Maybe your idea of camping involves a three-day hike and a tent staked deep in the woods. Or maybe car-friendly site that’s a short drive from a sandwich shop, summer adventures demand an appropriate shelter. Unless you enjoy hearing the kids complain about mosquitoes, rain, and that furry thing that keeps sniffing them.
So, when you’re shelter shopping, think about what you’ll be doing. A backpacking tent is generally much lighter and minimalist than a car camping tent. And if you are backpacking, you’ll want to carry the lightest and generally smallest tent you can for the people and gear you bring. When you’re car camping, the only restriction is how the size of your campsite.
Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind is the budget. And like most things, you get what you pay for. More expensive tents offer more dependable zippers, better-engineered ventilation, and weather protection; they’re also designed to last a really long time. A budget tent may not last as long, but it’s a great way to test the waters and see if camping equals quality time for your family.
We tested the latest tents and arrived at these fantastic options right for whatever kind of family adventure awaits.
Best For Value: Kelty Outback 4
A four-person car-camping tent, this flexible and affordable option roomy enough for a medium-sized family of four. It’s quite basic, with a single big zip door and a single vestibule, but is made from the high-quality materials needed to keep you dry and well ventilated. Interior pockets help you organize, and the all-mesh ceiling gives great views of the stars when there are clear skies. It’s also easy to set up and break down, with a standard fly that attaches to the ends of the tent poles. And, at roughly 10 lbs., it’s able to be split up between two people for the occasional backpacking trip. Also available in 2-person and 6-person configurations.
Best For Backpacking: Big Agnes Copper Hotel HV UL 3
Serious backpackers need a lightweight, high-strength tent they can depend on in all conditions. The Copper Hotel is both, with plenty of space inside to spread out whether you’re a family of two, three, or three plus a furry friend. Two big, zippered doors, steep walls for more headroom, and an extended vestibule add to the comfort, while an extra large ceiling pocket and five smaller mesh pockets store headlamps and other gear you might need to find fast. There’s plenty of ventilation, and the non-vestibule side door curtains open for an unrestricted view even with the fly on. And in bad weather, you’ll be warm and dry inside. The entire package weighs a little more than 4 lbs.
Best For Getting the Kids to Bed: Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6-Person Dome Tent with Screen Room
The name tells you most of what you need to know—this tent is easy to set up, sleeps six, and it has a screen room to give you space to eat, play, or chill when the black flies are out for blood. What it doesn’t tell you: all of the screens on this tent are block light. So if you’ve shied away from camping because your kids won’t go to sleep if it’s still light out, this could be the solution. Darkened screens also keep the inside cool. While the Carlsbad isn’t made from the same quality of materials as other tents in this roundup, it’s a great car camping starter tent if you’re on a budget. Also available in a four person version.
Best For Maximum Living Space: Thermarest Tranquility 6 and Arrowspace Shelter
Freestanding, fast pitch, ultra-liveable, and made from the highest quality materials, this 6-person mondo condo is built for convenience and livability. The front vestibule is part of the tent, not part of the fly. And the tent, even with the fly on, is totally freestanding and without stakes — meaning, it’s easy to move. Need some privacy? The spacious cabin zips into two smaller rooms with an integrated curtain. With the rainfly off, you can stargaze through the massive arched door and mesh ceiling. Raining? It’s a quick one-person job to weatherproof the tent. If you want to transform the tent into a backcountry chalet, add the freestanding, open-air Arrowspace shelter. It’s close to the same size as the tent and clips to it forming a massive vestibule. You can also use the Arrowspace solo for outdoor gatherings, at the beach, over a picnic table. Both tent and shelter pack into compact, easy-carry backpacks.
Best For Big Groups: Nemo Wagontop 8P
Plan on bringing a big group into the woods? This shelter will hold them all. Thanks to steep walls, it has enough head room for a dance party; single wall construction means most of the tent is fly-free. An easy-to-roll back skirt fly covers the front of the “wagon” when you need it. There’s a lot to love. Our favorite feature, however, is the integrated screen porch, which allows campers to get out of wet, muddy gear without Jackson Pollacking the interior. It’s also a great place for a couple of camp chairs. And when you’re inside the porch, you can zip the tent closed and create a separate space. The 8P is Nemo’s largest. The Wagontop is also available in six and four-person versions, although the four person doesn’t have a screen porch.
Best Rooftop Tent: Tepui Kukenam Sky
Rooftop tents are basically portable treehouses. Tepui’s Tepui’s Kukenam Sky makes the setup easy. It bolts to your roof rack crossbars and flips open when you reach camp. Flip it open, unzip it, adjust the included aluminum ladder, and stake out the window covers, and you’re ready for occupants. It takes a pair to install the tent on the car, but once it’s on the bars, it’s fast and easy to set up. The tent has a permanent foam mattress inside that’s more comfortable than any air mattress and, because you’re off the ground, the tent usually stays cool. When the weekend’s over, the tent buckles into a low profile brick with a waterproof cover, so it’s always ready for an impromptu adventure.