If you just want to see my favorite of the best tents of 2017, click here.
Why do you need the right tent?
I think simply spending a night under the stars is the greatest way of enjoying the outdoors. The most crucial thing is your shelter and you really need to match it to your camping needs. However, choosing your perfect shelter isn't easy and what's right for me, probably isn't right for you, so I've written this guide on the best tents of 2017.
Where should I start?
It is rare to find a tent that fits all of your specific needs because all our camping needs are different. Furthermore, all the information out there makes it easy to complicate things but I'm going to start looking at the best tents with two simple categories in mind: 3 season tents and 4 season tents.
These tents are ideal for late spring, early summer and early fall, meaning they will be wind resistant and will fare well in the worst a spring shower or autumn gale can throw at them. You’ll be cosy, as long as you don’t take it to Antarctica and expect to stay warm.
A 4 season tent is meant for those extreme weather months and colder corners of the Earth. 4 season tents are usually bigger, heavier and tailored to take more abuse from the harsh weather conditions including stronger winds and heavier snow.
If you are planning to camp during the warmer months you won’t need a 4 season tent, therefore it’s best not to laden yourself down with something heavier than you need, especially if you’re off trekking with your tent in which case weight is critical. When I was a kid, my brother had a Terra Nova Ultra Quasar (one of the best tents on the market for 4 season adventurers) and whilst it was light enough to carry on a trek, in summer heat it simply kept every ounce of heat inside, always ending in extreme heat-discomfort.
A 3 season tent will do what it says on the tin - keep you warm in a European Spring and cool in a Californian Summer.
Therefore… your first considerations when choosing a tent should be:
what weather conditions does it need to endure?
does it need to keep me warm, cool or both?
Once you’ve answered those questions you can move on to the detail, pick out a selection of the best tents (I've done that bit for you) and find the one that suits you and your needs. Most peoples needs are handily satisfied with a 3-person tent, so that's where I'm going to focus for this article.
What does it all mean!?
If you’re new to this and you are unfamiliar with all the tent jargon, then let me ease your pain! Here are the three key terms you need to know when picking the right tent for you. I'm not going to focus on these technical aspects for each tent because what really matters is how they work out in the wild. However, familiarise yourself with them so you know what they mean when they crop up during your research!
This refers to the number of people that can be accommodated in a tent. This does not include the luggage that you carry along and if you need space for your rucksack, the experts say count it as another person. Having said that, my girlfriend and I take an MSR Mutha Hubba NX 3 person tent out with enough luggage for a long weekend in the mountains and we have room to swing a cat (I’m 6’4 and shes 5’11 so we are on the large side!!!). And if you really want to travel light, you can always squeeze 2 people and a couple of sizeable rucksacks in a 2 person tent, you might need to stick one in the porch though!
This is the measure of how waterproof a tent is. It’s literally how tall a column of water could be with the tent withstanding it. E.g. a hydrostatic head of 5000 means it could hold 5000mm (5 metres) of water without letting any through. Officially a tent with a hydrostatic head of 1000 is waterproof, however I wouldn’t go for anything less than 2000 if you’re expecting any kind of shower and the best tents tend to have this.
This refers to the outer part of the tent and should attach tightly against the structure of the inner part and pegs into the ground. This is your waterproofing! Some of the best tents work the other way round (outer part as the main structure with an inner “room” hanging inside).
What else should I consider apart from berth and waterproofing?
Before digging deep into your pockets to spend your hard earned cash on the most expensive, or coolest looking tent, there are a few more things that you should consider. The following is a detailed list of the aspects that you should look for in selecting which of the best tents is right for you.
You can really get bogged down in the materials. From the flysheet, to the poles and even the pegs. Materials are all chosen to optimise and balance two things: the weight and the level of protection.
For the poles: glass fibre is cheap but will eventually break - avoid; steel is strong but heavy and may corrode - avoid; aluminium is the best and costs more but in my opinion is the only sensible option. Beyond that, there are different grades, but as long as the poles are aluminium you can just focus on the overall weight of the tent rather than the qualities or weight of the aluminium - if you need a lightweight tent then get a lightweight tent - the poles will be right.
For the material, all the tents I've reviewed here are nylon or polyester - all the best tents are. Traditionally tents were made of cotton but things have moved on. Again, focus on weight, height and how well the tent works as a whole rather than worrying about the strength of the nylon. These companies carefully select the materials based on the target buyers so that hard thinking is already done for you.
If you're concerned about weight, worry about the pegs. And... If you're seriously concerned about weight, don't take pegs, make them out of sticks!!! 😀
The weight of the tent that you chose could be incredibly important. If you are a car camper then you don’t have to worry about the weight of the tent because you can chuck it in the back of the car and park next to your plot at the campsite. If you’re going hiking on punishing terrain and want to make every step easier, then weight is probably the most important factor at play here.
My dad always said: “imagine climbing the stairs with 10 pounds in your pockets. Now imagine climbing the stairs with 11 pounds in your pockets. It doesn’t seem that much harder does it? Now imagine climbing the stairs 100 times. That’s 100 more pounds you’ve carried. Now imagine hiking up a mountain, 3 days in a row and think how many extra pounds you’ve carried just by having one extra pound in your pocket”. Take that even further… the more you carry, the more energy you burn… the more food you need to carry! Hopefully you get my point 🙂
Having said all that, weight is directly related to price. When looking at the best tents here is a balance between weight, durability and cost. You can save weight buy buying a tent with better material technology, but it’ll cost you more...
An easy place to stumble if you haven’t done your research.
“Why on earth would I spend 500 bucks on a tent?”.
Short answer: you get what you pay for. And it’ll probably feel like home from home on an open hillside. Long answer: you might not need to! My short answer doesn’t really work because I know there are tents out there that simply are not worth the price tag. I’m back to my point at the beginning of this article. Work out what conditions you want to use it in and work out what you want it to do for you.
When it comes to the cost, you have to choose a range that works for you. If you just want to pop out for hiking once a year for a few miles and set up camp, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a tent and there are hundreds of tent that can suit your budget. Additionally, you simply don’t need to worry about saving weight (weight is the biggest influence on cost). I’ll write an article on the best budget tents soon.
Conversely, if you are slightly more serious and care about your comfort on longer treks you’re justified in having a bigger budget. In fact, you’d be mad not to. If you are going to use something regularly and seriously, then you need to be prepared to spend a little more to get you a lighter tent that protects you wherever you plan to go.
A tent that does not protect you is not only worthless but dangerous. There have been several cases whereby campers have died of hypothermia in the warmer months. All it takes for hypothermia to take hold is a slight drop in body temperature. One of the most common ways for this to happen? Getting soaking wet in a tent. Out in the wild, once you’re wet, there is no going back and it is not worth the risk.
I spent a night camping with friends as a teenager on the side of a hill nearby one summer evening. In my naiivity I didn’t take a decent tent. I just thought my buddies tent would be fine for a summer evening. Well, a thunderstorm came in, the fire went out and the safest place was inside the tent… for about 5 minutes. It didn’t take long for the water to gradually soak in through the wall of the tent. The flysheet had stuck to the inner lining and water soaked in everywhere the linings touched and at all the seams. The rain didn’t stop and we slowly started to get wet from underneath too. Within an hour our sleeping bags were damp and we were cold to the core. It was August! I learnt my miserable lesson. Don’t go there. Don’t get that tent for $49.99.
I always look for a tent where the flysheet sits tightly around the poles and creates a tight, solid structure. You want to avoid the flysheet touching the inner lining if you want to stay dry!
This one is pretty obvious and I’ve already touched upon it when talking about Berth. Tent size is defined by the number of people that the tent can accommodate (berths), but do check the dimensions (or read my reviews) to ensure that the tent you choose can accommodate your gear. You don’t want to put your gear outside, but if you can keep it off the ground, the vestibule (or porch as I like to call it so it sounds more grand!) is usually fine for storing your cooking gear and rucksack. Tents with more space are more comfortable and if you are organised with your gear, you can make a palace! I’ll talk about interior space a little bit more below.
When you’re considering the interior space that you need, always relate it to the weight. Having a ton of space is super cool, but if you’re not a car camper you may need to figure out how/if you want to carry that weight up and down the mountain!
When it comes to the interior space, it is also crucial to consider tent height. I’m 6”4 but I don’t mind getting dressed sitting down and I quite like a low ceiling - I think it’s cosier! If it’s important for you to be able to stand up, the best tent for me may not be the best for you!
What I always find strange is that the best tents always seem to make the interior space just right with pockets and good design but all the tent's I've selected below do this pretty well.
Design elements are things like how the poles are inserted, how the ventilation is done, how the net is hooked on the poles and many other elements that make up a tent. There are so many designs when it comes to tents. You need to consider what you like and what is going to be suitable for your needs. If you are going to be camping in the fall and your tent is designed in such a manner that the poles are outside the tent, it rains overnight and temperatures drop, you don’t want to be de-frosting poles the next morning! If you plan to camp only in the summer, then you probably don’t need to worry about that.
Other design elements that you need to consider are the vestibules and doorways. If, for example, there are two of you, it’s sometimes a good idea to get a tent with two doors; one each for night time toilet trips or storing bits and bobs outside!
A footprint is a protective layer that separates your tent from the ground. Generally you don’t need one of these as the best tents will have a durable base. If you’re car camping it’s a good idea but any other time, carrying a footprint is a waste of bag space and weight. Just clear the ground nicely or pick a smooth patch of ground. Some tents come with a footprint but if you head off on a hike, you'll probably leave it at home.
Best tents of 2017 - my top picks
By now, you’re probably wondering: what tent do I use...? Well, I have a few and have tested many! To narrow down the search for you, I’ve compiled a comprehensive review of my top 5 tents (aimed at a 3-season user). Hint: this one's my favorite. Most of us don’t need extreme expedition tents but I’ll do an article on the best 4-season tents soon too.
These are all the 2-person versions of these tents but all principles apply to their larger brothers and sisters. I haven’t listed the technical specs, you can easily see those on Amazon or other websites. I’ve tried to talk about the things that matter around the experience of using the tent - how it works, how it feels etc...
Before I get into the detail on this tent, I just wanted to say that I love the fact that you call roll back the flysheet and see the night sky. It’s not exactly a glass window, but you can’t beat that on a summer evening. And if the rain comes in, you can reach out and pull the fly back over and pin it down without leaving your sleeping bag. I keep the Kelty at my parents home. My dad likes to sleep out whenever he can in the Summer and this is his go-to - I leave it for him to enjoy but could happily keep one myself to pop up on a 2 day summer hike.
It doesn’t win any prizes for good looks but the shape lends itself to a spacious area once you’re inside and the two doorways are a good size. The vestibules are sizable but they don’t span that far out from the tent and the flysheet needs to be pulled really tight to make sure the inside edges are fully protected in case of rain.
It packs up really small!
It only takes a few minutes to set up and should be simple for newbies..
Spacious inside (for sleeping and stargazing).
It comes in pretty light at about 4.5 lbs..
Not much extra space for gear inside or in the vestibules.
Need to pull the edges of the flysheet quite hard to cover the edges of the inner.
Note: if you want the extra “porch” sheet you need to buy that separately! .
Verdict - best for Spring through Fall
Overall, the Kelty TN is a handy tent and perfect for summer camping. It’s strictly 3 season and I wouldn’t want to use it in the winter. I love the stargazer fly and that’s the main reason I included it in my top 5.
I admit that this is my 5th pick, however mainly due to it’s looks. I’m not a fan of a “saggy” tent and this definitely is. So when it’s windy, it just flaps around a bit too much! It’s actually a 4 season tent, you can just tell by the feel of the flysheet that it won’t let the rain in. This comes at a price though, weighing in at 8 pounds.
Flysheet feels like it would stop a tidal wave.
Loads of pockets inside.
Has a cosy feel in cold conditions.
The shape of the footprint gives you plenty of sleeping space if you like to curl up a bit!
Great value for a good quality 4 season tent.
Takes a while to set up. It’s a bit fiddly with all the clips.
The poles are not completely flush so they do get caught a bit on the material.
It’s pretty heavy (if you are looking for a hiking tent).
Verdict - best value for trips in the car all year round
If you’re a year round car camper and want to feel cosy in January, the Tasmanian is your top pick. You don’t need loads of space for you gear (leave the bulk of it in the car) but there are loads of pockets inside for keeping the essentials organised.
Absolutely love this gem of a tent. It’s only got one door but that’s just another function of the Marmot’s simplicity. The poles are fantastic and smooth and the interior structure clips enable you to set up a lovely taut structure that makes the interior walls feel solid. The same goes for the fly, it’s taut and solid. It’s 3-season but wish it was a 4 season with a little less ventilation on the inside. The fact is, when the wind blows, the ventilation on the interior lets a lot of air in - you’d get pretty chilly without a decent sleeping bag and extremely chilly in the winter!
Easy to construct.
Smooth press fit poles.
Taut structure (you can probably tell by now that this is a big plus for me!)
Great ventilation for warmer months.
Too much ventilation for cold autumn nights.
Not massively spacious.
It’s on the heavy side for a summer tent (7lbs). But OK if you can share the load.
Only has 1 door. In some ways this is an advantage due to it’s simplicity, but sometimes it’s useful to have two doors so you don’t have to climb over your mate to get out in the night.
Verdict - best for summer
As I said, I love the Marmot Limelight. This is my favorite tent for short summer trips in the wild due to it’s simplicity and ease to put up, but I would hesitate taking it out in mid-late autumn. And you probably want to share the load as it’s on the heavier side.
When it comes to picking the best 3 season tent all round, I find it hard to separate the last two. The Big Agnes is awesome. It weighs just over 3 lbs, the shape of it gives a nice feeling of space inside, it has two doors for night time excursions to the bathroom/bush and I can’t fault it’s ability to keep me warm and dry. All in all, if I have to pick a fault, it’s the pole structure. It’s designed to give you extra headroom, but if you’ve been reading since the beginning, even though I’m a tall guy, headroom just doesn’t bother me. Not enough for the complex, awkward pole structure anyway.
Good height (if that’s important to you)
Will always keep you dry
The pole structure is fiddly.
Verdict - best 3-season for slightly less serious hikers
I only say for less serious hikers because of the pole structure. When you’ve got the hang of it, it’s fine really, but when I’m tired and it’s getting dark after a serious hike I don’t want to be fiddling around with poles. Apart from that, either this or the MSR (below) blow away the rest of my top 5 if you’re at all serious about hiking with a tent on your back.
This is a tent that just works magic. It is super light, super strong, it looks great and the craftsmanship and expertise gone into it is exceptional, down to the finest detail like the way the shell forms rain gutters to stop you getting dripped on when you enter and exit. You can tell it’s been designed by people who know their stuff and care about what matters. If I am not sure where I am going to end up, how far I am going to walk or what the weather is going to be like - this is my tent. I’m not a big worrier about headroom, but the little things count on the Hubba Hubba. The rain vents, the fact that you can fold it back to get a stargazer view (which I love), the super sleek design and even the bag it lives in. The interior doesn’t feel as cosy as the ALPS tent with it’s warm yellow interior, but I’ve never been cold.
The attention to detail
Everything else! Including headroom which I’m still not fussed about!
I have to write something here I suppose. After a few uses the poles retain a slight bend. But if they start to bend enough to cause a problem when you pack it, *apparently* MSR will replace them for you.
Verdict - Best 3-season for trekking
I can’t really fault this tent and I suppose it’s a best seller for good reason. If you’re still stuck and you need an all round tent for trekking (or even just throwing in the car for trips), it's one of the best tents there is, period.
There are so many great options out there and it’s easy for the guy in the shop to complicate things for you, but choosing the from best tents really comes down to working out your needs. Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to narrow down the search.
So whether you’re a weekend car camper, a stargazer, or an intrepid hiker, look no further than the choices I’ve highlighted - you can’t go wrong. If you're still struggling, go for the MSR - it's worth every penny.