Are you on a tight budget?
Don’t worry. You don’t always have to bring the most durable, waterproof or lightweight tent. To this day, I still use a cheap tent from Decathlon for car camping trips. It’s heavy, cheaply made and lacking features, but that doesn’t matter as long as you use it for the kinds of trips it was made for.
It’s a different story when you go backpacking. Light and reliable gear is important, so for your own comfort and safety, pack a tent that’s on the more expensive side.
Let’s go over the different price ranges and find the perfect one for you.
Don’t feel like reading this entire article? Click here and I’ll take you to the conclusion.
Didn’t think that tents were optional?
It’s true that tents provide luxury and comfort, but if you want to keep it as cheap and simple as possible, you may want to look into tarp camping.
All you need is some paracord, guylines and a tarp, which you can get for a total cost of $20.
For instructions on how to set up such a camp, check out this video.
1 to 2 person tents of $25 to $50
These tents are usually low quality and offer weak weather resistance, meaning that problems such as leaking, overheating, torn fabric and broken poles are more likely.
However, a tent in this price range is not such a bad idea if the criteria below apply to you:
- You’re camping in light weather conditions: not too hot, cold, rainy, snowy or windy.
- You’re car camping: the weight of your tent isn’t a problem and it wouldn’t be a disaster if your tent breaks down overnight, because you can always use your car as a last resort.
- You’re an occasional or seasonal camper: you won’t go camping more than a few times a year.
If you’re car camping and don’t need to worry about weight, you can bring a tarp and hang it over your tent to protect it from rain. This way, you don’t have to worry about the water-resistance of your tent, allowing you to buy cheaper, low-quality tents.
This video shows you how.
If there are no trees to use, you can still bring a cheap party tent and use it to cover your tent. The only thing to watch out for in this case is strong winds.
Besides protection from rain, covering your tent has many other benefits that make the effort worthwhile:
- Less UV damage to your tent, increasing durability.
- By providing shade for your tent, you avoid overheating.
- You don’t have to worry about the waterproofing, which allows you to buy cheaper tents with poor water-resistance.
- You may have a tent that cannot be ventilated when it rains because your windows are exposed. A tarp solves that problem.
- You can have more space in your tent because you can store your gear outside the tent, under the tarp.
- You don’t have to mess with water-repellent sprays or seam sealers, which means you don’t reduce the breathability of your fabric.
- It’s always nice to have some dry space out of the sun.
- It can protect your tent from damage caused by hail or heavy rain, which increases the durability of your tent.
1 to 2 person tents of $50-$100
In this price range, you will find both low-quality and decent tents.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of how willing you are to do your research. Look for:
- Quick and easy setup/takedown.
- Aluminum poles.
- A full-coverage rainfly with a minimum waterproof rating of 1000mm.
- Thick fabric for maximum durability (the thickness of a fabric is measured in Denier, for example, 75D).
- Good reviews on Amazon and other websites.
Tip: Use Reddit to your advantage. Ask people for their opinions on the tent in question. Chances are, someone has owned the tent before.
These tents, however, usually don’t provide many features but are well suited for regular car camping in mild weather conditions.
A great example is the Camel Crown’s 2 person Tent, which is actually better than the average $50-$100 tent.
4+ person tents of $50-$100
The bigger the tent, the more expensive it should be, because it takes more resources and effort to make the tent.
Keeping that in mind, the average 4 person tent won’t be of the same quality as the average 2 person tent of the same price.
So, in my opinion, for car camping in mild weather conditions, a $50-$100 4 person tent would suffice, but I would advise you to spend a little more money on a 4+ person tent.
Also, keep in mind that the person rating of a tent is misleading. If you want some personal space, consider counting an extra person so you’re not all packed together. So for a family of 3, a 4-5 person tent should be comfortable.
A solid example of a tent in this price range is the Coleman Sundome tent.
1 to 2 person tents of $100-$200
These tents are more durable and weatherproof, making them a good choice for the regular car camper who expects prolonged downpours and stronger winds.
Even for backpacking, you can find many good tents in this price range. They won’t be ultralight, but they will protect you from bad weather and last for many years.
I always like to recommend the North Face Stormbreak, which is an inexpensive, reliable tent.
Reliability is the most important feature of a backpacking tent, because it’s the only shelter you have, unlike car camping, where you can always take shelter in your car if you need to.
Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend buying a backpacking tent for less than $130—because then you’re taking a gamble where your life may be at stake.
So decide if this price range is necessary for your situation. If you’re an occasional car camper who camps in an area where wind and rain are forgiving, there’s no need to spend this much money (even in extremely rainy weather, you can still use a $50 tent and protect it from rain by hanging a tarp above it).
4+ person tents of $100-$200
As the price goes up, you will find more 5, 6, 7 or even 8 person tents that switch up the design from Dome tents to Cabin or Screen room tents. These are usually the preferred choice for family camping, as they offer more space and comfort, along with better weather resistance.
A few examples are:
- Coleman Evanston with Screen Room (6 or 8 person)
- Coleman Cabin Tent (4 or 6 person) (Many cabin tents only offer a partially-coverage rainfly. Be sure to choose one with full coverage if you expect heavy or prolonged rain.)
1 to 2 person tents of $200-$400
This is where high quality and fine craftsmanship begin to take hold.
You’ll also find more 4 season tents, which are needed in extremely cold and snowy conditions.
Small tents in this price range are usually made with backpacking in mind. They’re reliable, lightweight, packable, easy to pitch and able to withstand harsh weather conditions.
A great example is the Big Agnes Tiger Wall.
4+ person tents of $200-$500
This is the place where you’ll find luxurious family camping tents made of high quality.
You’ll notice huge camping tents that can shelter up to 16 people, with fancy features such as darkened rooms, hinged doors, room dividers and ventilation modifications.
These tents are only worth it if you’re willing to spend the money for maximum comfort and space. And frankly, if you’re prepared to spend as much as $500 on a tent, you’re better off buying a canvas tent because those are extremely durable and will last a lifetime if handled with care.
1 to 2 person tents of $400+
At this point, it’s no longer about the difference in quality, but rather the difference in weight.
Every ounce counts. Tent manufacturers use special designs and materials to reduce the weight by a few ounces. They even use thinner fabrics at the expense of durability, which means these tents are more expensive and less durable.
As a beginner, you want to stay away from these tents. They’re only a reasonable choice if your life revolves around backpacking. If you’re exploring half the globe with weight on your back, such an expensive and lightweight tent could be worth it.
Extra Tips On Saving As Much Money As Possible
Investing in a high-quality tent always feels bad. That’s why I have some ways to save as much money as possible in the long run.
Get your gear at a discounted rate
Since I don’t recommend buying a cheap tent when backpacking, I’ve come up with a few ways to get your branded tent at a discounted rate. This way, you can get huge discounts on high-quality, reliable tents—or gear in general—from brands like MSR or REI.
- Take advantage of end-of-season sales. Visit your favorite websites in December, January and July. Chances are that you will stumble upon decent discounts. For more information, please read this end-of-year sales guide.
- Don’t forget about anniversary sales. REI, for example, is known to discount their products sometime in May.
- Take advantage of major sale days like New Year and Black Friday.
- Buy used tents. Don’t underestimate second-hand products. In most cases, they’re in excellent condition and well worth your money. Here are some of the best websites to buy second-hand gear:
- There are so many websites that have a sales page filled with underpriced items. You can easily find these by Googling your favorite brand followed by “outlet” or “sales”. Here are some examples:
- Rent a tent. This is also a great way to test a product prior to making a purchase. Here are a few websites where you can rent gear at:
Take care of your tent so it lasts longer
Many people don’t know this, but treating your tent with care can significantly extend its longevity.
Keep these six tips in mind and you can expect your tent to last many years.
- Never store a wet tent for more than a few hours.
- Protect the floor of your tent with a groundsheet or footprint.
- Take it easy on the zippers. Use both hands, especially when going around corners.
- Make sure there’s no filth in your tent when storing it.
- Limit UV exposure to prevent UV damage. Shady areas are preferable (or you can stretch a tarp over your tent).
- At home, store your tent in a larger bag. Leave it open so that the tent can breathe.
Why I Think Investing In a High-Quality Tent Is Worth It
High-quality tents last longer, which means you reduce the global garbage dump.
Besides, wouldn’t you rather support a company that values quality over quantity than one that’s out for a quick profit while polluting the earth to a significant degree?
And don’t forget the low-wage labor you’re supporting! Cheap brands tend to manufacture their tents in China, India or Indonesia, where people get paid little for hard labor. More expensive brands like MSR make their tents in the US, where people are paid much more generously.
Long Story Short
So, what did we discuss in this article? Let me give you a quick overview:
- Tents are not necessary. For $20, you can set up a tarp that protects you from rain and wind.
- Cheap tents of <$50 are usually made of low quality and will leak (although you can still protect them from rain by covering them with a tarp or a cheap party tent).
- Tents of $50-$100 can be made of decent quality. Just keep in mind that larger tents should be more expensive. I wouldn’t recommend buying a 4+ person tent in this price range.
- In the $100-$200 price range you can find many backpacking tents that can protect you from the weather elements. You’ll also notice decent family camping tents to accommodate 5, 6, 7 or even 8 persons.
- Backpacking tents of $200-$300 are great and will last for many years. They’re definitely worth investing in.
- Family camping tents in the $200-$500 price range can be huge and provide you with fancy features. They’re generally only worth investing in if you want as many features and comfort as possible. If you’re willing to spend $500 on a tent, look into canvas tents because they’re much more durable.
- $400+ backpacking tents are made for serious backpackers who are willing to sacrifice durability to reduce the tent’s weight. Therefore, they’re not recommended for beginners.
Oh, and don’t forget to save as much money as possible by buying your tent at a discounted rate and being gentle with it. It’s worth the effort.
I wish you the best of luck in finding a worthy tent. Let me know if you have any questions or need help finding a tent! I’ll be happy to help you.