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How to Buy a Tent

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.


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.

REI HALF DOME 2 ($199, This timeless tent has it all at a killer price: respectable living space, simple setup, and two doors and vestibules (read: no climbing over your buddy). Plus, it’s sturdy. Roll up the rainfly sides on clear nights for maximum stargazing. 4 lbs., 9 oz./31.8 sq. ft.


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.

MARMOT LIMELIGHT 2P ($249, Updated this year to increase living space, this best-seller is sturdier than most of its competitors. The poles are bent at the corners to pull the walls outward, and an “eyebrow” pole creates better headroom all around. Simple setup, two doors, large vestibules, and a mesh canopy and rainfly vents — all at a great price — make this an all-around winner (if you don’t mind extra weight, that is). 5 lbs., 2 oz./33 sq. ft.


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.

MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR TANGENT 2 ($500, Four-season tents rarely have low weight and any-conditions protection at this price. The Tangent 2 employs a “Trident corner” A-frame shape to its poles buttressing the tent corners for high winds and snow loads. Mesh vents minimize condensation, a problem in sub-freezing temps. The tradeoff? Tight quarters. 5 lbs., 9 oz./29 sq. ft.


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.

SIERRA DESIGNS FLASH 2 FL ($399.95, A lightweight tent doesn’t have to mean elbowing each other. The new Flash 2 FL’s design keeps the weight low and the interior palatial. This isn’t your dad’s Scouting pup tent: Vestibules are replaced with “gear closets” at either end, so there’s no crawling in and out over gear, and awnings keep out everything but blowing rain, allowing you to enjoy extra ventilation. 3 lbs., 12 oz./29.9 sq. ft.


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.

MSR FREELITE 2 ($439.95, Freestanding tents weighing less than 3 pounds are few and far between, especially those with two doors and vestibules. The Freelite 2 has great ventilation and sturdy poles made of 7000 series aluminum, and it packs smaller than most sleeping bags. Space is tight, however, and ultralight fabrics require a little extra caution to avoid tearing. 2 lbs., 7 oz./29 sq. ft.


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.

BIG AGNES RATTLESNAKE SL2 MTNGLO ($349.95, You’ll have the most coveted tent in your troop with this lightweight freestanding model that features a string of battery-powered LED lights. Illuminate your tent with a soft glow bright enough to see your way around, but not quite bright enough for reading. 3 lbs., 9 oz./27 sq. ft.


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

EXPED CARINA IV ($499, At roughly 1.5 pounds per camper, the Carina IV has snug-but-tolerable space for up to four people. Its spacious headroom peaks at a height of 51 inches. When properly guyed out, the tent stands up to strong winds and rain, and a deep bathtub floor keeps out splashing water. Lots of mesh and a partly retractable rainfly make for great ventilation. 6 lbs./47.4 sq. ft.


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.


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

8 Comments on How to Buy a Tent

  1. This article seems to be fairly old but you can get affordable tents, that’ll fit many definitions of affordable. We have a great 4 person tent we bought for less than $60, it has brought my family lots of joy and use. I recently bought a higher end 2 person tent for $170 because I needed less weight for backpacking. I’ve seen 1-2 person tents as low as $20-30.

  2. $199-$500 for a tent?
    What happened to a Scout is Thrifty?
    Sure, these tents are great, but there
    has to be more reasonable priced tents.

  3. Capt.Jack 189 // April 29, 2016 at 6:41 am // Reply

    Would really like to purchase that 20 person tent!

  4. How to buy ?

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

    what website were these tents on

  6. How can I get one of these before Christmas

  7. 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?

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

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