The best tents for car camping

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  • When you're car camping, gear weight isn't an issue, so choose a tent with plenty of space and all the extra features you and your camping buddies could want in a home away from home.
  • The Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch Dome Tent is our top choice because it sets up in minutes, reduces interior brightness and heat, and has a screened-in vestibule.
When you're trekking miles into the backwoods or making your way up a mountain, every once of gear weight counts, and you often must balance comfort against practicality. Overland hiking or mountaineering means using the most compact, lightweight tent that suits the conditions. Luxuries like enough space to sit up are sacrificed to keep your pack weight down. When you're car camping, on the other hand, you only need to haul your gear a short distance from the back of your vehicle, so go ahead and bring along a big, bulky tent with all sorts of special features.Advertisement

Choosing the best car camping tent starts with simply considering the size of the tent you need. As all tents tend to comfortably accommodate one or two fewer people than they state, a four-person tent is ideal for a party of three, a six-person tent perfect for a group of four, and so on. You should choose a car camping tent that will easily house the people and gear in your party, but there's no reason to choose a tent that's dramatically bigger than you need. The larger the tent, the larger the campsite required, and the more hassle it is to set up and break down.

After tent size, you should consider the likely environment in which the tent will serve as a shelter. If you're camping where it could be cold, wet, windy, snowy, and so forth, then you need a rugged, reliably waterproof tent that can be fixed fast to the ground that that is rated to withstand the elements. For summertime camp outs in cozy, prepared ground, you can probably opt for a less expensive, easy to pitch tent that can block some rain and breezes but that wasn't designed for use in a blizzard.

With tent size and environmental suitability established, finally, you can look at the unique features of each potential car camping tent. I own six tents (and have had three others in the past), which I admit seems excessive, but each really does serve a different purpose. One is extra large and spacious and has a separate screened-in vestibule in which my wife and I can relax after the kids are asleep within. Another is spacious enough for four campers yet relatively squat to the ground and able to resist driving winds and pouring rain. Still another was specifically designed for use during cold weather. Some of my tents have huge mesh windows for airflow, others smaller openings that preserve heat. One has a slot through which power cords can pass while another is large enough for several sleepers yet light enough for short hikes into the woods from the parking site.

Oh, and also there's the budget to consider. That's always a factor when you're, y'know, buying things.

Here are the best tents you can buy in 2019:

Updated on 04/25/2019 by Malarie Gokey: Updated prices and formatting.

Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.

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The best car camping tent overall

The best car camping tent overall
Why you'll love it: The intuitively designed Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch Dome Tent ensures your comfort with features like its Dark Room tech that reduces interior temperatures and brightness and its separate screen-in "porch" area.

The Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch Dome Tent is a superlative tent for the family of campers for one reason above all others: adults and kids usually have different sleep schedules. This was very much the case just last weekend when my son and I went camping. I tucked him into his sleeping bag (after several books and lots of snuggles and a bit of negotiation) before sunset, yet thanks to Coleman's Dark Room technology walls and rainfly, the interior of the tent was plenty dim enough for slumber.

On hot days, that same Dark Room tech can reduce interior temperatures by more than 10% when compared with other tents, and that can mean a notable several degree difference. Another reason this tent is great for families is thanks to the screened-in vestibule that sits outside the main tent door. You can fit a pair of camp chairs into this bug-free zone, enjoying time technically spent outside while staying near the sleepers within. And by the way, you can fit two queen air mats or five twin sized mats within the tent and still have a bit of room for gear.

I single-handedly set this tent up in less than 10 minutes, and breaking it down again, including folding the tent and rainfly up and tucking it all into the bag, which I was able to zip shut, took just over 12 minutes. (Yes, I timed myself.) Not bad for a shelter that kept me and the kid bone dry in a downpour.

The Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch Dome Tent earns the Fast Pitch part of its name thanks to pre-attached poles, an easy Instar-Clip suspension system, and an elegant simplicity of overall design. If you have set up even two or three tents in your lifetime, you won't need to use the directions to pop this baby into shape. Also worth noting is the small zippered slot through which you can pass a cable and the pair of hanging pockets for sundry items.

With nearly 150 reviews posted on Amazon at the time of this writing, the Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch Dome Tent has a solid 4.2-star average rating. A customer named Lizzy admonishes people to "buy this tent now," noting how "beautifully it held up in the rain" and wind.

A gear tester from Outdoor Gear Lab called the Coleman Carlsbad an "affordable tent" that "stays cool and dark in the sun" and that is "easy and fast" to pitch. You can also read our full review for more details.

Pros: Dark room tech keeps interior cool and dim, screened-in vestibule, fast and easy to pitch

Cons: Pre-attached poles often become tangled

Buy a Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch 6-Person Dome Tent on Amazon for $181.97 (originally $224)

The best car camping tent for foul weather

The best car camping tent for foul weather
Why you'll love it: The best way to ruin a camping trip is to use a tent that leaks or lets icy wind in, and the Kelty Gunnnison 4 Tent won't permit any of that.

I can pitch my Kelty Gunnison 4 in about five minutes, and I've done so as rain began to fall at what proved to be the leading edge of a long storm. Being tent-bound is no fun, but being tent-bound and soaked is miserable. When you and your camping buddies are nestled down in this rugged dome tent, you'll stay warm and dry within even as the storm rages without. I recommend you tuck a maximum of two additional people beside yourself into the Gunnison 4.

The Kelty Gunnison 4 is constructed primarily out of rugged polyester but with a mesh upper third that promotes fresh airflow. The tent's rainfly sits several inches above the primary dome, so any condensation that collects will flow well outside of the tent and will stay off of you and your stuff. Breaking the Kelty Gunnison down is every bit as easy as setting it up, and it packs into a bag you could fit into a larger hiking pack should that ever be necessary.

At 10.5 pounds, this tent is a bit too heavy to use on any appreciable distance trek, but it sure is a fine choice for car camping or for short hikes into your campsite.

A fellow Kelty Gunnison 4 owner named Michael said the tent was of "outstanding quality" and noted that it kept him dry in "torrential downpours," which is exactly what Kelty designed it to do.

In their Gunnison review, the folks from Backpacker called it able to "take on challenging weather and withstand strong winds."

Pros: Excellent weather resistance, large mesh panels for fresh air, rapid setup

Cons: Quite cramped if shared by four adults

Buy a Kelty Gunnison 4 Tent on Amazon for $249.13 Buy a Kelty Gunnison 4 Tent on REI for $279.95

The best low-cost car camping tent

The best low-cost car camping tent
Why you'll love it: The affordable Wenzel Shenanigans Teepee Camping Tent sets up in just a couple of minutes, thanks to its center pole design.

Yep, you can get a five-person tent for about a hundred bucks. And while the standard disclaimer that Wenzel's tent is best used with one fewer campers than specified applies, overall this is a roomy, comfortable tent. In fact, thanks to its tepee design, full-grown adults can stand up in this tent. That same height paired with venting around the peak allows heat to rise and keeps the tent cool in the summertime, though the design also means this isn't a great cold weather option.

While this also probably isn't the best tent if you're expecting a downpour, it's a great choice for camp outs in mild weather or for setting up at the beach, the park, or at a music festival. Or, if you're my son and me, it's a fine tent to pop up in the backyard and then fill with stuffed animals. Large square windows provide additional air circulation and a nice view, as does the generously sized two-panel door. I can get our Shenanigan Teepee erected in about five minutes including staking it down, and the breakdown process is even faster.

Also, there's that price. While not a rugged backwoods tent that will get you through a blizzard or a big storm, given that pint-sized price, this is a tent that's worth buying even if you'll only use it a couple times a year.

A Digital Trends review called the Wenzel Shenanigan "ridiculously easy to put up" thanks to its single center pole design.

Pros: Great low price, easy to set up, well-ventilated and good for warm days

Cons: Not a great choice for inclement weather

Buy a 5-Person Wenzel Shenanigans Camping Teepee on Amazon for $86.29 (originally $119.95)

The best three-season car camping tent

The best three-season car camping tent
Why you'll love it: The Slumberjack Roughhouse 4-Person Tent will keep you warm when the temperature drops, but with the shade awning raised, it also enjoys plentiful airflow, keeping things cooler on hot days.

When I go camping in the fall or early spring, my Slumberjack Roughhouse often comes with me. That's because during autumn and springtime you can count on large temperature fluctuations throughout the day. I know can count on this tent to keep me warm inside when its rainfly is zipped down tight, or to let in plenty of fresh air and keep things cool during the hotter parts of the day. I also know my Roughhouse will keep me dry in a downpour thanks to the reliable rainfly and is stable in the wind thanks to its low-profile design.

The interior of the tent feels pleasantly roomy thanks to nearly vertical walls, which allow you to actually make use of the living space. With a pair of hiking poles propping up the shade awning, you can enjoy some covered outdoor space as well. It takes a few more minutes to set this tent up than do some of the others on the list, but it's worth the effort when the Slumberjack Roughhouse keeps you protected from the elements.

A gear reviewer from Bass Master appreciated how the Slumberjack Roughhouse's "sturdy... low profile" allows it to effectively "fight the wind."

Pros: Good in warm and cool weather, wind-resistant low profile, vertical walls maximize usable living space

Cons: Setup takes practice

Buy a Slumberjack Roughhouse 4-Person Tent on Amazon for $183.04

The best car camping tent for large groups

The best car camping tent for large groups
Why you'll love it: Not only can the Ozark Family Trail Cabin Tent sleep up to 10 people, but it can do so in three separate rooms.

Granted, if you stuff 10 people into the Ozark Family Trail Cabin Tent, it's going to be a tight squeeze, but you could fit that many folks if you needed to. A better idea, though, is to pop in three queen-sized air mats and let six campers enjoy their outing in comfort. And they can do so with privacy, too, as a pair of zip-in, zip-out walls can create three interior rooms in this jumbo-sized tent, each room featuring its own mesh windows and doors.

As you might expect, a tent this large is heavy and bulky even when properly packed up, and it takes a good amount of time to get the thing pitched, especially if done by one person. But once you have your Ozark Family Trail Cabin Tent ready, you will have a capacious tent that's great for use by large groups or for the prolonged camping trip where you want to store plenty of gear inside and away from the elements.

With the rainfly in place and thanks to the tent's taped seams, you and your camping buddies will stay nice and dry in this roomy tent even in steady rain.

With nearly 250 reviews posted online, the Ozark Family Trail Cabin Tent enjoys a 4.2-star average rating. A buyer named Anne reports that it kept her family dry despite rain that fell "nonstop for a week straight." Another owner called it a "high-quality tent at a very affordable price."

In their write up, Outside Online called this "massive tent" an ideal choice for "a group of friends" and noted the convenience of its three doors.

Pros: Huge interior size, divides into three rooms, great price for large tent

Cons: Tedious setup process

Buy an Ozark Family Trail Cabin Tent on Amazon for $38.60 to $319.95