Camping in an ill-suited tent is like hiking in flip-flops—sure, you can make it work, but it’s a far cry from an optimal experience. Anyone who has slept in the great outdoors knows that determining the best tent for your trip’s needs is the difference between an okay trip and a comfortable, memorable experience.
Think of the tent as your home in the outdoors, says Gabi Rosenbrien, the product development manager for outdoor equipment company Nemo. “You want it to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable and not all tents are created equal, so start by thinking about how you plan to use yours,” he suggests. “Will you be backpacking? Car camping? Are you going to be using this tent for one or two nights at a time or for weeks on end? Will you be camping by yourself or with friends or family?” Answering these types of questions, he notes, will help you filter your options.
Ahead, more tips sourced from outdoor enthusiasts to help you find the best camping tents based on the style of your adventure.
The best tent for first-timers
If you’re new to camping, finding a tent can be daunting. John Nolan, an outdoor enthusiast who’s currently tackling some of SoCal’s toughest peaks with his partner Anna, recommends a tent that is easy to pitch and built to last if you’re a first-timer. “Freestanding tents like the MSR Hubba Hubba have been on the market for over a decade and for good reason,” he says. “Their now-classic pole structure makes for an easy setup and inspires confidence when the weather takes a turn for the worse.”
MSR Hubba Hubba NX two-person tent
The best car camping tent
Outdoor photographers Ben Matthews and Kevin Pereira both nod to rooftop tents as the best camping tents for car camping, and particularly for road trips. Rooftop tents are attached to your vehicle and fold out quickly. “[They] come in all shapes and sizes but my favorite is the hinge-type, which has a hard-shell and swings open like a trap door,” Pereira says. “For this type, absolutely no setup is needed other than the few seconds it takes to open the tent.” For a durable, convenient option, iKamper’s Skycamp 2.0 model offers a patented one-minute setup and king size mattress. Matthews, on the other hand, prefers a soft-shell option. “[I] like the Thule Tepui Explorer Autana 3 for its easy setup, roomy interior, and comfortable mattress that’s inside,” he says. His pick also includes an extended private canopy entrance with a removable annex, adding to the tent’s spacious qualities.
Thule x Tepui Explorer Autana 3
The best family camping tent
The “bigger is better” motto applies to group camping. “When looking for a family tent, it’s generally nice to go one size up to make sure everyone has enough space—for example, a family of four should get a six-person tent,” Pereira says. He also recommends finding one with a built-in tarp floor to avoid rocks and roots. Another factor to keep in mind is height. “If family camping is your focus, look for a standing-height shelter with plenty of ventilation,” Rosenbrien adds.
Marmot Limestone eight-person tent
The best tent for backpackers
If you’re embarking on a backpacking trip, you’ll need a lightweight tent since you’ll be hiking with it on your back. The hallmark of a backpacking tent is being “light enough for long treks but spacious and versatile enough that you enjoy the time you spend inside the tent, too,” says Roland Tyson, founder and head of design at Sea to Summit, which makes a range of ultralight tents, like the Alto Tr1.
Mary Ashley Krogh of Bound For Nowhere hiked 220 miles on the John Muir Trail with her Big Agnes Fly Creek series tent and maintains it’s still a favorite. “This tent is ultra-lightweight, packs down super small, is breathable when it’s hot, is durable, and will help you camp in just about any place you can get to on foot,” she says of the water-resistant tent. “It was my home for two weeks!”
Sea to Summit Alto Tr1 one-person tent
$399.00, Sea to Summit
The best pet-friendly tent
Bringing a dog on your camping adventure is a rewarding experience, but a tent that accommodates your four-legged friend is necessary, so Matthews advises sizing up. “I’ll opt to bring a three-person tent so there’s extra room inside for our pup Finley to sleep with us,” he says. “The weight difference between a two- and three-person ultralight tent is pretty negligible.” Rosenbrien notes that Nemo’s Aurora Series is well-suited for pet owners. “A Pawprint tent floor liner snaps in to protect from dog claws while also providing a cozy spot to land,” he says.
Nemo Aurora backpacking tent
The best tent for adventurers
Pereira notes that highly specialized adventurers require highly specialized gear to ensure safety and comfort in extreme conditions. “Tents designed for big wall climbers or mountaineers aren’t cheap, but a couple hundred bucks is well worth the safety and durability these tents provide,” he says. Porta-ledges—hanging platforms that give climbers room to set up a belay station when a flat surface isn’t available—are an adventurous choice. “Multifunctional gear is huge for climbers, and several outfitters produce porta-ledges with tarp systems that serve several purposes for a big climbing objective,” he says. “As for mountaineering tents, these are probably the strongest and most durable tents on the market. They are built for blistering cold and windy alpine conditions.”
Black Diamond Deluxe Single Fly
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