Gear We Love: Best Camping Tents

Gear We Love: Best Camping Tents

Is it really camping without a tent? Yeah, there are those rare, glorious nights when the wind and weather permit us to sleep beneath the stars—but you’d be dumb to not have a shelter handy just in case. And the booming popularity of techy truck campers and tow-behind sleepers is great for those who can afford it, but those mobile apartments sure do remove a lot of ruggedness from the situation.

The MeatEater crew is very particular about our nylon and canvas sanctuaries. Many of us own a half dozen or more tents for various applications, from summer car camping by the lake to late fall spike-outs high in the snowy mountains. For now though, we’re going to focus on general purpose tents, and will publish another piece on backpacking tents next month.

What We Look for in Good Camping Tents

No tent on the market works for everybody in every situation. A turkey and whitetail hunter in the Southeast will have much different needs than someone who hunts the same species in the Northeast. Elk hunting in the Southwest presents drastically different conditions than the Northwest. The same things could be said for fishing purposes. Here are the factors we consider when selecting a new tent.

  1. Versatility
  2. Durability
  3. Ease of Assembly
  4. Size and Weight

When selecting a shelter, you should first visualize exactly where and when you plan to sleep in it. While many of these options are as good for July as they are for January, it helps to consider the worst conditions you might have to ask the product to handle. Some tents can handle 8 unexpected inches of snow overnight; others can’t.

Camping Tents We Use

What Makes a Good Camping Tent

These are the primary criteria we’ve identified for selecting a camping tent.

1. Versatility

While it would be great to have a different tent for every month of the year and each type of adventure, most hunters and anglers need to get by with one or two rigs. Luckily, with today’s modern designs you can often use the same basic setup for a summertime lakeside barbecue and a fall fly-in moose hunt. While specialized all-mesh construction could be pretty clutch for humid swampy areas, or insulated walls for sleeping next to your ice fishing hole, we like to go with tents that can cover many bases.

2. Durability

Walmart and Costco do sell tents. If you’re just dipping your toe in this whole camping thing, the $49.99 special could suit your needs and budget. Just don’t expect that package to stay standing in a big Chinook wind or dry in a heavy summer squall. If you want a shelter that can handle whatever you might throw at it, look for quality, cross-stitched silnylon panels and taped or sealed seams. Check for reinforced stake pockets and guy-out points. Quality carbon-fiber or metal poles are a must. If there’s a rainfly or footprint, make sure those won’t wilt at the first site of sticker bushes branches. Much of that analysis is visual so it helps to give a good look and feel to a potential purchase.

3. Ease of Assembly

Polar expeditions and mountaineering teams often bring large, complex, geodesic dome-style hut tents that will withstand damn near any conditions—but can take hours to deploy. While the weather on a late-season mule deer hunt or winter steelhead quest may feel similarly daunting, it probably isn’t, and your time may be more constrained. Find a tent that strikes a balance. Wall tents usually take a solid hour to set up, but the warmth and space is worth it for a weeklong adventure. Tipi tents can be pretty tricky to rig by yourself at first, but you get the hang of it with practice. Consider this important factor when making your decision.

4. Size and Weight

Many backpacking tents, tarps, and bivouacs available on the market these days will barely send your scale over the 2-pound mark. We’ll discuss those more deeply in a coming article, but it’s worth mentioning now that ultra-light weight may not be the best choice when you’re camping from the truck or going in by bushplane or mule train. For general-purpose camping, size and weight may come at a lower premium, but certainly worth considering. Many wall tents weigh more than 100 pounds with poles, stakes, stove, and canvas and will simply not fit inside a compact car or sedan. You must find the place where the weight and size of the tent matches the space available for transportation, expected conditions, and the amount of people who need to sleep.

Field Notes from the MeatEater Crew

We could talk for hours about each piece of gear in our kits, and we know a lot of you love the details. We've summarized the key specs below along with comments from the crew.

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6 Person Tipi
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Seek Outside

The conical tipi shape sheds wind from any direction and is extremely weather worthy.

REI Half Dome 2+ Tent
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REI Co-Op

Superlight (SL) construction engineered for an impressive trail weight (3 lbs. 15 oz.) that stands up to 3-season weather and doesn't skimp on the beloved Half Dome features

Redcliff Tipi / Pyramid Hybrid Tent
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Seek Outside

Add a titanium stove and turn this lightweight shelter into a full-on four-season refuge.

Tasmanian 3-Person Tent
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Alps Mountaineering

Affordable, easy to setup, and plenty of room to keep all your gear dry.

12x14 Traditional Wall Tent
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Montana Canvas

The Cadillac of sleeping shelters - roomy, rugged, and warm.

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