What is the best camping tent? That depends. You need to match your budget and needs to the right style and brand of tent to identify the best tent for you.
I am not going to try to tell you what your camping needs are, and therefore what the best tent is. Instead, you can assess your own needs. Questions you might want to ask yourself are:
- What style of camping am I doing? – base camping (set up and stay two weeks) or touring (set up and pull down every day)
- How many people? – is it for a family, a couple or just yourself?
- Do I prefer canvas or polyester?
- How much room do I have? – both in the car for transport and at home for storage
- Where am I camping? – many camp grounds have relatively small sites, others are open plan
- What is my budget?
- What are the weather conditions I am likely to experience – a Queensland winter can be warmer than a Tasmanian summer!
In assessing your camping tent needs, remember that you do not use a tent like you use a house. The tent is really only for sleeping in — the rest of your activities, such as cooking and eating will generally be done outside the tent, often under a tarp or shady tree, or in a screened shelter if the mosquitos are really bad.
If you are new to camping, look for a tent that is advertised as being for approximately double the number of people you intend to sleep — that is, if you have a family of four, choose a tent recommended to sleep 8 people (6 to 10 people to allow for different manufacturer measurements) to allow additional room to store bags and move around in the tent, but not so huge as to take forever to set up. Make sure you look at how large your beds are too — you will need enough floor area to lay them all down, but also allow some gear for luggage and standing room.
Usually there are several brands that sell each style of tent. I am not going to try to assess the merits of each brand in this post.
The following is my opinion of the positive and negative features of the various tent styles available in Australia.
90% of tents in camping grounds are a type of dome tent. Don’t be tempted to buy the biggest dome from your local camping store (wives/girfriends are notorious for wanting to do this!) unless you have a genuine need for it. Biggest is not always best in camping. It may seem a good idea at the camping store, but when it comes time to set it up …
Medium-sized domes are a good choice for first time campers who are yet to establish their camping needs. Decide on the floor area that you need (approximately double the number of people you intend to sleep), and then look for tents that are simple to set up with a minimum number of poles.
+: good interior space for price of tent; huge variety on the market from small through to huge size, and cheap through to quality; relatively small pack size; cheap and cheerful ones can be thrown away when damaged; polyester is easier to look after than canvas; larger domes are great for base camping
-: relatively slow to setup, and very slow if your wife/girlfriend convinced you to buy the mega mart Taj Mahal dome!; poles can break; can suffer in wind unless guyed out
Cabin tents are generally canvas and have a lot of internal room. For some reason they seem to come up on eBay second hand regularly — perhaps people buy them, use them once and decide they are too hard to set up, then sell them? If you are looking at a large cabin tent, why wouldn’t you just buy one mounted on a trailer? – a camper trailer. With the pack size of these tents, chances are you are going to be taking a trailer anyway.
+: huge sizes available; near vertical walls maximise interior space; relatively cheap for the space; great for base camping; usually have full standing headroom throughout
-: heavy; very slow set up; canvas needs to be properly dried before storage
Tourer tents (also known as bus tents) are generally canvas and have a centre pole. Some of the extended tourers also have a upside down U-pole to support the rear of the tent. The best known (and very expensive) tourer tents are from Southern Cross. There are numerous cheaper versions on the market, including the OZtrail tourer tents. You will often notice this style of tent in the background of photos in camping magazines.
+: fast setup; robust
-: heavy; large pack size; slanting walls decrease tent volume inside; centre pole can get in the way (but can often be removed with a side pole kit); canvas needs to be properly dried before storage
I am using the term turbo tent to describe the increasing range of tents like the Black Wolf Turbo tents. Similar style new models on the market in Australia include the Jet Tent by Oztent and the OZtrail Blitz. Tents in this category are available in polyester or canvas.
+: fast setup on main tent inner; near vertical walls giving maximum space inside; the current range of Black Wolf tents have a reputation for being robust
-: still need to use a fly, adding to the setup time; expensive; lots of moving joints; large pack size
The Oztent system really does not have any other similar tents in the Australian marketplace.
+: fast setup, sturdy construction; lots of accessories to customise the tent
-: low headroom; relatively small for family camping; long pack size will not fit inside most cars; expensive, particularly after you have purchased several accessories; accessories substantially increase the setup time
Swift pitch tents
These are the pop-up style tent. Throw them in the air, they pop out, a couple of pegs and you are done.
+: ultra fast setup; relatively cheap and cheerful; tent inner, fly and frame are one piece
-: small size; can suffer in wind unless guyed out; folding can be difficult (but with practice and the right technique, they are easy)
The quintessential Australian swag has made a comeback. Swags are very popular with single blokes going bush. Some swags resemble one and two person tents with pitching systems and insect screens. Others are more traditional, in that there is the possibility of a snake seeking some warmth joining you overnight.
+: quick setup; warm; able to be rolled up with sleeping gear inside; huge range available; robust
-: limited privacy; relatively large pack size for what they are; some people may find them claustrophobic
A large canvas tent mounted permanently on a trailer.
+: large size; can keep all your gear stored in the camping trailer; double mattress permanently left on trailer
-: expensive; often relegated to the back of camp grounds with the caravans; storage for the trailer at home; canvas needs to be looked after; some of the larger tents can take forever to set up
Hiking tents are generally carried by people on multi-day hiking trips.
+: small pack size; lightweight (important when you are carrying it for several days!)
-: only small sizes available; not as robust as some other tent styles due to lightweight construction; may be expensive due to advanced materials used to minimise weight
Roof top tents
Roof top tents, as the name suggests, mount semi-permanently to the roof of the vehicle. There are several different versions and brands on the market.
+: generally quick setup; sleep off the ground (great for crocodile infested areas)
-: must pack up everytime you want to use the vehicle; relatively small size given the cost; adds weight and increases the centre of gravity of the vehicle