Spacious, user-friendly, and feature-rich, tents for camping are made for a relatively luxurious experience in the outdoors. Many of these behemoths offer enough room to set up cots or even chairs and a table for card games on a rainy day. The majority of car campers take only a few trips a year, usually during the peak summer months, and even the cheapest tents on this list will perform well for this type of use. For tougher weather conditions or as a long-term investment, consider springing for a better-built and more expensive model.
No matter how old we get or how wrapped up we are in the perpetual ongoings of our daily lives, there are few things that bring us back down to reality other than unplugging and dashing towards the forest for an extended stay. Be it with the entire family, old friends, a special someone, or just yourself, camping helps you get back in touch with the world we left behind so long ago in favor of LED screens and high-rises. It’s time to reacquaint yourself with an old friend, time to ditch the cell phone and the email notifications. It’s time to embrace the wilderness.
No matter what your experience level in the outdoors, odds are you understand the need for shelter. And in this particular instance, the need for a tent. But not just any tent. Because in this world, you truly get what you pay for. Now, that budget tent might have felt like a great purchase while it sat cozily on the store shelf or stored away in the garage, but what happens when the weather turns, poles start bending, and the zipper to your mosquito net starts to snag?
Don’t fall victim to those “best deals” out there for tents. There’s nothing worse than having what was supposed to be a weekend of rest and relaxation descend into rage and regret. If you’re worried about what’s out there, don’t be, we’re here to help. In fact, we’ve assembled a list of the top ten best camping tents around to ensure that remaining comfortable at night is the least of your worries while unwinding in the wild.
There are two kinds of car-camping tents. The first is affordable and made for quick weekend jaunts with the family or drunken festivals in the woods. The second is more expensive, better constructed, and preferable for trips across the country where you’ll be camping in everything from scorching heat to torrential rain.
When you’re going to be lugging your tent a couple hundred feet from your car at most, you don’t need an ultralight, high-tech design. Something big and boxy is fine, and the extra space can help you stay organized and sleep more comfortably; you’ll also look forward to returning to your ready-to-pitch retreat again and again. With a peak height of 7 feet and a cubelike shape, the Copper Canyon 6 was among the roomiest of the tents we tested. Though it isn’t built for stormy weather, it is tough and durable enough to ride out most rain and wind storms. With a time-tested design, this popular tent is one you can expect to pitch for years to come.
The Coleman 6-Person Instant Cabin is bulkier when bagged and smaller when standing than our favorite Eureka Copper Canyon tent. It also has smaller windows, fewer pockets, and lacks a mesh roof for stargazing. But thanks to telescoping, pre-attached poles, it goes up and down much faster than any other tent we tested, and it has no fly to bother with.
Care, use, and maintenance
We found that company representatives are reluctant to estimate the lifespan of their tents. When pushed, most of those we talked to estimated five to 10 years, though the actual lifespan will vary widely depending on care and frequency of use (read REI’s excellent tips here). In researching this guide, we heard multiple tales of careful campers who have been using the same tent for 15 years or more.
There are several straightforward ways to make any tent last longer:
Use a groundsheet. A “footprint” made by the same company as your tent and sized to match is ideal for preventing pooling water—and avoiding the wrinkles and crumply sound of a cheap $10 tarp. That said, a cheap tarp will do the job just fine as long as you buy it or cut it to fit. A too-big tarp will collect rainwater off the fly and funnel it right under the tent.
Clean your campsite. Before you lay out your footprint and tent, make a reasonable effort to remove from the site any small stones, sticks, and briars that could puncture your tent floor.
Set down some ground rules. “Your tent is your sanctuary,” said camping expert Helen Olsson, who would always bring a “play tent”—an old, two-person backpacking tent—for her little kids to use as a daytime play space. When they were in the “real” tent, everyone followed Olsson’s “No shoes in the tent” rule.
Similarly, keep your tent zipped to keep bugs and critters out, and turn your kids into pro zipper users: Teach them that a thumb placed in the area forward of the direction they’re pulling the zipper will clear the fabric path and help avoid snags.
Sweep out before packing. Tiny pebbles or sticks packed inside the tent can rub and erode the material over time. Another nice thing about tents that retain their structure without being staked is that a couple of people should be able to team up to lift the tent and shake out detritus before removing the poles and putting the tent away. You could also follow the lead of type-A campers and carry a small whisk broom and dustpan to keep the tent floor tidy during your trip.
Dry before storing. “Nothing will destroy a tent faster than mildew,” tent designer Bob Howe told us. “And if it doesn’t destroy it, it just makes it unlivable.” To avoid mildew (and the accompanying stink), never, ever pack away a tent that’s still damp. Line-dry it or hang it up in your basement—or set it up in your garage—until any hint of dampness is gone.