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Published Apr. 14, 2021

When it comes to pitching a tent, there are several ways to go about it. Backpacking requires lightweight tents that can be packed into a small space, even if it means limiting yourself in terms of interior space at the campsite. Instant tents are a breeze to set up and make fantastic additions to any roadside or emergency kit. As your needs become more specialized, so do tent designs. Do you need to wiggle into a tiny space between rocks on a remote mountain? Would it be helpful to get off the ground away from moisture and creepy-crawlies? Maybe you’ve decided that being foot-mobile is overrated and you’d rather drive to your destination. There’s a purpose-built tent for all of those cases, and we’re here to help you find them. 

Before you click “buy” on the first tent you come across, take a minute to explore your options. Buy wisely, and you’ll end up with something that makes you look forward to every chance to use it. 

The Coleman Sundome is about as quintessential as camping tents get. Its dome design uses two poles to create a light but rigid frame that snaps into each corner for a secure fit. When the weather cooperates, the mesh upper creates ample airflow and lets you enjoy the view. For more privacy or to keep out the rain, attach the rain fly for a weather-resistant roof in seconds. A gap between the fly and tent allows fresh air to pass through, as do small, protected vents at the bottom of the tent. A thick, waterproof floor keeps water from seeping through the bottom. Tent sizes for two, three, four, and six campers are available. We recommend the three-person tent for couples to make sure you have enough room to move freely and store your packs inside the tent.

The teepee’s simple but effective shape has helped it endure for hundreds of years, and you can take advantage of the classic concept with this Fltom teepee. The rip-stop shell is tough enough for wilderness survival and coated with a waterproof treatment to help rainwater roll right off. In addition to efficiently shedding rain and snow, the teepee’s shape also helps wind slide around it rather than beating on vertical walls and keeping you up all night. Set-up and tear-down are as easy as can be, with only one pole to assemble and tent stakes around the perimeter. During long trips in cold climates, you can even install a wood-burning stove using the integrated chimney panel. The one drawback to this tent is the lack of a floor. For optimal weather protection, you’ll want to create a floor using a separate tarp.

You might have noticed that nature doesn’t always provide smooth, flat ground for your tent, but that’s no problem if you have a Tensile Stingray. This innovative tent removes your sleeping area from the ground altogether; all you need is three anchor points to suspend it in the air. The stingray has enough room for three people and their gear, with a weight limit of 880 pounds. The tent itself only weighs 25 pounds–a little heavy for backpacking, but the view might be worth it. Heavy-duty ratchet straps keep the tent firmly suspended. A waterproof rain fly can be fitted in inclement weather, and mesh sides let you enjoy the stars when the clouds part. The three-sided tent offers 78 square feet of floor space, side entry, and floor entry. It’s significantly more expensive than other tents, but we can’t help wanting one anyway.

The OT Qomotop pop-up tent is the fastest and easiest way to get your campsite established. Just toss the collapsed tent into the air and let it snap open before it hits the ground. The unique frame design makes set-up-and tear-down effortless, but it does take up a fair amount of space when collapsed. You’ll want to use this tent for car camping or other outdoor events rather than backpacking trips. The waterproof shell is large enough to hold a queen mattress and uses welded seams to keep water out. Anchor points attach this tent to the ground and protect against winds up to 35 miles per hour. Air vents along the peak allow fresh air to flow in and keep condensation to a minimum. If you’re looking to take the hassle out of camping, it doesn’t get much easier than this.

Solo campers need a tent that’s lightweight, portable, and tough; they need a tent like the Alps Mountaineering Lynx. This one-person tent doesn’t offer much in terms of space, but it’s definitely easy for one person to carry, set up, and heat. It weighs just four pounds and provides interior space for one sleeping bag. In bad weather, the rain fly extends to cover gear stored outside the door. An aluminum frame, hefty zippers, and corner guy lines create a strong structure that can withstand harsh mountainous environments. Sealed seams and a waterproof floor and rain fly keep the inside nice and dry. This tent is a great bargain for single campers who want a quality tent without paying for space they don’t need.

One way to make camping more enjoyable is to avoid the hiking portion with a Napier Backroadz truck tent. This tent mounts to the bed of your pickup for a dry place to sleep that’s off the ground and easy to move. Five sizes are available to properly fit your vehicle. Just like normal tents, this truck tent provides mesh windows, a waterproof rain fly, and a sturdy frame. Since size and weight are less of a concern, it’s taller than most camping tents. An integrated floor covers the bed of your truck to keep the inside of your tent clean and dry. An overhead gear loft and lantern hook help keep the inside organized and well-lit. Word to the wise: this tent is tall enough to accommodate an inflatable mattress and, since you’re driving to the campsite, there’s no reason not to pack one.

Related: Elevate your camping with these 6 cabin tents

Types of camping tents

Tents have to be portable, durable, and rugged if they’re going to provide adequate shelter. Beyond those basic requirements, there’s room to adapt designs to satisfy specific needs. Backpacking tents prioritize weight and space, so they can be stowed in your pack with enough room left over for the rest of your other equipment. Instant tents are easier to set up but don’t offer quite as much space or weather protection. Highly-specialized options can also be found for mountaineering, hostile climates, and even truck camping. None is better than another, just more specialized to excel in specific environments. Make sure you pack the right tool for the job.

Key features of camping tents

  • Size: Tents are sized by the number of people they can fit. Keep in mind that this is determined by the number of sleeping bags that can be laid flat inside — comfort not included. It doesn’t account for your gear, either. It’s common to buy a tent one size up from the actual number of people you plan on putting inside. 
  • Weight: Weight is a primary concern whenever you travel on foot. Modern materials allow lightweight tents to be very durable. If you’re going to be moving your tent in any kind of vehicle, you can afford to have more space and heavier construction. Truck tents will turn the back of a pickup into a home away from home.
  • Complexity: Set-up and tear-down can be a little tricky, so it’s important to practice with your tent before you’re stumbling around an unfamiliar campsite after dark. Instant tents pop up automatically, and others require frames to be assembled piece by piece. Having a (cooperative) partner doesn’t hurt, either.
  • Weather-resistance: Most camping tents use some combination of breathable and mesh materials to provide an airy cabin with a view. A waterproof rain fly can be fitted over this structure to ward off inclement weather. That being said, some tents are more rugged than others.
  • Intended use: The better a tent performs in one set of circumstances, the worse it might be in another. Traditional camping tents are great all-rounders; hence their popularity. If you only plan on doing a specific type of camping, you can look into more specialized designs.

Benefits of camping tents

A good camping tent can help your weekend trip feel more like a vacation than an off-duty field exercise. Modern tents use lightweight materials, efficient structural components, and durable construction. If you’re used to military gear or hand-me-down equipment, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how accommodating a great camping tent can be. Buy smartly, and you’ll end up with a comfortable, dry place to sleep and stow your gear anywhere adventure takes you. Quality tents are durable, easy to set up, and fun to use.

Camping tent pricing

Plan on spending about $100 for a decent camping tent. At this price, you’ll find a variety of options ranging from traditional to more specialized styles. Tents in this category will use quality materials and durable construction, regardless of the type of camping they’re designed for. If truck tents are more to your liking, you can get one that fits a full-size regular bed for less than $200. This style provides a high center peak and wrap-around floor to keep you and your gear clean and dry. Beyond about $500, you’ll get access to very unique tents that are an adventure on their own. Look for things like treehouse-style tents that create unforgettable camping experiences.

Related: 6 camping water filters to keep you hydrated in any clime and place

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