Here are our thoughts on the best Kelty tents and whether Kelty tents are good.
As an avid camper, I’ve always wondered what’s the best brand for my gear. And Kelty certainly sparked my interest.
Are Kelty tents good?
With more than 100 nights in various tents and 10+ hours comparing each Kelty tent with similar models, I’ve got an excellent answer for you:
Kelty tents are great for those who camp more regularly. Kelty tents, both for car camping and backpacking, are built for the best weather protection and durability.
The best Kelty tent is the Kelty Wireless 4. It offers incredible value — it is uncommon to see tents with 2 doors, 2 vestibules, and a full-coverage rainfly at this price. You can also set it up in less than 5 minutes with Kelty’s Quick Corner Technology.
One of my biggest frustrations when reading other online reviews is that every tent looks good by itself. Every tent has some good features.
But I think the actual test is how they stack up to other tents with similar prices. Did you really get your money’s worth?
That’s why I’ve included comparisons in my review of each tent. And depending on what you want, there are better alternatives out there. Let’s jump in.
Kelty has been in the outdoor gear market since 1952. That’s almost 70 years and still counting. If they haven’t built up a solid reputation, they would’ve been gone by now.
Kelty embraces the idea of play, of being the brand that “gives you the easy and spontaneous excuse you need to get out there and escape from the mundane.”
How does this translate to their tents? Well, all their tents feature Kelty’s Quick-corner technology for easy set-up. By “easy,” I mean under 5 minutes. There are built-in pockets for tent poles at each corner so that you can position and slide them in effortlessly.
And if you fantasize about looking up from your tent and seeing all the stars on a clear and serene night, you’re in the right place. All Kelty tents are built with large panels of meshed walls for the best stargazing.
Kelty Car Camping Tents
- Wireless – one of the best tents out there
- Tallboy – reliable choice for people who want more vertical space, but otherwise pretty average
Kelty Wireless 4
Although the Kelty Wireless 4 isn’t cheap, it offers incredible value compared to tents with similar features.
It’s an excellent option for anyone that wants a spacious, livable, and weatherproof car camping tent.
Kelty named the tent “Wireless” because “you need to disconnect to reconnect.” And I think it stays true to this slogan given the amount of comfort and space.
Space & Comfort
The Wireless 4 has a very generous amount of floor space, along with 2 doors and 2 vestibules.
With a length of 90” and width of 87”, it’s one of the largest among 4-person tents.
That being said, it’ll be a snug fit for 4 adults. Each person would only get 20 – 23 inches of space. That’s only 3 – 5 inches wider than a plane seat. Thus, I recommend you fit 3 adults in it max to make sure it’s actually comfortable for everyone.
The 2 doors and 2 vestibules make the Wireless a very livable tent. People can get in and out easily, and there’s no need to take any dirty gear inside the tent.
This is where the Wireless really shines. People said this tent has kept them dry in a storm with strong winds and heavy rain.
The waterproof rating means the fabrics should stay leak-free in rain showers. And all seams are taped.
More importantly, having a full-coverage rainfly means the wind won’t blow rainwater into your tent from the side.
The Wireless incorporated some innovation in the poles as well. Fiberglass poles are traditionally considered to be not very durable in strong winds. But Kelty really mitigated this issue by having a third pole that spans the top of the tent in addition to the 2 X-shaped poles.
Set up & Transport
The Wireless 4 is easy to set up with Kelty’s quick-corner technology. In fact, you can get it up in under 5 minutes, according to some reviews.
I also like how the carry bag comes with shoulder straps, which makes things so much easier.
The only downside is that it’s a bit heavy at over 10lbs. But weight shouldn’t be too much of a concern for car camping.
Comparison with other models
The Wireless 4 is hands-down one of the best tents in its price range. Name-brand tents with similar features cost a lot more. A few I’ve looked at:
- REI Trail Hut 4: About 3lbs lighter with aluminum poles, slightly less interior space, no full-coverage rainfly
- Marmot Tungsten 4 and Limelight 4: similar features with full rain fly and vestibule, but with a much lower peak height.
I didn’t find anything similar from MSR or Big Agnes.
A more affordable alternative is the Coleman Skydome. The interior is equally roomy, but there aren’t any vestibules for storage or full coverage rainfly for the best weather protection. Coleman is a very reliable brand as well.
Kelty Tallboy 4
As the name suggests, the Kelty Tallboy is tall. With a peak height of 70”, many will be able to stand up in it. Combined with one large door and window, this is a very livable tent.
But don’t expect to stand up straight if you are over 5’8”. You have to account for the sloping walls and the thickness of the air mattress/sleeping pad.
And with a length of 96 inches, it’s better used as a 2 or 3-person tent rather than a 4-person one.
It doesn’t come with any vestibules, which means you can’t store your gear outside. But this is pretty standard among tents in this price range. The Wireless is an exception with 2 vestibules.
In terms of weatherproofing, I would use this tent only in fair weather. To begin with, the waterproof rating of 1200mm is not very high. Exposure to UV rays and general wear and tear over time could make the waterproof coating no longer effective. Moreover, the rainfly only covers half of the tent.
And with such a tall frame and traditional X-shaped fiberglass poles, it won’t be very sturdy in windy conditions. It’ll probably hold up, don’t get me wrong, but the wind can put a lot of strain on the tent.
Overall, the Tallboy is still pretty hard to beat at its price point. If you don’t mind paying a bit more, the Alps Mountaineering Camp Creek 4-person tent could be a better choice with a center height of 84 inches.
Kelty Backpacking Tents
Here are the series included in Kelty’s lineup:
- Late Start – a basic model designed for backpacking in fair weather
- Grand Mesa – a basic model designed for backpacking in good weather
- Night Owl – most spacious but also the heaviest
- Dirt Motel – Kelty’s premium backpacking tent, 2 doors, highly waterproof with no extra weight
All of them are high-quality, entry-level backpacking tents at relatively affordable prices. But compared to other tents, Kelty ones are pretty average. We’ll go into more detail about each model later on.
In case you’re wondering, Kelty is not the brand for ultralight backpacking gear since all 2-person models weigh more than 4 pounds.
Kelty Late Start 2 and Grand Mesa 2
- Very lightweight in its class
- Small pack size in its class
- Easy to set up with Kelty’s Quick Corner
- Unreliable in the rain
- 1-door, 1-vestibule design compromises on comfort and convenience
Weight & Size
Although 4.5 pounds to 5 pounds is not super light, the Kelty Late Start 2P and Grand Mesa 2 are among the most lightweight tents we found in this price range.
But they didn’t achieve their lightweight with higher-quality materials, but rather by not having 2 doors and 2 vestibules.
The packed size of 16’’ x 7’’ x 7’’ is very compact for both models.
Space & Comfort
The Kelty Late Start is pretty standard in floor length and width. Still, it’ll be a snug fit with 2 people in there. At 54 inches wide, it is 6 inches narrower than a queen-sized mattress.
The 85-inch floor length may seem like a lot but remember the tent walls slope inward quickly, so not all of the length is usable. The Kelty tent poles are also not bent significantly at the knee to create more volume at the bottom.
I’m 5’11” and have been in similar tents before. Let me tell you, you’ll definitely be touching the walls if you are above 6’2” or so.
The Grand Mesa creates even more of a struggle with its tapered design.
With 44” at the head and 57” at foot, the two campers would be bumping shoulders against each other. It can feel a little claustrophobic for sure.
Both models fall short in terms of comfort with their 1-door, 1- vestibule design. The Late Start 2 features a large door on the side, making getting in and out of the tent challenging for at least one camper.
The Grand Mesa 2 is slightly better since the door is located at the foot rather than the side. Both people can get out without disturbing each other.
You may think that’s not too bad. But most 2P models I found in this price range come standard with 2 doors and 2 vestibules.
Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend taking either the Late Start or the Grand Mesa if you expect a good amount of rain at your campsite. Many reviewers have reported the tent could get wet and damp.
Yes, the 1800mm rating on the floor and rainfly means it’s technically waterproof, but 2 factors undermined its real-world performance:
First, it’s difficult to guy out the fly in a way that makes it completely taut. This means rainwater will pool on the fly rather than run down the tent, making the tent more prone to leaks.
Second, not enough ventilation can create condensation and make the inside very damp. There don’t seem to be vents on the rainfly, which are pretty standard on similar models. Yes, meshed walls are great, but they aren’t going to move the air around when you close out the rainfly.
Comparison with other brands
The Kelty Late Start and Grand Mesa are pretty average for models in this price range. But it’s hard to find another tent that’s better across the board. You’ll have to make some tradeoffs.
Naturehike Cloud-Up 2 Person: This 2P tent also has only 1 door at the foot. But it’s significantly more waterproof (>3000mm rating for both the fly and floor). It’s also 1 pound lighter (3.75lb for the 2P model). But the tradeoff is that there’s less space, with a center height of only 39 inches. Certainly not for tall people.
Marmot Crane Creek 2-person: This is suitable for tall people who want a bit more space and don’t mind carrying around a slightly heavier tent (5.2lb). It also offers 2 doors and 2 vestibules to make things more convenient.
Kelty Night Owl 2
Kelty’s Night Owl series is a little more expensive than Late Start or Grand Mesa. It’s targeting entry-level backpackers who want more space and comfort.
The floor is 90 inches long, enough for people over 6 feet on a thick sleeping pad. The 43” peak height is also enough for campers to sit up.
And having 2 doors and 2 vestibules is a big plus if you actually have a tentmate. You don’t have to crawl over each other to get out, and there will be a lot more space to store gear.
But of course, there’s a catch. It’s about 1 pound heavier than the Late Start and Grand Mesa 2P tents. It won’t be a big problem at all if you’re splitting the weight between 2 backpackers, though.
And similar to Late Start and Grand Mesa, it’s not a tent suitable for heavy rain.
Kelty Dirt Motel 2
This is the premium backpacking tent within Kelty’s lineup. And this is where Kelty starts to compete with high-end brands like MSR and Big Agnes.
The Dirt Motel is designed for those who may backpack in rainy conditions but still don’t want to sacrifice comfort.
The Dirt Motel will truly stand up to the rain without leaking. The most important reason is that the rain fly is made of SilNylon. I’ve mentioned it’s one of the most durable waterproof treatments in my article on how to tell if a tent is waterproof.
It’ll last much longer than the standard PU coating, which will be damaged by exposure to UV rays. None of the competitors we’ll mention comes with a SilNylon fly.
Like the Night Owl series, it also offers 2 doors and 2 vestibules, which are great for 2 people.
The downside is that the floor is only 84 inches long. So it’s not a very spacious tent. You also aren’t getting any weight savings for the additional price you pay over a Late Start or Grand Mesa.
Comparison with other brands
MSR Elixir 2 Backpacking Tent – MSR is a highly reputable brand, but I must say the Kelty Dirt Motel wins here. The Elixir 2 offers the same amount of space but weighs 6 lbs fully packaged. The waterproof rating is quite similar between the two, but Elixir 2 comes with a regular coating rather than SilNylon. This means the waterproofing won’t last as long. Basically, Kelty Dirt Motel was better across the board.
Big Agnes Blacktail Hotel 2 – This is a fair competitor with the Dirt Motel. Yes, it weighs more. But it offers an extended, massive side-entry vestibule that allows you to put an entire bike on its side. And, of course, there’s another smaller rear vestibule. If you want the extra storage and space to hang out, the Blacktail Hotel 2 might be a better choice for you.