The Best Tents for Campers, Backpackers, and Families (2024)

There are hundreds of tents out there. If none of our top picks quite works for you, here are a few things to consider while doing your own research.

Know how you plan to use your tent. Are you a car camper? Backpacker? Bike packer? All of the above? If you're primarily headed to established campgrounds, there's no need for an expensive ultralight tent. By the same token, if you're not happy until the trail head is 20 miles behind you, it might be worth sacrificing living space to save weight. The unfortunate truth is that there are very few tents that work well in the backcountry and the campground. It's often worth buying a good backcountry tent and something cheap for campgrounds to spare your expensive tent the added wear and tear.

Keep the weather in mind. “Three-season” or “four-season” usually refers to how much ventilation (that is, mesh) the tent has. A three-season tent will offer better ventilation but will have a harder time retaining heat. For most people, a three-season tent is fine. But if you're planning to snowshoe into the backcountry, or if you live in northern climes and want some protection against the occasional early or late winter squall, then a four-season tent might be appropriate.

What specs are important?

  • Floor space: We look at all the dimensions, rather than the four-person or six-person designations. Those tend to assume that all campers are pint-sized people. Remember that you will probably want to keep spare clothes or a backpack in the tent itself and that you need it to be long enough to stretch out comfortably for your height. Be aware, though, that there are some restrictions on tent size; be sure to check out the regulations at the campground you're planning to visit.
  • Headroom: Can you stand up in the tent? How steep are the walls? The steeper the side walls the better, since that gives you more space to move around.
  • Storage areas: Are there plenty of pockets to stash your smaller items? The more mesh pockets the merrier, especially higher pockets that won't reduce sleeping space. We love corner pockets for stashing headlamps to give the tent a nice even light to read by.
  • Vestibule: Does it have one? Two? Is it big enough to store boots and other gear that you want to stay dry but don't want to have in the tent with you? If you're backpacking, is it big enough to safely cook under?
  • A footprint. What kind of tent, in the year 2024, doesn’t come with a footprint? Quite a few it turns out. We suggest them in most cases, so you'll want to factor in the added cost if the tent you're interested in doesn't have one.
  • Materials: These days, most tents are made from nylon that's coated in polyurethane, silicone, or acrylic to help it shed water. Most, but not all, tents come seam-sealed so water doesn't leak in, but if yours isn't, REI has a great guide to doing it yourself. We also like to look for more eco-friendly, possibly healthier fabrics that have certifications like bluesign.

How Heavy Should a Backpacking Tent Be?

Is a 6-pound tent too heavy for backpacking? How about 5 pounds? Four? The answer is that it depends how much everything else you're carrying weighs, but a good rule of thumb is that your tent should weigh about 2.5 pounds per person on the trip. So for two people, a 5-pound tent would be fine. Split the weight by having one person carry the tent and stakes while the other carries the poles and rain fly. That said, obviously a 4-pound tent is going to be even lighter divided like this. If you can afford it, go with the lighter tent, your back will thank you. It also may well be possible to shave some weight off the rest of your backpacking kit, thus making a 6-pound tent acceptable so long as you split the weight with your partner.

Less weight means more money. This isn't always true, but unfortunately, it usually is. If you want to go ultralight, you're going to have to spend more. But before you fork over the big bucks, ask yourself: Do I really care about saving 6 ounces? Are you going to notice those 6 ounces at the end of a 20-mile day? If the answer is yes, then rejoice. There is an internet subculture of people who obsess over saving ounces. The r/ultralight Reddit is a good place to start your research.

The Best Tents for Campers, Backpackers, and Families (2024)
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