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The Best Tents: Family Camping, Small Groups, Backpacking Tents, and Bivy Sacks

from Outdoor Equipment Report

What to Look For in a Tent or Bivy


Family Tents

Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Deluxe 8-Person Tent

Review Excerpts:

... I frequently set it up and take it down by myself without any trouble. ... it's very comfortable. ... even on a hot day, there is no muggy feeling. I'm also impressed with the floor quality. ... despite most the tents around us collapsing, ours stood firm without a drop inside the tent. ... The carry bag is also quite ingenious and makes putting the tent away super easy. You'll love it!

- C. Holmes, on Amazon.com

... it is by far the best base camp tent I have had. ... In Great Basin Redwoods we were in a major thunderstorm and the inside was total dry. ... In the Grand Canyon the winds gust got upto 50mph and the tent held in place while we watched other tents blown down. ... we did Zion in June where the temperature got over 100F. Since the tent is made of canvas it breathes and gets no where near as hot ....

- Bob, on Amazon.com

... this is, by far, the best tent I have ever had the privilege to use. ... The seams are well made and sealed (note, you will need to seam seal the tent, just like any other new tent), the plasticized floor is not cheap, and will keep the damp out, ... the openings work flawlessly, and it is by far the fastest and easiest tent tp set up ... Black Rock Desert of Nevada, late summer, high heat and winds - flawless. The Winter snow season - Stellar. Drizzily PNW - leakproof. ... I would buy it again without a second thought. And I never say that lightly!

- Bay Bridge Sue, on Amazon.com

Coleman Sundome 4-Person Tent, Green

Review Excerpts:

I've owned and used this for 3 to 4 years now. Overall it has been a good tent. ... quick and easy to put up by an individual. ... It has done a good job in rainy weather ... I have used this during midwest winters the coldest being about 12 degrees F. ... I would recommend this to a friend.

- Deal hunter, on Amazon.com

I've owned one of these for about 26 months ... it seems to be a well thought out product ... it accommodates my cot, plus all my clothing bags and riding gear, and it's tall enough that I don't have to go through contortions to put my pants on ... quick and easy to set up ... kept me dry through a couple fairly heavy rainstorms. ... this is not "outfitter grade" equipment. In particular, the poles and zippers can be problematic. ... I've had one shock cord break ... and had one pole segment crack down the middle ... To their credit, Coleman does sell a pole-repair kit ... The door zipper can be annoying, as it tends to bind up around the window zipper ... the stakes are junk. Throw them away and get the "giant nail" style; you will be much happier. ... a decent, inexpensive three-season tent that's very nice for one or maybe two people. ...

- Daniel C. Starr, on Amazon.com

... from experience of going camping for days on end in very bi-polar weather. That this tent is absolutely awesome! Very sturdy set up, high quality material, and plenty of room. ... a very simplistic set up. Yet effective.

- Avery, on Amazon.com

Coleman Montana 8 Tent

Review Excerpts:

Note: Many reviewers call this tent perfectly waterproof, many others complain of serious leaking. Read the reviews carefully, and take the "I know what I'm doing" assertions with a grain of salt. It seems to be a problem with setting the rainfly correctly and tightly. Some reviewers complain of the full open mesh ceiling under the rainfly, but this is essential in a tent that accommodates a large number of people. Too many people breathing inside the tent can cause condensation inside if you don't have plenty of ventilation. - OER

... We manage to fit 3 single air matresses and a full size matress with room for 3 bags and 2 large dogs ... We went camping about 16 times in this tent before it met it's untimely end. ... at least 6-8 of those trips we spent in 20 mile per hour winds. The tent held up like a champ. ... The tent stayed dry every time. I love this tent! ... I took the tent on a 4 day camping trip to Padre Island National Sea Shore over Easter weekend 2011. The entire trip there we had 15-30 mile per hour winds. ... The tent protected my family in very high wind conditions. However, this wind storm proved to be too much for the big tent that could ... I rate this tent at 5 stars because it went through hell more than once. ... The Coleman Montana 8 suffered the least damage of all my equipment. ... it was still under warrenty. ... Coleman customer service rocks! ...

- Cricket, on Amazon.com

We love the tent but the rainfly has to be staked JUST RIGHT in order to keep the inside dry. If anything touches the outside of the tent water will wick through to the inside. The hinged door is wonderful. Overall we're very happy with our purchase.

- Patrick Shanahan, on Amazon.com

Note: Good point, Patrick. Leaking through touch points is a part of tent life. Also part of why you need a tent rated for more people than will actually be in your party. Don't let anything or anyone touch the walls of the tent when it's raining. - OER

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2-3 Person Tents

Coleman Sundome 3-Person Tent (Green, 7-Feet x 7-Feet)

Review Excerpts:

Overall, this is a nice tent. ... The Zippers are nice, smooth, no snags, and water tight. ... light, easy to pack, easy to set up, even in the dark. ... a lot of ventilation to avoid internal condensation. ... Fits a queen size air mattress with some room for shoes, gear, and backpacks. ... Great price, good value. I'll be using this tent for several years hopefully. ... You must seam seal this tent before using it in the rain. The rain-fly worked fine, and we stayed dry enough ... large air vents are good for reducing condensation, but does not hold in much heat. .... It has endured several thunderstorms with no problems. The tent is holding up well ... This tent has proven to be a great deal for the price.

- Trickster on Amazon.com

This tent is good for the price, ... It rained all weekend, ... The seams didn't leak - the water came right through the fabric of the tent. ... the siding needs some significant waterproofing to make it through a rainy night. ... Other than the rain problem, this tent performed admirably. The zippers were waterproof, ... The ventilation was good without being terribly breezy. ... it was easy to move around and change inside. Setup and takedown were a breeze, ... I don't regret buying this tent, but I won't be taking it out for a wet weekend again. ...

- L. Hetrick, on Amazon.com

... I have taken it out about 8 times this summer and it has perfomed flawlessy, ... It goes together very quickly ... The rain fly is tight and make little noise in the wind ... There were no leaks at all. ... the zipper is no snag and glides smoothly ... The screened windows deflect wind but still allow for great ventilation, and the floor is nice and thick with gusseted and taped seams, ... Overall I am very happy with this tent and it serves its purpose well...

- Mathew Manzano, on Amazon.com

Campright Truck Tents, AVALANCHE

Review Excerpts:

Very nice set-up & very nice design. ... It is a bit of a tight fit on my '07F150 shortbox 6.5ft., ... it just takes a little bit more adjusting of the tent & more time to install. ... I like the idea of no built in Floor w/this tent, makes adjusting the tent easier, also frees up space inside the Truck Bed ... Rain fly hooks on with ease, Works excellent ... outside straps will not damage your truck bed & are fully adjustable.

- B. Bender, on Amazon.com

... The first time I got it up in about 20 minutes but each time has been faster.It now takes ten minutes or less. ... There is a surprising amount of room inside the tent and good ventilation. ... I was caught in one of the worst storms I have ever been out in. Many of the traditional tents were either leaking, flooded or blown over completely. Mine remained dry. I would highly recommend this tent to anyone who is intrested in a truck tent.

- Dale K, on Amazon.com

Product works as described. Installation is easier than I expected ... Do yourself a favor and set it up in your driveway first. ... it will be much easier. ... you only want to loosen the very front strap next to the cab. This will allow you to keep the other straps in their fitted position so the next time you camp you only need to tighten those two straps.

- HuntnFishnCook, on Amazon.com

Note: Excellent tip. Thanks, HuntnFishnCook! - OER

Marmot Limelight 3 Persons Tent, Orange, One

Review Excerpts:

... I am impressed with this tent, and the quality of it. ... aluminum hex type stakes which are light weight and strong. ... nice quality rain fly with windows which I know they are small but it is a nice touch to have ... setup time is fast, and it is very easy. ... You can actually get this tent back into the tent bag without issues unlike other tents. ... I have had this tent in a couple bad thunderstorms here in Missouri and during the down pours the tent did not leak. ... A queen size air mattress will fit perfectly in this tent with just a little room to spare ... You can even put your shoes and gear in the vestibule area of the tent so you have more room in the tent. This thing is small enough to pack into my kayak, ... I would recommend this to anyone looking for a decent 2 person tent. Marmot got everything right on this tent!

- JT-MO, on Amazon.com

... Setting it up the first time was a breeze, ... first time i camped with this tent was near olympia washington. it performed perfectly. the next time we camped in it was HOT (90's) and then it stormed dumping 5 inches in as many hours. I had our bags in the vestibules and they stayed dry, ... other campers around us packed up and left, ... very waterproof, without the fly its decently breathable, and very bugproof.

- Michael, on Amazon.com

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1 Person Tents / Backpacker Tents

Eureka! Spitfire - Tent (sleeps 1)

Note: Yes, this tent is double-categorized as both a tent and a bivy, and its size is sort of in between. - OER

Review Excerpts:

... I like to be able to star gaze and avoid the bugs. ... the Spitfire kept the rain out during frequent thunderstorms and the bugs at bay. It is as light as the single wall and I had the ability to fold the rain fly back for some fantastic night time views of the sky. I had NO condensation problems at all. ... GREAT BACKPACKING TENT

- Denny Alexander, on Amazon.com

... It is fairly light ~3 pounds, packs pretty well, and takes nothing to setup. ... It has plenty of room for me ... My only complaint i would have , is that i have a difficult time getting the rainfly as taunt as i would like, thus when it rains out i get small leak points where the fly touches the tent. I am sure this is my inexperience and not the tent design ... the tent held up well in about 6-8 hours of rain, thunder and lightning on a trip i had a few weeks ago. ...

- Sivad, on Amazon.com

SansBug 1-Person Free-Standing Pop-Up Mosquito-Net Tent

(NOTE: This is a bug bivy, not intended for use in rain or cold. It just keeps the bugs off you. - OER)

Review Excerpts:

I used this tent in panama, Zero no-seeums or mosquitoes got through. ... The super fine mesh is good for keeping bugs out but it restricts airflow a bit. ... It's very easy to fold up but not very compact. It folds up into a circle with a about a foot and a half diameter which unfortunately doesn't fit into the average suit-case. Overall I would say this is perfect if you wanted to sleep outside in a buggy place that is close enough not to fly.

- JGiraffe, on Amazon.com

This tent is great, very light, and very, very easy to put up and take down. ... I would highly recommend this tent for any backpacker or if you are going and need a light weight versitle tent.

- freezn.n.ak, on Amazon.com

... used it successfully in Latin America. I was impressed with the roominess inside and the lightweight portability of the product. Never had any problems with mosquitos. ... I had a small issue with one of the internal poles and the Sansbug Company worked with me very quickly ... Great customer Service, great product!

- dvd, on Amazon.com

Eureka! Solitaire - Tent (sleeps 1)

Review Excerpts:

... The first time I ever set this tent up was in a snow storm at night by flashlight and it was up and ready in no time. It was much warmer than expected, ... I fit in it with my boots and pack inside. It is not a roomy tent, ... I have used this tent for backpacking over 150 miles of the AT and dozens of other trips with NO problems. No broken poles nor moisture leaking inside. ...

- D. Yordy, on Amazon.com

... It packs extremely small and light. Have used it in all night rain and wind with no leaks ... Plan for your boots and pack to be outside. I have found a large black trash bag is sufficient to keep everything dry outside of the tent ... It takes some practice to learn to get into and out of the tent, but it is worth it for the light weight and weather protection this tent provides.

- Turtle, on Amazon.com

I thru-hiked the 2,655 mile Pacific Crest Trail with this tent from Mexico to Canada in 2012 & it lasted the whole trek. I am still using it right now even after! ... It made it through the scolding deserts shielding me from the sun, through the Sierras shielding me very well from the mass hordes of mosquitos & rain, and through the cascades keeping me warmer than I would have been in a tarp ... a nice beginner lightweight option, ... this tent takes me an average of about 2 minutes or less to set up even in the dark, ... The poles are pretty strong and there are only 2 of them ... I have not had one leak yet, ... Bugs never got inside unless I accidently left it unzipped. ... you cannot sit up inside this thing easy. It's more like a bivy than a tent. ... it's a great tent. ...

- Sekhmet, on Amazon.com

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Bivys

Eureka! Spitfire - Tent (sleeps 1)

Note: Yes, this tent is double-categorized as both a tent and a bivy, and its size is sort of in between. - OER

Review Excerpts:

... I like to be able to star gaze and avoid the bugs. ... the Spitfire kept the rain out during frequent thunderstorms and the bugs at bay. It is as light as the single wall and I had the ability to fold the rain fly back for some fantastic night time views of the sky. I had NO condensation problems at all. ... GREAT BACKPACKING TENT

- Denny Alexander, on Amazon.com

... It is fairly light ~3 pounds, packs pretty well, and takes nothing to setup. ... It has plenty of room for me ... My only complaint i would have , is that i have a difficult time getting the rainfly as taunt as i would like, thus when it rains out i get small leak points where the fly touches the tent. I am sure this is my inexperience and not the tent design ... the tent held up well in about 6-8 hours of rain, thunder and lightning on a trip i had a few weeks ago. ...

- Sivad, on Amazon.com

Aqua-Quest Waterproof & Breathable Ultra Light Multi Season One Man Tent 'Single Pole Bivy'

Review Excerpts:

.... It's sturdy and well-made, almost completely waterproof - proven on it's maiden night out when an unexpected desert thunderstorm rolled in and soaked the area for hours. It has a no-see-um mesh top with a rain cover that zips over it when it rains. ... I use it as my 3 season bivy go to bag. ... It's not the lightest bivy out there, but I wanted some decent protection and this does the trick. ... I'm larger than the average guy and I can sleep comfortably in it. ... One cool feature is the little window in the zip up rain cover. It's like peeping out of a welder's mask and when the lightning flashed I watched the storm crash around me in total comfort. ... I've been very happy and would recommend it to all.

- Desert Camper, on Amazon.com

... Easy to setup ... Quality materials ... Window on top ... Waterproof ... I slept like a baby in this thing and woke up to the rain. I stepped outside of the bivy and into a 1 inch deep puddle. The whole night I did not even know ...

- Matt, on Amazon.com

Outdoor Research Bug Bivy (Black, One Size)

(NOTE: This is a bug bivy, not intended for use in rain or cold. It just keeps the bugs off you. - OER)

Review Excerpts:

... The Bivy construction is very good. Stitching is well done ... The pole is easily put in place once you find the little velcro entry on the side. ... It packs away to a very small and manageable size. ... I was easily able to roll inside and I had plenty of head room. ... the zip operation was positive. ... This product does what it says and provides great protection against airborne and ground borne blood suckers. ... I don't see any negatives to be honest. ... There is some room for some small items in the head area of the bivy ... If you need to go light, are in warm climates and need protection at night against bloodsucking bugs, this is certainly a product you should consider.

- amazon-jack, on Amazon.com

... I took the bivy to Africa recently and used it in several different indoor and outdoor settings. It was easy to carry, setup and sleep in. ... The support pole's sections are a bit long for carry in a normal backpack. ... likely to either cause rub damage to the bivy's carry sack or the same to the inside of my pack.

- James L. Wertz, on Amazon.com

Snugpak Tent Ionosphere

Review Excerpts:

... This was the best investment that I have made in my 11 years in the Infantry. ... tough enough to withstand multiple long term field exercises in austere conditions. ... experienced three days of constant rain. My sleeping bag stayed dry the entire time.

- 11B3P4F7, on Amazon.com

... Set up was easy and the Aluminmum stakes were pretty sturdy ... The ground I set up on was still wet from three days of previous rain storms but the tent never leaked one drop of water through the floor. ... very roomy inside with room for extra clothes, boots, water bottle and assorted other gear ... Even with the Unit completely closed up I did not feel at all claustophobic (sp?) as I did in the Bivy Tents. ... the ease with which it was taken down and actully fit into the Storage Bag ... I like this one now the best now for Backpacking.

- nobocan, on Amazon.com

... It is legit! Super easy and fast assembly, you get a surplus of tent stakes... you'll already be set up ready to go while other guys are still scrambling to piecemeal together their hooches with sticks and twigs!!

- KAVEMAN, on Amazon.com

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What to Look For in a Tent or Bivy

What you want in a tent depends largely on what kind of camping you plan on doing. For "car camping" with the family, the main considerations are:

For backpacking, you want all those things, too, but with the big trade-off: Light weight.

A "car camping" tent can be sturdy, waterproof, and very, very large, and you don't have to worry too much about weight. You can choose a tent made of heavy rip-stop nylon, or even PVC-coated canvas. Look for double-stitched seams, and a sturdy PVC-coated canvas floor. As long as the reviews are good, it's hard to go wrong.

A backpacking tent requires light weight almost above everything else. Any good backpacking tent will be light and waterproof and easy to set up. But the difference between an okay tent and a great tent is in its durability. Lightweight tents tend to wear out due to rubbing in the pack that damages the fabric, or even accidental damage while setting up or tearing down. Check the reviews carefully, and make sure the reviewer is writing from long field experience, and not just praising a tent fresh from the factory.

A bivy makes a lot of sense for backpacking. Its small size means it's inherently lighter than a conventional dome tent. The theory is that you don't need much more room than your sleeping bag anyway, so why not just pitch a waterproof cover over the sleeping bag? Just remember that this is what a bivy is for - sleeping - and don't expect to stretch or sit up until you get out of it.

Almost any tent requires waterproofing, even if it is supposedly waterproof from the factory. Get a can or tube of seam sealer, and treat the tent before every camping trip.


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