Instant tents have become a new favorite camping commodity, advertising a sixty-second setup that makes camping a breeze. However, these tents bring with them an interesting array of pros and cons.
Instant tents are worth it for beginners or those who camp in more predictable conditions due to their faster and easier setup. However, if you want to be ready for anything outdoors, they may not be worth it due to the higher cost and bulkier packaging. For most camping trips, the standard tent setup will serve you equally well.
Of the hundreds of campers we asked about instant tents, there were two main responses. The majority (about 65%) of campers answered that they thought instant tents were a nice addition to their camping experience.
The rest thought that instant tents cost too much money and their self-respect as a camper needed to be considered.
Judging by their responses, we would say that instant tents are a great item for one of the niches of the camping community.
If you go camping with your friends every so often, driving down to a lake or to another favorite camping spot, instant tents will save you time and make your camping experience pleasant.
On the other hand, if you want to be ready for any kind of outdoor experience with your friends, whether it be backpacking or something of the like, conventional tents are more reliable and versatile.
They will suit whichever camping challenge you are presented with, and will make setting up camp feel a little more engaging. Whichever type of camper you are, pick the tent that is right for you.
Still, there are a lot of pros and cons to instant tents. Here’s what they have to offer:
Instant Tent Features
An instant tent is called as such because it is built with the ability to spring up quickly—in fact, most instant tents advertise that they can be set up in less than sixty seconds.
Compared to conventional tents, which can take a group of people about 5-10 minutes to set up, they can be a real convenience. If you are wondering how instant tents are set up, check out the video demonstration below:
Besides their easy setup, instant tents generally have a more modern design as well. They have nicer awnings and windows, and the larger ones are divided into different rooms, separated by screens.
In comparison, conventional tents usually follow the dome model, which uses one large room to contain everybody. The instant tent design also allows for easy ventilation.
Instant tents vary in size and capacity just as much as conventional tents do. However, conventional tents usually use a dome shape that is wider on the bottom than your average instant tent with the same capacity.
Instant tents make up for this by having a little bit more headroom. Rather than coming to a dome, their ceilings are much more level, allowing more people to stand up (in the tents large enough for standing, that is).
When folded, however, instant tents take up much more space. This is because of a few factors. First of all, instant tents tend to have much thicker poles. The poles aren’t built to save weight and space but instead are built to set up a tent quickly.
Instant tents usually tend to have thicker material as well. For size examples, a conventional 4-man tent will collapse into a small bag that only weighs about 8 pounds. On the other hand, an instant 4-man tent will weigh more than 10 pounds and require anywhere from 6-10 times more space.
When it comes to a tent’s ability to handle the weather, instant tents perform just as well as any other kind of tent—that is to say, results vary.
Though all tents are advertised as waterproof, some tents will resist hard rain for years without ever needing a reapplication of waterproofing, while others will leak the first time you take them into the outdoors.
We’ve written a whole article on how to tell if a tent is waterproof.
While shopping for tents, pay attention to the customer’s reviews about the tent’s ability to withstand water.
Whether you have an instant tent or a conventional tent, there are always ways to keep your tent dry inside, apart from using the tent fly. The best thing you can do is prepare; stake your tent down tightly using the stabilizing lines.
Make sure that your tent has been waterproofed recently. Set your tent up on top of a tarp with trenches dug around the tarp to channel water. Rig another tarp to cover the tent completely to add an extra layer of waterproofing.
If you are sufficiently prepared, you will have a dry night no matter what type of tent you brought. If you aren’t prepared, you are rolling the dice whether you have an instant tent or not.
The same is also true of durability. If you keep your tent dry when packed away, and you keep it safe from damage, it will last for a long time, whether it is an instant tent or not. The durability of your tent depends a lot less on if it is an instant tent and a lot more on how much you use it and how well you take care of it.
Pros of Instant Tents
There’s a lot of advantages that instant tents have to offer campers. Here’s a short list of some of the reasons why you would want to go for an instant tent over a standard one:
- Fast Setup
Having a fast setup is the most obvious advantage that instant tents have to offer. While it doesn’t take that much longer to set up a conventional tent (most take 5-10 minutes to finish), every minute saved is a minute you can spend enjoying nature.
One owner of an instant tent says that the best part of owning one is that after you finish, you can watch everybody else in your camping group stumble about with their poles while you feel like a king.
- More Head Room
Because instant tents aren’t built like a dome, they offer occupants more space around their heads. With the larger sizes, you don’t have to worry about hunching over all the time, and you can enjoy camping that much more.
Even the largest conventional tents struggle to provide as much headspace because they are structurally different—built in such a way that while they have plenty of space to lie down in, there isn’t as much room to stand.
- Reliable in Bad Situations
Though the amount of time that you save with an instant tent isn’t that important, it can be significant in some situations.
If you get to your campsite after dark, for example, the 10 minutes that you might spend constructing a conventional tent can easily be multiplied into 20.
Instant tents, however, are much simpler and will save you even more time in less-than-ideal situations. If I showed up at my campsite during a rainstorm, I would want to save every second I could to get myself out of the cold, wet conditions. An instant tent would be my friend in that situation!
- Easy Cleanup
Just as instant tents are easy to set up, they are also easy to take down. They usually fold into themselves, which makes it easier to fit them into the bag.
I personally have wasted a lot of time folding and refolding my conventional tents to try to make them fit into the bag that they came in. Instant tent owners don’t have that problem and can pack up their tent in a fraction of the time.
With so many other things that have to be done in the morning, you end your camping trip, having a tent that is easily packed away is a relief.
- Pieces Stay Together
One of the often overlooked benefits of an instant tent is that it is impossible to lose the pieces.
With other tents, having all of the components of the tent in different bags means that it is much easier for parts to fall out or be lost.
The biggest culprit for conventional tents is the poles. When you are packing up, it can be easy to set the thin poles down in the grass and never see them again. With instant tents, however, everything is interconnected. The poles don’t have to be added, so they never get lost.
- Perfect for Old and Young
Though you may argue that conventional tents are just as easy to set up as instant tents, the truth is that not everybody can easily set up a conventional tent.
Setting up tents requires careful hands, which may be a challenge for older campers. For all of the campers out there who have trouble manhandling a conventional tent, but don’t want to spend money on an RV or a trailer home, instant tents offer the tent camping opportunity.
If you are bringing a family of children and want them to set up their own tent, instant tents might be just the thing for children that can’t reach what they need to to set up a normal tent.
Cons of Instant Tents
Though instant tents have a lot to offer, there are also plenty of tradeoffs that you need to consider about instant tents. Here’s a list of some of those tradeoffs:
- Instant Tents Are Expensive
One of the biggest things that prevent people from buying an instant tent is that they are more expensive than standard tents.
The exact prices vary from tent to tent, but in general, an instant tent will cost about 30 percent more than a standard tent of the same size.
For a lot of campers that are always looking at new gadgets or replacement tools, the extra expense is just not worth it. They would rather get a simple tent and have room in their budget for other things.
Instant tents aside, tent costs can vary widely, and you can learn a lot more about how much you should spend on a tent.
- Instant Tents Are Heavier
One of the biggest complaints that people have about instant tents is the added weight and bulk.
People who haul all of their gear in the trunk of their car probably don’t have any problem with this. But if you are carrying your tent for any length of time, you might quickly regret the extra pounds.
For this reason, most people won’t consider bringing an instant tent on a backpacking trip.
- Instant Tents Aren’t Able to Be Divided
Another reason why instant tents aren’t good tents to bring while backpacking or trekking anywhere is that they can’t be divided among different people’s packs.
If you are taking your friends backpacking and are planning to all share a tent, one person will have to carry the whole tent, without any room for anything else.
With conventional tents, you can divide up tarps, poles, stakes, and other paraphernalia among many campers.
Because these standard tents are more versatile, filling the role of backpacking tent or car camping tent, they are much preferred. People don’t want to buy an instant tent for camping and then be without options when they want to go backpacking.
- Lack of Replaceable Parts
Instant tents are a little bit frustrating for tent owners because they are very difficult to repair when they get damaged. Though they have durable parts, they are also much more complex than your average tent.
If a tent pole snaps on a traditional tent, it is easy to get a new one or match it with a tent pole from another tent you own.
If a part of an instant tent breaks out in the wild, repairs can be costly. If the mechanisms are broken, you will probably need to buy a new tent entirely.
- Instant Tents Make You Miss Out on an Important Aspect of Camping
By far the biggest complaint that campers have about instant tents and the reason that people don’t buy them is that many consider instant tents to be unnecessarily easy and simple.
Most campers have been building traditional tents for years, and consider the staking out of tents and the insertion of poles to be one of the most vital parts of camping.
The idea of getting a tent that sets up just a few minutes faster but costs them part of the camping experience is rejected by traditional campers far and wide.