11 best tents 2018: for camping on family holidays, solo adventures and thru-hiking

Boost your enjoyment of the outdoors, whatever the weather, with the best tents for car camping, solo adventures, and for camping with family and friends

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It’s no secret that camping is excellent for your mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes, there’s no greater tonic to the stresses of modern life than hitting the countryside for a few days, either for some solo time or to hang with family or friends. 

To do so enjoyably, you deserve the best tent for your budget and for the way you want to camp. The latter is especially important. Why? You might enjoy car camping, and can therefore take a bigger tent designed with extra special features. 

Or you might love hitting the trail solo, pitching up wherever you can find a quiet spot. A lightweight fast-pitch backpacking tent would suit you best there.

Walk into any camping gear shop and you’ll quickly see the sheer volume of tents available. Such an overwhelm of choice could make it harder for you to find The One. The good news? That’s where our expertly curated buyer’s guide comes in!

And as 2018 comes to a close, now is a great time to pick up a tent for spring 2019 (or winter 208 if you're the hardy type) as retailers discount stock. The best prices will always be shown below, so if the prices drop further in the Boxing Day sales, those prices will be shown on this page.

Our expert pick

  • When you’re heading away for a couple of days camping, you don’t need a big, fancy tent that takes an army to pitch. The best tent for this scenario has a simple, easy to wrangle design, yet offers enough room for comfortable living and sleeping.  
  • For those reasons, our current top choice is the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3, a superb tent for three-season camping. It’s a three-man design, but it does get a bit cramped if the three of you take your gear inside the tent as well. That’s why we recommend it as a spacious, warm and windproof tent for two adults, or a couple and a little one.

It’s tempting to go for the cheaper option when choosing a tent, but, in our years of testing, this is actually a false economy – the tent you paid £40 for will probably end up in landfill next summer.

Investing in a high-quality tent that will last you years means you won’t have to go through the rigmarole of researching and buying a new one each spring. It’s also good news for the environment, so you’re doing your part for the planet’s wellbeing in addition to boosting your own by getting outdoors more.

Why use a tent for camping?

Our ancestors might have been down with dwelling in caves, and yes cave camping is still a thing, but most people do it with a little more comfort and luxury these days. Tents are essentially our temporary home outdoors; a (sometimes very swish) shelter to retreat to for more comfortable living and sleeping when camping. 

Depending on where you’re camping and the climate, your tent can keep you safe from intense sunlight and heat, from rain, extreme cold and wind, or from falling debris and insects. Oh, and not to mention keeping you at arms length from any local wildlife who might fancy a meet and greet while you’re sound asleep.

Fun fact: the oldest known tent was found in Moldova, Eastern Europe. It dates to around 40,000 B.C. and was built using mammoth bones and hides, with animal fats used as a form of waterproofing. We can only imagine what it smelt like inside...

What are the different types of tents?

Modern tents for camping, backpacking, hiking and for general outdoors living come in a range of shapes and sizes. The most popular ones are:

  • Basic ridge tent
  • Dome tent
  • Geodesic and semi-geodesic
  • Inflatable tents
  • Bell tents
  • Teepees
  • Tunnel tents

Some of the major brands you’ll come across in your journey to find the best tent for you include Big Agnes, Vango, Coleman, MSR, Terra Nova, Outwell, Decathlon, Hilleberg and The North Face. 

There are lots of newcomers entering the (muddy) field too, with innovative designs coming from brands such as Tentstile, with its sublime floating tree tents, and Cinch, with its nifty pop up modular tent.

The incredible Connect Tree Tent by Tentsile

How to find the best tent for you

Why do you want to buy a tent? Where are you going to use it? Are you camping alone or will you be camping with others? How many others? And do you want to camp in the spring or summer only, or are you looking for a three season+ tent to help you enjoy the outdoors well into the colder months?

These are all great questions to keep in mind when reading through our picks for the best tent below. During our research and testing, we considered tents of all shapes and sizes, but each of them has one thing in common: they’re designed to keep you and your gear warm and dry, no matter what the elements throw at you. 

Ready to dive in? Then here’s our expert picks, with each individual tent carefully chosen because it’s the best option for a specific scenario, use or budget.

The best tents available to buy right now

The best tents 2018: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 3

1. Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 3

The best tent for camping weekends away without any drama

Specifications
Sleeps: 3
Weight: 1.36 kg
Structure: Semi-geodesic
Packed size: 14x48 cm
Best for: Lightweight protection for three season use
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight protection+Three season use
Reasons to avoid
-Very snug for three people-Not up to proper UK winters

The award-winning Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 3 thrives in the wild. This is the perfect tent for those of you who regularly love camping at the weekend and want a reliable, three season tent to provide you with a wind- and waterproof shelter. 

One of the first things we noticed about the tent was how light it was for a three-person design, weighing in at only 1.36kg. Suffice to say, it’s easily portable, which makes it versatile for a range of easy-pitch camping scenarios.

The Fly Creek UL 3 has been redesigned with a vertical door to give you extra headspace when climbing in and out. A dry entry vestibule keeps the inner space dry if you're constantly coming back and forth in the rain. 

That vestibule is also big enough to accommodate three backpacks without you having to stack them, so the area stays neat and clutter-free. 

If you do intend to pack three people into the tent, we'd suggest sleeping two up, one down to eke out some extra space as it does get snug in there. For couples or for two and a little one, there’s a generous amount of space to chill and sleep.

Best tents Vango's TC 500 XL Air

2. Vango TC 500 XL Air

A great choice for luxury camping with your family

Specifications
Sleeps: 5
Weight: 50.55 kg
Structure: Tunnel
Packed size: 80x53x58cm
Best for: Luxury camping; outdoor holidays with the family
Reasons to buy
+Easy AirBeam pitching+SkyTrack in-tent hanging system
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Very heavy

Fancy taking your squad into the great outdoors? Make your trip special with one of Vango’s most luxurious inflatable tents, ideal for families and friends to camp comfortably together. 

There’s so much space inside the 500 XL AirBeam, you could throw an in-tent party and still have room to set up your camping table, laden with treats and drinks, as well as a few padded camping chairs for added luxe.

The best tent for longer camping holidays where space and comfort are a must, Vango's five man 500 XL Air offers king-sized bedrooms, a big living space and a pre-attached awning that can be opened up as an additional seating area.

There are many other features making the 500 XL Air worth checking out, and we’ve enjoyed lots of them while testing this tent. These include Super AirBeams, Vango's clever inflatable 'poles' that helped us erect the tent without breaking a sweat.

The tent also benefits from a SkyTrack II hanging system, giving you the means to hang camping lanterns, wash bags and more, freeing up much-needed floor space.

The best tents 2018: MSR Access 2

3. MSR Access 2 Tent

Ideal for camping on snow covered ground

Specifications
Sleeps: 2
Weight: 1.64 kg
Structure: Semi-geodesic
Packed size: 46 x 15 cm
Best for: Lightweight snow-line camping, ideal for ski tourers
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight snowline camping+Ideal for ski tourers and splitboard fanatics+So bright you'll be spotted from space
Reasons to avoid
-Less robust than a mountain tent

Well, you won’t have any issues with mistaking your tent for someone else’s when it’s this bright. The MSR Access 2 is a firm favourite among backcountry skiers and splitboarders, as it’s light to carry, easy to pitch, and provides warmth and protection from the cold.

Lighter than a mountaineering tent but warmer than one built for backpacking only, MSR has designed the Access 2 with an innovative pole structure that stands proud against the wind, actively ‘shedding’ it to stay upright. 

It’s strong enough to withstand overnight snow-loading too, so even if there’s a fresh downfall while you sleep, it won’t cause you any trouble coming morning. Without question, this is the best tent for serious powder hunters.

The best tents 2018: Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT

4. Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT

The best tent for thru-hiking and backpacking

Specifications
Sleeps: 3
Weight: 2.6 kg
Structure: Tunnel
Packed size: 58 x 20 cm
Best for: Hiking and backpacking
Reasons to buy
+Exceptional weight to space ratio+Sleeps three in comfort+Innovative rear venting
Reasons to avoid
-Needs space to pitch

Light, robust and with enough space to cook, pack gear and faff about in, the Nallo GT will last long enough for your children to inherit. A true legacy tent, this is one to aspire to if you're invested in exploring the outdoors.

Ideal for all-seasons camping, through summery and lousy weather, this Hilleberg stunner will consistently keep you dry and sheltered. The light weight is surprising considering how much room there is inside, especially if there's only two of you camping in it.

It’s certainly not cheap, but if you love backpacking and thru-hiking, and especially if your work involves camping out regularly, you won’t regret splurging a bit extra on this three-man leviathan. 

The best tents 2018: Snugpak Ionosphere

5. Snugpak Ionosphere Tent

Pretend you're in the SAS with this covert bivvy style shelter

Specifications
Sleeps: 1
Weight: 1.2 kg
Structure: Bivvy bag
Packed size: 48 x 14 cm
Best for: Adventure racing and wild camping
Reasons to buy
+Super compact+Low profile
Reasons to avoid
-Claustrophobic

If you have a survival experience coming up and need to take your own camping gear, this is the best tent for you. Military tested, the Snugpak Ionosphere is purpose built for toughing it out in the wilds.

Lightweight, small and low to the ground, the Ionosphere uses two small poles to gain some structure and offer you breathing space. All that but without creating too much height to give away your position.

There's a decent amount of floorspace in the tent, so you'll be able to take your pack in there with you, as well as your shoes and any valuables.

The best tents 2018: Terra Nova Quasar

6. Terra Nova Quasar

The best four-season tent for all-weather mountain expeditions

Specifications
Sleeps: 2-3
Weight: 3.47 kg
Structure: Geodesic
Packed size: 54 x 18 cm
Best for: Mountain expeditions in all weathers
Reasons to buy
+Durable+'No rattle' zip pulls+UV resistance with superb waterproofing
Reasons to avoid
-Not exactly lightweight

A classic mountain tent for two, the Quasar has been proven over decades of heavy use to be the ultimate shelter for all weathers and all climates. It was updated last year with 30 denier nylon ripstop Watershop fabric for the flysheet, reducing the weight of the tent even further. 

The same basic design has a variety of spin-offs for different extremes, from an ultralight version through to a full-fat polar expedition number with snow valances. 

We’ve used the waterproof and UV resistant Terra Nova Quasar in all sorts on conditions when hiking, and we’ve noticed it’s a lot quieter inside, even during high winds, than other tunnel-style tents. If you’re looking for bombproof and long lasting, this won’t let you down anytime soon.

Pitching is easy too, as the tent comes with colour coded poles that makes it pretty much idiot-proof. 

The best tents: Vango Banshee Pro 300

7. Vango Banshee Pro 300

A superb trekking tent for those doing DofE

Specifications
Sleeps: 3
Weight: 2.82 kg
Structure: Tunnel
Packed size: 46 x 17 cm
Best for: DofE, Beginners and value camping
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+All-in-one pitching+DofE recommended
Reasons to avoid
-Little on the heavy side

The Vango Banshee is a smashing trekking tent that won’t break the bank. Easy to pitch and with lots of neat features like twin doors to allow access to both ends.

The company’s ‘TBS II Tension Band System’ makes a decent fist of tackling the issues of crosswinds too. Not only that, but even at sub-£150 you still get proper fabrics and Yunan Eco Alloy poles. 

The weight is the main disadvantage with this one, but you’d have to spend a lot more money to improve on this quality tent.

The best tents 2018: Coleman Instant Dome 3

8. Coleman Instant Dome 3

The best instant tent for fuss-free camping

Specifications
Sleeps: 3
Weight: 4.1kg
Structure: Geodesic
Packed size: 100 x 30 cm
Best for: No-nonsense camping
Reasons to buy
+Easy to set up+Cheap
Reasons to avoid
-No inner-Not for heavy usage

Pop-up tents are pretty much synonymous with festivals these days, thanks to the speed and simplicity of pitching, but they're not really designed for the more mature audience looking for a little more comfort. 

Coleman has come up with a grown-up alternative: the Instant Dome 3, a tent offering space for three people and boasting a 1-minute pitching system thanks to poles that are pre-attached to the tent.

If you love the idea of camping but are put off by the thought of having to mess around with poles and instructions, this is the best tent for you. Bonus: it's easy on the bank balance too.

The best tents 2018: Nordisk Alfheim 19.6

9. Nordisk Alfheim 19.6

Stylish glampers will love this beautiful teepee

Specifications
Sleeps: 8-10
Weight: 18 kg
Structure: Tipi
Packed size: 36 x 99 cm
Best for: Camping with a load of friends
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeously big tent+Internal cabins to help you share
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy to lug across fields-The light colour attracts dirt fast

Looking for a yurt to erect in your garden, or to take with you on an extended camping holiday? Sporting a super-heavyweight 18kg cotton construction, the Alfheim is ideal for car camping trips and semi-permanent dwelling, sleeping 8-10 people with ease.

Named after the home of the light elves in Norse legend (obviously), the Alfheim 19.6 provides enough room for a stove or a campfire in the centre, with the top of the tent opening like a chimney for just this purpose.

Don't worry about draughts as a result: there are a series of internal 'cabins' available to sleep up to four people, as well as a zipped-in floor for further protection and heat retention.

The best tents 2018: Outwell Montana 6

10. Outwell Montana 6 Family Tent

The best tent for affordable group camping

Specifications
Sleeps: 6
Weight: 21 kg
Structure: Tunnel
Packed size: 39 x 80 cm
Best for: Family on a camp site
Reasons to buy
+Lots of space+Cheaper option
Reasons to avoid
-Large design may not suit all-Customisation options cost extra

When you've got a family to think about, your camping needs are pretty simple: you want as much space as possible. Outwell makes tents exclusively for families, and its range is vast – there are over 40 to choose from on the website, ranging from simple to out-of-this-world.

The Montana hits the middle sweet spot, with space for up to six people and loads of room to relax inside. It also has a range of customisation options, such as a porch extension and a beefed-up roof for when the weather turns extreme.

There are two separate and generously sized bedrooms, so you can introduce some private space as needed. If the weather’s nice, unzip the side porch and extend your living space directly into the field you’re camped on. 

The best tents 2018: Decathlon Quechua Arpenaz

11. Decathlon Quechua Arpenaz 2

A budget-friendly option that packs down unbelievably small

Specifications
Sleeps: 2
Weight: 2.2 kg
Structure: Geodesic
Packed size: N/A
Best for: Camping on a budget and festivals
Reasons to buy
+Good value+Easy to put up
Reasons to avoid
-Boring design-No room to stand

Want a tent for less than £20? You got it. The thought of spending tons of cash on camping gear can be a little off-putting for beginners, especially if you don't need a load of space or you want a basic tent that's easy to wrangle.

Decathlon's Quechua range offers solid options in just about every size and type of tent, starting with the perfectly fine two-man Arpenaz 2. It's easy to erect and pack down, and offers UV protection as well as shelter from drizzle and wind.

You'll be able to pitch it by yourself without any drama, and when you're done the tent rolls down into a carry sack, so just sling it over your shoulder and go.

The final word:

As we said earlier, it pays to spend as much as you can afford on a tent. It will last longer, have a greater range of features, and offer you better protection outdoors. For ease of use and lightweight portability, we love the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3. And you get a nice chunk of change from £500, too.

If you have the budget to invest in a superb car camping tent for your family, look no further than the Vango TC 500 XL Air. This luxury tent is like a home from home, with generous living space and lots of genuinely useful features to help your brood feel comfortable when camping.

About the authors...

Mark Mayne is an outdoors journalist who specialises in camping, hiking and diving.

Claire Davies is Senior Content Editor at T3 and routinely tests camping gear, and walking and hiking tech for the Outdoors channel.