floor of the Coleman Sundome 4 are budget components that may not last you as long.
Photo: Rob Gaedtke

Family Friendliness


The final category we considered was family friendliness. Now, for those of you thinking this means just kids, think again. We're talking about a pack. A pack of friends, the girls, or the three-person dog sled team. How comfortably will 3-4 humans and 1-2 furry friends be while using these tents?

Some of the things we considered are: does the tent fit four people comfortably, does it have phone/jewelry/storage options, are there options to clean your feet before entering in a storm, can you and the crew function without stepping on each other, are there multiple rooms for privacy, is it dog/animal friendly? Though many of these cross over into other categories, we felt it was important to look at them with the "family-friendly" hat on. This category accounts for 10% of the total score.

Vestibule seating and great storage options make the Tensleep a...
Vestibule seating and great storage options make the Tensleep a solid family friendly tent.
Photo: Rob Gaedtke