It was supposed to be a memorable, fall camping trip with the family.
And it was. Until the blizzard came, that is. My family and I had been taking yearly, summer camping trips since the time are youngest child was three years old. Between baseball games, dance recitals, and everything in between, however, we didn't have time for the annual escape to the Great Outdoors until mid-October rolled around.
While I thought it would be a great opportunity to enjoy the cooler weather and the brilliant color of the leaves, when the temperatures dropped into the high 20´s and snow began to fall on our first night in the wild, I quickly realized that we were in for a long night.
What follows is a list of the absolutely best tent brands currently on the market as researched by a guy who personally knows the angst of putting his family through a night of relative misery due to a failing tent. While the best tent for you will depend on whether you´re planning to summit Everest or simply heading to the nearest KOA campground, I've got the lowdown on the tent brands that are best for every type of camper and for every budget.
Tent Brands Comparison
What is the best camping tent to buy? Here are my top choices:
Note: The links above & below will take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
The Poor Old Tent
The trusty family tent which had been with us for almost a decade held its own during those summer camping trips to the local state park, but as the snow began to pile up on top of the tent and the wind picked up, it wasn´t long before the tent essentially gave out and sent us running to the car where we cranked up the heat and spent the night “camping” in the seats of the Ford Focus.
After that fairly memorable trip, my family promised they would only consent to another camping excursion if I promised to do my research on the best tent brands in 2017. The old family tent was retired to annals of history and the garage closet and I spent hours on the internet searching for a tent that would keep my family prepared for the next unexpected blizzard, deluge, hurricane, or anything else that Mother Nature wanted to throw at us. The results certainly inspire more confidence than a researching on how you make a tent waterproof.
What you should search for
Naturally, for my family, I wanted a group-sized tent with some extra space to accommodate our gear. One thing I found out is that no particular industry standard defines how much space each person needs inside a tent.
In my opinion, you would be better off treating the quoted tent capacity, often indicated as one-person or four-person and so on, as a cramped up fit and go for a size up. This is assuming that you want a tent large enough for a group of people, to accommodate someone claustrophobic, to have enough space for the larger-framed folks, and also to leave enough room to move around comfortably.
Given the experience my family and I had, I also realized that you must have a tent that will hold up well through the seasons. You will come across shelters built for different seasons, with 3-season, 3-4, and 4-season tent options.
The 3-season tents are what you will typically come across the most. They are lightweight and designed to handle the summer, spring and fall conditions. They come with mesh panels which boosts airflow within the shelter and keeps out pesky insects.
These varieties can withstand downpours with the help of a rainfly, but they do not hold up too well against harsh storms, heavy snow, and violent winds.
3-4 Season Tents
These outdoor shelters come engineered for prolonged use. They hold up as you would expect through summer, late fall, and early spring trips. Their construction focuses on providing warmth, ventilation, and strength.
These shelters will come with an additional pole or two but fewer mesh panels in comparison to the 3-season designs. The extra poles make these shelters sturdier, and the fewer mesh panels mean more warmth compared to the 3-season tents.
They are best suitable for folks who frequently camp at higher elevations and for extended durations. While they address the shortcomings of their 3-season counterparts, these outdoor shelters do not stand through harsh winters too well.
When you get snowed in on a camping trip, you want to be hauled up inside a 4-season tent. These shelters can withstand the fiercest of winds as well as a significant snow load. Their ability to handle the most inhospitable of weathers make them ideal for use in any season.
Naturally, they come with more poles and heavier fabrics than the other two options. Typically they feature a rounded dome design which eliminates flat roof spaces. It also means preventing instances of snow collecting on the roof and causing it to give out.
These outdoor shelters feature even fewer mesh panels with rain-flies that stretch out almost to ground-level. Their design makes them too warm and stuffy for use in mild conditions.
It may not like something you want to focus on too much, but the material used to make a tent matters a lot.
Canvas-made tents are the most breathable, durable, and come with excellent waterproof capabilities. However, once the fabric absorbs the rainwater, they end up being very heavy.
Nylon and polyester tents are the lightest with decent waterproof abilities. However, if they come with improperly sewn seams, they may let in rainwater. Sunlight also causes the fabric to deteriorate over time.
Most tents come with a waterproof rainfly made out of nylon with polyurethane or silicone-polyurethane coating. The tent poles come in an equally diverse selection of materials with most featuring an aluminum construction.
Anyone who has ever camped before has had the unpleasant experience of waking up in a condensed and damp environment. It is not the best feeling because it affects everything right from your bedding to your clothes. A well-ventilated tent can limit or get rid of this issue altogether.
Have in mind that having a rainfly on will affect ventilation and you, therefore, want a tent that factors in such a situation. Go for an outdoor shelter with well-placed vents and also with a breathable fabric to take care of condensation issues.
Kelty: An Affordable Yet Durable Option
If you are looking for a wide variety of different tents and camping shelter options, Kelty is definitely a great choice. This Boulder, Colorado based company has been manufacturing tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, and a host of other outdoor equipment for several decades now. One of the best aspects of Kelty tents is that they offer everything from a basic two-person camping tent for under $50 to high end and high performance tents, which will run you several hundred dollars.
All of their tents, however, are made with durable, waterproof materials and are top quality. For the true minimalist backpacker, Kelty offers high quality tarps that will only add a few ounces to your backpack while keeping you dry even on the wettest summer night on the Appalachian Trail.
For families or larger groups, the Kelty Trail Ridge 6 has an extra roomy interior and steep walls too offer added headroom. This six-person tent is one of the few larger tents that can be packed down into a tent cube that is both lightweight and compact enough that you can take it with you on backpacking excursions with large groups. Furthermore, this tent has a stargazing fly roll, which allows you to quickly and efficiently open and close the rain fly of the tent. There is nothing worse than going to sleep with your tent open on a starry night only to have to wake up at 2 AM and get soaking wet as you struggle to put up the rain flap during an unexpected rainstorm. With this tent you´ll be able to avoid the midnight bath by simply clipping the rain flap in place from inside the tent itself.
Kelty tents truly do offer something for everyone and are one of the few brands that offer tent options for all sorts of adventures, whether it's tents for weekend family camping trips or hardcore hiking tents for those taking on the Continental Divide Trail.
MSR Tents: Designed by Experts
Even if you only head out camping a couple days out of the year, there is solace and comfort in knowing that the shelter over your head was designed and manufactured by a company whose founder has been dedicated to improving the safety and functionality of equipment for the world´s most extreme mountain climbers. MSR stands for Mountain Safety Research, and since 1969, this Seattle-based company has been bringing industry-changing innovation to the outdoor gear world and is now considered one of the best backpacking tent brands.
By incorporating a team of engineers and scientists (yes, even scientists), this company combines theoretical knowledge on how a tent should work in the wild with the real-life experiences of outdoor enthusiasts who test and try out every product that eventually makes it to market. The MSR brand of tents is a little bit more expensive than some of their competitors, but, as the saying goes, you definitely get what you pay for.
One of the top tents offered by MSR is the Hubba Hubba NX2 Lightweight Backpacking Tent. This ain't your granddaddy's canvas tent. Weighing in at around three and a half pounds (with even more lightweight options available), the Hubba Hubba is a backpacker´s dream. There is something strangely comforting knowing that only three pounds of extra weight in your backpack will promise you protection from virtually anything that Mother Nature can throw at you. This tent also comes with two large doors that, get this, even have an adaptable rain gutter to make sure you don´t get wet when opening your tent door after a long night of rain. The cross-ventilating rain fly will allow you to stay fresh and cool even on the muggiest nights.
Coleman Tents: A Trusted, Historic Name in Camping and Outdoor Supplies
Chances are that buried somewhere in your grandparent´s attic or garage, you can find a whole variety of Coleman outdoor products that have been used by the family for generations — it is one of the best tent manufacturers in the world after all.
Where are Coleman products made? Where do they come from? The company has its headquarters in Wichita, Kansas. The Coleman Company was founded way back in 1900 when William Coffin Coleman began selling gasoline pressure lamps. Since that time, it has gradually grown into one of the largest and most well-known and respected outdoor companies on the market. Coleman offers a wide variety of tenting options and is generally considered to be one of the most affordable tent options out there.
There's a Coleman instant tent that could fit in 8 people, but the Coleman Montana 8-Person Tent is the true standard-bearer when it comes to mega-size family camping tents. If you´re like me, a family camping trip is all about spending time together bonding as a family. If every member of the family has his or her own personal pup tent, as soon as the sun goes down everybody retreats into his or her own tent and family time comes to an end. With the Coleman Montana, however, the spaciousness of this monster camping dwelling (it´s more than a tent, really) allows for large families to comfortably spend long nights playing games, telling jokes, and enjoying time together without the infinite interruptions that define our screen-addicted civilization.
This tent has a cabin style design with almost vertical walls, which the typical pop up tent can't give you. And it has not just vents, but windows — angled ones that allow you to keep the windows down for fresh air even when it's raining. This can also come in handy when the smell of wet socks warrants the extra breeze. The large door is hinged (another cabin-like feature) and even has a porch-like awning that acts as a make shift vestibule where you can take your shoes on and off before entering the shared living space. And it bears foul weather pretty well, albeit not as well as the Coleman WeatherMaster series.
Big Agnes: Weather-Proof Camping No Matter Where You Go
A newer company on the market, Big Agnes has quickly made a name for themselves due to the versatility and the variety of the tents that they offer. From car-based campers who bring a trunk full of camping gear to the hardcore, minimalist backpackers who don´t want any “stuff” to get between them and the natural world they explore, Big Agnes offers tenting options for almost everyone.
Their extreme lightweight backpacking tents are unique in that their interior space to weight ratio is easily one of the best you´ll find. The fabrics used for their backpacking tents are both lightweight yet offer extreme protection from the elements. When it comes to car-based camping, Big Agnes tents add on the extra weight to give you the extra comfort and commodities you need. Large vestibules and a slurry of mesh pockets allow for maximum storage and “order” when sharing a living space with the whole family. Additionally, these large tents are oddly easy to set up meaning that you can have all the extra space you need without spending hours bumbling around with tent poles that don´t seem to fit anywhere.
The Big Agnes Big House Deluxe Tent is a cut above the usual dome tents. It looks like something you´d find at the base camp of Mount Everest. There are ten interior mesh pockets designed into this tent meaning that every member of the family can have his or her own “dresser” or personal organizer. Furthermore, this tent also comes with between 68 and 78 inches of headroom (depending on the model you choose). Unless you´re an NBA center, you should be able to comfortably stand up in these tents. The steep wall, house-like design is another addition to the roomy feel of this tent. Lastly, the Big House Deluxe also waterproof as all the seams are taped and the 1500 mm waterproof polyurethane coating is a resistant enough to keep you and yours dry and comfy in your inflatable air beds during the rainiest night.
Eureka! A Solid Reputation for Good Reason
Founded in 1895 and headquartered in Binghamton, New York, Eureka! Tents and outdoor supplies have been a staple of outdoor enthusiasts for well over 100 years. To get an idea of how strong and durable Eureka tents really are, back in the 1960´s, Sir Edmund Hillary and an expedition spent six months living in the Himalayan Mountains. Their lodging option? Nothing more than Eureka Draw-Tite tents that had been proven by the U.S. Navy to withstand temperatures upwards of minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even if you´re not planning on taking up long-term residence in the high Himalayas or Antarctica, Eureka tents are still a great option for all different types of camping options. Their tents are renowned for fast and easy set up no matter in what context you find yourself. Additionally, these tents are designed for all different types and sizes of expeditions.
If I were going solo, the Eureka! Solitaire Tent would be the perfect option for an individual in need of some needed solitude and alone time in Nature. This hoop and bevy-style tent weighs under three pounds meaning that you can take it virtually anywhere. The hoop style allows it to withstand some serious winds making it a great option for spending the night on top of some mountain summit. The unique flashlight loop on the top of the hoop makes it easy and comfortable to stay up at night reading a book while listening to the sounds of Nature around you.
The Best Tent Brand for Every Type of Nature Outing
At the end of it all, what's best for you will largely depend on what type of camping you're planning on doing. What experts and campers consider the best tents might not be so for you. Attempting to summit Mount Rainier in Washington is a lot different from driving into a campsite with electrical hookups, flush toilets, and hot-water showers a few feet away. Nonetheless, for whatever type of camping you´re planning on doing, knowing the best tent brand names available to you is essential if you want to stay protected and comfortable while enjoying the best that Nature has to offer.
Hungry for More Content?
We'll be posting tent reviews for Marmot and The North Face tents soon.
Check out this article: Best 2-Person Tent Reviews
Also see: 12 person Tent Reviews & Best 10 Person Tent Reviews