3 Keys to Finding Your Next Car-camping Tent

Buying a tent for your next car-camping adventure is easy if you keep a few pointers in mind.

A jeep with a camping tent.
Thanks to advances in materials and construction, the term “car camping” can also literally include camping on your car.Smittybilt

Car camping tents have come a long way from the heavy, hot, creosote-smelling, army-surplus tents some veteran campers remember our dads struggling to set up back in the day. Today’s tents are lighter, easier to set up, and have some nice built-in comforts like interior storage pockets and fun places to hang a dome light for reading ghost stories after dark. With all of the options out there, however, how do know which tent to choose? Here are a few tips to help you take the guesswork out of tent buying by boiling all of the decision making down to three key criteria.

Size

Coleman Camping Sundome
This roomy tent is large enough to accommodate a queen-size air bed and strong enough to withstand winds up to 35 mph.Coleman

When choosing a tent for car camping, the size of your party matters. Four adults in a 4-person tent will be cramped, but two people in a 4-person tent leaves lots of room for extra comforts (you can take that queen-size mattress) that make it fun. When in doubt, bigger is better. Also consider the “peak height,” which is the measurement from the floor to the tallest part of the tent’s ceiling. Unless you like shimmying into your jeans while laying down, having a tent that’s tall enough to stand up in is a big plus.

Construction

Smittybilt Overlander Tent
Easy to set up and take down, this standard-size rooftop tent sleeps 2 to 3 people (XL size sleeps 3 to 4 people).Smittybilt

Cheapo fabrics won’t cut it. Look for tents that are well-constructed with reinforced seams at critical stress points like corners where tent poles tuck in. Remember, not every night camping out is going to be perfect. Rain and wind can be a blast to camp out in, but not if your tent leaks or poles snap in the middle of the night when the wind comes up. Compare materials and when that occasional foul-weather night hits, you’ll be glad you invested a little more in a quality tent that keeps the fun in and rain out. If you’re going to be camping with four people, do yourself a favor and purchase a tent with two entrances so you’re not tripping over each other if someone needs to answer nature’s call in the middle of the night.

Ease of Setup

Coleman 4 Person Instant Cabin Tent
This tent sleeps four and sets up in about a minute. Badge:Coleman

It’s not uncommon to reach your campsite after dark. When everyone’s tired and just wants to eat something and crash, being able to get your tent set up (maybe even by yourself) without a lot of hassle will make the whole experience better. The fewer poles and places to attached rainflies and the like, the easier your tent will be to set up. Just don’t sacrifice set-up speed for poor construction. And remember to take a trial run by setting your tent up and taking it down a time or two before you go. Trust me, it will make it a lot easier when you have to do it in the dark, the rain’s coming, and you can’t find your headlamp.

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