14 Pros and Cons of Instant Tents: Are They Worth it?


Pop-up tents, also known as “Instant Tents”, have an incredible draw: Setting up your tent within a few seconds without having to fuss with poles and also without having to consult the instructions sounds amazing!

A pop tent with a view of Diamond Head from Magic Island on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii.

But, we know that nothing in life is perfect, so there have to be some disadvantages as well. I didn’t know much about pop-up tents before this article, but I decided to research and find out what all the advantages and disadvantages to help you in your own research about what tent to buy!

*note: If you are wondering how much money you should spend on a tent, check out the Tent Prices Guide that I’ve put together. It shows all sorts of tents in various price ranges in efforts to match every need you might have.

First, let’s go through the advantages for Pop-up Tents:

Pro 1: Can Take Less Than 10 Seconds to Set Up

This is by far the most compelling draw for pop-up tents. They are all very easy and quick to setup. Many pop-up tents it’s not necessary to look at the directions. Some need some unbuckling or untying, but after that, the resting position of the tent is to be fully expanded, so it’s trivial to figure out how a pop-up tent unfolds because the tent is continuously trying to unfold itself.

Some pop-up tents take almost 2 seconds to set up (these are generally the smaller 2-person tents), and the larger ones can take a minute or two to unfold. However, the set up for normal tents of equivalent size is always more time consuming and tricky.

Pro 2: Takes Less Than 1.5 Minutes to Take Down

Although pop-up tents can be a bit tricky to master the process of folding and packing up the tent, the process goes very quickly if you have had some practice putting it away.

Once you’re a pro-pop-up-tent-folder, then taking down your tent can take just a couple of minutes.

In this section of this YouTube video, for example, the gentleman is able to fold and pack the tent within a minute and 19 seconds.

https://youtu.be/yys0tyC356w?t=341

Pro 3: Pop-up Tents Make Great Beginner Tents

Many entry-level pop-up tents cost less than $100, which is on the low-end for tents.

If you’re a beginner at camping, then pop-up tents are a fantastic option since they require a very easy learning curve to set up. Some are as easy to set up as just pulling the center of the tent up like an umbrella! While others you simply unfold and the tent will automatically expand.

Pop-up tents are not ideal for backpacking because of their weight and their bulk, however, if you’re looking for a tent only for occasional car camping, then pop-up tents are a great option.

If you’re not planning on getting into camping but need a tent for an event then a pop-up tent makes things a lot simpler, and you usually don’t have to spend a lot of money.

Pro 4: Less Gear to Bring (and forget)

Many pop-up tents are inclusive, meaning, all you need is the folded tent itself and you’re done. Some pop-up tents do have additional parts, such as tent stakes and a rainfly, which purpose is to improve the weatherproofing of the tent. In any case, pop-up tents take tent poles out of the equation, making packing your tent that much simpler.

Normal tents use tent poles as a suspension system that you put together, manually. These poles often have their own carrying bag. Although many people keep these with the tents, it’s completely possible to leave that bag behind. If you forget your tent poles for a regular tent… you basically don’t have a tent. Pop-up tents don’t have that problem!

Pro 5: Amazing for Living Room or Backyard Camping

Instead of fussing with tent poles in your living room, you can just unfold the tent and have a camp-out (or rather a camp-in) right in your living room.

This is great because tent poles are pointy objects that quickly become toys in the hands of children, which tend to quickly become broken. With a pop-up tent, this is much less complicated for setting up a tent indoors.

If your child loves (and maybe you) to sleep in the tent in the backyard, then you don’t need to go help them set up the tent! Just throw the tent into the backyard and voila, you have a ready to go tent. Pretty cool!

Pro 6: Kid Friendly (safer)

Although an adult should always be around when a pop-up tent is set up, pop-up tents are kid-friendly during setup!

Not only are the steps to set up much simpler than setting up a normal tent with tent poles, but removing the handling of tent poles in general makes pop-up tents much safer.

If you’ve ever set up a tent before, you know that feeling when you’re bending the tent poles: “is this thing going to snap?” Tent poles do snap. In fact, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates around 800 people are injured every year from assembly and disassembly of tents. (source)

While pop-up tents still have some risks because the metal could fold in an unexpected way, you aren’t handling the tent poles directly which makes pop-up tents safer to set up and fold down.

Pro 7: Ideal for Events and Lines (Queues)

Tents represent temporary lodging. Generally, when you pitch a conventional tent you’re expecting to at least sleep in it for 7-8 hours.

During Events (concerts, galas, festivals), you may not get the luxury of staying in the same location for more than a couple hours! Furthermore, if your friends have found a better spot and you want to relocate, you want to be able to pitch and … unpitch (not sure why this word hasn’t been invented already), as fast as possible.

Pop-up tents make perfect event tents because you can’t be sure how long you will get to stay in one spot! The easy pitch and take-down become invaluable.

During Lines or Queues (such as for grand openings, blockbuster movies, etc), you may be relocated several times depending on the line. Rather than agonizing over whether you should pitch the tent again, you can just fold it up, move to the new location, and pitch it again immediately. Pop-up tents are ideal for lines!

Con 1: More Setup Is Usually Required for Weather Protection

Some pop-up tents are completely inclusive, but some, like the Core 12 Person Instant Cabin Tent (and many others), still rely on an external rainfly. This isn’t a con so much as a reminder that even though the setup of an instant tent is usually very fast, you still have some weatherproofing to do if you are needing protection from the rain.

Furthermore, many instant tents still rely on guy lines and stakes to stretch out the rainfly and tent fabric to ensure proper ventilation and coverage–this means you still need to bring tent stakes and something to hammer the tent stakes into the ground (if the ground is too hard to push the stakes in)

Con 2: Single-wall Pop-up Tents Are Less Breathable

Tent design has evolved over the years, and one of the most popular designs incorporated by many tents are double-wall tents.

A single-wall tent is a tent without a rainfly–the waterproof abilities of the tent (if it has any) are all incorporated into the one continuous tent wall.

A double-wall tent is a tent with a rainfly. The inner wall is typically made of more breathable material (such as mesh), and the outer wall is made from a waterproof impervious material.

Double-wall tents have better ventilation, because there is an air gap between the two walls of the tent, and the inner wall is typically lighter and more breathable. Better ventilation means less condensation (less “dew” accumulating on the inside of your tent)

While many pop-up tents actually are double-wall, some, like the popular Quechua 2 Seconds Pop Up Tent are single-wall tents. Thus, many pop-up tents, in efforts to increase convenience, sacrifice ventilation, thus making a pop-up tent potentially more stuffy in hot conditions, and inviting more condensation.

Con 3: Bulky When Packed

For car campers, you don’t really have to worry about this con, but for backpackers, listen read carefully!

Because pop-up tents have their suspension systems built-in to the tent, pop-up tents can only ever be folded. Pop-up tents cannot be rolled up like a conventional tent. This means that pop-up tents will always be bulkier than conventional tents of equivalent size.

For example, the Lethmik Backpacking 2-person Pop-up Tent has a packed size of 29.5×6.3×6.3 inches, while the Kelty Grand Mesa 2-person tent has a packed size of 12×15 inches. The Quechua 2 Seconds Pop Up tent folds into a disc shape (like many other pop up tents) about 2 feet long in diameter.

The convenience of setting up the tent sacrifices the ability to pack the tent as small as possible, which is very useful for backpackers.

Con 4: Larger Pop-up Tents Can Be Heavy (and even the small ones too!)

The larger pop-up tents have more metal in them than conventional tents of the same size. The folding of the tent is much more intricate and usually requires umbrella style suspension. Because of this, the weight of a large pop-up tent can be substantially higher than that of a tent the same size.

For example, the CORE 9 person Cabin Instant Tent weighs 35 lbs, while the Coleman 8 person Red Canyon tent weighs 21.5 pounds.

Even for lightweight 2-4 person pop-up tents, the weight of pop-up tents makes them less than ideal for backpacking.

For example, the 2-person Quechua 2 Seconds Tent weighs 6.38 lbs, and the Lethmik Backpacking Tent (just one of the cheap pop-up tents available on Amazon as of this writing), weighs 8.38 lbs. Although these weights aren’t terrible, they are not as ideal as conventional backpacking tents with sub 5 lb weights.

The rule of thumb is you want to have a tent with a weight max of 2.5 lbs per person for backpacking. So a 5 lb tent is the max weight you want for backpacking for a 2-person tent.

Con 5: Complex Suspension Systems

For pop-up tents, the suspension is built-in to the tent fabric. Sometimes the folding system can be quite intricate with dozens of joints needing to collapse or expand.

Because the suspension is complex, failures can make your tent unusable.

Even if you have a simpler pop-up tent, if one of the built-in poles breaks, fixing your tent can be unfeasible, requiring you to replace the whole tent.

Furthermore, if your tent can’t expand properly because of a broken joint or fold, then your pop-up tent is essentially useless.

On the other hand, conventional tents have tent poles that can be purchased or replaced with your own tools. So if a conventional tent pole breaks, you can still use your tent with a replacement tent pole.

A broken suspension system isn’t a big deal if you’re car camping (although inconvenient), but it can even be perilous if you’re wilderness camping and you don’t have any other forms of shelter. If you can’t expand your tent, then there’s no real use for it.

In summary, repairing your pop-up tent can be difficult or impossible without replacing the entire tent. In addition, because pop-up tent systems are complex, they have many single points of failure, where if something breaks makes your tent non-functional.

Con 6: Difficult to Fold When Done Camping

Although pop-up tents are extremely easy to set up, sometimes they can be tricky to fold properly. In fact, it’s a lot like folding a map. There are many ways to fold a map, but only one way that gets all the creases to line up properly and look decent instead of a big mess.

You might look really cool when you are able to throw your pop-up tent and it unfolds automatically–but your coolness will dry up very fast when it’s time to go and you’re not able to fold up your tent.

I know college is important and they have very important classes like calculus, accounting, physics, etc… but they don’t teach any map-folding classes or any tent-folding classes for that matter. Which is unfortunate, because I would have benefited from a class like that.

Anyway, since there are no classes you can take before you go camping with your pop-up tent, I highly suggest taking some time on YouTube to watch how your tent is to be folded. Even better, practice folding your tent a couple of times to make sure you have it down.

Con 7: Some Tents Have No Weatherproofing

Many pop-up tents (especially the pop-up tents under $100) are meant to be extremely quick shelters to set up. These cheap pop-up tents are not meant to withstand rainstorms and protect you from the significant wind.

In fact, many pop-up tents even will advertise that they are only meant to be light shelters and do not have any waterproofing. They are not meant or even intended to keep out rain and will likely not do well in high winds.

This can be a little misleading because you expect a tent to be protection for you while you sleep when you’re camping. In this case, many of the less expensive pop-up tents are completely inappropriate for car camping and are made instead for a quick shelter to hang out.

So, make sure you read the pop-up tents carefully. Make sure it’s advertised as waterproof or has a rainfly and tent stakes.

You’ll be lucky if your pop-up tents have received additional weatherproofing treatment, such as sealed or taped seams. If you want to make your tent more weatherproof, you might need to take matters into your own hands and do your own weatherproofing with seam sealer or seam tape, as well as some waterproofing spray. Check out our upgrades section of our recommended gear page to see what waterproofing gear is out there.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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