How to Choose the Best Tent for Camping

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How to Choose the Best Tent for Camping

Tent Camping in Yard
Photo via Laurelville Camp & Retreat Center/Flickr

Imagine the scene: it’s a cool summer night. You have just finished a long day of fishing or hiking. Maybe you’re a concert or musical festival lover.

Either way, you are ready to wind down and enjoy the evening. And, while it might not be as cozy or glamorous as vandwelling or living in an RV, a nice, cozy tent can sometimes be one of the most wonderful things in the world.

Nowadays, there are so many different tent options available. It can actually get overwhelming! Just last week, I spent nearly an hour at Cabela’s looking at tents, comparing prices, and determining if a high-end abode was worth the cost.

And that is simply the reality of the day. With some many products on the market at a variety of price points, how do you know where the “sweet spot” is?

Are the expensive tents really necessary?

Are the fairly inexpensive tents even worth considering?

If you find yourself asking these questions, don’t worry. With our easy-to-follow guide, finding the best camping tent for your specific needs will be a lot more managable.

Below, we’ll go over all of the features you should be looking for when choosing a tent, as well as some tips on how to choose one that will best suit your needs.

The Art of Camping: How to Choose the Best Tent for Your Outdoor Adventure

Tall Camping Tent for Numerous Sleepers
Photo via Charity Greene/Flickr

If you read Premier Angler enough, you will know that we regularly talk about the roughly 46 million people who go fishing each year in the United States.

Camping is just shy of that mark, though, with around 40 million Americans camping annually.

Now, keep in mind that the number also includes folks who are staying in RVs, cabins, or cottages. When you look at the raw, basic, foundational camping level, though – we’re talking tents and sleeping bags – that’s still over 30 million Americans each year enjoying nature the way it was intended to be enjoyed.

If you are part of the one-in-nine Americans who goes camping at least once a year, keep it up! If you are looking to join those numbers, then read on.

Let’s start by looking at some things you should always consider when looking for a perfect tent.

Cost: How Much is Too Much?

Let’s get this out of the way first. It’s probably the reason you landed on this page to begin with, so we’ll address the elephant in the room.

Do you really need the most expensive tent?

No. 

Now, here’s the catch: As tempting as it is to pick up that $40 tent you see at your local big-box store, a quality tent can make or break your camping experience. Consider (wisely) spending a little extra on a tent an investment in good times and lifelong memories.

What many experienced campers suggest is starting with this tip: evaluate your budget and buy the best tent you can afford.

Next, consider how often you will be camping.

If this is a one-time trip, then buying an expensive, high-end tent probably isn’t necessary (unless you will be handling harsh terrain). That said, if you are going to be camping in Alaska or the Mojave Desert, you probably have all of the basics figured out.

Even if you aren’t going to the extremes, you should still think about the climate and season you will be camping in. 

Do you want an all-season tent or a 2 season tent?

All things considered, the more you are willing (and able) to spend on a tent, the better your chances are of only needing to purchase one tent that will accommodate all conditions. Also, the chances of that tent holding up for years is also better.

Size: Does it Matter?

Shorter Camping Tent
Photo via Leigh Blackall/Flickr

Despite what you may have heard (or may have told yourself), size does matter!

When considering the best camping tent, consider the following:

Who is coming with you on your next outdoor adventure?

Who might be coming with you on future outings?

Who would you like to come with you?

Do you foresee the occasional weekend getaway for you and your partner, or are you bringing the entire family (and pets)?

Do you have epic hunting or fishing trips planned in the next couple years?

Are you going to be spending a week in Black Rock City at Burning Man?

Generally, tents are classified by the number of dwellers. You will often see the following “sizes” listed:

  • One Person
  • Two Person
  • Four Person
  • Six Person
  • Eight Person
  • Ten Person
  • Twelve Person

Tent Size: When to Go Big

Now, if you have a partner and two young kids staying in a tent, that four-person model might be great. This is especially true if you can keep some of your cargo in the car.

If you’re going to have four grown adults (and their luggage) with you, then you should probably upsize.

Bringing lots of hiking or fishing gear? You might want to go with an eight-person model just to be safe.

Also, consider your guests. Is anyone a light sleeper? Is someone claustrophobic? How comfortable is each person with the other? What activities will the group be partaking in during the day – this is our nice way of asking if everybody is going to stink.

To avoid having your guests literally lying on top of each other, upscaling to a larger tent is almost always a good idea. Even if it’s just you, treat yourself to a little bit of extra room.

Tent Size: When Smaller Might be Better

Now, there are a few exceptions.

If you are a complete novice to camping and have little experience setting up a camp site, the last thing you want to be doing on a solo trip is trying to set up a complicated ten-person tent.

Things is doubly true if you are not mechanically inclined.

Instead, this would be a good time to consider going for a one-person or two-person tent that is easy to assemble. That allows you a chance to gain some experience setting up your site without too much hassle.

If you have a group of four or more with you, however, there should be at least one person who can guide the assembly process.

Ease: Even if You Can Assemble it, is it Worth it?

Music Festival Tent Camping
Photo via Jennifer Longaway/Flickr

Above, we discussed some scenarios where a smaller, simpler tent might be the better option.

So, even if you think you have the perfect tent picked out, how easy is it to assemble?

The good news is that tent assembly has become much easier in recent years.

Today’s tent technology really does focus on ease of assembly. No one wants to spend half the day (or night) trying to pitch a tent, and companies realize this.

The reality is that if tents are too cumbersome to assemble, less people will go camping.

Tips for Assembling Your Tent

If you are still on the fence about assembling your new tent, just consider the following:

  • How many people do you need to help pitch the tent? The larger the tent, the better it is to have that extra pair of hands helping. Also, if you have a friend who is particularly adept at outdoors recreation, check with them ahead of time to make sure they will be comfortable helping you set up the tent. If that friend isn’t coming on your adventure, you can always practice assembling (and taking down/packing) the tent at home before you go.
  • How heavy is the tent? If you have a large camping party, you might want to opt for a 6-person or 8-person model. Keep in mind that if your camp site is far from your car, someone will need to lug the tent there.

Also, while this is not so much a concern with newer tents purchased directly from a store or company website, it’s always a good idea to check to make sure everything is included when you buy it. 

Does the package come with tent poles, guy ropes, rain fly, etc.

Typically, newer tents include these parts, but always make sure before you leave. You don’t want to get to the woods and find out you are missing critical components.

Style: When You Want to Make an Impression

Choosing the Best Tent for Camping
Photo via Rob Lee/Flickr

Now, for most long-time readers of this website, “style” isn’t your biggest concern. For most folks who are going on fishing or hunting trips, you are more concerned with comfort, safety, and quality.

For folks who might be heading to music or renaissance festivals, or might be adventuring with a new partner for the first time, you might be interested in making an impression.

Also, while aesthetics aren’t usually the most important factor when buying a new tent, you might be more likely to use the tent more often if you like the look and utility.

The two most common styles to choose from today are Cabin and Dome.

Cabin Style Tents

Cabin-style tents are great for parties larger than two, and even better if you bring the kids along. If pets are coming as well, then this is your go-to.

The vertical walls of a cabin tent give more livable space inside the tent. The higher ceilings also provide more stand-up room and allow you to hang lanterns and flashlights up and away from the living space.

They have more floor space to place your gear, and many even come with room dividers for added privacy.

Most updated cabin tents have plenty of mesh pockets for accessories like your phone and charger, and maybe a water bottle or your eyeglasses.

Dome Style Tents

On the other hand, dome-style tents are the perfect fit for smaller parties, backpackers, and concert goers.

These tents are typically lighter and easier to carry. And they have the added benefit of popping up pretty quickly. What you lack in space, you almost always make up for in convenience.

Another advantage to the dome tent is that the shape is great for weathering the wind and rain. This will pay dividends if you are camping in wet, sloppy, breezy conditions.

Comfort: It’s Just Like Home

Here’s one more consideration before buying a new tent: how comfortable do you want to be?

For most of that 30+ million collection who will be tent-camping in any given year, they are looking for an amazing, exhilarating adventure. If you are looking for the comfort an amenities of a five-star hotel, however, you’re likely to be disappointed..

At the risk of sounding overly philosophical, it’s important to consider what made you want to go camping in the first place.

Were you trying to be closer to the lake so you can get more hours on the water?

Are you hiking for several days and simply need a safe, dry place to sleep?

Is the thought of sleeping in a tent more preferable to spending the night in your car?

Whatever the reason, it is still worth determining comfort factor you are looking for.

That said, the tent itself isn’t usually the aspect that determines comfort. You can always bring along those extras that make it more comfortable, like a high-quality sleeping bag (like the Cabela’s Magnum 44 -20 Sleeping Bag) or air bed (like the Coleman SupportRest Elite PillowStop Double High Airbed).

A high-quality camping pillow (like the Klymit Drift Camp Pillow), battery or USB-powered fan (like the Caravan Sports Disc Fan Light), and loads of bug spray will also help your tent feel like your new home away from home.

Looking at Some of the Best Tents for Camping

As always, “the best” anything will largely be subjective. As we have mentioned, not every tent is meant for every particular situation or scenario.

Ultimately, plenty of factors come into play when choosing your tent. While we could look at every tent on the market, we will simply the process and discuss some popular choices based on capacity.

Solo Tents: Camping for One Person

If you’re camping solo, you won’t need a whole lot of room.

Fortunately, that also means carrying a lighter-weight, easier-to-assemble tent.

The Ascend Nine Mile 1 1-Person Backpacking Tent is a light-weight, durable cabin-style tent that is spacious enough to hold you and some modest gear.

If you are looking to grab a top-of-the-line solo tent, consider the Crua Outdoors Hybrid Hammock 1-Person Tent. Not only is it designed for comfort and ventilation, but you can also convert it into a hammock!

Two-Person Tents: Room for One More!

If you plan on bringing a friend camping – always a good idea for numerous reasons – then it’s worth making sure you will both be comfortable.

The Kelty Grand Mesa 2-Person Tent is a great, affordable choice for folks who will be sharing tight quarters. Lightweight, functional, and compact, it is also stylish and modern.

If you are the type who appreciates a little extra room in your tent during a solo trip, this is also a fairly easy tent to assemble during your solo trips.

Four-Person Tents: Great for Small Families

When we say small family, we mean it.

If you’re packing four grown adults into any four-person tent, the reality is that you’re be a little crammed.

Fit two adults and two kids, however, and you’re all set.

Either way, The North Face Wawona 4-Person Tent is hard to beat in terms of style, quality, comfort, and space.

Not only can you comfortably sleep four, but there is plenty of room to store your gear.

Camping for Six: Tents Meant for a Crowd

There won’t be many time where you have six people sleeping in such close proximity.

For the rare occasions that does happen, it always helps to err on the size of comfort.

Cue the Eureka Kohana 6-Person Tent. Lightweight-but-durable, you won’t burden yourself too badly carrying this to your camping site.

With two entrance doors, you can also avoid the awkwardness of having to crawl over multiple people in the middle of the night to use the restroom.

Even with six people, there is room to store some extra gear.

Best Tents for Big Groups

Once you have more than six people sleeping in the same tent, that counts as a big group.

Normally, tents for eight, ten, or twelve people will be reserved for big hunting or fishing trips, or a group piling together during a festival.

Sometimes you might even see these big tents used for school trips or summer camps.

Either way, when you are dealing with this many bodies in one space, it’s usually worth going bigger.

The Coleman Skydome 10-Person Tent might be one of the best tents for camping when you’ve got a large crowd. Not only are you dealing with one of the most respected names in outdoors gear, but you’ve got a LOT of room.

Consider this: you can fit a trio of queen-sized mattresses in the Skydome and still have room to spare. You also have plenty of headroom, as well as two entrance points.

To make things even better, assembly is also much easier than you would see with older multi-person models.

Final Thoughts on How to Choose the Best Tent for Camping

Camping is a classic and revered outdoor activity that many people have fond memories of. It’s also one of the most potentially enjoyable, relaxing, and memorable outings you can partake in.

Ultimately, when it comes to choosing the best tent for camping, do some research. Watch a couple videos. But don’t overthink it.

With just a little bit of planning, you can have an amazing weekend trip in the wilderness. Picking the “perfect” tent is possible, but let the activities themselves define “perfection.”

So grab your tent, pack your gear, gather your friends, and go explore the great outdoors!

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