A good thing to keep in mind when buying a tent is, What is it I need protection from? Katie Gerber, a Colorado-based wilderness guide and the author of Adventure Ready: A Hiker’s Guide to Planning, Training, and Resiliency, says, “Someone who is hiking in a place where it’s not raining a lot and there aren’t bugs is going to want a superlight tent or maybe even a tarp that doesn’t have bug netting in it. And if you’re gonna be in places where it’s really wet, you would want a double-wall shelter because it cuts down on condensation.” I wish I’d had this advice when I was 19, when I brought my grandpa’s old, heavy Coleman car-camping tent on a backpacking trip through the Peruvian Andes. What I really needed was a lightweight model that took up less space in my pack — instead, I brought along a fabric cinderblock. Lesson learned: There’s a proper tent for every scenario.
To help you find the best tent, we talked to outdoor-gear experts, guides, and backcountry enthusiasts. We’ve organized the tents below by livable space and intended use.
What we’re looking for
Size: Picking a tent size seems straightforward enough: If you want to fit three people inside, then look for a three-person tent. But it’s important to think about how much livable space you actually want inside, Gerber says. For example, if you’re solo backpacking and will be storing most of your gear inside the tent, you’ll be more comfortable with the extra space of a two-person backpacking tent. (I’ve found that this “+1” rule applies to most models but is especially true with one- and two-person tents.)
Use case and activity: Tents can generally be divided into models meant for car camping and those meant for backpacking. Car-camping tents are often made from thicker (therefore heavier) fabric and frame materials, and their designs, when packed down, are often bulkier. These tents are meant to be used at campsites where you can either drive in or hike in just a short distance from a parking spot. Backpacking models are designed with lighter, thinner fabrics and frame materials, and they pack down small enough to fit into a backpack so they can be carried on foot over long distances.
Seasons: Most tents will be labeled or listed as three-season tents, meaning they are intended for use during the spring, summer, and fall. “I wouldn’t take a three-season tent camping in the winter because it’s usually not going to be sturdy enough for handling snow loads,” Gerber says. “You would want something that’s double walled and reinforced. These guidelines are still worth paying attention to because most people are probably not going to be camping in the winter. So a three-season tent will be good for most people.”
Weight: A tent is often one of the heaviest items in a typical backpacking loadout, and over time, you can start to feel the impact of those extra ounces as your mileage grows, which is why it’s a focal point for many backpackers. Weight is less of a concern for car campers since you won’t have to transport your shelter a long distance. We’ve listed the packaged weight for each of our recommended tents, which accounts for everything you need to set them up (stakes, poles, rainfly, etc.).
Best one-person tents
Best overall one-person tent
One-person tent | Backpacking and car camping | Three-season | 2 lbs. 7 oz.
The Hubba Hubba is a popular series of tents from outdoor-gear brand MSR, and the one-person version is a perennial favorite among car campers and backpackers alike. Journalist and outdoor-gear reviewer Miyo McGinn uses the two-person Hubba Hubba solo for the extra space. “I used it for my season working in the backcountry in Olympic National Park, and I absolutely adore it. My stuff and I stayed totally dry even when it rained for days straight in the wettest parts of the rainforest. And you can dry-pitch it, putting the poles and fly up, and then pitch the tent under the fly so it never gets at all wet,” McGinn says. “A friend who did a semester of fieldwork in Patagonia in the spring used this tent too and loved it for the same reason. It’s not the lightest or most minimal, but if you’re going to be spending a decent bit of time in your tent and are looking for something that’s a fortress against the elements and that’s still light enough to totally reasonably bring into the backcountry, the Hubba Hubba is perfect.”
[Editor’s note: We’ve read a few customer reviews mentioning that the Hubba Hubba’s carbon-fiber poles are prone to splintering. None of the experts we’ve spoken to have encountered this problem, but it is something to be aware of if you do decide to purchase this tent.]
Best (less expensive) one-person tent
One-person tent | Car camping | Three-season | 4.2 lbs
The ALPS Mountaineering Lynx is one of the most sold single-person tents on the Strategist, and it comes at an affordable price. “This isn’t the tent I’d take with me to Mount Everest,” writes one Amazon reviewer, “but it did survive a harsh two weeks in Iceland during rain, wind, and even snow/ice. If I had paid hundreds of dollars, I’d probably give it four stars. But it’s a solid five stars for the money.” In fact, cost-effectiveness comes up a lot. “This thing performs better than any one-person tent I’ve ever rented or borrowed,” says another reviewer, “like it should cost around $400. Use the money you saved to buy a better sleeping bag or air core because that’s where the comfort is at night.”
Best two-person tents
Best overall two-person tent
Two-person tent | Backpacking and car camping | Three-season | 2 lbs. 14 oz.
I have spent many nights in the REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL 2 since 2019, and it has been my main companion for all sorts of trips: camping in national parks, multiday backpacking trips through the mountains, and bikepacking trips in the desert. What I like most is that the setup process is straightforward and fast thanks to the color-matching poles and fasteners. Two people fit snugly in this tent, but if you want room for a larger backpack and gear, I would recommend sizing up to the three-person model. (Don’t forget the inevitable weight trade-off that will come with more space.)
Best two-person tent for backpacking
Two-person tent | Backpacking and car camping | Three-season | 2 lbs. 1 oz.
This lightweight Big Agnes tent came recommended by two experts we spoke to. “I really like the Fly Creek UL2,” says journalist and outdoor-gear expert Graham Averill. “It’s designed specifically for bikepacking, which is how I use it mostly, but it’s a great backpacking tent, too, because of how compact it is when it’s in its stuff sacks. The poles are shorter, which allows you to carry the tent on your handlebars, but that also comes in handy when you’re backpacking. And there’s a decent amount of room in there — big enough for a couple that knows each other well — with some handy storage hammocks in the ceiling for headlamps and stuff.” Freelance editor and writer Sal Vaglica also uses the Fly Creek for bikepacking solo missions but says it’s a tight squeeze for two adults plus gear: “It’s a splurge for space I’m willing to make as a bigger person. I don’t know where they think two people will fit into this thing who are not children, but it packs down to the size of a Yeti insulated bottle.”
Best two-person tent for car camping
Two-person tent | Car camping | Three-season | 7.5 lbs.
In a crowded field of two-person tents that cost well over $300, it’s hard to beat the Coleman Dome’s sub-$100 price tag. That’s why it’s a top-selling tent on the Strategist, with tons of positive customer feedback on Amazon. “This tent was rather dashing,” reads one of the 28,000 five-star reviews of the Coleman, which comes in a range of sizes accommodating two to six people. “You too can become the envy of your temporary neighbors with the bright, complementary colors and dome shape.” Performance-wise, an EDM fan brought it to Michigan’s Electric Forest Festival when it was “super-windy and was raining buckets. Without even treating it with Camp Dry or any sealant, we were bone-dry and cozy in this tent for five days.” Putting the tent up has proven to be a positive experience for many reviewers, with one writing, “If you’re looking for strenuous activity in order to fall asleep, you won’t find it erecting the tent. I was able to do it myself within five minutes, no joke. I checked Guinness World Records and couldn’t find anything relating to erecting a tent fast, so I mailed in my submission. Still waiting on hearing back.”
Best three-person tents
Best overall three-person tent
Three-person tent | Car camping and backpacking | Three-season | 5 lbs. 13 oz.
The Clearwing from Sierra Designs is the ideal three-person tent for weekend warriors and folks who camp a few times a year. Its cross-pole expands the interior space, making it feel roomy enough for three people, or according to my experience with this tent on a car-camping trip to the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico, it’s perfect for two people plus gear. It has two doors and two vestibules, which are handy spaces for storing things like muddy boots and wet gear. For both backpackers and car campers looking for a more casual night out in the woods, the simple, sub-$300 Clearwing is a solid, versatile option.
Best three-person tent for backpacking
Three-person tent | Car camping and backpacking | Three-season | 5 lbs. 11 oz.
There are lighter backpacking tents on the market, but the Half Dome SL 3+ is our recommendation because of its durability. Its 30-denier nylon rainfly kept me — and my gear — bone-dry on a wet, cloudy summer weekend in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The Half Dome is like the bigger brother of the Quarter Dome SL2 that we recommend above. It also comes recommended by Gerber, who described it as a backpacking tent that’s “on the lighter side but still has the look of a conventional tent, as opposed to a super-niche, specialized shelter.” As with the Quarter Dome, setup is a breeze thanks to its color-coded pole assembly.
Best easy-setup three-person tent for car camping
Three-person tent | Car camping | Three-season | 7 lbs. 15 oz.
The Quechua 2 Second tent sounds too good to be true, but it really does set up in just two seconds. After unbuckling a few straps, the tent pops open and expands like a sunshade. At well over seven pounds, this tent is meant for car camping, not for backpacking. But for car campers who would rather ditch the traditional bird’s nest of tent poles and clips — and who prioritize ease of setup — this tent will soothe those frustrations. “Such an easy, no-fuss tent for a first-time solo camper!” one customer wrote in their review. “Easy to put up and put down!” Another reviewer praised how beginner-friendly the setup was: “As a non-camper, I wasn’t sure what to get or look for, so I bought this more out of hope. No problems setting it up, ultra-easy. What made this tent so good was that we slept through a monsoon, and I wondered if for such a bargain it would hold out the wet. Absolutely! Completely bone-dry come the morning despite the area we camped in being flooded.”
Best tents for three or more people
Best six-person tent
Six-person tent | Car camping | Three-season | 13 lbs. 6 oz.
If you’re looking for a true base-camp-style shelter for windy, cold adventures, look no further than the Habitude. I used this roomy, six-person tent as a remote-work station in March 2021 when I spent a week camping outside of Bishop, California. It was a windy, dry week, but the Habitude’s simple, three-pole design kept it sturdy as strong gusts blew through camp. The $600 price tag is hard to swallow, but if you’re looking to invest in a group tent for family vacations — especially in places where inclement weather is likely — the Habitude is our top recommendation.
Best (less expensive) six-person tent
Six-person tent | Car camping | Three-season | 18 lbs.
Reviewers on Amazon love this affordable Coleman tent’s trademark “Dark Room Technology,” which blocks out a lot of sunlight. That means the tent stays cool and you can sleep in past sunrise. “When you sleep in this tent, you think you’ve entered another dimension,” writes one reviewer. “Say good-bye to the sun burning your corneas and waking you in a sweat.” Another reviewer who loves waking up to the sunrise but whose wife does not, says the tent is “dark when sleeping, semi-dark when awaking. Note that it isn’t pitch-black in there under full daylight but certainly dark enough to offer a respite from the sun if you want.”
Best eight-person tent
Eight-person tent | Car camping | Three-season | 30 lbs. 3 oz.
Averill swears by this eight-person tent from NEMO. “My family is addicted to NEMO’s Wagontop. I have four different family tents, but this is the one we use the most because it’s so damn roomy,” he says. The Wagontop is ideal for long-term camping trips where you’ll want to set up shop — as on river trips or weeklong car-camping trips in a national forest. “You get a large room and a vestibule on either side for all the junk that families take with them. There’s also a ton of headroom. I’m six-three and I can stand up straight inside the tent.”
• Graham Averill, freelance journalist and outdoor-gear reviewer
• Katie Gerber, Colorado-based wilderness guide and author of Adventure Ready: A Hiker’s Guide to Planning, Training, and Resiliency
• Miyo McGinn, freelance journalist and outdoor-gear reviewer
• Ebony Roberts, freelance journalist and outdoor-gear reviewer
• Sal Vaglica, freelance editor and writer
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