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Tent buying guide

Home is where your tent is. The Gear Guy brings you the latest, greatest — and most affordable! — tents for backpacking and car camping.

Tent Buying Guide

When you’re out on the trail, a tent is one of your most valuable pieces of gear. It gives you shelter from the elements and a safe, comfortable spot to sleep. Whether you’re planning on serious backpacking or just car camping, the number of new tents on the market can be a little overwhelming. Never fear: Gear Guy is here with some valuable tent buying tips, plus a look at a few of his favorite new tents.

The Price is Right

Sure, you can spend $500 on a new tent, but one that costs less than $200 might be perfect for your needs and likely will last many years. Generally, the more you spend, the lighter-weight and more durable the tent will be. So find the happy medium among light, durable and affordable. Based on our research, there are several backpacking models under $200 that’ll serve you well.

Size Wise

If you’re looking for a solo tent, you’ll need at least 15 to 25 square feet of living/sleeping space. Want a two- or three-person tent or larger? Tack on an additional 10 to 15 square feet per person. And it’s not just people you need space for. Think about parking spots for your backpack and boots. Attached vestibules created by the rain fly usually take care of this stuff.

For Backpacking (all three-season tents)

REI Half Dome 2 Tent

REI Half Dome 2 ($199)
This freestanding two-man tent has been a best-seller at REI for years. The Half Dome 2 includes two doors and two vestibules, and a recent update significantly reduced its weight. Plus you can now choose from one of six rain fly colors. 4 lbs. 15 oz. / 31.8 sq. ft.
More information from REI

Eureka Solitaire Tent

Eureka! Solitaire ($90)
The Solitaire is a two-pole, hoop-style tent that’s not freestanding, so you do have to stake it out to set it up. It’s pretty roomy and feels less like a coffin than some solo/bivvy-type tents we’ve tested. 2 lbs. 9 oz. / 21.3 sq. ft.
More information from

LL Bean Adventure Dome 2 tent

L.L.Bean Adventure Dome 2 ($159)
Similar to the REI dome tent, this two-man freestanding model is a bit cheaper and roomier, but it also weighs quite a bit more. Still, at less than $160, it’s a good option. 6 lbs. 8 oz. / 37.5 sq. ft.
More information from L.L. Bean

Mountain Hardware Shifter 2 tent

Mountain Hardwear Shifter 2 ($199)
The two-man Shifter has a unique design: You get two doors (one mesh, one solid nylon), but when you put on the fly, you have to decide which door you’ll use — the mesh for airflow or the nylon for better weather protection. It also comes with a gear loft for storing things up high and a large vestibule for your packs or your dog. 4 lbs. 14 oz. / 33 sq. ft.
More information from Mountain Hardwear

Three-Season or Four?

On the tags, you’ll read something like: “designed for three-season use.” What that means is it’ll handle everything except gnarly winter conditions. Odds are, a three-season tent is all you’ll ever need. Plus, four-season tents are often heavier and single-walled, making them generally less breathable — which is a bad thing for camping in warm climates.

Easy Does It

Keep in mind: Tents that have color-coded quick clips and slip-in sleeves will be easier — and faster — to pitch. Don’t underestimate how important “easy” is after a long day on the trail.

Weight a Minute

If all you’re doing is car camping, weight doesn’t matter. But backpacking? That’s a different story. Gear Guy’s advice: Go with a two-man tent and share the sleep space — and the load — with your buddy. For instance, you carry the tent body while your friend carries the poles and rain fly. Just try not to go over 4 to 5 pounds per person.

Freestanding or Not

A freestanding tent is one that doesn’t require tent stakes to pitch it. That said, you should still always count on staking out your tent (and rain fly) to keep it in place and to maximize airflow and avoid excess condensation within your tent.

Breathe Easily

For summer camping, consider buying a tent with lots of breathable mesh. Mesh equals lots of airflow and a cooler, easier sleep for you!

For Group Camping (all three-season tents)

Colman Longs Peak 4-man Tent

Coleman Longs Peak 4-Man ($110)
While some larger tents can be a bear to pitch, this big dome-style tent is quick and easy to set up with color-coded poles that are already attached to the tent. Don’t expect tons of breathable mesh, but this tent is worth a look. 10 lbs. / 63 sq. ft.
More information from Coleman (you can purchase from many online retailers)

Nemo Galaxi 3 person tent

Nemo Galaxi 3P ($300)
This three-person tent is plenty lightweight enough for backpacking — especially if you’re sharing the load with your buddies. It’s also quite roomy, with two doors and two big vestibules that will easily hold all your gear. 6 lbs. 6 oz. / 52 sq. ft.
More information from Nemo

Wenzel Insect Armour 5 tent

Wenzel Insect Armour 5 ($149)
If your troop camps where it’s really buggy, consider this five-man tent that has built-in permethrin insect repellent made to last the life of the tent. It also has a mesh roof and two windows for maximum airflow, plus a handy gear loft. 11 lbs. 9 oz. / 80 sq. ft.
More information from Wenzel

So how much does it really weigh?

Tent makers are always competing for who can sell a lighter-weight tent. And on their tags you’ll see info for “minimum trail weight” and “packaged weight.” “Minimum trail weight” usually means just the tent body, rain fly and poles — no stakes or stuff sacks. “Packaged weight” means everything your tent came with. Use the advertised weight only as a general guideline when shopping for a tent.

Just For Fun

Here’s a tent that totally breaks all the rules, but still, it’s really awesome.

Ozark Trail Agadez 20-Person 10 Room Tunnel Tent ($300) You could fit the whole troop in this 20-person tent with 10 separate rooms. But don't bring it backpacking. It weighs nearly 120 lbs. More information from MOre

Ozark Trail Agadez 20-Person 10 Room Tunnel Tent ($300)
You could fit the whole troop in this 20-person tent with 10 separate rooms. But don’t bring it backpacking. It weighs nearly 120 lbs.
More information from

4 Comments on Tent buying guide

  1. luke skywalker // November 1, 2015 at 5:50 pm // Reply

    what website were these tents on

  2. How can I get one of these before Christmas

  3. On the 10 room 20 person tent, how long will it take to get one? My husband and I have a big family camping trip coming up at the end of Oct, and we need one. Can you please help?

  4. I would like to win this for my family and friends so i can have some people came and stay

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