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If you search on Amazon: “tents for camping”, you will get over 20,000 results. It’s hard to feel confident in your tent purchase when there are thousands of options! Is $50 too cheap? Is $600 too much? This post is all about the results of my research on the various tent price ranges and what to expect from all of them.
How much money should I spend on a tent? Most tents cost from $35 to $1000. Tent cost will vary due to tent size, weight, and features. Deciding on how much money to spend is all about assessing your needs and finding a tent that matches those needs.
Although the correlation isn’t perfect, you’ll generally get more tent the more money you spend. Let’s go into how
Price vs. Features
“You get what you pay for” is the old adage that is in general very true. However, it’s definitely possible to get what you need without breaking the bank. I’m going to go over all the different price ranges so you can get a better idea of what you need.
If you find yourself needing a tent that is more than you can afford, you can actually rent your gear. This is a fantastic way to try out gear before you make a bigger investment. You can try out gear worth hundreds of dollars for a fraction of the price. Also, this works great if you don’t actually want to own a tent but just need a tent for an event or a backpacking trip.
I’m an affiliate for OutdoorsGeek. They’ve got tons of gear that you can rent and try out. Check them out here:Rent Tents from OutdoorsGeek
Besides renting, you can always save money by buying used gear or waiting for the winter clearance. REI sells top-quality gear and if you are patient and wait for November–March, you’ll be able to get lots of gear for much cheaper than in the summer: (affiliate link)
$0? What tents are free? Well, almost nothing is free, really. However, it is actually not a requirement to get a tent to go camping. You can get by with a tarp on the ground to prevent condensation and a sleeping bag.
Additionally, you can also use a guy line and a tarp. A guy line is a cord used for hanging stuff, or for stretching out rain flies, or for tarps, etc. A very simple shelter can be created by tying a guy line between two trees and hanging a tarp on top to create a roof.
There are several tiny pop-up tents in the ~$35 range that fit two people. Several of these pop-up tents do not require setting up with poles and are very small when expanded.
Additionally, even a 2-person pop-up does not fold very small, which makes them less appropriate for backpacking. Backpackers want their gear to fold up as small as possible so that they can fit all they need in their backpack.
A trend many reviews seem to have of these tents is that they are of lower quality, and are not sufficiently waterproof. Because manufacturing process costs are so low it’s likely that the quality will vary from tent to tent in the same model.
The ~$40 to $50 range is the base price you want to spend on a tent. Any less than $50 and you are lower than the standard entry-level tent range. You can get a decent 2-person tent with standard features such as:
- Waterproofed seams
In the ~$40 to $50 range, you are taking more of a gamble on the quality and longevity. This may be fine for you if you are only planning on going camping with 1 or 2 people once or twice a year for one or two nights at a time.
This price range of tents is not going to cut it for frequent use and extreme cold weather. They should be able to handle chilly, but not snow conditions. Additionally, tents in this range will generally be heavier than more expensive tents that sleep the same amount of people. This isn’t important for car camping, but for backpacking, every ounce counts.
The most popular tent in this price range is the Coleman Dome Tent.
Summary: You can expect to get an okay 2-person tent for ~$50. There are other tent options that fit more people in this price range, but I’m very skeptical of their quality, and you probably should be also. This price range is not a bad place to start if you are just getting into car camping.
$50 to $100
The main difference between the ~$50-$100 price range and the under $50 price range is tent quality. Although you shouldn’t expect any Cadillac-grade tents, you can definitely get a decent quality tent that will last you for many camping trips.
This price range will have many more 4-person options. However, remember the rule of tents!
The Rule of Tents is: The person rating is generous! This means a 4-person tent can fit 4 mid-sized adults like sardines (very tightly) inside. There’s not much room for doing anything else but sleeping when everybody is in the tent. Don’t expect it to be super comfortable with 4 people. Especially if your campmate is restless.
Some additional features to expect in this price range:
- Lighter weight for 2-person tents
- Bathtub floors (tent floors that extend up along the sides to prevent water buildup)
Again, The Coleman Dome Tent dominates this category in popularity, but the Coleman 4-person Cabin Tent comes in at second.
Summary: You can expect to get a decent 2-person tent for ~$50-100. Again, huge tents in this price range are likely to be low quality. But you can get a fairly decent 2-4 person tent in this price range without many frills.
$100 to $150
Just a couple extra features in this price range, but for the most part, only quality really changes here, but there are definitely more size options here as well.
You can expect your tents to be more durable and more waterproof in this price range. I won’t say, though, that you can’t get a comparable tent within the latter end of the $50 to $100 range. The difference in quality from $50-$100 and $100-$150 is not as large as it is from $0-$50 and $50-$100. In short, starting in the $100-$150 range you are getting less tent for your buck.
2-Person tents in this price range will start to include extra features such as:
- Including a footprint (this is a ground cloth that you typically have to buy separately)
- Specially treated seams that are more waterproof than their cheaper counterparts
- Vestibules (a space outside the tent that is covered where you can store gear or cook (if raining)
I’ll rant a little about my current tent. It’s a fantastic 2-person tent that I’ve camped in from California, Texas, and even to New Zealand. I’ve taken it on one backpacking trip, so I admit I’ve used it mostly for car camping, but I still love this little tent. It’s super easy to set up, and has kept me dry and warm many times. I’ve had great experiences sleeping in it without the fly–you can see the stars because the 360 mesh design.
It’s a Kelty Grand Mesa 2-person tent, and I’ve been using it for around 5 years, now. I really enjoy this tent and I wrote some more details about it here. At the time of purchase it was around $120.
In the $100-$150 price range, you start to see the entry to mid-quality level 6-person tents. You also will see additional tent designs beyond the standard dome tents, such as the following:
- Screen Room Tents (such as the Coleman)
- Cabin Tents (these tents actually can allow for some to stand up within the tent)
In Summary: You can get a really nice 2-person tent in this price range, and an entry to mid-level 6-person tent. 4-person tents fall in the middle of the road of quality here. I bought my 2-person tent 5 years ago in this price range, and it’s still going strong with no issues.
$150 to $250
In this price range you start to see 4-season tents. A 4-season tent is a thicker tent that is ideal for extreme cold conditions. These tents are much more expensive than their 3-season counterparts.
Additionally, you will see more ultralight tents in this price range, where the focus is on extremely light materials.
Finally, you will see entry to mid-quality tents that can fit 12 people. Generally, you will see 8 to 10-person tents in this category. There is even a fairly decent looking 14-person tent in this category from Tahoe Gear.
$250 to $500
This is where luxury starts to happen. I have never used a tent of this quality, but one can dream. Besides being much higher quality, in general, you will see tents that fit 10+ people in this price range. Besides including all of the previously mentioned features, these tents will have additional features such as:
- Room partitions for a little more privacy
- Hinged Doors
- SUPER fancy stuff like darkened rooms
- Lots of zippers and room customization allowing for optional ventilation
- Higher quality poles
- 4-Season tents with multiple ply tent fabric and better vent customization
One example of this price range (around $300) that made me salivate a little is the 10-person Dark Room Coleman Cabin Tent.
This is where your tents are going to focus on specialty needs, such as:
- Extremely light tents for backpackers
- Specialty tents for huge groups that are more rugged
- More permanent tents such as cabin or yurt-like tents with canvas walls
Much Tent Do You Need?
Consider the following:
- Planned frequency of camping
- Size of your group
- Temperature needs
- You have 4 people in your camp group
- You want to have reasonable comfort
- You don’t plan to camp in the winter or in the cold
- You plan to go camping 5-6 times a year
- You’d like some of the extra features and solid waterproof protection
A 6-person tent in the $150-$200 range will suit you just fine.
Finding how much tent you need is all about weighing the pros and cons and determining what fits in your budget. Hopefully the information above helps you find the tent you need.
What’s the difference Between a 3-season tent and a 4-season tent? A 4-season tent has multiple ply (just like toilet paper), which allows for better heat retention. Also, 4-season tents focus more on ventilation to more aggressively prevent condensation. Additionally, the tent hardware, such as the poles, are stronger to tolerate snow cover.
What does a tent footprint do? A tent footprint is an optional purchase you can make for a tent which goes underneath the tent, and helps prevent condensation as well as protect the bottom of the tent. A tent footprint is considered optional because you can use other ground cloths such as tarps or other materials. See my post about using a tarp for a ground cloth here.