Buying a camping tent isn’t a big deal, and you can’t really go wrong – but buying the right one for you is a bit different. Depending on what season you are camping in and the ambient temperatures, how many people you intend to camp with, and the type of camping you intend to do, picking the right tent can really make or break your experience.
When I pick a piece of outdoor gear, the first thing I look for is durability – if I’m going to spend close to or more than a hundred dollars on any piece of equipment, I want it to last. The second factor I look for is versatility – can I use this item in a wide variety of situations, or is it only useful in a certain situation? Weighing the two factors can help you decide and make sure you get the most value for your dollar. A last factor to consider is how many people are camping with you – are you going by yourself, a friend, or a whole family or group of people? Durability, versatility, and tent size are important criteria.
A good camping tent can be found at most local outdoor stores and I’ve supplied links as well. I’ve organized the below lists based on my personal favorites, with durable and reliable brands listed by size and versatility, with recommendations for (1) Backpacking, (2) Car Camping, and (3) Expedition or Mountaineering.
If you really enjoy the outdoors, backpacking might be for you. Hiking into beautiful and relatively untouched backcountry, placing a tent, and spending a night underneath the stars can be a great and reinvigorating experience for many.
To that end, you’ll want a light and durable tent. Many brands make specialty backpacking tents, and I’ve found Kelty brand tents to be both durable and lightweight. Snugpack does make quality tents as well, as does Eureka.
Keep in mind that any of these tents can be used for backpacking or car camping. This is where I would recommend most intrepid campers start.
The Versatile Option: The Kelty Salida 2, 2-person tent.
My personal tent, a 2-person lightweight option that is roomy enough for two but light enough for one person to carry; there is generally negligible carry weight between a 1- and 2-person tent. The Venture has a classic design and is a reasonably priced, 3-season tent designed specifically for backpacking, weighing in at a slim 3 lbs., 14 oz.
The Quick Mover: The Ionosphere by Snugpack, 1-person tent.
Lightweight. Durable. 1-person. This is the tent for the dedicated, oft-solitary backpacker, willing to spend for quality and comfort. You can’t go wrong with this option, but there isn’t much room for more than one person. The Ionosphere weighs 4 lbs.
The Crowd-Pleaser: The Eureka Tetragon HD 8, 8-person tent.
Many of us camp with friends, and when you save carry weight by having one person carry a tent large enough to accommodate everyone, it allows weight for other amenities, like good food or drink. I can’t overstate the good that quality time with good friends will do for you – the Tetragon is an easy catalyst for that. Give this to your fittest friend and carry the beer in your own pack. You won’t regret it. The Tetragon weighs 21 lbs.
Car Camping Tents
Car camping is driving to a campsite and camping there – these tents focus on utility and comfort. Since you won’t be carrying it far, weight is not a consideration. Car camping tents range from small, two-person tents to family-sized, eight- or ten-person tents, all with a variety of amenities. If you enjoy the outdoors but don’t necessarily want to hike, these are for you.
The Starter Kit: The Coleman Sundome 4-person tent with 2 sleeping bags.
You can’t go wrong with this, especially for the value. You get a good, durable tent and a pair of three-season sleeping bags. A 4-person tent can fit four but is roomy for two people, and this is a good starting purchase for any intrepid camper.
The Recreational Option: The Coleman Evanston Screened Tent, 6-person.
This option sleeps multiple campers, and has the addition of a small, screened area outside the door of the tent, much like a screened front porch. There is enough space for a pair of camp chairs, and this makes for leisurely evenings with family or friends. This tent also comes in an 8-person option.
The Family Camper: The Coleman Red Canyon, 8-person Tent.
This is an ideal, affordable option for families and groups of campers, with plenty of floor space and enough headroom to stand. Built-in room dividers even allow for the partitioning of the tent into three separate rooms for privacy. Excellent adjustable ventilation will keep you cool in the summer and warm in the cooler months as well.
Expedition and Mountaineering All-Season Tents
Camping generally leads to backpacking, which can lead to mountaineering. I’m no expert on the subject, most of my hikes and summits having been Class 3 or below. However, all-season camping is a different story. Growing up in Montana and Colorado, living near or in the Rockies, and enjoying the seasons all-year round, every year has led me to all-season camping.
The biggest mistake you can make, and that I’ve (unfortunately) made is not being prepared for temperature drops that occur at nighttime. Now, you can make other considerations, such as bringing extra pairs of socks or wool underwear, but if you have a good all-season tent, those can be a last measure rather than a first.
I recommend the below tent to start with. Durability and protection from exposure to the elements are the two qualities you are looking for in an all-season tent, but other qualities vary depending on your objective.
The Classic: The MSR Remote 2, 2-person tent.
MSR has been in the game for nearly 50 years, and both my dad and grandfather owned MSR tents. My first tent was an MSR tent, and it lasted the first half of my life. The MSR Remote 2 has everything you want, with durability and protection from exposure at altitude in equal measure. Good comfort and good for longer, 2-person trips. A bit heavy at 7 lbs., 7 oz.
Picking the right tent can be an arduous choice, but I hope the above guide makes matching your needs to the right tent much easer. Durability, versatility, and tent size are my three criteria. I hope you find a tent that is a great fit for you!