It was our first camping trip. We were thrilled as we set up our tent, eager to enjoy the beauty of God's great outdoors there in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains. We set out for a hike, but by the time we returned a downpour had soured our mood – and that's when we discovered that it had also soaked through our tent and saturated our bedding. The rest of our trip was not as glorious as we had envisioned, but at least we learned a lesson: A tent that can't be trusted in a downpour isn't worth the space it takes up in the trunk.
Sometimes taking the time to shop around can make all the difference in the world between enduring your purchase and really believing you got the best family tent on the market. If you're in the market for a quality camping tent, check out each of these top picks to see whether these are right for you. Whether you are heading out on your own to get away from it all, or you need a family tent to help bring everyone a little closer, we believe one of these tents is sure to meet your needs.
Not All Tents Are Created Equal
It isn't news to seasoned campers, but for those novices who have yet to experience an evening spent in the great outdoors it bears repeating: Not all tents are created equal. While many are quite comparable in terms of construction and quality, the tent that works for one camper would be a disaster for another.
For example, the compact, lightweight tents used for backpackers on their way up the Appalachian Trail would never do for Arctic hunters waiting to spot some muskox on the frigid tundra.
The one-man tent that perfectly served the young soldier on his treks up the slopes of Montana's Beartooth Mountains is suddenly a bit too cozy when he tries to fit himself and his bride into it on their honeymoon.
That cabin-style tent that held the whole family so well every summer suddenly becomes overkill when the nest is empty and the kids aren't there to help you set everything up anymore.
Buying a tent is, in many ways, comparable to buying a home, albeit on a much smaller scale. Choose unwisely, and everything about your life during your time spent outdoors will be more uncomfortable and maybe even downright miserable.
According to the Coleman Company's Sharon Scott, a camping tent isn't a purchase to approach without careful thought. “Just like you would do when buying a home, make a checklist of 'must haves' and the 'negotiables,' " she said. “Generally speaking, you pay more for a tent with additional features, advanced materials or one in which you can stand up."
For more information, check out this video. Here are a few key components to help you determine which tent is right for you.
Top Five Things to Look for Before You Make Your Decision
The number one consideration when purchasing a tent is purpose. Why do you need a tent? Is it so your kids can camp out in the back yard, or are you hoping to avoid spending money on hotels during your vacation? Are you an avid outdoorsman who can stand a bit of discomfort, or are you unable to sleep without a comfortable mattress underneath you?
Before you ever select a tent, think carefully through the following questions to determine the purpose for your tent.
How many seasons will you be using the tent?
Since most people do their camping during somewhat comfortable weather, during late spring, summer, and early fall, the majority of tents on the market are three season tents. That means that they allow moderate airflow to keep things comfortable in the heat while still attempting to provide adequate protection from the elements.
If you plan to do some camping in early spring, late fall, or winter, you will want to consider a four season tent which is made of heavier materials and has a rain fly, or protective covering, that extends to the ground.
Where will you be using your tent?
Are you mainly looking for a tent for the kids to enjoy in your backyard? Do you need a tent that will stand up to desert winds without letting sand blow through the windows?
Will you be camping on the soft forest floor or a rocky mountain outcropping? Do you need privacy from prying eyes in a crowded park campsite, or will you need wide views of the glorious panorama from a remote mountain plateau? Think through where you will be using your tent, and it will greatly help you narrow down your search.
Will you be transporting your tent to your campsite via backpack or vehicle?
Here is a major factor. If you will be carrying your tent for a mile or more, you'll want to make sure to purchase a lightweight tent and forego the extra bells and whistles. If your vehicle will be doing the heavy lifting, you'll have much more latitude in selecting a family tent that will comfortably house a group of people.
How frequently will you be using the tent?
Are you looking for a tent to house you once every few years when you get the urge to take off into the outdoors, or will your tent be used every other weekend for the foreseeable future? The more you will be using the tent, the more imperative it becomes to get this purchase right the first time.
2. Sleeping Capacity
The next major consideration is how many people will be using the tent. While most tents give a sleeping capacity, it's important to remember that this number is allowing for very little wiggle room. Many people prefer to choose a tent with the capacity for one extra person, and some even advise to double the capacity to allow for gear. It's good advice – particularly if your tent mate tosses and turns throughout the night.
While tent height isn't a big deal to some people, for others – tall folks and those who are claustrophobic - tent height is a serious matter. Cabin-style tents tend to allow for more standing room, while dome style tents typically are tallest only in the center, and even there you'll probably have to crouch. If you plan to spend much time in your tent, and especially if you have several people sharing your tent, a cabin-style tent will be much more comfortable.
The next thing you'll want to carefully inspect when searching for the best camping tents is the tent's construction. Begin by inspecting the floor. Does the seam run around the bottom of the tent, or is it raised a bit off the ground so that water doesn't seep in through the seam? This “tub floor” construction is a good indicator of the degree of savvy design that went into a tent's construction.
Most tents are built using poles. Fiberglass poles aren't as sturdy as aluminum, and they can snap much more easily than their metal counterparts. Without poles, your tent is pretty worthless, so be choosy about your poles – especially since replacing them can be difficult. Also, see if the poles attach to the tent through sleeves or clips. Clips are much simpler and can make setup a breeze, so if you will be setting up your tent by yourself keep this in mind.
Accessories are available for tents like vestibules or mudflaps, which keep rain away from the area beyond your tent door. Not only does this allow you to enjoy a rain shower with the door open, but it can also keep your pack and boots dry if there isn't room for them in the tent. Other accessories include mesh shelves, footprints or tarps that protect the bottom of the tent floor by giving them a smooth surface on which to lay, and tent fans to keep things ventilated. One important point: Never use a heater in your tent. Not only is it a major fire hazard in a structure that is inherently flammable, but it also poses the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is a noiseless, odorless killer that claims the life of campers every year.
The final consideration you should make regards the material of your tent. Most modern tents are made with either nylon or polyester. Nylon tents, which are more expensive, are stronger and much more lightweight, even though they don't shed water as well as polyester.
To help tents repel water and protect you from UV rays, many are coated with protectants like polyurethane or silicone. Silicone coated nylon, which is much lighter, tends to be most expensive and the highest quality.
Top 3 Camping Tent Reviews
1. Coleman Sundome Tent
If you are looking for a three-season tent that's cozy as well as convenient, the Coleman Sundown Tent is a great choice. Although it sleeps two, the roomy tent can hold up to six people sitting.
Set up is a breeze with the Insta-Clip poles, which allow you to construct the tent without frustrating attempts to thread unwieldy poles through long fabric sleeves. The WeatherTec system, combined with a comforting rainfly, offers peace of mind even when storm clouds loom on the horizon. The lightweight design allows you to transport the tent easily.
This is a three season tent. With breathable fabric, you'll feel secure without feeling sweltering. The well-ventilated design cuts down on condensation so you don't wake up clammy. While this tent is great for warmer climates, it's not designed as a four season tent. The mesh openings under the rainfly will let in breezes, which is a huge asset in the summer but not so great in the winter. Also, the seams should be sealed before camping in the rain to prevent water seepage.
If you wish to extend the seasonal use of your tent, you might consider bringing along a blanket to cover the tent mesh openings, and then cover that with the rainfly. Doing so will reduce the breathability of your tent, but it will keep in warmth and keep out chilly winds.
Check out the following pros and cons of the Coleman Sundown Tent:
- Quick, easy set up
- Lightweight, compact design when packed
- Spacious for a 2 to 6 person tent
- Breathable for comfort in warm weather
- Rainfly offers great waterproof protection
- Mesh storage features and lantern hook for convenient organization
- Not designed for cool nights
- Seam can leak in water without waterproofing
- Not for tentmates who don't enjoy close quarters
2. Coleman 6-Person Instant Tent
If you are looking for a crowd-pleaser, this Coleman 6-Person Instant Tent is it. Spacious and strreamlined, this tent offers room for two queen-sized airbeds.
While technically six people can fit inside, it's a good idea to count on leaving some room for gear, especially if some people don't especially enjoy cramped sleeping conditions.
One of the huge pluses of this tent is its no-hassle setup. The poles are pre-assembled, requiring the most minimal of effort to set up. The Illumiline reflective guy lines allow you to step out at night without tripping over the lines and possibly upsetting the entire structure. The built-in rainfly offers excellent storm protection.
The tent is a one-piece design, which actually makes it possible for you to either set it up and take it down in about a minute. The one-piece construction doesn't skimp on quality, either. The poles are steel, providing excellent strength and stability even when the winds rage strong.
With its spacious horizontal and vertical design, even adults can stand comfortably in the tent. The panoramic views make sure that your time spent in God's great outdoors is enjoyed to the fullest. When it's time to go, you'll appreciate the convenient, generous-sized carrying bag to hold your entire tent. You'll save so much time with this well-designed tent that you'll be amazed you ever used another tent.
Check out these pros and cons for the Coleman 6-Person Instant Tent:
- Quick, one-minute setup
- All-in-one construction
- Spacious design
- Weatherproof fabric resists moisture
- Illuminated guy lines for safety at night
- Window coverings flap down inside tent
- Air flow isn't best for cold weather
3. Coleman 8-Person Red Canyon Tent
If you're planning a camping trip with the entire family, the Coleman Eight-person Red Canyon Tent offers spacious comfort and wide-open panoramas.
This spacious tent offers room for the whole family to stretch out and relax. With the capacity for eight sleepers and the option of dividing the tent into three separate rooms, this tent is a steal for the reasonable price. Measuring 17 by 10 feet and 72 inches high, it isn't likely to bring on the claustrophobia that so many tents induce.
Set up of this tent is quite straightforward, although it's always a good idea to have two or three sets of hands to make sure things are done correctly, safely, and enjoyably. A storage bag is provided to keep the tent's components together. Stakes and guylines are provided, but you'll want to make sure to purchase a rubber mallet to drive in the stakes. The instructions for the tent are included on the inside of the storage bag, but after setting up the tent a time or two you probably won't even need the instructions.
Although you'll want to seal the seams to ensure it stays dry after several uses, the WeatherTec System provides a comfortable, dry night's sleep even in rainstorms. All in all, this is one eight-person tent that we believe deserves its place in the top three camping tents.
Check out these pros and cons of the Coleman Eight-Person Red Canyon Tent:
- Roomy, spacious interior
- Optional room dividers
- Attractive design
- Tub floor
- Setup is more difficult than one person can handle easily
- Design allows for minimal rain seepage
- Windows do not close in cold weather
Our Top Pick
Of all three tents we reviewed, our favorite was the Coleman 6-Person Instant Tent. Of all three options, this tent combined value with quality in a way that we believe is the most likely to suit the needs of most campers.
The all-in-one nature of this tent and easy set up is a major plus for this tent. Add to that the spacious layout, the panoramic views, the weatherproof design, and the reasonable price tag, and we believe you'd be hard pressed to find a better deal for the money.
If you are itching to get started on your next adventure into God's great outdoors, do yourself a favor and check out one of these tents soon. You won't regret it.