Part of the fun of camping is bedding down in a tent for the night, maybe reading or telling stories by flashlight, and taking in the sounds around you as you nod off. But a lot of factors go into determining which tent is right for your needs, like staying comfortable and protected from the elements. Well, there are plenty of great options, ranging from basic shelters to feature-rich temporary abodes. Better still, this all-important piece of camping gear doesn’t always demand a large investment. We tested almost a dozen to help you find the ideal model that will make your next trip the best one yet.
Read quick info below on five great options from our testing, then keep scrolling for helpful buying advice and full reviews of these and other top-performing models.
A quick note that, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still important to check the local regulations at your destination before you leave. On federally managed parks and lands, face masks are required for individuals who aren’t fully vaccinated in most circumstances and for everyone when taking public transportation, like a park shuttle. Some other mitigation protocols, such as capacity limits or entrance reservations, might also be in effect depending on where you go.
Types of Tents
The first decision you’ll have to make is which style fits your needs. For many people heading out for a weekend in groups where you’ll be at one campsite the whole time, a car-camping tent is the best choice and the style we’re focusing on in this roundup. (If you think a backpacking tent, a rooftop tent, or a hammock may be better for you, click through for some guidance on those, too.)
Car-camping tents prioritize livability, with most four-person models measuring five feet or more at their tallest point. Durable materials add weight but prolong a tent’s lifespan, sometimes up to 10 years or more. Although deluxe models can be more expensive, many car-camping tents come with budget-friendly price tags.
Most tents are three-season, meaning they’re well suited for use in the spring, summer, and fall. But with the right sleeping bag and pad, many are perfectly fine for winter use, too. However, pick a true four-season tent if you plan to stay in an incredibly windy area. And if you’re strictly a summer camper, consider buying a tent with mostly mesh walls and large windows or vents in the fly. This will keep you cooler and reduce condensation inside the tent.
Companies offer car-camping tents in several sizes, sleeping anywhere from two people to a dozen. That said, floor space can be tight. If you need room for your duffel or adventure pup, choose a tent that accommodate one or two more people than you need it to. Pay attention to how many doors a tent has, too—more than one reduces the chance that a tentmate will crawl over you in the middle of the night should nature call.
How Tent Shape Impacts Weather Resistance
A tent’s architecture is integral to the weather protection it provides, and having a preferred style can help you narrow down the options. Dome tents are the most common, but other designs have their advantages. A-frames shed precipitation easily, tunnel tents provide relatively large living quarters, and geodesic domes are incredibly strong in the face of high winds.
When you take your new tent out for its first test drive, remember to bring a footprint or tarp and enough stakes. And if it’s been in storage for a while, be sure to inspect your shelter prior to any trips. Look for rips, tears, and weak tent poles, and consider re-waterproofing your tent with a spray coating or seam sealant. We speak from experience when we say nothing will throw a wrench in your camping trip like a broken tent.
How We Tested
To find the best camping tents, we considered the spaciousness, features, materials, weights, constructions, and costs of 33 contenders. We slept in the most promising 11 models for at least one night while camping in state parks across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Delaware. Hamstrung by travel restrictions in the early days of the pandemic, some testing also took place in a backyard in Ohio. These tents have seen us through rain storms, one severe thunderstorm, clear nights, below-freezing temperatures, and humid summer nights. As we used them, we judged how well the tents ventilated and how easy or hard it was to pitch and pack them up, plus verified or debunked the manufacturer’s weight claims with our own scale. Read about the six that impressed us the most below.
—BEST FOUR-PERSON TENT—
REI Co-op Kingdom 4
Packed weight: 18 lb 6.4 oz | Floor space: 69.4 sq ft | Peak height: 6 ft 3 in. | Doors: 2
The Kingdom is one of the most spacious four-person tents you can find, not to mention it has an incredible amount of storage room and provides exceptional weather protection. Tall, circular doors and vertical walls allowed us to enter and stand inside without crouching (in fact, reaching the ceiling in places proved to be challenging for our five-foot-four tester). And the nearly 70 square feet of floor space meant we could spread out when we slept or legitimately fit a party of four within the tent. In the larger sizes, a center curtain can divide the ample square footage into two rooms to create a separate space for mom and dad, pets, or gear storage. Gear storage abounds with 20 mesh pockets, including several overhead that can fit a headlamp or other small camp light.
The four-person model is an 18-plus-pound beast, but it packed neatly within a backpack carrying case that has several pockets to keep the components organized. Although it was less straightforward to pitch the Kingdom than a simple dome-shaped tent, it wasn’t excessively challenging. It helped that the main support pole is hubbed, which limits the number of poles to just three. The vented rain fly buckled easily onto the Kingdom at each of the four corners and offers almost full-coverage—unusual for a tent this size. One side has a very small awning instead of a true vestibule. This gave us a protected place to stash our boots and also provided quick access into the tent, through the exposed door, when we needed it. And when bad weather rolled in, the Kingdom was practically bombproof. It was still standing after a night of severe thunderstorms and high winds, during which only a nominal amount of water got in. All these features come at a steep cost, but it’s an investment you shouldn’t think twice about making if you’re after a durable tent that can actually sleep the whole family comfortably.
—BEST 2-PERSON TENT—
REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
Packed weight (provided): 4 lb 13.5 oz | Floor space: 35.8 sq ft | Peak height: 3 ft 6 in. | Doors: 2
Despite the trimmed-down specs of the 2021 model, the Half Dome still manages to be one of the roomiest two-person tents out there. Now, it’s also 10 percent lighter, compared to our past seasons’ test sample. That’s even more impressive considering the tent comes with a footprint that wasn’t included before. REI shaves weight by cutting the number of roof vents from four to two, lowering the peak height by two inches, updating the door design to remove part of the zipper, and using finer fabrics on the floor and fly. What hasn’t changed is the nearly 36 square feet of floor space, which can accommodate campers with a four-legged friend or extra gear. That’s roomy enough that we didn’t feel like we were on top of our bunkmate all night.
The Half Dome stays standing via a hubbed pole that combines the supports for the tent body and the ridge line into one. Color-coded clips easily snapped into place, allowing us to speed through setup. The full-coverage fly didn’t falter despite an all-night deluge, and we appreciated that we could open and close the roof vents from inside the vestibule instead of outside the tent, like on most other two-person models we’ve tested. Still, the Half Dome had enough ventilation, even with them closed. A great pick for two at frontcountry campgrounds, this tent is capable in the backcountry, too, as long as you don’t mind carrying the weight.
Coleman Sundome 4
Packed weight: 9 lb 3.2 oz | Floor space: 63 sq ft | Peak height: 4 ft 11 in. | Doors: 1
Dome tents have reigned supreme in the camping category for a reason. They’re a breeze to pitch, generally affordable, and do what you need them to do. And none are as popular as Coleman’s Sundome series. The Sundome has two large windows plus a ground vent to increase airflow and keep condensation from making it damp inside. For a 21st century touch, Coleman adds a zippered port to the front of the tent so you can run electrical cords inside from your campsite’s outlet. And it runs less than half the cost of most four-person tents, while boasting more square footage than many competitors. It felt generous in size, even without vertical walls or a tall ceiling.
Of course, there are some trade-offs. There’s only one door and two somewhat small pockets. More concerning: A decent amount of water seeped in at the corners (where the polyester walls meet the bathtub-style tarp floor) after a full day in the rain. So just be sure to seal the seams before your first use. If you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles and mostly stick to fair-weather adventures, the Sundome is made for you.
—EASY TO PITCH—
Decathlon 2 Second Easy
Packed weight (provided): 10 lb 6.4 oz | Floor space: 32 sq ft | Peak height: 3 ft 7.3 in. | Doors: 2
Decathlon, a European outdoor and sports gear manufacturer, is known for making accessibly priced equipment and apparel that still performs. The newest model in its 2 Second Tent lineup fits that bill. The Easy, which earned our 2020 Gear of the Year award, has a pre-assembled design that works via a connected system of hinged poles, cords, and handles. Pull the two handles, and the tent—fly and all—pops up. No, it didn’t exactly take two seconds to pitch on the first try; one of the hinges refused to lock in place initially. But it cooperated after a few tries, and ultimately, the process was still fast and very easy. Breaking down the tent was also simple. After removing the stakes and guy lines, we pushed two buttons to collapse the poles, folded in the corners of the tent, and tucked everything back into the stuff sack.
As for its livability, we liked how dark the interior of the tent was. Credit Decathlon’s proprietary multi-layered fabric tech that reflects and blocks light. The fly blocked out almost all sunlight, which helped our tester get a restful sleep past dawn (when he usually can’t help but wake up in other tents). However, the thick polyester fly made the tent feel stuffy soon after we set it up on an early August day with the temperature in the 70s. Rolling up one of the fly doors until we were ready to turn in seemed to do the trick, but keep in mind this might not be true on warmer days. The tent size is also a mixed bag. Our six-foot-two tester appreciated the ample headroom, but the narrow floor felt crowded for two, especially for a car-camping tent. We were glad, at least, that each person has their own door. Ultimately, the Easy is the kind of tent that’s not intimidating to use if you’re just getting into camping. And in all likelihood, it will make more experienced campers at the next site over think twice about their more complicated rigs.
Eureka Copper Canyon LX 4
Packed weight: 18 lb 12.8 oz | Floor space: 64 sq ft | Peak height: 7 ft | Doors: 1
Even the tallest folks won’t have to crouch once inside the Copper Canyon LX. This big, boxy tent has vertical walls and reaches seven feet at its peak, so we could stand up, walk around, reposition our gear, and change clothes without bumping into the walls or ceiling. It was nice not to feel so cramped, and even though most of us don’t actually need the extra clearance, Eureka doesn’t let the space go to waste. Along the ceiling, you’ll find four mesh pockets, two removable gear lofts, and a hook in the center that we used to hang a headlamp. It’s a decent amount of storage space, but keep in mind it’s all out of reach for most kids.
Despite the tent’s size, pitching the LX is relatively uncomplicated. The height did pose a minor challenge to our five-foot-four tester when she went to attach the fly, but it was doable. Save for the small section of mesh on the ceiling, the tent body is mostly polyester taffeta. Luckily, it also has four large windows that you can partially open to control ventilation. We didn’t experience any stuffiness inside, but we did our testing early in the season when temperatures didn’t top 40 degrees. Another feature that cranks up the livability is the zippered cord port to the left of the door. Unfortunately, the Copper Canyon has just one entrance, except in the eight- and 12-person versions, which are also outfitted with a room divider. Still, the tent is plenty livable and would be a fine choice for longer car-camping trips. When more cramped shelters will have you itching for home by day two, the more spacious Copper Canyon won’t.
UST House Party 4
Packed weight: 10 lb 11.2 oz | Floor space: 57.9 sq ft | Peak height: 5 ft 8 in | Doors: 2
UST’s House Party is seemingly made for summer. To be clear, it is a three-season tent, and we even tested it in the last gasps of winter when overnight lows dipped into the 20s. But between the bright colors, hybrid single-wall design, and massive mesh panels that lend good ventilation, we couldn’t help but imagine pitching the new tent at a beachside campground and firing up the grill. Unlike the other tents we tested, the House Party doesn’t have a fly that covers the roof and side of the body. Instead, it features built-in window covers that block the elements and need to be staked out just like a traditional fly. It was too cold for us to enjoy that we could unzip and secure these awnings out of the way, but it is an option. Just beware, in the event of a pop-up shower, you can’t adjust the fly from inside the tent. We weren’t able to assess how the tent fared in wet weather, but it’s worth noting water has one less barrier to circumvent on most parts of this tent.
Inside, the tall ceiling makes the tent feel open, even if the floor space is a bit cramped for four. Eight mesh pockets, four loops, and a center hook kept our gear organized, though these are all out of reach of younger kids (for better or worse). Our biggest issue with the tent was the setup. In our experience, pitching dome tents is more straightforward than tunnels, like the House Party, where the longest poles support the walls, not the roof. Admittedly, we did miss that the pole system is color-coded, despite the distinct blue and green poles, because we are used to seeing the corresponding visual cues at tent corners, not on pole sleeves. Those sleeves made it somewhat difficult to secure the roof poles. Naturally, the process was easier the second time, but it can’t hurt to read the directions before your initial pitch. Investing the time upfront will make your excursion easy, just like a summer weekend away should be.
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