The right tent depends on your needs. Plenty of people that spend a lot of time outdoors have more than one tent. I am going to categorize tents my purpose and try to provide a few options to meet various budgets.
The Backdoor Survival Guide To The Best Tents
The issue of weight
If you want to get out in the woods with as light of a pack as possible then you might consider a hammock tent. These are available for one or two people and they eliminate the need for an air mattress or sleeping pad.
Is the tent for individual use, a couple, or a group?
It is also important to consider who is going to be with you most of the time. If people are sharing a tent then the second person can carry a lot of the food so that the load is shared.
If everyone is packing their own and everything else for themselves, the weight can really add up fast. If each person is packing a stove, water filter, tent, mess kit, etc rather than sharing, the weight equation is far different. For example, an 8 lb heavy duty tent may be more reasonable if it is for 2-4 people than each person carrying a 3-6 lb tent.
If you live in a warmer climate, you can get away with a tent that is less insulated and thus lighter in weight. That doesn’t mean that it will cost you a lot less necessary. If you plan on camping in a different climate or are concerned that you will have to be extremely nomadic during a major SHTF situation, you might consider a 3 season style tent and pay the extra money to get one made from as lightweight materials as you can find.
Car Camping or “Glamping” Tents
These are tents that are designed with comfort in mind rather than weight and packability. If you can drive to where you are camping, they can offer you a more pleasurable experience and may be more comfortable for those with limited abilities. There is often enough room for a raised bed, a chair, and other items that simply don’t fit in backpacking or dome style camping tent.
These are a good choice if you go to festivals for pleasure or to sell things. If you fancy the idea of having a camp set up somewhere on your property to hang out in when it is hot during the summer or similar. Some tents are large enough to be used for covered dining and entertaining in the summertime.
I saw one of these at Prepper Camp. A fellow had brought it along because he had his whole family with him. If you want to set up a nice camping area on a large property, this would be a neat tent to do it with. I like that it has a stove jack in it so you can extend the camping season into the colder months of the year.
The tent comes in several diameters. You can choose 13′, 16.5′, or the massive 20′. While the basic tent has a waterproof coating, you can get a version that has an additional fire repellent added. If you plan on using the stove jackhole, I highly recommend buying the more fire repellent version.
The center height is a full 9′ while the sidewalls are 3′ which allows you to make good use of space regardless of the bell shape.
This is the tent I really want for glamorous camping. Kodiak Canvas makes some serious tents that can take a lot of bad weather while you stay cozy inside. I like the idea of not sacrificing the ability to have a raised queen size air mattress when camping. After basically camping for several years while we built a house, I am over roughing it a lot of the time. Living that way will do that to a person.
This tent has a center height of 7.5 ft so it feels like you are standing in your living room. The five windows allow for great views and feature no-see-um mesh so you stay bug-free and comfortable. You get a side entry and main entry door. The whole package weighs 112 lbs so this is not a tent for anything but car and luxury camping. At the very least you are going to need a small utility vehicle or ATV and trailer to get this tent to your location along with your other gear.
Hunting Camp and Winter Backwoods Survival Tents
These tents are made to be put in place for an extended period of time and hold up under extreme weather conditions and cold. They often have stove jacks for adding a barrel or tent stove when needed. These tents are in a higher price bracket than almost any other tent but you are getting a tent that is essentially a cold-weather cabin substitute.
This tent from Montana Canvas is very spacious at 140 sq ft. This would be a great tent for getting out in the bush for an extended period of time or even living in while you build a small permanent house or cabin.
The tent is made of heavy-duty 10 oz cotton canvas that is treated for superior water resistance. The tent frame is 1 3/8″ aluminum with patented joints. This allows for strength while saving on weight.
A 5″ stove jack allows you to add a stove when needed. For those that like to buy American made, you will be happy to know that the entire tent is made in the USA. The total weight is 142 lbs.
First of all, this is a huge tent. At 14’x16′ you get a full 224 sq feet of living space so there is room for you and the whole family or a big group of hunting buddies!
This tent has some nice features like fill skirting around the tent to keep out water and other things you don’t want. A heavy-duty 16 oz polyvinyl ground cloth makes a decent floor. A full 8.5′ center height means even the really tall folks are not going to be hitting their heads on anything and it allows you some space to hang lights.
Durable 3-layer large triangular distinctive windows with clear polyvinyl storm flaps and a Velcro fastening system means you can enjoy the view even when it is cold and not lose a lot of heat from your tent.
If you backpack with your significant other or you are a parent just taking a single child on trips, then a lightweight 2 person backpacking tent is going to make sense. If you sleep alone then you can, of course, use a 1-person tent but you may still want to get the 2-person option so that you have a little more room. Smaller tents are easier to stay warm in during cold conditions so that is a factor to consider.
Hammock style tents are great when you want to backpack and not carry a lot of weight. They also allow you to eliminate a sleeping pad from your bag. If you choose to get a hammock style tent, check the weight rating. Single person hammocks may be large enough to cram two people in but that doesn’t mean the are meant to take the weight.
This is a good deal on a double hammock with a rainfly and mosquito net. The whole package weighs a mere 36 oz and can support up to 700 lbs! The mesh of the mosquito netting is very fine so even extremely small pests cannot get through. 2500 holes per square inch is actually a little hard to believe. I like how the rainfly can be adjusted and sets well above the hammock so you don’t feel so enclosed. If you have to hunker down for a bit of time, it is awfully nice to be able to see out and not feel so cramped up.
I could see having this in a lightweight bugout bag or even keeping it in your car to use in a get home bag if you have a long commute or travel great distances regularly.
When I was researching hammock tents, I found a neat accessory for cold nights.
This under quilt is designed to fit a variety of hammocks and keep you warmer during colder nights. It weighs 28 oz and is made of SEE Polyester Filling covered with a 20D ripstop nylon shell with a DWR coating and 300T polyester pongee lining. You get a stuff sack for easy carry. The quilted design ensures that the filling doesn’t get lumpy or bunch up.
I have been happy with the REI Gear I have owned over the years even though I bought all of it used. My sleep bag is almost as old as I am and it is still what I carry out in the bush.
This tent caught my eye because it is lightweight and has a decent-sized vestibule area for stashing your gear so that you don’t feel so cramped in a single person tent. One reviewer stated that they use a 26″x 78″ camping mattress and still have some room at their feed and on the side.
REI has a good rewards plan for gear too. At the end of the year, you can get 10% back on basically everything you buy.
This tent weighs just under 3.5 lbs and is a solid option for the solo backpacker that wants a quality tent that will stand the test of time.
There are some advantages of going with a 2 person backpacking tent even if you camp alone. The price point is often similar. The disadvantage is the added 2 lbs of weight compared to the REI Co-op Passage 1 Tent.
A peak height of 43″ gives you a lot of headroom in this tent which is something that some tents designed for backpacking are lacking. A well-built rainfly insulates and allows for 3 season comfort. At under 5.5 lbs, this offers a couple an option for getting out and enjoying the outdoors practically any time of the year.
While the floor area is 30.6 sq ft the vestibule offers an additional 9.78 sq ft to stash your gear.
If you want to get out during all the different seasons, then this tent from Marmot offers quality and exceptional protection from the weather. Satisfied customers talk about staying cozy and dry even when they had a foot of snow dumped on them overnight. The Marmot features a large double door and rear D-shaped door that leads to 2 vestibules for stashing gear and saving on space.
At just over 6 lbs, the tent is light enough for backpacking. You are not going to do much better than that if you want a tent that can truly offer you 3 season camping comfort. A peak height of 4 feet offers a more spacious feeling than a lot of tents. I like the square design footprint that allows for good use of space.
Tents For Kids
If kids want to pack in their own tent or if you have a few kids that want to have their own private getaway on trips, there are some good options out there. Of course, you will want to pick them out based on the age and number of kids. The Coleman Sun Dome is an example of a tent that is great for kids and teens because you can get it in a variety of sizes.
Perhaps each kid wants there own 1 person tent for fun or practice? If you go for smaller tents at some point they are going to outgrow it so you might want to consider how soon that will be and how often you plan on using the tent when budging how much to spend. If you get out with your kids a lot then, by all means, get something that is heavy duty and going to serve them well over a few years.
Remember that some kids may like to pitch a tent in the backyard once in a while as well so they may be more enthusiastic about having a tent of their own and use it more than you might expect. The upside is that it gets them out of the house which can be good for their health and physical fitness. You also might notice a reduction in messes in your home if they are keeping some activities outside.
This is an affordable tent that is similar to the Sun Dome but sized with kids in mind. It features a 7′ x 4′ footprint and a 36″ center height. The color is kind of fun and bright too. The tent weighs just over 5 lbs so it is not so heavy that kids cannot manage it themselves in many cases. Inverted seams and a welded floor keeps them dry in inclement weather.
This two-person tent comes in some fun colors like camo or even pink palms. When you put a light in the tent, the design really stands out which can be a lot of fun for the younger members of your family. The description says that it can fit up to 3 adults but it is tight. If you have a younger group of kids, you can probably get away with having 4 of them in the tent overnight.
The tent is made to take some wind and has a good rainfly. The tent is a bit heavy at 8 lbs so not the best for backpacking.
Classic Family Style Camping Tents
These are the tents that you see that are made to be at least moderately lightweight or somewhat heavy but designed to comfortably sleep 6-12 people. These tents often have removable divider panels for privacy. They are mostly for car camping due to the weight but could be used for camping a short hike in if one person just carries the tent and very little else. That is the beauty of group camping and getaways, you can simply carry in more and share it for a more comfortable experience.
Coleman has been making camping gear for a long time. Overall their gear is affordable and decent quality for what you pay. Coleman makes gear at different price points. If you want you can pay hundreds for a Coleman tent for example but then there are nice moderately priced versions like the Coleman Sundome. I saw people use these at Prepper Camp in Saluda, NC.
The Sundome fits up to 6 adults and measures a full 10’x10′. This means you can fit 2 queen size air mattresses in it if desired. Another bonus is that the center height is 6 ft
This is a massive tent for your money, measuring in at 18′ x 10′ feet. You can fit 3 queen size air mattresses with no problem. If sleeping bags are used, up to 12 adults can comfortably sleep. The center height is 80″ so most people will have no problem standing up.
I like that the tent can be set up quickly. While I think 2 minutes is a little hopeful, I have set up an instant cabin style tent before and it really did take only about 5 minutes plus another minute or two to pound stakes in.
If you want to take the whole family on a big camping trip but don’t want to spend a ton of time just getting set up, this tent is a good option and comes with a 1-year warranty.
The Concept of The Drunk Tent (Cheap Throw Away Tent)
Even if you don’t drink or party, if you go to festivals, gatherings, etc, chances are there are going to be people that overindulged. The last thing you want is your good tent destroyed by someone getting out of hand or a thief stealing it. Matt and I keep a tent that is really cheap but usable in the summer and fall here.
I am talking about a $25 tent. If you are going to camp at an event with a lot of people you need to consider the chances of someone either stealing your tent or at least damaging it severely. It is also a good back up tent in case you have friends visiting that want to camp out with you sometime and don’t have gear.
We buy a cheap Ozark Trail Wal-Mart tent every 3 years or so if we are using them with any regularity. Sometimes they last longer. If you pay a little more you may get even more use out of it.
Tent Care and Maintenance
Sometimes you hear people talk about how a tent just didn’t last as long as it should have. Well, this can have a lot to do with maintenance. You can ruin even the best quality tent in a relatively short period of time if you don’t take care of it properly. Here are some tips for getting the longest life out of your tent.
Never put a tent away that has any moisture on or inside it.
When you get home from a trip, make sure to hang your tent up to totally dry. If you are on an extended trip, make sure to dry your tent out well every few days if possible. Make sure the fly is taken off and allowed to dry too.
Check seams and reseal or make repairs before any trips.
Ignoring the problem can result in a more serious repair or major damage. You also are at risk of getting wet if the weather takes a turn for the worse. Minor holes and rips can become huge if the right wind comes up or your tent gets snagged on something.
If a tent has been stored for an extended period of time, make sure you take it out and check it for soundness and make sure all the parts are there. Do this even if you remember checking it out or doing repairs before you put it away. Storage can have an effect on your tent.
When possible, take shoes off before entering a tent or at least use lightweight sandals or similar.
This is not always possible due to various conditions like weather, terrain, etc but the less you stomp around on your tent floor, the longer it is going to last so do it when you can. Tents are made to be used but taking a little extra care to prevent damage when possible can go a long way.
What tents have you had a good experience with over the years? Do you have any brands that you will never buy again? I would love to hear back from some people that have stayed in one of the canvas wall hunting tents for a week or more. Were you comfortable? Could you imagine living in one for more than 3 months?