It's only reasonable to be after the best tents right now. Never has people’s appreciation of the benefits provided by time spent outdoors been as high as it is at the moment, after an extraordinary year where much of the world has been forced to stay inside to a totally unnatural degree.
We’re all itching to get back out into the fresh air, and there’s no better way to embrace the outdoors than by going on a camping trip – whether you set off on your own for a trek with a lightweight shelter, or get the whole gang in the car for a big week of adventures organised around a central base camp.
The summer of 2021 is set to see a surge in people embracing outdoor holidays and relaxing under the stars. But if you’re new to camping, or returning to it after a few years of city breaks, and you need to update your kit, where do you start? Well, the first item on any camping checklist is a tent, obviously. Before you even think about things like the best camping stoves and the best sleeping bags, you need to sort out your shelter first and foremost – but which one?
The technology behind the best tents has undergone a revolution in recent years, with fabrics, materials and design evolving all the time to make set-up easier and hassle free. Now you can choose a pop-up tent that assembles instantly, or ‘air’ models that you can inflate with a pump plugged into your car. Of course traditional pole models are still available, in ever-more fantastic and clever designs.
But with such a huge selection, where should you begin? Well, we can help with that, because we’ve been testing tents off all kinds in a whole range of sizes, styles, seasons and settings, to help point you in the right direction to find the best tent for your needs.
The best tents available right now
A three-person backpacking tent you can carry on the trails
RRP: $500 (US)/ €460 (EU) | Sleeps: 3 people | Weight: 3 lb 15oz/1.77kg | Pack size: 19.5 x 5in / 50 x 13cm | Floor dimensions: 88 x 70–65in / 223.5 x 177.8–165.1cm | Max Headroom: 44in/111cm | Waterproofing (fly): 15D Sil/PeU Nylon Ripstop, 1200mm HH | Doors & vestibules: 2 doors & 2 vestibules | Compatibility: 3-season backing tent for 2 or 3 people
An unusual beast, the Dragonfly is a tent big enough to accommodate more than two adults but is light enough to take backpacking. Split the pegs, poles and fabric up between three people’s packs, and you have one of the best tents for its size for taking on the trail – also good for small families who want to backpack. After using such a tent a few times, the measure of success comes in two criteria: ease set-up and comfortable liveability. The Dragonfly earns high marks for both. Color-coded poles and webbing, plus pre-bent DAC Featherlight poles combine to create a hub system that can quickly to assembled to create a spacious, high-volume, freestanding living space.
This model can accommodate two people with loads of space, or three if you don’t mind getting cosy. (There are 1-person and 2-person versions of the Dragonfly available too.) Occupants can crawl in (or escape for a midnight ablution) via one of the two large doors. The vestibules can be rolled back to increase visibility and ventilation. Small details enhance the liveability measurably. White mesh on the side panels adds privacy, while black mesh on the Dragonfly’s ceiling permits long after-dark star gazing. Gear storage pockets keep small and expensive electronics safe and near-at-hand. Specialized light diffusing fabric ceiling panels soften harsh hard headlamp beams.
Big Agnes Big House 4 Deluxe
A tall-sided home away from home for weekends in the woods
RRP: $400 (US) / £295 (UK) | Sleeps: 4 people | Weight: 12lb 14oz/5.84kg | Pack size: 26 x 13in / 66 x 33 x 18cm | Max Headroom: 70in / 178cm | Floor dimensions: 96 x 90in / 244 x 229cm | Waterproofing: Fly and floor are polyester with a waterproof (1500mm HH) polyurethane coating | Doors & vestibules: 2 doors & 1 extra large vestibule (sold separately) | Compatibility: 3-season family car camping tent
A weekend in the woods with family and friends is a far better experience if you are warm, dry and comfortable. By delivering those features, the Big House 4 quickly becomes a family friendly basecamp. Living space includes a stand-up-tall interior and plenty of room for four people. It’s one main compartment, but don’t worry about misplacing your gear: there is a very useful collection of 12 storage compartments, including mesh pockets, removable corner bins and media pockets, plus interior loops for hanging lanterns, headlamps or damp clothes.
In terms of set-up, this is one of the best tents out there. Large tents can be complicated to erect, but that’s not a concern with this shelter; color-coded webbing and buckles removes any set-up stress. Pre-cut guylines and tensioners that are already attached to the rainfly help fine-tune the tent in windy or rainy conditions.
The oversized pole configuration serves as an awning for the substantial vestibule. It’s large enough to accommodate a camp chair so you can watch the sunset protected from the weather, but it is sold separately ($130), along with the footprint ($50). Two large doors are designed to match conditions. For hot nights, large mesh sections improve ventilation. When Mother Nature changes her mood, zip up panels keep the interior warm and dry.
Combining the elevated comfort of a hammock with the bug- and weather-protection benefits of a conventional tent, this two-person tree tent is a great way to hang out
RRP: £399 (UK) | Sleeps: 2 people | Style: Tree tent | Weight: 9.5kg | Pack Size: 56 x 33 x 25cm (x3) / 22 x 13 x 9.8in | Dimensions: 4 x 4 x 2.56m/13 x 13 x 8.4ft | Max headroom: 1m / 3ft 3in | Compartments: 1 | Porches: 1 | Waterproofing (fly): 70D PU-Coated polyester, Hydrostatic Head: 5000mm | Compatibility: 3-season
Tentsile’s innovative and striking tree-tent designs, loftily suspended among the trees, serve up a fun and unique way to spend a night in the great outdoors that makes for undeniably Instagram-worthy pictures. If you love sleeping in forests and woodland, this is a great option that combines the best bits of hammock camping with all the benefits of a tent.
The tree tent utilises a sturdy three-point anchor system, delivering a taut and tensioned platform with minimal sag, (unlike a hammock). The surface has enough flex to ensure it is very comfortable, making it more practical than pitching a tent on the ground, and it has a full mesh inner with two zipped side doors and plenty of internal space, incorporating numerous storage pockets. The fly extends outwards from the tent, providing ample protection even in poor weather and creating a large, dry area underneath the tent to store gear or seek shelter.
Inside, two alloy crossing poles form a 4m by 2.5m triangular sleeping area, with 1m of head height at the highest point. A reinforced central webbing strap down the middle of the tent floor effectively creates separate sleeping bays for each person, ensuring you don’t end up squashed together in the middle of the tent. For an optimum setup, you need to find a fairly widely-spaced trio of trees in a triangular configuration.
You need to try and make sure your anchor points are all placed at the same height, and we found anywhere in the range of about 3-4ft off the ground was ideal. Being higher up looks cooler but makes it tricky to climb in and out – unless, of course, you also own Tentsile’s nifty webbing ladder.
MSR Hubba NX Solo
An excellent middle of the range one-person tent that can cope with most things nature can throw at it
RRP: $380 (US) £385 (UK) | Sleeps: 1-person | Style: Lightweight pole tent | Weight: 1.29kg/2lb 13.5oz | Pack Size: 46 x 15cm/18 x 5.9in | Dimensions: 216 x 76cm/85 x 30in | Max headroom: 91cm/35.8in | Waterproofing (fly): 20D ripstop nylon, Hydrostatic Head: 1200mm **Compatibility:** 3-season backpacking | Compatibility: 3-season backpacking
The Hubba NX Solo is MSR’s best-selling freestanding solo tent – and there’s a very good reason for that. This tent is an excellent all rounder, balancing lightweight credentials with durability and practicality. Its minimum weight is just over a kilogram, but there is a ‘Fast and Light’ option at 0.7kg. It's simply one of the best tents out there.
The tent is easy to set up, with colour coded poles and clips, and comes with a stuff sack with compression straps. The rain fly has kickstand vents to allow you to adjust ventilation depending on conditions. You can also roll up the vestibule rainfly for better air flow on hot nights, or just to lay back and enjoy the night sky – maybe at one of the best sites in the US for stargazing.
A simple, popular pop-up design in two sizes, one ideal for couples and one aimed at families
RRP: $ (US) / £70 (2-person) (UK) or £90 (UK) (4-person) | Sleeps: 2 or 4 | Weight: 2.5kg/5lb 8.2oz (2-person) or 3.3kg/7lb 4.4oz (4-person) | Packed size: 77cm / 30.3in diameter (2-person) or 90cm/35.4in diameter (4-person) | Waterproofing: 2,000mm | Compatibility: Works well for summer camping holidays for couples or families with smaller children, with enough protection from the occasional rain shower.
Coleman’s popular Galiano tent is available as both a 2-person and a 4-person tent, and we’d recommend both as not just two of the best pop-up tents, but two of the best tents on the market full stop. This is especially true if you just want a simple tent without bells and whistles. Like most pop-ups on our list, they erect as soon as they’re freed from their circular bag, you just need to peg in the reflective guy lines.
Inside, a thick nylon groundsheet keeps you dry and wide vents in the roof help with airflow. Taped seams and a flysheet waterproofed to 2,000mm offer enough protection from the kind of weather you can expect from a British summer, although this is a single skin design, so won’t be tough enough for other seasons, and there are only two guy ropes, which isn’t enough to fight off strong winds. In terms of size, we’d recommend the 2-person tent for one or two people, and the 4-person for three adults or a family with two smaller children.
Decathlon 2 Seconds Easy Freshblack
This clever tent uses a drawstring to pop open into a comfy two-man complete with blackout bedroom
RRP: $US 199 / £100 (UK) | Sleeps: 2 people | Style: Pop-up tent | Weight: 4.7kg/10lbs 5.8oz | Packed size: 58.4 x 20.3 x 20.3cm / 23 x 8 x 8in | Waterproofing: Hydrostatic Head: 2,000mm | Compatibility: A nice size for a couple, and the rectangular pack makes it easier to take off the beaten track
Despite having tested it out on weekends in the wilderness, we still don’t really understand how this clever tent erects – it’s a bit of a magic trick. Tip the 2 Seconds Easy Freshblack (it has a bit of a mouthful of a name) out of its bag, pull two cords tight and it springs into shape, then you just peg it down and you’re ready to camp. Boom. To dismantle, you click a release button and then gather the tent into its bag, which is also the work of minutes. With such little fuss, it's one of the best tents of its kind.
Inside, there’s a bedroom suitable for two, plus backpacks, and lined with effective blackout material, as well as handy pockets and a lantern hook. Although this tent can’t really be classed as lightweight, it’s still just about small and portable enough to be useable for wild camping and backpacking at a pinch, as it folds down into a compact rectangle rather than a bulkier circle, and fits in a backpack. Otherwise, it’s brilliant for festivals and carefree camping weekends through summer and a few months either side.
Sierra Designs Meteor 3000 2P
Ideal wild camping or backpacking tent that offers plenty of protection and outstanding value
RRP: $250 (US) / £250 (UK) | Sleeps: 2 people | Style: Lightweight pole tent | Weight: 2kg 40g /4lb 8oz | Pack Size: 46 x 16.5cm/11.1 x 6.5in | Dimensions: 213 x 129cm/83.9 x 50.8in | Max headroom: 104cm/41in | Waterproofing (fly): 68D 190T Poly Taffeta; Hydrostatic Head: 3,000mm | Compatibility: 3-season backpacking
A newcomer among the best tents for 2020, this superb model is based on US brand Sierra Designs’ bestselling Meteor series but tweaks the build to make it better suited for wetter climates. As such it features enhanced waterproofing, in an earthy green colourway that makes it far more practical for stealthy wild camps.
The fly provides good coverage and there is added wind protection too, thanks to an inner tent that features more fabric and less mesh. Sierra has retained the same lightweight, double-door, twin porch design that has made the Meteor such a popular backpacking tent. It offers decent living space, two roomy porches and plenty of headroom, with practical features like two-way door zips for additional ventilation. Pre-bent DAC poles create a vertical front wall while an extra ridge pole creates near vertical side-walls.
The flysheet can also be rolled back for added ventilation or a spot of stargazing on warmer nights. It does need to be pitched inner-first, which is a minor inconvenience if you’re setting up camp in the rain. This is one of the best-value two-person options around for backpackers and wild campers.
Black Diamond Distance Tent with Z-Poles
A brilliant marriage of lightweight convenience between tent and trekking poles
RRP: $400 (US) / £400 (UK) | Sleeps: 2 people | Style: Ultralight shelter | Total weight: 1kg 200g (tent 820g + trekking poles 380g)/2lb 10oz | Packed Size: 13 x 30cm (5 x 12in) | Dimensions: 147 x 241 x 104cm / 58 x 95 x 41in | Max headroom: 95cm / 37.4in | Waterproofing (fly): 30D poly fabric | Compatibility: 3-season wild camping and lightweight hiking adventures
Providing both shelter at the end of the day, and support while you’re on the trails, the Black Diamond Distance tent with Z-poles is an ingenious design that combines a great tent with an excellent pair of trekking poles to produce a robust but lightweight shelter.
The two-person single-wall structure has just one tiny cross pole, used to connect with Black Diamond’s excellent Distance Carbon FLZ-AR Trekking Poles to make a three-season tent, absolutely perfect for gram-counting thru-hikers and ultralight enthusiasts. The shelter is a tight squeeze for two adults, but will fit one with a pack quite easily. The poles themselves are a very lightweight but high performing, Z-pole design.
Light, backpacker-friendly tent that’s ready to get off the beaten track
RRP: $380 (US)/£370 (UK) | Sleeps: 3–4 people | Style: Dome pole tent | Weight: 3.12kg/6lbs 14 oz | Waterproofing (fly): 40D Siliconized Nylon Ripstop, Hydrostatic Head: 1500mm | Rooms: One bedroom, two porches | Pack size: 40x19cm/ 16 x 7.5in | Compatibility: Sleeps three in comfort on lightweight backpacking, bikepacking and canoeing adventures
Dreaming of 4-man tent that you can still take backpacking? Meet the Kelty Dirt Motel, well-named as it’s happy to go adventuring far from the madding crowds but still offers a comfy nights sleep when you pitch it in the wild. It’s as lightweight as many backpacking tents, and could be carried alone in a backpack or easily split between two people.
We wouldn’t recommend sleeping four adults in the bedroom, but there’s a good amount of room for three and it’s positively palatial for two people. Two doors, each with their own wide porch, make it easy to pop in and out of the tent when sharing it and to store your bag and boots next to you.
The dome design is wind-resistant enough to take higher into the mountains, but although we found the Dirt Motel waterproof enough to deal with a shower on test, 1,500mm of waterproofing might not be enough to deal with heavier weather. Like the MSR Zoic, the Dirt Motel has an inner tent made of ‘No-See-Um’ insect-stopping mesh that can be used alone on the hot summer nights.
Outwell Airville 6SA
Deluxe large family tent with plenty of thoughtful details to make this a real home from home – creating a pleasant place to stay, whatever the weather
RRP: £1,625 (UK) | Sleeps: 6 people | Style: Air tent | Weight: 41.3kg / 91lb | Pack Size: 95 x 50 x 50cm / 37.4 x 19.7 x 19.7in | Dimensions: 760 x 520cm / 24ft 11in x 17ft | Max headroom: 2.05m/6ft 8.7in | Compartments: 4 (2 bedrooms and 2 vestibules) | Porches: 1 | Waterproofing (fly): Outtex 6000 Pro, 100% polyester, Hydrostatic Head: 6000mm | Compatibility: 3-season
Provided your family will fit into its two bedrooms, the palatial tent has all the living space you’ll ever need. There are no poles and pitching is easy thanks to the inflatable air beams employed throughout. A combination of guylines and webbing straps then create a secure and sturdy weatherproof structure.
The tent has three zones: a sleeping zone, a living zone (with a handy side wing) and a front porch area, which can be used with or without a groundsheet.. Each bedroom accommodates three sleeping mats or two camp beds. Though it can sleep six, it’s the ideal setup for a group of four – either two couples, or parents and a couple of kids. Bedrooms utilise darkened fabric and Outwell’s ‘Quick & Quiet’ magnetic doors, so if someone needs to get up in the middle of the night, they won’t wake everybody by unzipping a door.
At 2.3m, sleeping areas are long enough to accommodate tall adults, with decent headroom thanks to near-vertical side walls. These also have storage pockets and a cable entry point to provide power to the bedrooms – ideal for charging a smartphone or plugging in a tablet to watch a late-night film.
The main living space has internal doors to screen it from the porch, which can be rolled back to form a huge single space. The living area will accommodate a large table, while the porch is long enough to take a kitchen or mess table for food prep. The living space also incorporates Outwell’s HookTrack system, so you can hang camp lanterns or a linked lighting system wherever you like.
One side of the tent also has a wing lounge, with a large privacy window that offers plenty of light and unzips, so it could even be used as an additional doorway. It’s a good storage space but is also a great place for a lounger or an inflatable sofa. The front porch can be left open or enclosed via zipped doors, also with large privacy windows and blinds for night use. Behind the doors, there is also a useful insect mesh screen – ideal for keeping wasps and other bugs out in summer. The porch can be used for storing muddy gear, camping chairs or even bikes.
Choosing the best tent for you
Almost every individual, couple, family or group has a slightly different set of requirements or preferences when it comes to selecting the best tent for their needs. When you're considering how to choose a tent, it all boils down where you want to camp, who with, and what time of year you’re planning to head out and pitch up.
There's a size of every occassion, with tents generally categorised into one-person tents, 2-person tents, 4-person tents and family tents. Obviously, the larger the model, the heavier it tends to be, which isn't a problem if you're off car camping with kids. If you're camping with teenagers, a large model with separate vestibules gives everyone a bit of privacy. Unfortunately for those who have to put up with snoring camp mates, no one has yet designed a noise-cancelling tent.
If you're off on a wild camping adventure, lighter tents are the order of the day. However, if you're thru-hiking in the hills and mountains, you'll also need a tent that can repel the worst of the elements.
No matter what adventures you have planned, before investing in a shelter, consider the following factors.
The primary function of any tent is to keep you protected from the elements – mainly wind and rain, but sometimes snow too. On the best tents, the flysheet and groundsheet fabric will have a quoted Hydrostatic Head (HH) weighting in terms of thousands of mm – e.g. 3,000mm – which reflects how much pressure the fabric can withstand before it lets water in. So, a flysheet with a HH of 3,000mm could have a solid column of water 3 metres tall bearing down on it before it fails.
Groundsheets should be even more robust, but the thicker the material, obviously the heavier the tent will be. Also, HH isn’t everything – a good tent will also need decent stitching, well-sealed seams and quality zips. Ventilation is another important factor – a tent may be fully waterproof, but without adequate moisture management you’ll still get wet from condensation build-up.
Design and construction
There are many different types of tent design: ridge tents, dome tents, tunnel tents, geodesic tents, semi-geodesic tents, tipi tents, pop-up tents and even inflatable tents. Which one is the best tent design for you will depend on the size of your group and the type of use you’re putting the tent to.
Most tents have a double-skin design, meaning they are comprised of a fabric-and-mesh inner structure (your abode) with a waterproof flysheet over the top. Which ever design you choose, check out the features on the inside as well, because they’ll make a difference to comfort levels. Many inner tents have useful pockets for storing small items, such as headlamps, flashlights, insect repellent and other camping tech items, or for stashing away tent doors, as well as overhead hanging tabs or hooks for a tent lantern or gear loft.
Consider the total floor space of the inner, to ensure you’ll have enough room for the number of people you intend sharing the shelter with. Make sure it is long enough for you all to stretch out and wide enough to accommodate your sleeping pads. If you’ll also have a lot of camping or backpacking gear, think about whether the tent offers enough space to store it, either inside the inner tent with you, or in the porch or vestibule(s).
Also look at the headroom – ideally, you want to be able to at least sit up inside the tent. Depending on the tent’s design, the ceiling may taper towards the foot end, so you may not be able to sit up throughout its length. In family tents, grumpiness will be avoided if the tallest member of the clan can stand upright without pushing the inner against the fly and producing drips.
Most tents have at least a small space outside the inner tent that is still protected by the flysheet, usually located at the entrance(s) of the tent. This is called a porch or vestibule. It’s a great place to store wet kit and muddy boots, and can also act as a sheltered space to cook on a camping or backpacking stove in poor weather. With backpacking tents, make sure that the porch is big enough to accommodate your gear – otherwise you might be forced to keep your pack outside your tent, which is bad news.
Knowing how to pitch a tent and where – or where not to camp – is crucial if you are going to enjoy your camping experience. Tents pitch in one of three ways: inner first, outer first or all-in-one. With an inner-first design, the poles usually attach to the inner tent with clips and the flysheet is then thrown over the top. This is a simple and stable system that makes it easy to tweak and adjust fly sheet tension if necessary. With an outer-first design, the poles are usually threaded through sleeves in the flysheet, or sometimes the fly is clipped to a skeletal pole structure. The inner then attaches to the inside of the flysheet. This system is ideal if pitching in the rain, as the inner can more easily be kept dry.
With an all-in-one system, the fly and inner are pre-attached to each other, and poles are then threaded through sleeves or clipped to the whole tent. This offers quick and easy setup, but sometimes makes it harder to fine-tune tent tension. Air tents are obviously different, using inflatable tubes instead of poles, and are generally easy to set up.
Weight and pack size
If you’re car camping, these considerations are less important, but you still need to ensure you can fit the tent in the car, along with all your kit and companions. If you’re backpacking, fastpacking or bikepacking, make sure the tent and poles are not too bulky to fit inside your pack. To maximise space efficiency, some lightweight campers prefer to pack the tent and poles separately.
If you’re backpacking with a partner or a group, split the tent up (poles, pegs, inner, flysheet) and carry it between you. A heavy tent will make a real difference to the overall weight of your pack – especially if you have to pack it away when wet, when it will be considerably heavier.
To a certain extent, the old adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is true. Cheaper tents may look similar in design to more expensive rivals, but they are typically made from poor-quality fabrics and components. The build quality is also unlikely to be as good compared to a reputable manufacturer. Large, inexpensive tents – such as those that are often abandoned at festivals – are difficult to recycle and have a significant environmental cost.
Try to think of your tent as an investment and purchase one accordingly. Ultralight backpacking tents made from premium fabrics like Dyneema Composite Fibre (DCF) can come with big price tags, as can four-season or expedition tents designed to withstand extremely high winds and massive snow-loading. But unless you’re a committed adventurer, you don’t need to spend an eye-watering sum to get a decent tent for you and your family. If you look around, there are good value tents across all categories at cheaper price points. And it is always worth shopping around, because you can invariably pick up tents for far less than the RRP.
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