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 six months 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 countryside 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.
With staycations and domestic travel becoming the new norm, the remainder of 2020 is set to see a surge in people embracing outdoor holidays and sleeping under the stars. But if you’re new to camping, or returning to it after a few years of city breaks and hanging out in hotel rooms, and you need to update your kit, where do you start? Well, with a tent, obviously – you need to sort out your shelter first and foremost – but which one?
- Camping checklist: what to take with you
- How to pitch a tent: an essential guide
- Why go camping : there are so many reasons it's great to spend a night under canvas
Tent technology has undergone a revolution in recent years, with fabrics, materials and design evolving all the time to make set-up easier and hassle free, and provide improved features and inner-tent space for campers (with better layouts offering more privacy, and excellent communal spaces and porches) and increased protection against the elements – including black-out materials to avoid super early wake-up brightness).
Now you can choose tents that pop-up instantly, or ‘air’ models that you can inflate with a pump plugged into your car. Of course traditional pole tents are still available – in ever-more fantastic and clever designs, including some very lightweight models – and you can get excellent tipi designs. Or you can make like a monkey and sleep in the trees with a suspended Tensile tent.
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
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.
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 some star gazing.
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.
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 for 2020, this superb tent 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.
Coleman Mackenzie 4
A well-sized, reliably weatherproof multi-bedroom tent at a good price point
RRP: $750 (US) £400 (UK) | Sleeps: 4 people | Style: family tunnel tent | Weight: 25.4kg/56lbs | Waterproofing: Hydrostatic Head: 4,500mm | Rooms: Two bedrooms, one living room, one porch | Pack size: 80 x 40cm/31.5 x 15.7in | Compatibility: Ideal for longer camping holidays in any weather
A well-sized all-rounder aimed at families of four, Coleman’s Mackenzie is perfect if you like good headroom and space throughout a tent. It features two large bedrooms that can easily take double air mattresses (and can be zipped open to form one massive bedroom) and a roomy living room with lots of built-in storage space. The blackout bedrooms are some of the best we tested at blocking out bright sunlight – perfect for families with younger children.
We like the double doors and the well-placed windows, which can also be easily zipped closed or converted into breathable mesh panels that keep insects at bay. The living room is large enough for a table and chairs as well as all your camping kit. The tent’s outer fly is waterproof enough to repel rain year-round, and three steel poles keep the structure in place even in high winds, but do take a while to assemble, even with two people.
This is a large, hefty tent – best used for holidays where you’re setting up in one campsite for the duration, and rate comfort over manoeuvrability. The price is very reasonable for such a well-built tent – if you’re after a versatile two-bedroom family shelter, this comes highly recommended.
Robens Chinook Ursa
A traditionally styled tipi tent that uses modern materials and an innovative design to create a versatile and adaptable space, ideal for convivial camping trips
RRP: €1,400 (EU) / £1,180 (UK) | Sleeps: 8 people | Style: Tipi tent | Weight: 21.7kg/47lb 13.45oz | Pack Size: 106 x 30cm/3ft 5.7in x 11.8in | Dimensions: 475 x 425cm/15ft 7in x 13ft 11in | Max headroom: 3m/9ft 11in** | Compartments: 1 (inner tent with 2 compartments can be purchased) | Porches: 1 | Waterproofing (fly): HydroTex HD 100% 75D 185T polyester, Hydrostatic head: 5000mm | Compatibility: 3-season
Packing plenty of character and charm, this tipi tent is part of Robens’ popular Outback range – a series of eye-catching tents with a retro canvas look, based on the designs used by early American pioneers. Despite its traditional looks, this unusual tent employs modern materials and an innovative, superbly engineered design to create a versatile space for families or groups.
Rather than canvas, the fabric is actually a quick-drying but waterproof polycotton blend, which saves weight and makes transport and pitching the tent simple and convenient (surprisingly so, for such a large, eight-person design). It’s also easy to look after, yet very durable. It can be configured as a conventional tipi with an A-frame doorway, but can also be transformed to open up into what is essentially an airy shelter with an open, three-poled front canopy. It also has a vent for a stove pipe, allowing it to be used with a frontier or outbacker-type stove. That addition creates a very cosy space that comes into its own on chilly evenings, and extends usability beyond summer, permitting year-round use.
Once it’s up, you get ample headroom, with more than enough standing room at the centre pole, and plenty of interior space. Of course, the tipi design means there are no separate bedrooms or vestibules, though an inner tent can be purchased separately, creating two three-person bedrooms either side of the main pole. The inner tent and stove cannot be used in conjunction, but this tent really comes into its own when used as a single communal space, and it’s a great place to spend a warm and cosy evening with a roaring stove – in fact, a night in the Chinook Ursa is pretty much camping heaven, as far as we’re concerned.
Kelty Dirt Motel
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 four-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.
Luna bell tent
A handsome, weatherproof bell tent perfect for DIY glamping in the summer months
RRP: £839 (UK) | Sleeps: 4 people | Style: Bell | Weight: 31kg/68lbs 5.5oz | Waterproofing: Water-resistant polycotton | Rooms: One bedroom | Pack size: 95cm x 28cm/37.5 x 11in | Compatibility: This bell-shaped beauty is best used on longer summer camping holidays with family or friends, or at a festival
Fancy something a little bit different for your next camping foray? A glamping-style bell tent is definitely a big investment, but they offer a wonderfully airy living and sleeping space, ideal if you find traditional tents on the stuffy side. Our top pick is the handsome Luna bell tent from Boutique Camping.
Inside there’s one large living and sleeping space that can comfortably fit four mattresses by night and a table, chairs and full cooking kit by day. Canvas tents are naturally breathable and cool on hot summer days, and the Luna’s polycotton outer material is water-resistant enough to deal with showers. Large windows make the inside a lovely place to hang out if rain stops place, or a haven to retreat to at a busy festival.
All that space and thick canvas does come at a price, and the Luna is heavy and cumbersome as well as expensive – you’ll need somewhere spacious to store it and a car boot to transport it. That said, once it’s erected (which isn’t difficult with two people) and ready for a summer holiday, it’s a true delight to camp in.
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. There are thousands of options out there, and 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. 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 quality tents, the flysheet and groundsheet fabric will have a quoted Hydrostatic Head (HH) weighting in terms of 1000s 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 or 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 camping mats. 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, if the tallest member of the clan can stand upright without pushing the inner against the fly and producing drips – that will avoid grumpiness.
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.
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 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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