One of the keys to a successful car camping trip is having a comfortable place to sleep. You can go without food for days but when you’re tired after a long day outdoors, your body really demands some quality rest in order to have all your physical and mental batteries recharged in time for the next day’s activities.
The most popular style of camping tents are the ones that stand up on their own. They’re called “free standing” or “pop up” tents but they all work in much the same manner. These models have lightweight aluminum poles inserted into sleeves sewn to the corners of the tent body in order to make things easier for you in three ways:
1) You don’t have to drive your aluminum tent stakes into hard-packed ground, you simply press the pole tip into the soil until it hits solid ground and then lean on it for support.
2) You don’t have to bend over or crawl around on your knees in order to attach guy lines to poles under your camping tent because these tents are designed with pole sleeves at the corners.
3) You don’t have to rush to get your rainfly on before the rain hits because you can put up just the rainfly first and then set up the tent itself after you’re out of the weather.
Many backpacking tents are designed without poles in mind so they offer limited headroom or are extremely heavy. Of course, you can always sleep on top of this kind of rainfly but that will only keep the wind and rain off of you if it’s not raining hard which means no protection from damp ground or things like dew, ants or mosquitos.
You need to pack along some extra cord in order to put up these tents because they’re made with poles in mind. If you have a free standing tent, the poles will be separate pieces that have to be inserted into sleeves in order for your camping tent to stand up and remain sturdy in strong winds.
All tents should have a sewn in floor in order to keep out ground moisture, ants or other creepy crawlies that want to share your sleeping space. Some tents have more of a bathtub design where the floor slopes up towards the center and side walls which is a good design feature if you always pitch your tent on hard, flat ground because it provides some extra protection from water pooling in low areas or blowing under the tent during a rainstorm.
Less expensive tents will only have the bathtub design at their corners but that’s fine because they can still keep you dry in many cases. After all, tents are meant to keep the rain and wind off of you and your gear which is a huge help when it comes time to cook breakfast or dinner on a wet morning or afternoon so consider this feature if you always camp in the rain.
Tents with a free standing design will have up to three poles: one for the center of its roof and two for its side walls which means you only need to find four anchor points that are close together in order to set it up. You can also tie guy lines from each pole tip into nearby trees or bushes in order to keep it secure in higher winds.
Camping tents that aren’t free standing will need at least six anchor points and eight is better because you’ll also have guy lines which come with their own stakes. Since these poles won’t be inserted into sleeves, they’ll buckle or collapse if the ground isn’t fairly level so make sure you have solid ground to set them up on.
Mesh panels sewn into the walls and roof of a tent are fine for warm weather camping but if you camp in cold weather, they won’t keep you as warm as a plain nylon wall. If you have a mesh panel that can be closed with a zipper, it’ll help trap some heat because it’ll keep the cold air from blowing through it but you’ll still need a liner or an extra blanket along to help cut down on heat loss.
In order to make things easier for yourself, avoid floorless tents because they’re both a pain in the neck and a safety concern if you camp where there are trees close together. Not only do you have to set up a separate ground cloth but you can’t use a hanging food bag with them because critters will chew thru the floor and get to your food. Floorless tents are best for desert camping or places where there’s so little precipitation that setting up an extra ground cloth isn’t necessary.
People who want the lightest camping tent possible will want a tent that’s designed without sewn in floor and walls but for most campers, features like this are nice to have if you’re camping where weather can turn nasty.
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Which tents are best for camping?
In order to determine which tents are best for camping, you’ll need to decide on a rough estimate of how many people will be using the tent that you eventually select. If it’s going to be occupied by just one person—or perhaps two if they’re small children—then you can get away with a smaller tent but most adults will prefer a larger model because it’s roomier and easier to move around inside of.
Most 2 or 3 season tents come in a variety of sizes from as few as three pounds up to about ten pounds so depending on your fitness level and how far you have to carry your gear, there should be something within that range right for you. Most adult campers will go with the 4-8 pound range which will give you a good mix of comfort and ease-of-use.
If four pounds sounds like a lot for a tent, keep in mind that the poles only weigh about one pound so you’re not actually carrying much besides the rainfly and floor which isn’t bad at all if there’s more than one person pitching the tent.
On the other end of things, look for a two or three person backpacking tent weighing as little as six ounces but those won’t be as comfortable to sleep in because they don’t have as much headroom as larger models do. They’ll also cost more than most other tents since their smaller size makes them harder to manufacture so expect to pay up for those few extra ounces of weight savings.
What style camping tents are best?
If you’re just starting out with camping, I recommend that you start with a cabin tent because they have plenty of headroom so you can stand up inside of them and they have enough floor space to fit at least two sleeping pads side-by-side. Most also come with built-in mesh panels which are good for cross ventilation but completely useless in cold weather so take note if your favorite model doesn’t include them.
Cabin tents usually take up about 20 square feet or more once it’s fully set up which is small compared to the 35+ square foot footprints of most family sized dome tents but larger models are large enough that it’ll be difficult for one person to assemble by themselves.
If you plan on doing family camping where there are several adults and/or kids in the group, buy a dome tent with an extra room. The standard design is to have two rooms connected by a door or screened opening but if your favorite model only has one large room, that’ll work too since it’s big enough for multiple people to sleep in without tripping over each other all night long.
To make things easier for yourself when pitching the family sized tents, check out ones with pre-attached poles so you don’t have to fiddle around trying to line up the mating pieces—simply extend the pole into its locked position and use the attached cord to tension it before finishing up by staking down the corners. It’s also much easier if the rainfly is attached to the top of the center pole so you don’t have to try and wrestle it over your head after everything else is assembled.
Many family sized tents, whether vacation tents or casual weekend models, come with a vestibule for all of your luggage and supplies instead of having them sit right on top of where you’ll sleep at night. They’re usually small but they do provide some protection from both bugs out on open nights as well as inclement weather when camping—just make sure that it’s big enough to accommodate all of your gear before buying one.
Vestibules are useful because their roof helps keep any snow off of you during winter camping trips and gives you more room inside of the tent to stand up and move around during summer camping trips.
How much does a big camping tent cost?
Camping tents in general tend to cost slightly more than backpacking and hiking tents for three reasons:
1) They’re relatively heavy. A four-person, two-room cabin tent might weigh as much as 10 pounds or more depending on the fabric used to make it which is enough weight by itself to bend aluminum poles until they become unusable.
2) They have thicker fabric since it needs to be strong enough for inclement weather. There are plenty of backpacking models that can stand up against strong winds but you won’t find many camping models that are light, thin, and also able to hold their own during a storm. Depending on your preferences, there are some lighter fabrics out there—just don’t expect them to last as long as the thicker, more popular choices.
3) They often have a lot of zippers and other metal pieces that are prone to breaking with consistent use—or even if they’re not—so you’ll find yourself replacing items at some point or another no matter what brand or model you end up with. It’s just part of owning a tent in my experience.
So how much do camping tents cost?
The most expensive cabin-sized four person models might set you back over $400 before taxes while smaller models can go for around half that price but there are plenty of affordable family-sized models under $300 which are good enough for casual weekend use or limited vacation trips. For backpacking or hiking specific options, expect to pay as little as $150 for a three-person tent or as much as $400+ for models that offer more livable space and useful features.
Is it worth buying used camping tents?
It’s actually possible to find new and gently used family sized vacation and casual use cabin tents for sale on Craigslist and other similar sites out there so depending on the price and condition, these might be great options for those of you who want more amenities than what’s available in backpacker-specific designs but don’t want to spend a lot of money on an expensive model just yet.
Just keep in mind that if you’re going this route, you’ll need to air out your purchase before bringing it into your home or else prepare yourself for an exceptionally musty tent.
What features do I need to look for in a camping tent?
There are plenty of great family tents out there and you can’t go wrong with buying one as long as it has the following:
1) Thinner fabric compared to what’s inside most backpacking models since this makes them lighter but still strong enough to handle regular use. The extra vents on almost all cabin tents also help make your sleeping experience more enjoyable by keeping bugs and humidity at bay during the night—although these same vents can let in cold air during winter outings which is why we’ll discuss other features next.
2) Vestibules, especially if you live in areas that experience heavy snowfall or so you don’t have to climb over your gear to get in and out of the tent during winter camping outings.
3) Plenty of pockets for shorter people or those who don’t like to bend down that much, especially inside the storage compartment since these are great for keeping things organized at the end of the night (e.g., flashlights, batteries, extra lanterns).
4) A hinged door with a semi-circle cutout which allows you to easily access your gear without having to climb over it every time you need something inside. This is particularly useful if there’s more than one person using this model but even if it’s just you most times, you’ll find yourself getting annoyed at how tough it can be to-position all of your stuff properly each time you get in or out of the tent.
5) A rainfly that is also made from thin material—just thick enough to stop water from properly seeping through but not so much that it’s overly stiff when the wind picks up during a storm. This means having several vents cut into the design so you can keep fresh air circulating even with heavy precipitation covering part of your tent exterior.
6) A complete set of stakes for anchoring down, especially if you plan on camping near windy areas or at higher elevations where storms are more common. The last thing you want is to wake up in the middle of the night because your lightweight backpacker-specific model isn’t strong enough for gusts over 20mph since these are not only flimsy but do a poor job of protecting your gear from rain even if they aren’t completely torn apart.
7) A mesh roof which is fine for mild weather but can become an issue during winter months since common tent materials are not sufficient to properly insulate the interior. This means having additional vents cut into the roof design so you can open up all flaps without letting in too much cold air—a partial mesh covering will still protect against light precipitation while allowing fresh air to circulate inside by opening two opposite sides.
8) D-shaped door handles which give you better leverage when it’s windy, though these models typically have less room inside compared to squared designs so don’t expect as much storage space or elbow room during your outing.
9) A rainfly that is thick enough to shield the inside of your tent from precipitation but still light enough to allow you to vent properly if needed. This means having fewer or smaller vents cut into the design since heavy rainfall might not be able to get through these anyways, especially towards the center.
10) On models with an inner tent, there should be loops for attaching it so it can be suspended closer to the ceiling which improves ventilation while keeping critters out since they’ll have a harder time crawling around on top of this extra layer than if it was touching the base of your outer shelter.
11) On the opposite end of the spectrum, some budget-friendly tents are meant for two people and barely have enough room to fit a queen-sized air mattress, let alone all your gear. These are generally fine for summertime or if you don’t mind being cramped but not very cozy during winter outings since there’s no extra space for storing things that might get wet from condensation (e.g., boots).
12) Seamless designs that do an adequate job of keeping water out as long as the seams aren’t poorly stitched and prone to ripping apart—this includes any model with mesh walls by the way so pay close attention to where the poles connect since these areas need reinforcement before anything else depending on which type of fabric is used.
13) Vestibules aren’t often included with three-season tents but should be added to four-season models if you’re going to be camping in areas known for heavy precipitation, lots of wind, or large amounts of snow that can block the front entryway. The size should also be adequate so you can store your boots and other supplies out of the elements without issue.
14) A high-quality model will retain heat where it’s needed most (e.g., around your feet) but won’t make you sweat during warmer seasons because any temporary condensation will dry up quickly instead of dripping onto your skin. These are typically made with double or triple wall designs that keep insulation evenly distributed throughout the frame—without creating spots that could easily rip apart under pressure—and come with hydrophobic coatings on top to lock in heat and limit the amount of moisture that can settle on the exterior.
15) The best options will have a high R-value since these are designed to withstand temperatures below what you’re expecting (e.g., 30°F instead of 40°F) with minimal insulation in just enough locations to keep you warm without wasting space or adding unnecessary weight. Plus, the poles should be sturdy when pulled apart so there is no risk of them breaking during setup or when extreme winds are present, though thicker pole designs tend to be more durable in this respect so consider getting an aluminum model if weight isn’t much of an issue for you. Some standalone tents even have 2 doors which gives each person their own exit in case one gets blocked by drifting snow or if you need to bail out for any reason.
16) It’s best to go with a design that uses aluminum poles since these are lightweight and stronger than fiberglass, as well as plastic clips instead of metal grommets which can tear fabric otherwise, especially when put under pressure due to wind. Models without guyline cords should have reinforced corners which improves stability during inclement weather since there is more surface area on each angle where the material meets itself, though this isn’t a must-have feature in most cases if the tent is spacious enough for your liking.
17) If possible, look for a model with an inner door flap that has its own rainfly on top because this creates a small vestibule between each door to store things out of the elements without letting in a lot of moisture, and it also reduces the chances of snow or water pooling near your entryway since each one is completely separate from the other.
18) You can always add an aftermarket rain fly yourself if you’re having trouble getting a tent that only has a single layer for its top material because this will keep windblown rain from entering through any gaps between seams when you’re not expecting storms—just be sure to purchase something that’s compatible with your brand and model so it fits up properly.
19) It may seem obvious but even tents marketed for emergencies should be made using a combination of waterproof materials in order to block precipitation from settling on top, potentially seeping through the seams, and dripping down onto you during warmer seasons. Look for a model with 2000mm+ hydrostatic head (HH) ratings to keep you dry even if it suffers serious damage due to heavy winds or strong gusts that cause tears elsewhere on the exterior.
20) It may not seem like much of an issue but the final thing you want is for your tent to smell musty after months of not being used because this material absorbs moisture more than others over time, leading to mildew formation even inside well-ventilated designs. The simplest way around this is to spend a little extra on a high-quality tent since these are made using materials that pose less of a threat in the first place, but if yours smells strongly upon unboxing, store it outside for a few days without its rainfly on before using it.
21) You can also make your own ventilated options with some extra cordage and two small holes which you can tie off from within the tent itself to create a cross design that lets air flow through more easily by pulling the material tight—just be sure to check on this periodically so you don’t lose heat as a result during cooler months.
22) It’s best to go with a simple A-frame or dome shape if possible since these are strong enough in most cases to withstand mild winds and hold up well over time even with repeated use, unlike more complex designs such as cabin tents which have angled walls but require staking down at all four corners to keep everything taut.
23) Keep in mind that you’ll need enough room inside for everyone to stretch out comfortably even if you’re just using it for one or two nights at a time, so opt for the largest size that will fit your specific needs, especially if you purchase an adjustable suspension system since this requires more space than fixed models to work effectively.
24) Shelters made with single-layer, nylon designs are usually much lighter than those which use polyester materials but may not hold up as well over time without proper care because their surface area is exposed to rougher treatment by wind and rain. Check the seams of any tent before setting it up outside since frayed stitching can open easily under pressure, potentially letting moisture get in through any openings over time.
25) It doesn’t cost much more to get a tent with mesh on the inner walls which are more breathable than nylon under most conditions, although this may prevent you from being able to use it during warmer months without extreme ventilation or some other method of staying cool unless it has two doors. Camping tents that have solid exteriors though can be darker inside too, preventing you from even seeing your surroundings while trying to sleep at night—just remember that no matter what type you choose, some extra light will always leak in if there’s none on the outside so don’t forget to pack a flashlight or lantern for emergencies!
26) You can also go with cheaper designs without vestibules on the exterior for storing backpacks and boots during your trip, but these only work well if you don’t mind keeping your footwear and other items inside the tent itself, potentially getting them both damp and dirty over time due to foot traffic and shifting, loose soil. If you’re planning on camping in one spot for more than a day or two at a time, go with the former option instead because it will be much easier to keep everything organized if they can be kept outside where there’s ample space.
27) It should only take around 20 minutes to pitch most no-nonsense designs even if you’ve never done this before thanks to their intuitive construction which is usually color coded by frame pieces that snap easily into place without any instructions needed—just remember that the rainfly always goes on top for added protection from moisture during storms or heavy rains!
28) If you plan on using your tent in freezing conditions or other extreme weather, take into account that heavier options made with stronger materials will likely retain heat better than cheaper versions which may only be suitable for milder climates. Although they’re usually more expensive, double-wall tents should keep you warmer than their no-frills counterparts if it gets much colder than 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius) without any effort on your part to arrange the interior accordingly.
29) To save money and weight for longer trips where every ounce matters though, you can usually go with a smaller design instead of buying multiple options which are larger but meant for different conditions—just make sure it’s big enough to accommodate all of your gear including backpacks, pillows, and other camping accessories without compressing everything too tightly.
30) Whether you’re looking for a simple shelter to use with your car or want something that’s better suited for backpacking in the woods, always consider the number of people that will be using it when buying one because this directly affects its size—you’ll need an extra-large version if there are 4 adults instead of 2 even if they’re not all overnighting inside unless they’re okay with sleeping in very close quarters!
31) If you only plan on camping in mild weather most of the time and don’t mind roughing it outdoors at all, opt for classic dome-shaped tents since these provide more headspace than geodesic shelters which do a much better job of protecting you from the elements!
32) The floor area inside tents with a rectangular shape is usually less than their tapered counterparts, but they’re also much easier to carry around without wearing yourself out because there’s no angular design that weighs more overall.
33) It may be smart to get a tent with an open-air “vestibule” on one end instead of the other though if you plan on using it during warmer weather—this extra space can help keep gear ventilated while offering room for someone to sit down during inclement conditions or while waiting for friends outside.
34) Some options are designed with additional features like divider curtains on the inside too, allowing more privacy between family members when needed. These aren’t always the most practical or inexpensive though, so you may want to stick with a simpler two-person tent unless there’s more than one adult that will be using it.
35) Backpacking tents are often smaller and lighter overall, featuring poles made out of carbon fiber instead of aluminum—they’re typically used for overnight trips due to their size and weight limitations when carrying them into the backcountry, but this won’t be an issue if your car camping rig has a roof rack!
36) If you can handle a little extra weight for better insulation in colder weather, opt for a four-season shelter instead since they’re rated down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 Celsius); these models are much tougher to set up though due to thicker fabrics and metal poles with larger diameters, so you may want to practice at home before venturing out.
37) Geodesic dome tents are usually the lightest available thanks to frame pieces that interlock together on top of the tent’s shell instead of being tied down on the inside, but they’re also more difficult to set up without help—which is why four-season versions come with extra guy ropes on the outside. Both options are equally good for keeping things taut in high winds though, meaning they can withstand blustery conditions even if it’s not all that cold!
38) How many people will be using your car camping tent? This directly affects its size, which means you need an extra-large option if there are 4 adults instead of 2 even if they won’t all be overnighting inside—you can save some money and weight though by opting for a simpler two-person tent unless there’s more than one adult that will use it.