Let's start with the basics. And go from there.
What Is A Pop-up Tent?
A pop up instant tent is a recent revolution in the camping and backpacking scene. It’s an instant canopy that can be propped up with ease without having to set up individual tent poles like a traditional tent. While regular tents will have you scratching your head and rereading the instruction manual, an instant tent provides quick setup and takedown. No hassle, no problem.
Everyone loves to go into the great outdoors, but not everyone has as much fun setting up a canopy tent. The least fun part of camping is often the camping tent. Complaints about a traditional tent often involve tent fabric getting hitched in tent poles, pole length that’s hard to figure out, and tent stake design that makes it hard to hold down. But unless you and your friends are looking to sleep under the stars, bringing some kind of backpacking tent with you is a necessity. After all, you can’t put a sleeping bag in a tent frame that’s not propped up.
Pop up tents seek to solve this problem by making shelter setup accessible to everyone. Having an instant tent means no one has to struggle with the instructions or worry about threading the correct tent pole. It also means you won’t be exhausted while setting up the tent at the end of a long hike. A well-designed pop up canopy fits easily in a carry bag, often comes with a mesh window for ventilation, is waterproof, uses a heavy-duty frame tent design, and helps improve the quality of your camping trip.
There are even a variety of sizes, ranging from small canopies to a spacious 4 person tent. Whether your outdoor event is nearby or far away, having an instant cabin tent can drastically improve your experience.
How Does A Pop-up Tent Work?
It works in the same way you might expect. Once removed from its carry bag, the pop up tent will “pop up” into its shape and deploy, ready to use right out of the case. Have you ever made an origami crane? Imagine folding one up to keep in a small pocket. When you bring it out, the wings, neck, and tail unfold to their full size, meaning you can carry around something large by flattening it out.
Pop up tents use the same structure as origami does, just on a larger scale. When you take it down, you fold the tent into a small space so it can fit in with the rest of your camping gear. Any tent can do the same thing, of course, but the pop up tent does more than provide an easy takedown. Once you “pop” it out again, it can take less than a minute to set up—sometimes less than 15 seconds!
What’s The Difference Between a Regular Tent and a Pop-up Tent?
The biggest difference is setup time. Obviously, a regular tent loses in this comparison because it lacks several criteria. Regular tents usually rely on telescopic legs that have to be threaded through loops in the tent’s polyester fabric. It’s a time-tested method, but can take a while and is challenging for beginners. Depending on how big the tent is, setup can become increasingly more complex. Holding down the flap, readjusting the tent stakes, and holding tent poles in place can take a while. It feels even longer when there’s rain or inclement weather conditions at hand.
On the other hand, pop up tents have a rapid setup that’s second to none. It’s hard to overstate how convenient a quick setup is. After hiking all day, you don’t want to waste time figuring out how to prop up a new type of tent, or realize you’re missing a tent leg. Pop up tents are fast and convenient.
Not to mention, if you have trouble setting one up, chances are someone’s already got the answer. There are tons of how-tos for putting up pop up tents. This information, mixed with its convenience, makes camping easier for newcomers who might otherwise struggle.
But there are a few disadvantages when comparing them to regular tents. For example, the average instant cabin tent only sleeps between 2 and 4 people, and only a few of them can house 6. A traditional tent comes in larger varieties, meaning there’s more to look at when considering a group camping trip.
There are still plenty of normal tents that only sleep 4 to 6 people, of course, but there’s at least the option to have more people. For an instant canopy tent? Not so much. Not yet at least—let’s hope the market changes soon and develops bigger models for bigger groups.
And finally, there’s durability. This is a big question among avid campers and newcomers alike. While the convenient setup is a great advantage, it makes you wonder how it fares against the elements.
And as it turns out, pop up tents are less heavy duty than regular ones. It’s no secret that sturdy, well-maintained tents can take a lot of lashing from harsh weather conditions. Most pop up tents are waterproof and can resist rain and harmful UV rays pretty well, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Even the best pop up tents trade durability for portability, but they make up for it in other advantages:
For starters, the canopy frame is lightweight. This has some advantages, like easy storage and portability. Every pound you can shed is important, especially when backpacking or hiking to your destination. But once they’re down, pop up tents are more liable to be caught away by strong winds.
On top of that, some of these instant tents are made for light recreational use only, meaning they don’t keep water out like a regular canvas tent. Some hikers have pointed out that pop up tents are harder to repair because they fold, and are made of just a single piece. Many don’t even offer options on how to repair them. It’s not like you can remove a tent leg and substitute it for a better one—sometimes it might be easier just to purchase a new tent entirely.
What Makes A Great Pop-up Tent?
For one thing, make sure your pop up tent will properly protect you from the elements. A waterproof tent is a necessity because you never know when it’s going to rain. Even if the forecast is sunny or only partly cloudy, there’s always the danger of a sudden change. Being caught out in the wild with tons of valuables getting wet is no way to camp, so take some extra time and find a waterproof pop up tent. There are plenty to choose from, and they provide superior confidence to non-waterproof models.
Additionally, being lightweight is one of a pop up tent’s best attributes. As mentioned before, being lightweight can have its advantages, especially when your outdoor event will offer some shelter from the elements. If you’re just staying at a tailgate party before or after a big event, it’s not like you need an ultra-tough tent, anyway.
Being lightweight can also be a good option when you’re hiking. When everything you take has to be carried on your back, a small weight difference makes a huge impact over time. And for how much it weighs, you’ll be getting a lot. There’s a fair amount of space for the instant tent's size, so you and a friend or two can comfortably sleep there. Not to mention the material, which offers a fair bit of ventilation and usually comes with a few mesh windows. It delivers lots of benefits in just a tiny package, which is an amazing combination for campers looking to save on space.
How Much Does a Pop-up Tent Cost?
In terms of prices, there’s not much difference between regular and pop up tents. You may find a wider variety of regular tents on the market since their design has been around for much longer. But this isn’t necessarily an indication of higher quality. In fact, there are plenty of excellent pop up models available for online purchase at less than $200 USD. This price tag runs a little higher than regular tents, but some campers would say it’s worth the tradeoff.
For those who’ve found an excellent campsite, or aren’t planning to go through a ton of rugged terrain, pop up tents serve their purpose. Especially if it’s a temporary event, like waiting outside a movie theater or something crazy like that. Out of all the camping tent styles and models available, you’re sure to find a suitable pop up tent for your outdoor event.
Where Can I Buy One?
You can buy pop up tents just about anywhere that people sell tents. First and foremost we encourage you to visit your local independent outdoor store—it’s both great to support your local community AND receive some first hand gear education. Of course, there are a fair few tents available for purchase from reputable outdoor megastores like REI, Backcountry, and Eastern Mountain Sports, online, too.
Be sure to carefully check reviews and other indicators before buying, so that you know what you’ll be taking with you. Video tutorials can be a benefit of buying online, as these are handy for new buyers looking to learn how to use a specific instant tent. You can also easily compare tent prices, compatibility, and features at any number of review sites. However you go, know that a night spend outdoors will always be worth the effort.