6 Types of Camping Tents You Should Know About
A tent provides one of our basic human needs – shelter. And the fact that a tent is portable means that when you own one, you can take shelter wherever you go.
Whether you’re a backpacker on the Pacific Crest Trail or a weekend camper with your family at a local State Park, a tent is essential. It keeps you safe from pouring rain and howling wind. It provides shelter from winter snow and summer sun alike.
With that in mind, you probably understand the importance of picking out a good tent. But the truth is, there are a lot of good tents out there. From ultralight backpacking tents to family-sized portable palaces that can sleep eight people or more, you have an almost overwhelming variety of sizes, styles, materials, and features to choose from.
Taking a giant canvas tent on your backcountry camping trip makes no more sense than trying to cram your whole family into a backpacking tent, and simply laying out your options can be a big help. Most of the tents available today fall into a few basic categories.
These are the six most common types of camping tents you have to choose from, and a few of the best options within each category. Happy camping!
1. Dome Tents
Arguably the most common style of tent that you’ll see in campgrounds across America, dome tents get their name from their rounded, dome-like shape. At their most basic, dome tents are formed by two flexible poles, which are laid across one another to form an elevated X-shaped support. The poles may clip to the outside of the tent, or they may be fed through sleeves or loops built into the rainfly.
Some dome tents have been enlarged with the addition of a vestibule in the front, or on either side, which is usually supported by additional poles. Overall, dome tents are easy to pitch and ideal for couples or small families. They’re moderately stable in the wind and offer a fair amount of headroom (though not usually enough to fully stand up in).
ALPS Mountaineering Taurus AL
With an easy pitch and room for four people, the ALPS Mountaineering Taurus AL is a simple and straightforward freestanding dome tent. It has heavy-duty zippers, mesh vents for airflow, and a thoroughly weatherproof rainfly.
Marmot Limestone Camping Tent
The Limestone Camping Tent from Marmot sleeps four and has a fully removable rainfly, which offers excellent ventilation and protection from the elements. It’s ideal for smaller families, or for couples who like a little extra space.
Coleman Skydome Tent
Available in various sizes ranging from a small two-person tent to a whopping eight-person tent, the Coleman Skydome is an all-around solid budget choice for family car camping.
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2. A-Frame Tents
If you ask a child to draw a picture of a tent, the picture you’ll get will be of an A-frame tent. Also referred to as wedge tents or ridge tents, these are some of the simplest tents ever designed. A-frame tents have a vertical pole holding up each end, and occasionally a horizontal support pole between them. The “walls” of the tent are formed by what is essentially a tarp draped across the top, staked down, and supported by lines on either end.
A-frame tents may look old-fashioned to today’s camper, but they were very popular prior to the development of more modern tent designs. Some of the early A-frame tents were made of canvas, with burly steel poles on either end. Today’s A-frame tents are usually made of lighter materials. They’re easy to set up and surprisingly stable.
With a simple design that offers great airflow as well as exceptional water resistance, the Woods A-Frame is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a straightforward A-frame to keep them safe from the elements. It’s a great three-season tent that sleeps up to three people.
Eureka! Timberline SQ 3 Season Tent
The Timberline SQ 3 Season Tent from Eureka! Is an advanced variation on the A-frame design, with excellent stability, strength, and ease of entry. The tent has breezy mesh windows and a removable rainfly, and you can choose between two-person and four-person versions.
River Country Open Air Trekker
A favorite for backyard sleepovers, the River Country Open Air Trekker is about as simple as a tent gets (it doesn’t even have a floor). It’s just about big enough to sleep one adult or two kids and is popular as an emergency shelter as well as a camping tent.
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3. Cabin Tents
Oftentimes cabin tents are among the largest tents on the market. They are made with family camping trips in mind, and have a shape somewhat like – you guessed it – a cabin. Most cabin tents have simple aluminum or fiberglass poles that lock together to create a cabin-like frame. A waterproof rainfly made of nylon, polyester, or occasionally canvas forms the tent’s walls and roof.
The chief advantage of cabin tents is that they are specious. Many of them are tall enough to stand up in, and may even have dividers to create multiple rooms within the tent. They’re relatively inexpensive and ideal for car camping trips with large groups. The downside is that they are heavy, cumbersome to set up, and often cheaply made. They can also be unstable in high winds.
Browning Camping Big Horn Tent
A freestanding cabin tent with sturdy fiberglass poles, the Big Horn Tent sleeps five comfortably and has an option to add a room divider. Its seven-foot height is tall enough for just about anybody to comfortably stand up in, and the large windows and mesh roof provide great ventilation.
Teton Sports Mesa Canvas Tent
A rugged four-season cabin tent that sleeps six to eight people depending on which size you choose, the Mesa tent from Teton Sports is one tough tent. It’s canvas, which means it’s heavy, but can last for decades if you care for it.
Coleman Cabin Tent
Quick setup is one of the chief advantages of the Coleman Cabin Tent. It’s also easy on the wallet and a great entry-level tent for family camping trips. It has a sturdy frame, and its seams hold up well against the weather. This tent comes in four, six, and 10-person sizes.
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4. Geodesic Tents
In many ways, geodesic tents are a natural progression in tent evolution. They’re similar in general concept to dome tents but are usually larger, and with more complex and stable pole configuration. The poles cross over each other multiple times to form triangles, which results in greater stability.
You don’t tend to see a lot of very large geodesic tents. Most of them are big enough for up to four people. Their main advantage is they are very stable and wind-resistant, making them ideal for camping in open, exposed places, as well as winter camping trips. Geodesic tents are usually very well-made, and as a result, are considered to be more high-end and costly. The only real disadvantage is that they can be challenging to pitch.
Eureka! K-2 XT Three-Person Tent
Although the Eureka! K-2 XT is made with backpackers in mind, this tent is perfect for all conditions, as long as you don’t need to accommodate more than three people. It’s a freestanding geodesic tent that holds its own in high winds and has a removable rainfly that easily sheds rain and snow, but also allows good airflow in summer.
Mountain Hardware Trango 4 Tent
Made to withstand high winds and wintry alpine conditions, this tent from Mountain Hardware is weatherproof and about as tough as it gets. It sleeps four and has two vestibules for dry entry and gear storage. The Trango 4 Tent might be overkill for a summer campground trip, but it’s perfect for climbers who need to sleep in harsh climates.
Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Geodesic 4-Person Tent
Offering four-season protection and enough room for four hardy campers, the Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Geodesic 4-Person Tent has a seven-pole system and numerous guylines to keep it stable in all conditions, though there is a bit of a learning curve to the setup.
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5. Tunnel Tents
A tunnel tent is similar to a dome tent, except that instead of crossing one another, the poles are set up in a parallel fashion. The result is a rounded, tunnel-like shape similar to that of a classic greenhouse tent. Some tunnel tents have only two poles (one at either end) but larger tunnel tents may have three or more. Tunnel tents are almost never free-standing and require guylines to keep them upright.
The big advantage of tunnel tents is that they are spacious. They can accommodate large groups and often have ample headroom. They are also reasonably easy to set up, though they can also be quite heavy. Tunnel tents fare reasonably well in the wind, but tent placement and proper staking are essential to stability. Their weakness is water, which can pool in the rainfly between the poles during a downpour.
Naturehike Opalus 4-Person Tent
This tent is waterproof and impressively spacious despite its low profile. It’s also easy to set up. The four-person size is great for primitive group camping and has a sheltered “lobby” where you can cook dinner or brew coffee on a rainy day at camp.
REI Co-op Kingdom 8 Tent
A spacious, luxurious tent for family outings, the Kingdom 8 can accommodate up to eight people, with ample headroom and dividers that can be used to create multiple rooms within the tent.
Campros 8-Person Camping Tent
This vast tent can accommodate up to eight people and is a great choice for your first big family camping trip. It’s also surprisingly easy to set up, considering its size.
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6. Backpacking Tents
Designed to be lightweight and portable, backpacking tents typically accommodate only one or two people. A wide range of designs are available, but most have a low profile and simple setup. Backpacking tents tend to be a bit more costly than one might expect considering their small size, and this is largely a result of the engineering that goes into their compact design and lightweight materials.
Many of the best backpacking tents weigh less than two pounds and pack down to a size small enough to easily slip into a hiker’s backpack. They’re ideal for backcountry camping trips, and some long-distance backpackers will sleep in one for a month or more, which is why the materials and construction need to be of high quality. Backpacking tents are usually designed in some variation of one of the aforementioned tent styles.
REI Co-op Flash Air 1 Tent
The REI Co-op Flash Air 1 Tent is one of the lightest tents on the market, with a minimum trail weight of just 1 lb 4 oz. It also packs down very small and is easy for a single backpacker to set up in a hurry. It has a hybrid single-wall design with a well-ventilated mesh door and protective rainfly.
NEMO Hornet Elite 1 Tent
Tipping the scales at a featherweight 1 lb 8 oz, the NEMO Hornet Elite 1 Tent is made for solo backpackers who like to travel fast and light. The tent offers a quick pitch and easy side entry, with enough headroom for most campers to sit up comfortably.
With a design much like a modified tunnel tent, the Eureka! Solitaire has a low profile, with just enough room inside for a single hiker to lay down. It weighs 2 lb 10 oz and is easy to set up. The rainfly is designed to give you excellent airflow when it’s rolled up and does an admirable job shedding water.
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