The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Camping Tents

By Rick Baraff ⋅ Review Editor
Friday May 15, 2020
Attack of the Giant Spiders From Mars! Or just setting up the unwieldy spider-like poles of the Grand Hut.
Attack of the Giant Spiders From Mars! Or just setting up the unwieldy spider-like poles of the Grand Hut.

We select a variety of the best and most popular outdoor gear for rigorous field testing and keep our eyes out for new and innovative designs as well. We buy all of our items outright, so we are not beholden to any companies and will therefore only give you our most honest opinions. If we don't like a tent, we'll let you know. Similarly, if we truly love a tent, you can be assured it isn't because the company hooked us up to say so.

Behind the scenes of camping tent testing.
Behind the scenes of camping tent testing.

For this review, we selected a wide variety of "car" and "family" style camping tents and spent a few months subjecting them to different elements and multiple set-ups/breakdowns. We timed how long it takes to pitch each tent and went through joints, seams, pockets, straps, cinches, zippers, hook-n-loops, and every other detail to help you can decide which tent is best for you.

The dual zipper opening on the door(s) of the Big House 6.
The dual zipper opening on the door(s) of the Big House 6.

This review reflects our candid experiences with each tent, and here's what we did for this latest round:

We took the 14 tents in our review on a Texas-sized adventure where they were subjected to conditions ranging from hot, dusty horse camps to gusty lake conditions. We pitched every tent multiple times, weighed them multiple times to corroborate (or not) the manufacturer's specs, and stuffed, rolled, jammed, and sometimes even happily and easily replaced the tents in and out of their carry cases.

Here's what we looked for:

Space and Comfort


Perhaps the most subjective category pertaining to your Happy Camper Experience but one with many generally agreed upon metrics such as overall size relative to number of claimed people a tent will fit; size/number/placement of doors, windows, and vestibules; interior head height; and amenities such as pockets or built-in lights with real switches (like the Coleman Elite Montana 8).

We bumped our heads on lots of tent ceilings while assessing their usable space.
We bumped our heads on lots of tent ceilings while assessing their usable space.

Our ratings took into consideration as many elements and factors that could enhance or deter from your experience all the way from your driveway to Walk-In Campsite #34 and back.

Room with a view.  Worm's eye view of the Bunk House 4.
Room with a view. Worm's eye view of the Bunk House 4.

Weather Resistance


This category of tents isn't so much concerned with whether they can handle max gusts off the nose of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Still, we inspect everything from the pole design and diameter, to their length and stability, to the overall shape of the tent (i.e. dome, rectangular).

Rain testing: same spot  same amount of rain.
Rain testing: same spot, same amount of rain.

We look at how much coverage the rainfly offers and whether the manufacturer makes you rely on "built-in" weather resistance to the main body of the tent (such as window flaps that are also supposed to be waterproof or at least highly resistant). How the poles and flies attach to the tent and each other is vitally important as are the "little" things like the amount and toughness of the stakes and placement/usability of guy-lines.

So many tents!
So many tents!

Ease of Set-Up


We tested how long it took to set up each tent, how "intuitive" it was to do so, and how many people it might take to make it even easier/easiest. We paid attention to helpful amenities like color-coded poles, clips, and hubs, and generally how simple it is to get in/out of your vehicle and to your spot.

Tent wranglin'
Tent wranglin'

Durability


While this has a somewhat direct correlation with weather resistance, it's more about overall build and longevity. Are the poles supportive enough? Are the seams constructed well? Is the material robust and more-than-paper thin?

Bombproof interior of the Kodiak Canvas. The translucent roof and large door/windows offer plenty of natural  ambient light.
Bombproof interior of the Kodiak Canvas. The translucent roof and large door/windows offer plenty of natural, ambient light.

While we can only judge so much over a couple of (albeit intense) months of use, some things can be noted and seen right up front.

Bent tent stakes and toddler chasing are all part of thorough testing.
Bent tent stakes and toddler chasing are all part of thorough testing.

Packed Size


Just what it sounds like. Is your tent like bringing another family member along, or can you carry it to that awesome remote, walk-in site?
The mighty awesome backpack case for the Bunk House 4.
The mighty awesome backpack case for the Bunk House 4.

We checked out every carry case/pack and every feature, pocket, and hidden space extender. All the zippers and cinches, handles, and functionality. While a small metric in our overall scoring, this can be a big factor in your decision.

Behind the scenes of Camping Test Field Testing.
Camping Tent Field Testing.

Happy camping!