Campers today have hundreds of options. The category expands and evolves every year, with tarp tents, ultralight models and, now, even innovative “floating” shelters that tie to three points and hover in the trees.
Here we look at eight tent types — from the futuristic to the tried and true — including models made for backpacking, canoe trips and park-and-pitch base camp situations where comfort and interior real estate trump all else.
ONE-MAN ULTRALIGHT: Sea to Summit Specialist Solo
Crazy light (and crazy expensive), the Specialist Solo is built for ounce-counters who want to trek far and sleep alone. It has a tiny vestibule and a cozy 14.5 square feet of interior floor space, enough for one person and a backpack. At 22 ounces total — including waterproof nylon shell fabric and lithe alloy poles — the tent stuffs down to the size of a water bottle.
TARP TENT: MSR Thru-Hiker 70 Wing
Trekking poles and tied-off lines function as the structure and support system for this tarp tent that sleeps two to three people. A waterproof silicone-coated nylon canopy serves as a shield from weather, while reinforced guy points and multiple pitch options allow trekkers to set it up in any terrain. At just 12 ounces packed up, the 70 Wing is about as minimal as shelters come.
HOOP TENT: Mountain Hardwear Hoopla 4
Four people fit inside this shelter, which pitches with a single trekking pole bull’s-eyed to a ceiling support ring that looks kind of like a hula hoop. At just more than 2 pounds, it’s among the lightest tents made for its size. One caveat: The Hoopla is a floorless shelter, meaning you’re protected from above but will be sleeping on bare ground. (An optional floor footprint is available for purchase.)
LOUNGE-READY: Coleman Steel Creek 6P Fast Pitch
A dome tent with an added covered patio, the Steel Creek is made for car camping or excursions where packability and weight come second to comfort. The huge interior, made to sleep up to six people, can fit two queen-size air mattresses. The ceiling center height is just shy of 6 feet, letting you stand up inside and walk around.
DOME FOR FOUR: REI Camp Dome 4
A long-trusted design, the Camp Dome is easy to set up and spacious enough for four people to stretch out inside — an excellent choice for family camping. At more than 8 pounds, it’s not light enough for backpacking. But the solid three-season model is perfect for canoe camping or drive-up sites. With a fair price and proven weather protection, this REI shelter is a go-to for campground junkies.
LIGHT-UP SHELTER: Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO
LED lights integrated into a tent body might sound cheesy. But Big Agnes pulls it off with ambient light from thin glowing strands, proving that this can be a utilitarian upgrade as much as an aesthetic one. Beyond the LEDs, the Rattlesnake is a solid three-season backpacking tent for two people, including dual doors, dual vestibules and a manageable trail weight of 3 pounds, 9 ounces.
BACKPACKER’S MODEL: Marmot Tungsten 2P
Durability and roominess are touted features in this two-person backpacking tent. It’s a three-season design with vestibules and 32 square feet of space inside. At just under 5 pounds, it’s not the lightest tent of its kind, but Marmot offers trusted designs and durable builds at a price hard to beat.
Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at gearjunkie.com.