The most essential item for any camping trip is the tent. It provides you with a home away from home. It keeps you safe and dry when the weather turns sideways, and it gives you a place to relax and hang out when on a family camping trip (or need a moment away from said family.)
There are plenty of different styles and kinds of tents, from ultralight backpacking tents and spacious and strong family camping tents to large, durable, geodesic dome-inspired expedition tents. Even rooftop tents for your 4x4 rig. After nearly a century of modern innovation, tents these days have a multitude of added features that are designed to make your next trip to the backcountry—or car-accessible campsite—fun, enjoyable, and most of all, comfortable.
To aid in your search for the best tent for you and your outdoor goals, we’ve rounded up our top 10 picks for the best tents for car camping, backpacking, and thru-hiking, with a range of group sizes and budgets in mind. And below that, is a proper deep dive tent guide breaking down common tent materials and sizes, what features to look for, and answering FAQs to keep you on the right path. Dig in and have fun.
10 Tents for All Types of Camping
Weighing in at only 1.17 pounds, the ultra-light Ultamind 2 will barely add any weight to your pack on those long-haul treks. Made with waterproof materials for year-round adventuring, the pyramid shape also allows for easy set-up and breakdown.
Price: Starting at $735
Ideal for thru-hiking and other fast-and-light backcountry adventures thanks to its lightweight but sturdy build and multi-function design (the awning is propped up with the aid of trekking poles), the three-season, two-person also sets up quickly and easily thanks to Big Agnes’ proprietary TipLok Tent Buckle corner construction.
From breathable, no-see-um mesh and waterproofed fabrics to an included footprint and vertical-walled zone construction to maximize indoor space, the Marmot Tungsten’s compact, user-friendly design makes it the ideal companion for solo adventurers up to three seasons out of the year.
Featuring an attractive look and made with cutting-edge, ultra-durable materials like MSR’s specialty Xtreme Shield™ Waterproof coating, the Hubba Hubba NX offers three-season protection from rain, sun, and light wind. It also weighs a feathery three pounds, eight ounces thanks to lightweight materials like aerospace composite poles.
From one of the most trusted names in mountaineering gear comes the three-season technical but spacious Aspect 3. With a lofty domed canopy and enough interior space for up to three people, it uses DAC Featherlight™ NFL poles for a lightweight build and a unique canopy-to-pole attachment system that compresses easily for packing. There are also two entrances to prevent scrambling over your tent mates.
An industry standard for extreme adventuring, the Hilleberg Saitari’s ultra-strong construction and proprietary weatherproofed materials provide four-season protection against everything from scorching sun to wailing winter storms. Standing just over four feet tall, it hunkers close to the ground for wind protection and has large vestibules to keep bad weather out and offer gear storage. For being so big though (there is ample interior space to wait out long storms), it pitches surprisingly easily thanks to a self-supporting system.
Affordable, spacious, and capable of being set up within ten minutes, the Coleman Sundome may not be the most technical or light tent out there, but it delivers with reliability and timelessly classic tent design. The large windows and ground vent keep the interior well-ventilated, and an included rainfly with door awning keeps you dry from summer downpours.
Big enough to hold a crew of ten, the cabin-style Coleman Skydome features near-vertical walls and lofted ceiling for maxmized space. Plus WeatherTec™ technology to keep the elements out, making this a large and reliable structure for outdoor gatherings and events in good or bad weather.
Standing nearly seven feet tall and patterned in yellow triangles to stand out against white-out mountain landscapes, this geodesic dome is the golden standard for an alpine basecamp. Specially engineered with heavy-duty nylon fabric with durable aluminum poles, you’ll be protected from even the most extreme weather, and with cavernous indoor space for your crew and gear.
Unlike other car roof tents, the Thule x Tepui Foothill uses up only half of your roof rack, leaving extra room for bikes, kayaks, or other gear. With a comfy mattress, easy setup, and ladder access, it’s capable of housing two people and supporting up to 400 pounds.
The Best Tent Fabric and Materials
A few different materials are used to construct camping tents. All of them, of course, have their benefits and their drawbacks. The type of material that you go for depends on various factors, including the conditions in which you will be camping and how you will get there.
Nylon and Polyester
Most tents are made using either nylon or polyester. The difference between the two is that polyester is generally more durable than nylon. Having said that, nylon is still a durable material. Polyester is usually used for family tents, while nylon is often used for backpacking tents–because it is lightweight. Nylon and polyester are popular choices of material for tents for various reasons.
Both nylon and polyester are man-made fabrics that are generally less expensive to produce than natural fabrics. These materials are also lighter and less bulky than fabrics made from natural materials, making packing and transporting easier. Tents made of nylon or polyester often have rip-stop patterns incorporated into the weave of the fibers. These areas are slightly thicker than other areas of the tent and are designed to stop any tears or small holes from getting too big.
On the other hand, tents made of nylon or polyester usually aren't insulated very well. This makes them less practical to use in more extreme weather conditions. They are also less breathable and could have condensation and moisture build-up inside. Nylon and polyester are sensitive to ultraviolet light, and exposure to sunlight can shorten the lifespan of your tent (yes that sounds ridiculous but it’s true).
Nylon or polyester tents could have a protective coating—although they are reasonably waterproof as is, without a chemical coating. The coating will usually be either acrylic, polyurethane (PU), or silicone if it is coated. Acrylic is less expensive but also provides slightly less protection. On the other hand, silicone will cost more, but it also gives you more protection. This protective coating is often the difference between a simple (and cheaper) casual camping tent and an expensive, durable tent that will be used on expeditions.
While it is vital in many situations to have that waterproof protection and coating, look for brands that offer PFC-free tents and outerwear,too. Research has shown that perfluorinated compounds (aka PFCs) have become persistent in the environment and are bad for our health; however, many outdoor products use these chemicals as part of their protective coverings. This has led a number of brands to produce high-quality products that are PFC-free, and still largely weather resistant.
Cotton and Canvas
Canvas used to be produced from hemp in the past. Today it is mostly made from cotton and most often used by basecamp hunters or old school campers looking to establish an outpost in one location for extended stays. Compared to synthetic materials, cotton is a good insulator. This means canvas tents will keep you cooler in warm weather and warmer in cold weather than tents constructed from man-made fabrics. Because it is breathable and absorbs moisture, condensation should not be a problem. And canvas tents can even be paired with wood stoves and other comforts from home unsuitable for more tech-driven camping setups.
However, these same attributes—mainly moisture absorption—mean cotton canvas tents are slow to dry when wet and not ideal for foul weather. Other drawbacks are that they tend to be bulkier and heavier than tents made from man-made materials. That makes packing and transporting them a bit more complicated. Canvas tents also usually do not have a rip-stop which could leave them vulnerable to getting large rips or tears.
Polycotton tents are manufactured from a blend of cotton and polyester. These tents offer the insulation and breathability that canvas tents give you. They also have the benefits of tents made from man-made fabrics, like being more resistant to mildew and slightly lighter than pure cotton canvas tents.
The Tent Shape to Best Fit Your Needs
Camping tents generally come in two different shapes: cabin-style tents and dome-shaped tents—although you may not see manufacturers using these exact terms when describing their designs. Cabin-style tents have a roof and straight, vertical walls.
Family-sized cabin-style tents are usually larger with a taller roof height, making them more comfortable for families going on camping trips together. While these tents give you more space to move around, they also have larger areas to catch the wind. If you are planning on camping in windy areas or expect windy weather, ensure that you secure your cabin-style tent well by using longer and more sturdy tent stakes.
Dome-shaped camping tents are smaller than cabin-style tents. This also makes them lighter, easier to pack and transport. While the smaller of these tents won't be high enough for you to stand up in, they are more secure in windy weather. Because it has no straight walls, the wind passes around and over dome-shaped tents instead of pushing against them.
Coffin-shaped tents also exist, largely for hardcore backpackers. Like a bivvy but bigger, these minimalist, lightweight tents often feature only a couple of feet in height and minimal structure. This backpacking tent is exclusively for sleeping and does not allow the user to sit up straight (our short kings out there may have some luck here).
Tent Size Considerations
When it comes to tent sizes, you will need to take a few different things into consideration. Most tents come with a sleeping capacity rating that indicates the number of people they can accommodate—this should be your obvious starting point when looking for a tent. But don’t stop there. Along with this, you need to consider the available floor space, gear vestibule availability, style of the tent, and roof height, as noted below.
Camping tent sizes are usually rated by sleeping capacity. The way that this is calculated is frequently referred to as the backpacking system. This method of measuring the sleeping capacity of a tent is to place a number of regular-sized self-inflating sleeping pads into the tent. The amount of sleeping pads that can fit into the tent without overlapping indicates the tent size. A regular-sized sleeping pad is around 20 inches wide. So, if the tent can only fit one of these pads – it is a one-person tent. If it fits two, it is a two-person tent and so on.
The thing to bear in mind about camping tent size ratings is that it only takes the space needed for the number of sleeping pads into account. That means if you have a two-man tent and plan for two people to sleep in it, your bags and other gear will have to stay outside, or at best, tucked by your head or feet. Because these ratings only refer to regular-sized sleeping pads, even with only two people in the tent, it might be a tight fit.
Backpacking tents are smaller and much lighter weight, accommodating one, two, or three persons with their gear stored outside the tent. Family tents range between four- and ten-person tents. And expedition tents, which are often dome-shaped, can fit even larger parties. The main thing to keep in mind is that these tents are designed to only accommodate the specified number of persons—all sleeping on regular (20 inches) sleeping pads. Families who are camping might spend more time in their tents, relaxing or playing games—or getting away from rainy weather. For this, a roomier tent would be better, to avoid unnecessary frustration and bickering, naturally.
If you want more room and space to move around and store bags or other items, you will do well with getting a tent that has a higher capacity than the maximum number of people who will sleep in it. For example, if you will be sleeping three people, you could consider a four- or five-person tent.
When looking for a camping tent that comfortably fits a couple or family, the general rule of thumb is to subtract two from the tent's rated capacity. That means if you are two people, a four-person tent would comfortably accommodate you. The tent will not be spacious, but you will have enough room for each person to sleep comfortably with some gear inside and without feeling cramped. For a tent to feel really spacious, subtract four from the rated sleeping capacity. In this case, you would choose a six-person tent for an adult couple.
Keep in mind that the larger the tent, the more space it will take up when you are packing. It will also have a larger tent footprint which means you will need a bigger open space to pitch it.
For backpacking trips, a smaller and lighter tent (like a one- or two-person tent) is better since you will be carrying it for large parts of your trip and likely setting up and breaking down more than once. While you are backpacking, you will mostly only use your tent for sleeping or as shelter from the elements or bugs like mosquitoes or dreaded black flies. Because you won't be spending a lot of time in your tent (apart from sleeping), you could get away with a tighter fit than someone who will be spending long periods of time in their tent.
When using the backpacking system, each person is allocated 15 square feet of floor space. This is enough when all you plan on doing in your tent is sleep. If you want some extra space to relax and move around in, you will need a bit more space. Between 25 and 30 square feet will provide this for an average-sized adult. 30 square feet of space equates to roughly 7 feet by 50 inches.
The height of a tent is linked to its size. Generally, the bigger the tent, the taller it is.
Tent heights can either refer to the peak height or the eave height. A tent's peak is the tallest point of the tent body. This applies to both dome and cabin tents. The eave of a tent is this space where the ceiling meets the walls in a cabin tent. The ceiling of a dome tent slopes down all the way to the ground; thus, they do not have eaves. The eave height of a tent is usually at least a foot shorter than the tent's peak height.
Most one-to-three-person tents are around a sitting height of about three feet. In sitting height tents, you would be able to sit, crawl and lie.
Three-to four-person tents are at kneeling height. These tents have a roof at around four feet. Most adults would be able to kneel comfortably in these tents. Knee height tents, along with sitting height tents, are referred to as low-profile tents. Average-sized adults will need to crawl to move around in these tents.
Tents that are at stooping height have a height of around 5 feet. Four-to-five-man tents usually roof at stooping height. Adults could get around inside these tents by stooping. These tents would have more coverage with a rain fly than taller tents and could be more practical when camping in windy areas.
Standing height tents are around six feet tall. Six-person tents are usually this high. Average adults should be able to stand upright in the center of these tents. They might need to stoop when moving closer to the tent walls where the roof slopes down. Tall adults will still need to stoop or bend slightly in these tents.
Roaming height tents are tents with a sleeping capacity of eight people or more. These tents are around 7 feet high, and people can stand up comfortably in these tents without their heads touching the ceiling. Roaming height tents give you more headroom and are comfortable to move around in but also take longer to pitch. These tents are more vulnerable in windy areas. If you are planning on camping in windy areas, a high-profile tent like this, you need to ensure that it has a strong frame or tent poles and can be tied down securely.
Additional Features to Look for in a Tent
Different kinds of tents come with different and unique features. The features that you would look for and attend depend on factors like how many people will be staying in the tent, whether you will be carrying it for long distances, and what kind of weather you will be camping in.
Most tents are 3-season tents. That means they generally provide adequate weather protection when camping in the spring, summer, and fall. Even in rougher weather, a tough and durable 3-season tent will work well. 4-season tents are uniquely and specifically designed to endure harsher weather. If you are planning on camping in the snow or in very cold weather, a 4-season tent will make a massive difference to your experience.
For example, Legendary Swedish tentmaker Hilleberg makes double-wall tents that can be erected from the inside out, making them well suited for use in inclement weather. The integrated weather protection makes tents like these the best candidates for extreme climates and genuinely rugged terrain.
Weight and Packed Size
The weight and size of various tents differ significantly. Smaller and lightweight tents are ideal for backpacking, while larger and thus heavier tents work well for family camping trips. Lighter tents could be more expensive, smaller, less durable, and have fewer features. They could also be trickier to set up. We recommend always pitching your tent in a yard or local park multiple times before the product’s debut in the wilderness—the last thing you want to do is be pitching a tent for the first time in a downpour without cell service.
To identify the true weight of a tent, most manufacturers offer both a packed weight and a minimum trail weight. The former includes all available accoutrements, including rain fly, extra tent stakes, guy lines, and stuff sacks, while the latter is exclusive to the tent, rainfly, and poles. In other words, if you’re an ounce counting weight weenie, know you can often shed a few ounces by leaving behind some “just in case” stuff.
The packed size is the space the tent takes up when it is packed. Tents designed for backpacking or that have a lower sleeping capacity will take up less space once it is packed. This feature makes them ideal for carrying in a backpack or transport in a vehicle that does not have a lot of packing space. Larger tents and tents made of heavier and bulkier material like canvas tents will generally be bigger when they are packed.
Doors and Windows
Having more than one door on a tent allows for more unrestricted movement in and out. This is a convenient feature for smaller tents so that each occupant can get in and out on their own side of the tent. Single doors at either the head or foot and of a tent are easier to get in and out of than one door on the side of the tent, especially if you are two people.
You could find moisture build-up from condensation in tents that are poorly ventilated. Look for a tent that has plenty of zip-able windows with mesh screens - you don't want those mosquitoes to be able to get into your tent at night while the windows are zipped down. Sometimes also have mesh along the upper parts of the tent to increase the ventilation. If you have a tent with a rain cover or rain fly, it will usually be a separate piece designed to encourage ventilation between the rain fly and tent. The rain fly could also have a vent at the top that you can open to create additional airflow.
Whether you are traveling with an ultralight tent when backpacking or going on a family camping trip, storage is always an important feature to look for in a tent. If you have a larger tent, you will be able to store more bags, camping gear, and accessories inside the tent. You could also make use of interior pockets and vestibules. A vestibule is the part of the rain fly that covers the doors. The more doors you have, the more vestibule space you will have for extra storage. Most tent manufacturers provide you with the total vestibule area in square feet.
Inside pockets are also convenient for storing smaller items like flashlights, headlamps, or reading glasses.
Picking the right tent for you (and your family) depends on how much space all of you need, what kind of weather conditions you will be camping in, and how you are planning on getting there. Smaller tents are better for backpacking and could work well for shorter trips. In comparison, larger tents will keep all campers comfortably and happy on longer family camping trips.
Regardless, camping is a wonderful way to spend time in the great outdoors.