There are two kinds of car-camping tents. The first is affordable and made for quick weekend jaunts with the family or drunken festivals in the woods. The second is more expensive, better constructed, and preferable for trips across the country where you’ll be camping in everything from scorching heat to torrential rain. Here are options in both categories.
Ozark Trail 10-Person ($110)
Best For: Party camping
Two river-guide friends and I lived in an older version of this massive Walmart-brand tent for an entire summer. Thanks to its three doors, we could each come and go as we pleased without having to step over one another. It was also nice to space ourselves out in case someone needed to, say, fart. The tent is overkill for a family of four but perfect as a festival base camp for a group of friends. Tip: if you’re using it in the Pacific Northwest, hang a tarp overhead as an added layer of protection, as the fly is subpar.
REI Kingdom 6 ($440)
Best For: Extended trips
Yes, this tent is expensive, but here’s why I recommend it. My friend Ryan Allred, who owns Adventure Whitewater, a river-guiding service, traded in his tow-behind trailer for the Kingdom because he finds it just as comfortable. The ceiling is more than six feet high, and you get 83 square feet of floor space. It’s also easy to set up and, unlike the Walmart tent, will fend off the nastiest weather and lots of abuse. Allred’s entire family of five has lived in it for three summers now, and they’ve never had any complaints about the durability.
Coleman 6-Person Instant Cabin ($220)
Best For: Families
This tent pops up in minutes, thanks to its well-designed poles. That’s a major bonus when you have small kids running around and don’t want to spend a lot of time making camp. It can also be nice if you arrive late and need to avoid a lot of futzing in the dark. Inside, there’s plenty of room for a family of four and a couple of dogs. It’s not as well-built as the Kingdom 6, but it'll stand up just fine to a few trips every summer, and it’s better in rain than the Ozark. Think of this tent as the perfect middle-of-the-road option for weekend trips.
Kodiak Canvas 8-Person ($570)
Best For: Base camp
If you look at this model from Kodiak as a tent, it’s an expensive. If you look at it as a poor man’s RV, it’s positively cheap. The RV comparison makes sense because this tent is better than anything else here at keeping the elements at bay. The duck-canvas walls fight the heat if you want to use it as a beach base camp on a surf trip in Baja, or you can put a small heater inside and take it winter camping. The spring-loaded steel rods are designed to stand up to Everest-like winds.
REI Co-Op Half Dome 2 Plus ($220)
Best For: A one-quiver solution
I included the Half Dome because it’s relatively affordable and can double as both a car-camping and backpacking tent (as long as it’s just the two of you and a dog). We’ve long recommended the Half Dome: it’s quick to set up and comes with all the features you’d want, including two vestibules, a bombproof rain fly, lots of pockets and organizers inside, and big vents.
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