Shopping for camping tents is arguably the most important step in preparing for a camping trip — even more so than buying hiking gear or picking up accessories from your camping checklist. A comfortable, safe and reliable tent is key for feeling confident before heading into the great outdoors.
Tents come in all shapes and sizes; some camping tents are great for multiday backcountry camping adventures, while others are perfect for a weekend trip with the family to a state park or private campground. “Every camper is going to have a different opinion about the features they want in a tent and the price they’re willing to pay,” says Ashleigh McClary, a gear expert and senior account manager at Backcountry.
“Carving out a price range you’re willing to spend will help you define what sorts of tents you’re willing to look at,” adds Bill Gamber, co-founder and president of Big Agnes. “From there you can move on to considering simplicity versus full-featured tents to weighing storage capability, weather resistance and camper capacity.”
We interviewed a number of outdoor experts for their advice on what to look out for when shopping for a tent. Their insights cover everything from tent material and size to seasonality and durability so you’ll be prepared for the best camping experience — no matter your adventure.
What to consider when buying a camping tent
Most tents come in two seasonalities: three-season and four-season. Spring, summer and fall camping is when most campers choose a three-season tent, and winter is when four-season tents come in handy for staying warm and protecting yourself from the elements.
“Three-season camping tents are meant to be used most of the year and in most conditions,” says McClary. “Four-season tents are usually a lot more wind-resistant and water-resistant. That way, they can handle the extreme temperatures and conditions of the winter. Most people will want to purchase a three-season tent unless they are going to be winter camping more often than not.”
McClary says one of the most important things to consider when buying a tent is the area or region you’re going to be using a tent in. “If you are in the southeast, for instance, you want a really waterproof tent that’s going to keep you dry in the rain,” she says. “If you are in the southwest, you’ll most likely want a tent that’s lighter and has a mesh door and walls for extra airflow.”
Selecting a tent with a rain fly that has been treated with a durable water repellent, or DWR, also helps to repel rain and water from the tent material. “You also always want to make sure your tent has proper ventilation,” she adds. “If it doesn’t, you’ll experience moisture issues on the inside of the tent due to condensation, and you can also get hot.”
You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature when you’re out in the wilderness. Gamber says it’s important to consider the durability and quality of tent material before making a purchase.
“Fabrics are measured by the denier of the fiber — the lower the denier, the lighter the fabric,” he says. “However, a higher denier doesn’t always mean you’ll have a stronger fabric. Thread count, which is how many threads you can pack into a square inch, also plays a big role in strength. So there are a lot of ways to measure [the durability of a tent].”
Gamber adds that most tents are made from either nylon or polyester. He says polyester tends to not be quite as strong but holds up better in UV rays, whereas nylons are stronger but aren’t as long-lasting in the sun. When it comes to the life span of a tent, Gamber argues that longevity really depends on the quality of materials and overall use.
“Think of it this way: If you put 50,000 miles on your car every year, the wear and tear are going to impact the car’s life span,” Gamber says. “In backpacking tents, thru-hikers will get a lifetime out of a tent in six months and campers who use their tent all summer long in the sun will find the UV rays will degrade the fabric. On the other hand, we have customers who have bought tents from us 20 years ago.”
Tent poles also play a big role in the durability and strength of a tent, especially in a storm. Standard tent pole materials include composite, fiberglass, aluminum and carbon fiber. “Most tents use aluminum poles, as they have a great weight-to-strength ratio and are more flexible, and not as expensive as composite or carbon fiber poles,” says McClary. “Carbon fiber poles are found in high-end backpacking tents because they are the lightest and as strong as any pole material other than steel.”
Selecting a tent size depends a lot on who will be camping with you and where you’re going. Will you be bringing a dog? If so, you’ll likely want some extra room in the tent. Are you hiking into the backcountry with nothing but a pack on your back? You’ll most likely want a tent that’ll fit just one or two hikers.
“You’ll want to make sure the floor space of the tent you’re purchasing is enough for you, your gear and whoever is going to be with you,” says McClary. “Determine if you will be camping with kids, if it’s just one or two people or if you want some extra room.”
“You get what you pay for” is a common phrase you’ll hear when it comes to outdoor gear. For some campers, the price point might be a make-or-break factor when selecting a tent. For others, buying a product they know will last is of utmost importance.
“I always make sure to find the right balance between price and the features that are going to be best for the customer,” says McClary. “Sometimes the customer might want the least expensive product no matter what. But other times, they really just want something that’s going to last them for a long time and that’s worth their money.”
Factors impacting the price of camping tents are typically tent material, pole material, tent size, weight and how weatherproof they are (i.e., four-season tents). For example, ultralight tents run higher in price because they’re made of lower denier fabrics, which are more expensive but super lightweight. Large tents like luxury camping tents and eight-person family camping tents are more expensive because they require more materials to make the tent.
The best camping tents for all types of campers
We talked to tent experts for their advice on the 24 best camping tents for any kind of camper. Whether you’re looking for a tent that will keep you dry or has plenty of room for the whole family, here are our picks.
Car camping tents
Family camping tents
Big family? No problem. The Bunk House 8 comes recommended if you’re looking for all the accessories you could ask for — it features pockets, room dividers and even an option to turn it into an open shelter.
“The Bunk House 8 is a very roomy tent with a full vestibule, really nice storage and extra living space,” says Gamber. “It’s a great tent to drive into the campground with your truck or car — perfect for family car camping.”
Backpacking camping tents
An under $200 backpacking tent with plenty of room for two. Double vestibules give backcountry campers plenty of room to store their gear outside of this tent — and provide extra protection from the elements. The tent also has fly doors for improved venting and two large doors for easy exit and entrance.
Winter camping tents
Best for cold weather backcountry camping, this teepee-shaped tent comes in four, six or eight person capacities. Campers can install an optional portable tent wood stove using the built-in stove jack port.
Luxury camping tents
The cabin-sized Canvas Tent makes for great spacious and cozy camping. Available in 12-, 16- and 20-foot diameters, there’s plenty of room to set up creature comforts for car camping like cots, air mattresses, side tables or hanging lanterns.