The best car camping tent should be easy to set up, provide weather protection, and be collapsable to a relatively small size. To find the right tent for your specific needs, you should also consider tent size, material, and cost.
Purchase the smallest-sized tent that suits your needs. There is little benefit to an especially spacious tent for a single person.
Depending on the number of people you hope to accommodate, you might buy several smaller tents or one large tent. A single large tent will be warmer, but less private.
The ideal tent materials are breathable, waterproof, and tear-resistant. Common tent materials include:
- Canvas: Canvas is waterproof, extremely durable, and can be more breathable than nylon. The downside to canvas is that it is much heavier than alternatives and can be harder to stow.
- Polyester: Polyester tents are often less durable than canvas, but very breathable and waterproof. Polyester refers to a broad range of materials (that all contain a compound called ester). Quality varies depending on the specific polyester, with some being better weather-proofed than others.
- Nylon: Nylon is lightweight and durable and can be made waterproof when used for tents. It is weak to UV light compared to canvas and polyester.
Another term you may come across when comparing tent material is “denier.” Denier describes how tightly a fabric is woven, with a higher number indicating greater tightness. High-denier fabrics are more durable and waterproof, but less breathable.
In addition to the material of the tent itself, it is also important to consider the quality of the poles and zippers. Some tent poles are made from fiberglass and some from aluminum. Fiberglass tent poles are light and flexible but are more likely to break than aluminum poles.
A quality car tent is likely to cost upward of $100. There are low-cost tents, but anything under $100 is not likely to provide much protection or offer durable quality. If staying warm is what is most important to you, it’s worth investing more in a sleeping bag designed for freezing temperatures.
Car Camping Tents Versus Rooftop Tents
The tents recommended in this article are small, portable, and can easily fit in the trunk of a sedan. These are nonetheless traditional camping tents that don’t require a car. There are some tents that are specifically designed to be used with Trucks and SUVs: truck tents and rooftop tents.
Truck tents and rooftop tents install to the top of your car (or in your truck bed) and have the advantage of elevation. Above the ground, these tents will keep you better protected from bugs and standing water. However, there are a couple downsides to this type of tent.
The main disadvantage is that rooftop tents are typically much more expensive than similar, on-the-ground tents. The other disadvantage is that rooftop tents don’t work with all vehicles. These tents are typically only suitable for SUVs. Therefore, if you drive a sedan, you’ll probably need a traditional camping tent.