Recommendations on a starter tent?

Sarah N.Sarah N.
edited March 19 in Gear Advice & Care

I've been using friends tents up until now, but think it's time to invest in my own. Any suggestions on a good tent for a beginner? Hoping for one that I could set up myself if needed, and lightweight, but could sleep 2-4 people. Let me know what you think!

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  • I bought a Columbia 4 person dome tent last year and used it in the Adirondacks, liked it allot, easy to set up, me and my wife slept in it and it was perfect.
  • As a backpacker, you want to keep your pack as light as possible. You should avoid getting a 4-person tent unless you know you'll always have 3-4 people with you. As a rule, if you have 4 people going on a trip, most of the time someone else will have a tent so you would rarely need the 4p capacity.

    I have a 2-person tent for backpacking (Big Agnes Fly Cr UL 2). It's super light, super comfy for 1 person, and fits two people. There are other great brands out there, and REI has a similar version for about half the price (great starter tent!). I have the REI Half-Dome 2 also, and since it's a little heavier, I use it for car camping, but would carry in a backpack if I needed it.

    FYI: REI has a sale on Big Agnes tents right now.
    https://www.rei.com/product/895956/big-agnes-fly-creek-hv-ul-2-mtnglo-tent
    40% off on this one (although it has lights which add weight, it's still under 3 lbs).

    You're going to spend ~$200 for a 5-lb tent, and ~$300-400 for a 3-lb tent.

    You could go to a 3-p tent, but you'll spend more money and carry more weight. For car camping, a cheaper 3-4 person tent is nice to have. For backpacking, a light (not cheap) 2-p tent is perfect. If you get a cheap one you'll end up upgrading next year. Get a nice one now and save the time, money, and effort.

    PM me if you have any q's.

    Zac
  • Well, you have asked a question which will undoubtedly lead to many having both positive and negative experiences with all kinds of tents.

    Before deciding on a particular size, or even brand I would ask yourself the most prevalent type of backpacking you see yourself doing.

    • Single overnight adventures
    • Multi-Day
    • Long Distance Thru hikes

    Also, how would you like to see yourself in a year or two?

    • City slicker who likes the outdoors
    • frequent bag nights not to far from the real world
    • Hardcore backpacker who can manage any trail and pack weight
    • Ultra light wanker who drops every once possible to reduce pack weight
    • Somebody who falls somewhere in-between

    For instance, if its only occasionally that you will have more than just yourself or one other sharing space, you have a vast array of choices in quality, Price, size, weight, and features.. You can begin to trim the field if you decide whether a few things going in like the list below.  The larger the tent, the less choices you will have in keeping a tent relatively light and packable, so for those some choices may not apply

    So, some prelim questions that come to mind (skipping hammock or Bivi)

    Budget - Price ranges are crazy in this area
    Season(s) for use  -  Summer only? or a 3 season tent. These are probably the most popular. A true winter tent has its' own set of criteria ( for another discussion)
    Type - Free standing  or not 
    Style - Single or double wall,
    Features - Built in floor, bug netting, rain fly, etc...
    Weight - Try comparing tents of like size, footprint area, overall capacity, not necessarily as solo vs. 2 person tent.

    Ok, that's a bit to chew on, I'll add a note from my own experiences which led me to think along these lines.

    Many years ago when I began, my first tent was much like the original REI Half Dome. My thinking at the time was 2 person tent that would work well in 3 seasons. It worked well, lasted about 8 yrs.. but was heavy, a bit over 5lbs. packed.

    I went through a few tents similar to this one, and before I retired the last one, I learned that overall pack weight was key for me to enjoy longer miles with less fatigue.  So, I studied all the options out there at the time and moved myself into a lighter tent with enough room to satisfy my needs..

    1st tent
    80oz. - Half Dome style with rain fly- 32 square feet of floor space two doors 

    2nd tent

    22oz. - Six Moons Designs Lunar Solo single wall  - 26 sq. ft. + 8.5 sq. ft.

    What does this tell you? I don't know.. I only hope if gives you the sense that there is more to it that meets the eye if you take the time to notice.

    Best of luck, and happy Trails

    Drew @ eyehike.com



      

  • REI is always good for a start. 

    The big big thing is to decide on your use. 

    Car camping?  Ozark Trails tents from Walmart —especially if you are thinking four people in a tent. 

    Expedition or destination camping (hike in some place and then camp for a weekend and hike out)?  Half Dome from REI. 

    Through Hiking or similar backpacking with a new campsite every night?  You might want to look at the Naturehike tents on Amazon. 

    All of these get you in the door for around a hundred dollars (sometimes with a used tent). 

    When you aren’t just beginning, then you can look for more expensive tents. 

    But it it depends a lot on what you are doing and your budget. 
  • Alot has to do with what you'll be using it for.
    My first tent was $30 and was a 3 person tent from target. I'm glad i started there because i learned how to properly care for a tent(and how not to). it was heavy but it did the trick. when i upgraded I got the LL Bean ultra light backpacking tent (got it about 6 years ago and i still have it). there are so many good tents on the market. read the reviews, decide what you want to spend and when you buy it....test it in the conditions that you'll normally use it in. if you don't like it...return it.

    Not sure if that helps. Also - i don't use tents much anymore - tarps are more fun and lighter weight. =)

    Best,

    Kasey Marsters
    foxtrickadventures.com
  • There are plenty of good options out there, one of them is a Marmot Limelight tent. It is light enough for backpacking and super simple to set up. Also, most of the better brands of tents have videos on youtube showing how to set them up. That can give you an idea of the effort involved.
  • Kasey M. said:
    Alot has to do with what you'll be using it for.
    My first tent was $30 and was a 3 person tent from target. I'm glad i started there because i learned how to properly care for a tent(and how not to). it was heavy but it did the trick. when i upgraded I got the LL Bean ultra light backpacking tent (got it about 6 years ago and i still have it). there are so many good tents on the market. read the reviews, decide what you want to spend and when you buy it....test it in the conditions that you'll normally use it in. if you don't like it...return it.

    Not sure if that helps. Also - i don't use tents much anymore - tarps are more fun and lighter weight. =)

    Best,

    Kasey Marsters
    foxtrickadventures.com
    I like this approach. For the first tent of your own, I would opt for really cheap (think closeout special, craigslist, garage sale). Keep it cheap and get out! Plus, if you have an inexpensive tent, you'll worry less about it and use it hard. Welcome to one of the best addictions there is! ;-)
  • Stay away from the Ozark Trails tents...they're NOT waterproof.
  • Too true, Steve
  • RickHRickH
    It kinda sounds like you are not really a beginner. You have been using friends tents so you might know a little about what you are looking for. All the above options are great advice but if you want to buy a tent that will last a lifetime, look at the Hilleberg models, choose one that best suits your needs now and in the future and you will never have to buy another tent... except maybe another model for a different use... but you can use these tents until you retire and then hand them down..if you’re not ready for that big of investment, use the comments above and buy a great Nemo, REI, Big Angus, Marmont or similar with the features and weight you want and run with it....stay away from cheap non true outdoor retail stuff. You will hate spending the money when it tears up and or leaks. 
  • Mary T.Mary T.
    edited May 9
    I agree with Rick H, but my two cents'-worth follows:
    1. Do not buy a tent with fiberglass poles. They can shatter under repeated stress. Which would suck on a hiking trip.
    2. The body of your tent should include as much netting as possible for ventilation.
    3. If you will be camping on granite or other places where it may be difficult to stake your tent and guylines, then be sure to buy a free-standing tent (Domes are free-standing, Tubes are not)
    4. I agree to absolutely not buy the cheap tents. There are exceptions-- a $70 dome tent I bought from Dick's almost 15 years ago. It had aluminum poles and served as an indestructible, weather-proof car-camping tent for me and my husband for over a decade. Also, my Eureka listed below retails at less than $100. But I don't trust it for long trips because of the fiberglass poles and it isn't free-standing.

    REI is an excellent resource because the people there generally know what they're taking about. If you're balking at the $300+ prices of many of the tents listed above (although they are all worth it, especially if you are becoming a hiker who needs light-weight durability), I would suggest checking out tents on Sierra Trading post too. 

    My personal tent collection: Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 (my backpacking tent), Mountainsmith Genesee 4 (my car-camping tent), Eureka Solitaire tube/bivy (my starter backpacking tent--despite the fiberglass poles and required staking, it made me through a field season in the Sierra Nevada backcountry, including stay bone-dry during numerous thunderstorms).
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