If you do a quick search of “tents” on Amazon, you will see hundreds of results, with prices ranging from $50 to more than $500. Which one should you pick? Are expensive tents worth it?
I’ve used a dozen of cheap and expensive tents over the past few years, and here’s my take on this:
For casual campers, expensive tents are only worth it if you place a very high value on comfort and convenience. For more serious campers, expensive tents can be an excellent investment due to their lighter weight, better weather resistance, and more durable construction.
For the sake of this discussion, you can consider yourself a casual camper if you camp a few nights a year and pick only days with good weather—basically the most relaxing form of camping.
As you get more serious about it, you may start to camp in colder weather or go on backpacking trips where you have to hike miles to your campsite. And you tend to do this for more than ten days a year.
Let’s jump into how expensive tents are different from cheaper ones.
Are Expensive Tents More Durable?
Expensive tents are generally more durable. They usually have stronger materials that last longer. However, you will only get your money’s worth if you camp frequently or camp in harsh weather.
Let me be upfront about this. A budget-level tent can last for years if you take good care of it and use it for only a few nights a year.
My second tent was a Coleman. Nothing fancy, just the entry-level model. I used it for 40 – 50 nights. I didn’t have any issues with it. I switched tents only because I wanted a more “luxurious” experience when car camping.
So if you camp 5 – 10 nights a year, you can expect to use a budget tent for 4 – 5 years as a conservative estimate.
I guess that’s good enough for most of you. You would probably want an upgrade by then and won’t care if your tent could last for another few years.
So, you may ask, “then what sets more expensive tents” apart? In my article on how long a tent should last, I outlined several ways manufacturers can make their tents more durable. Below, I will talk specifically about how each factor impacts the price of a tent.
The material for tent poles tends to drive the most price difference, all else being equal. There are two main types: fiberglass poles and aluminum poles.
Aluminum poles are more durable because of their flexibility. In strong winds, they tend to bend instead of snap. You can easily push it back to its original shape. In contrast, fiberglass poles are more likely to break into pieces, causing your tent to collapse.
So if you camp in very windy conditions, like in the mountains, it’s probably worth spending more to get a tent with aluminum poles.
But for average folks, a typical tent with fiberglass poles is sufficient. Daily wind speeds average 6 – 12 mph, while most tents will hold their shape in pretty strong winds up to 20mph.
The tent fabric is another piece of the equation. If you read some reviews of budget tents, you’ll probably see things like, “the fabric is thin, looks like it’s not gonna last.” They are mostly correct.
Denier is a measure of tent fabric strength. The higher the denier, the stronger and likely thicker the fabric is. More expensive tents with higher-denier fabric will be more resistant to wear and tear.
The tent floor endures more abrasions than any other part of a tent. Look for a thick, tarp-like bottom, ideally with the “bathtub design” regardless of the price point.
Then we come to those little things, like zippers, stake tabs, and stitching. It’s true that these parts break or rip more easily on less expensive tents.
You can only figure out the quality of construction here by reading the reviews. No manufacturer will tell you their stitching may come apart during setup, for example.
In short, while expensive tents will most likely last longer, an average-priced tent is durable enough for most campers.
Are Expensive Tents More Waterproof?
Expensive tents are not necessarily more waterproof. You need to check a tent’s waterproof rating, seam sealing, and floor design regardless of the price. Most affordable tents are waterproof enough to keep you dry in moderate rain showers.
Nothing can ruin a camping trip like a leaky tent. It’s that bad. I’ve been there.
You may think spending more on a tent is insurance against being soaked, but that’s not always the case.
For example, Black Diamond is a popular brand of premium backpacking tents. But they were known for not seam sealing their tents. Rainwater can get in through all these gaps where one piece of fabric connects with another. Not sure if they’ve changed that by now.
So are cheaper tents better at this? Not really. Budget tents are even more of a hit or miss when it comes to waterproofing. You can check out how this tent turned into a pool in the rain.
Now it’s clear that we need to apply our judgment to tell if tents are waterproof. The link points to an in-depth article for those who are curious, but here’s a basic answer for you:
In the product description, look for the following (all of which can be available on cheap tents):
Waterproof rating on the fly: ideally above 1500mm
- 2000mm can handle some heavy rain
- 3000mm can handle downpours regularly
- If the manufacturer didn’t provide this information, assume it’s in the 1000mm – 1500mm range.
Seam sealing: either taped, inverted, or welded seams should be fine
- If nothing is mentioned, I won’t risk it. Manufacturers are very eager to include things like this to sell their tents, unless they haven’t sealed their seams at all, of course.
Bathtub floor: look for tents with the thick floor material extending up the walls; this will prevent water that pools on the ground from getting into the tent.
Of course, read the reviews. If multiple top-rated reviews include complaints about leaking, there’s a fair chance that the tent won’t keep you dry.
A caveat is that for every tent, there will always be people who find it to leak. Sometimes, people mistook condensation inside the tent as leakage. Or they might have set up some things incorrectly—no need to be super concerned unless it’s a general trend in the reviews.
In short, price isn’t a great indicator of how waterproof a tent is.
Extra features that make a tent more expensive — Do you want them?
Maybe you camp only a few days a year in good weather. Should you spend the bare minimum on a tent? Well, that depends on how much you value comfort and convenience. Also, be prepared to spend more if you plan on going backpacking.
A good lightweight backpacking tent will almost certainly cost more than a similar-sized car camping tent.
For example, even an entry-level 4-person backpacking tent usually costs $200 or more. You can easily find a heavier 4-person tent at less than half the price.
Like you, I’m not sure how the manufacturing math works here. It’s confusing because less material costs more. Or it could be that brands charge higher prices because they know there’s some serious demand.
But the good news is, you won’t have to spend a penny on a lighter tent if you will be driving up to your campsite.
Larger Floor Space
Who likes to be cramped into a small space with several other people? Well, unfortunately, that’s what a lot of you need to do in a tent.
But spending more money on your shelter will solve this problem.
After looking at hundreds of tents, we found that prices increase about $50 – $100 for every 2 person capacity you add.
For car camping, we recommend you “size up” by 2 people as a starting point. It means getting a 4 person tent for a group of 2, a 6 person tent for a group of 4, and so on.
You can even only have 2 people in an 8 person tent, where you build out a “full suite” with a separate living room and bedroom. Pretty comfortable if you ask me.
More Headroom & Higher Ceiling
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to stand up in your tent? No more hunching over to get in or crawling on the floor.
Also, a high ceiling creates so many possibilities for what you can do inside your tent. You can now set up some tables and chairs or run around with your furry friends.
If this sounds great to you, be prepared to pay a pretty penny for it. Tents over 6ft tall, or even 7ft tall, start at $150 and could go up to $500+ for a glamping tent. The Eureka Copper Canyon and Coleman Octagon are two popular examples of this.
If you don’t need a standing height but only want some more headroom, check out cabin tents or modified dome tents. These usually have more vertical walls, so you won’t feel claustrophobic even if you end up on the side of the tent.
Screen Room or Living Space
If you want your tent to be more than a place to sleep, consider a screen room.
It’s a great space to put down some camping chairs and hang out with your family or friends. The screen will keep the bugs out.
You can also use it to store your gear and dirty shoes.
So what does it all cost? You can expect to pay $50 – $100 more for a tent with a screen room, all else equal.
When I just started camping, I didn’t know at all what a vestibule is. It just seemed like an odd word.
Well, it’s basically some extra storage space right outside your tent.
A rainfly that covers the tent from top to bottom extends to form a vestibule. Feel free to read more here. A tent could come with 1 or 2 vestibules.
I’d say vestibules are very uncommon on budget tents. Expect to pay more than $100 for a tent if you want it.
Camping can be enjoyable, but you won’t like all parts of it. And you may dread setting up your tent.
So how about a tent that sets up in a minute, or even 2 seconds? Yep, you heard it right. The tent industry has come a long way in solving this problem.
Today, there are 2 types of tents with instant setup – instant cabin tents and pop-up tents. Both have pre-assembled poles that are already attached to the fabric.
Pop-up tents take this one step further by using elastic poles that “pops” into place as soon as you take it out of the bag:
If you want a cheap tent with a fast setup, you can’t go wrong with the Coleman Pop Up Tent.
Instant cabin tents usually cost more than pop-up tents.
Canvas tents are the way to go if you want to enjoy the outdoors in luxury and comfort. They are mostly made of cotton, while 99% of the tents on the market are made of polyester or nylon.
The most significant advantage of canvas tents is how insulated they are. They keep you cool on a hot summer night but warm on a chilly night.
If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of different tent fabrics, check out my article on what tents are made of.
In terms of price, expect to pay $500 or more. After all, people often use them as glamping tents. Kodiak Canvas has some great options.
How Much Should You Spend on a Tent?
As you can see, there are many cases where getting an expensive tent would be worth it, even if you aren’t a frequent or intense camper.
For most campers, tents in the range of $100 – $200 will offer the best balance of quality and affordability. If you want one that is significantly more comfortable, lightweight, or weather-resistant, expect to spend more than $200 or even $500.
I created some rough guidelines below. Here’s the detailed article on how much you should spend on a tent. All price ranges assume you are getting a 2 – 4 person tent unless otherwise stated. You can determine for yourself which bucket you fall into:
- Fewer than 10 nights a year in fair weather; don’t care much about extra features — $50 – $100
- More frequent campers who may encounter some bad weather or those who do winter camping – $150 – $300
- Campers who don’t want to sacrifice comfort – $150 – $500+ for glamping
- Camping with large groups and families – $150 – $400
- Those who are just starting out — $100 – $250
- More serious backpackers going ultralight — $250 – $500+