Tents are like cars. Some are built for speed, others for capaciousness and still others for their utility. For this roundup of the best tents, we've chosen something for everyone, from fleet-footed high-altitude backpackers to family glampers.
For those hauling their own gear over hill and dale, an ultra-light, compact tent makes the most sense, while those planning to set their stakes in a campground for an extended stay will want more head room and will be less concerned about the weight. So, we have tents that range from less than 2 pounds to all-inclusive models that have features like screened in porches but weigh more than 45 pounds.
While we did not consider so-called 4-season tents designed to withstand blizzards, we did think about ease of set up, which is a concern when you're tired and wet (or trying to pitch a tent in the dark). Better models shouldn't seem like they're part of an IQ test. And of course, we considered price and construction in selecting the best tents.
What tents cost
An occasional use tent that maximizes value and isn't likely to be required to make it through major storms can cost less than $50, while an elite model for ultra marathoners can cost close to $500. So there's something here for every budget, plus a few extra shopping tips at the end of our reviews.
These are the best tents now
Well established in the hiking community, MSR Huba Huba tents are well regarded for their durability and adaptability. The NX combines excellent waterproofing with light weight. Okay, so it isn't the lightest model here, but it will withstand more abuse than lighter models. Notable features include two vestibules, so you've got some cover before heading inside (or for leaving stuff outside), built-in rain gutters to keep the water away from the doors, and a rainfly with an adjustable vent to prevent condensation inside.
When most people think of a modern tent, they're thinking of the something like this Coleman design. It sets up easily on arched poles and will keep the bugs and water out in most wet weather. There are two windows to keep things cool and prevent condensation, a special opening for an AC cord, and while it's not big enough to stand up in, when the sun goes down it will handle sleeping arrangements for 4. If you're new to camping, and not sure you're going to like being that close to the great outdoors, the Sundome also presents a minimal initial investment risk.
The Black Diamond Distance is one of the best tents intended for serious hikers, this A-frame style design employs a unique feature: It doesn't come with standard tent supports but instead uses your trekking poles to establish its perch and support the roof with a supplied cross pole. That keeps the weight down and if you already have a favorite pair of sticks, you'll find it works with most trekking poles. However, Black Diamond's supplied Z-Poles are top notch, in our experience. And the Black Diamond Distance looks so cool, you may turn into a high-altitude trekker just so you can use this tent.
The Sierra Designs Clearwing 3 is the Goldilocks of backpacking tents: Not too heavy, not too small and not too expensive. Unpacking and setting it up is straightforward, too, since it eschews the old hub-and-spoke designs, which can be finicky. And while some threesomes may find it too close for sleeping, the near vertical walls of the Clearwing mean more elbow room during days when you have to hang out inside to avoid the elements. Its two doors also provide easy entry and egress.
Borrowing all the best features from the competition — and then improving upon that--the SlingFin Portal is a great lightweight tent for hikers and backpackers who don't want to haul a lot of weight — but want guaranteed protection when the weather has goes bad. The Portal's rainstopping material uses a tougher, more resilient silicone protective coating, and the rainfly rolls right back when fairweather lets you gaze up above. The only downside: You'll pay nearly $500 for the light weight and weather resistance features.
Going backpacking or bikepacking with a partner, but you're the one carrying the tent? Then you'll appreciate the super light Fly Creek HV UL 2 from Big Agnes. It's based on an established design for resisting inclement weather. Big Agnes also includes a few niceties, such as 3 mesh pockets inside to keep gadgets handy. There's a revamped hood over the vestibule to help keep that water out when you're getting in. It's also cozy for two, but spacious for one.
Looking for the best tent with comfort in mind? The REI Kingdom will more than suffice. It's relatively simple to pitch--although it takes two people--and has family-friendly features like a divider to slice it into two (relatively) private rooms. There are plenty of pockets and hooks, and the rainfly can be rolled back for a moonlit view. The wide door openings and interior space make it ideal for families with young kids, and REI even offers a mud room attachment, although that will set you back an additional $100.
Making the glamping experience a relatively affordable option, the Ozark Trail is the best tent for families looking for an outdoor experience. There's plenty of standing room, a screened-in porch, and even a gear shelf. It's spacious but because the Cabin Tent is more arduous to set up (2 assistants are recommended) it means it's more suitable for long-term campground stays (you won't want to have to pitch it or break it down in the dark). This tent only has one door and it isn't designed for very nasty weather, but summer glampers aren't likely to mind.
Tent buying advice: 3 things to look for
Footprint: Referring not to sustainability but rather to what amounts to a ground tarp for your tent, a footprint can protect your investment from excessive wear and tear. Most tents do not include a footprint, but many companies offer them as options. These versions have the virtue of fitting your model properly without excess fabric that may end up just collecting water. Other options: for big, family-style tents, a basic tarp is probably sufficient. Hikers will want something lighter, such as a Terra Hiker Camping Tarp, which costs less than $20 and weighs less than a pound.
Waterproofing: Tents have stitches, and stitches let in water. So tents can be vulnerable to major storms. To prevent the water from getting in, quality tents such as most of those in this roundup are seam-taped or sealed. However, with repeated use, tape can fail or become brittle and eventually leak. To protect your investment, we recommend periodically examining the seams and re-taping them when necessary.
Doors: It might sound like a minor consideration but having more than one opening in a tent can be a godsend. Think about getting in and out in the middle of the night without stepping on your partner. Or worse, dealing with a rain-soaked companion who has to crawl over you to get to their gear.