Whether you’re a family car camper, an overlander or somewhere in between, settle in—your search for your next nylon abode begins here. This year’s crop of tents for car camping proves that there’s a perfect home away from home for everyone who wants to venture out.
When you’re car camping, you don’t need to worry about the bulk or weight of your gear. That means you can enjoy shelters that are roomier and more feature-packed than backpacking tents. Camping tents are also often easier to set up than their backpacking cousins. A great camping tent can make sleeping on the ground a wholly enjoyable experience.
We tested the best tents you can find at REI and distilled all of that feedback into what you’ll find in this guide. Whether you’re planning on bringing a crowd for card games and grilling or seeking a shelter sturdy enough for whatever nature throws at it, you’re sure to find the perfect car-camping tent for you right here.
For quick recommendations, check out the results of our round-robin here, or scroll down for in-depth reviews.
- Best All-Around Camping Tent: REI Co-op Wonderland 6
- Best Cartop Tent: Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2
- Best Camping/Backpacking Crossover: Marmot Limestone 4P
Other Top Performers
Test Results: One tester dubbed this palatial tent his “party house,” and we couldn’t agree more. Not only is the 75-inch peak one of the highest in our test, but this behemoth serves up 75 square feet of space—bigger than some brick-and-mortar bedrooms. To that end, the REI Co-op Wonderland 6 comes with a divider, so campers can create two rooms in the rectangular floor plan, each with its own entrance. Testers had no problem fitting three sleepers on each side, but we highly recommend turning the front room into a lounge with chairs and a card table if you’re not maxing out the capacity.
The tent doesn’t feature any true vestibules, but awnings on each side provide plenty of room for staying out of the rain while you take your boots off. On clear days, you can roll back the awnings to soak up some sun. And unless you’re filling it to capacity (which was rare for our testers), you’ll have plenty of room inside the main area for storage. If you really want a spacious vestibule, go all out: Connect the Wonderland Mud Room ($125, sold separately) to give yourself a 56-square-foot foyer. “It’s like our gear garage,” says one tester. “At night, we move our chairs, side table, firewood and the kids’ bikes inside. If it’s raining, we’ll even eat in there.” The Wonderland 6 performed well in extended precipitation and wind when properly guyed out, and testers reported no leaking, even when it was pitched on the lawn when the sprinklers went off (all in the name of good testing). But note that a shelter this tall with near-vertical sidewalls won’t be the best option in high winds. If you’re planning to camp in more exposed terrain or extreme conditions, opt for a tent with a more aerodynamic profile like the Marmot Limestone 4P.
Of course, luxury like this isn’t compact. The Wonderland 6 packs down to a bundle the size of a toddler. On the plus side, with a tent this big, you’ll likely have plenty of camping companions helping out. Setup crews of any size will appreciate the color-coded poles, clips and sleeves that simplify the pitching process. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Enjoy maximum living space in the Wonderland 6, which has two rooms that can easily accommodate families and folks looking to spread out.
- Nights out: 60
- Testing states: Colorado, South Dakota, Utah, Washington
- Best testing story: “Google Maps is the key to good desert car camping,” one tester says (yes, he’s a millennial). “A little bit of scouring before this trip yielded some cool new ideas, but it wasn’t until we drove almost directly to the edge of a 1,000-foot-deep canyon and set up with a view over the rim that we realized how clutch that prep was.”
Test Results: Somewhere between car camping and van life, using a roof-top tent offers a luxurious and convenient home away from home. The pop-up-style shelter from Thule nests inside a large, zippered compartment that affixes to most car racks; to use it, just remove the cover, extend the ladder and flip open the clamshell floor. The learning curve is minimal, and one tester has her setup time down to 30 seconds. (The Ayer 2 is heavy and cumbersome to install on your car rack, so instead of removing it every weekend, we recommend leaving it there for camping season if you’re a frequent camper. The cover is durable and will protect the tent.)
After her two-week road trip from Colorado to Nevada and back, another tester noted that there was no need to find someplace smooth to throw down; she could arrive at camp late and snap open her Ayer 2. On dry nights, she’d roll open side panels to reduce condensation, and in the nicest weather, she’d remove the rainfly completely and zip back the roof windows to create a skylight to the stars. The Ayer 2 has enough room for two adults to sit upright and play cards comfortably (with a 70-pound husky snoozing on the other end) or three adults to sleep shoulder to shoulder.
Inside, you don’t need a sleeping pad. The Ayer 2 comes standard with a 2.5-inch-thick foam mattress that’s nearly as comfy as your bed at home. Throw your sleeping bag up there or put in sheets and a comforter from home if you’re trying to impress. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Camp wherever you park with the ultra-comfy Ayer 2, which, once installed, pops up in less than a minute.
- Nights out: 26
- Testing states: California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah
- Best testing story: “We weren’t sure if we were going to find a manageable campsite near Red Rocks National Conservation Area, Nevada, but when we stumbled into an area bordered by rocky cliffs and desert cacti, we knew it was going to be one of the best campsites of the trip,” one of our testers says.
Test Results: Life is complicated enough without having to buy specific tents for car camping and backpacking. Although the Marmot Limestone 4P doesn’t have the height or headroom of tents like the Skyward 4, it has a similar floor plan for easy living—and more importantly, it packs even smaller. The four-person tent comes in at under 12 pounds and packs up to about the size of a couple soccer balls. Hardly ultralight, but more than capable of being divvied up among the group for a backpacking trip.
Our group of four testers sat out some rain in New York’s Coyle Hill State Forest in the Limestone 4P without issue, noting that vents adjacent to the door kept condensation to a minimum. Even when our crew invited five more friends over for cards, each person fit fine when sitting in a circle with room in the middle to play. And when the party was over, sending everyone on their way was easy thanks to the massive double-wide door in the front (you can open either half or the whole thing). Another smaller door in the back makes entry and exit without disturbing your partners easy. Buy here.
Bottom Line: When you only want a single shelter for backpacking and car camping, the Limestone minimizes the compromises you’ll need to make between comfort and packability.
- Nights out: 23
- Testing states: California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York
- Best testing story: “One night in Joshua Tree we ran into a group of people waiting for a portal to another universe to open up. There was a lot of drumming, didgeridoos, pan flutes and glow sticks while we tried to sleep. I don't think the portal opened because they were all still there in the morning.”
Other Top Performers
Test Results: The REI Co-op Skyward 4 is like a portable cabin for a small group, with similar luxury and space to the Wonderland 6, but simpler and better suited for smaller crowds. The livability comes from its geometry; the Skyward 4 is more cube-like than pyramidal, so the entire floor plan is usable, and campers shorter than 6 feet should be able to stand up and walk around without bumping sloping walls. It’s the perfect size for a couple of festival-goers or, in one tester’s case, campers holed up during a rainstorm: “We rearranged our pads and sleeping bags to create a living room on one side, then positioned the iPad on the other for an A-plus movie-watching setup,” one tester says. An easily-removable rainfly separates the vestibule, allowing you to boost ventilation while keeping the vestibule covered. Add to that the big mesh window opposite the door, and the tent will stay comfortable even in the heat of the summer. (Since the tent is quite tall, plan on using the guylines in wind.) The tent does only have one door, though, which can create some traffic jams in a model with this capacity. The Skyward 4 fits three sleepers comfortably and “four is snug, but doable,” our tester says. Buy here.
Test Results: You don’t have to break the bank to sleep under the stars. Enter the Kelty Discovery Basecamp 4, a four-person shelter for the lowest price of any of these tents—by a lot. Its simple three-pole frame is intuitive and quick to master, even for our camping newbies. You don’t get a ton of features at this price, but our testers happily reported that the removable rainfly and durable bathtub-style floor kept water out during a squall in Shenandoah National Park. The Discovery Basecamp 4 also has a large, D-shaped door, organization pockets on the inside and interior loops for hanging a headlamp or gear loft. An update from its predecessor, the Discovery Dome 4, the Basecamp comes in at less than 9 pounds and packs surprisingly small: about 2 feet long but only as wide as a loaf of bread. One tester even considered strapping it to a backpack to bring into a hike-in campsite. Buy here.
Test Results: If weight and packability are no concern and you want comfort, ruggedness and—especially—an easy, fast setup, the Gazelle is your shelter. The T4 comes looking like a pop-up awning and setup is as easy as standing the tent up and pulling out the four sides (plus the top). Our tester had theirs ready to go in less than 30 seconds while camping atop Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau. Once the T4 was staked down, it was also surprisingly sturdy in 20 mph winds—largely thanks to its weight, hefty poles, and 210-denier polyester fabric. Inside, the Gazelle is spacious, tall enough for most people to stand up in, and comes with two entry points and multiple pockets and windows. The downside: Our tester barely got the tent into the 5-foot bed of his pickup truck. It’s big, and without a truck you’ll probably be putting a few seats down in your car to load it in—not to mention, you might want some help lifting it. Buy here.
Car-camping tents are generally larger, more spacious and more feature-packed than backpacking tents, but also heavier. That would be a problem if you had to haul your setup everywhere—but that’s the beauty of car camping. When you drive to your campsite, weight isn’t an issue. The tents in this guide are roomy, feature-rich and affordable. They’re not the most portable, but there are some crossover tents (like the Marmot Limestone 4P) that are light enough to backpack with and would still be incredibly comfortable in a front-country campground.
In order to select the best shelter for you, consider the following factors.
Every tent model features a number in its name that corresponds, roughly, to how many people can fit inside, lying down shoulder to shoulder. There isn’t an industry standard for how much room each person gets, so think of it as a maximum; four sleepers can fit in a four-person tent, but you’ll be more comfortable in a six-person shelter.
Also take a look at tent specs before buying. The floor area can help you think about where the sleeping pads would be positioned to maximize space, and peak height can tell you how much headroom you’ll have.
Vestibules and Doors
The space inside the main body of the tent isn’t the only space that matters. Especially if you’re dealing with weather or otherwise spending extended time inside your tent, you’ll want to get extra stuff out of the thing. That’s where vestibules come in. These indoor-outdoor spaces on the other side of the door are covered and accessible from the inside of the tent, but don’t eat into the floor space. They’re great for storing extra gear and wet clothes.
If there are more than a couple of sleepers in your tent, having multiple doors is nice. It allows folks to enter and exit without stepping over one another or getting in anyone’s way.
It’s also worth considering things like organization, ventilation and even color. Extra features tend to add cost to the shelter, but can be worth it. Interior pockets, gear lofts and gear loops let you get your sundries off the floor and out of the way, preserving floor space for sleeping. It’s nice to be able to designate one pocket for every sleeper, but not essential.
Being able to remove the rainfly completely in good weather can improve the feeling of being outside. If you have multiple people sleeping in a tent or are camping in rain or humidity, you might want the ability to open vents in the tent to increase airflow and minimize condensation.
A bright-colored tent may make the inside feel more comfortable and pleasant when it’s gray and murky outside. It’s also more visible from afar. A neutral-colored tent, on the other hand, will blend in with its surroundings more.
Beginning in the summer and fall 2019, we’ve sent 25 members (and their friends, families and pups) from across the country out into car campgrounds and parcels of wide-open public land to evaluate the best shelters you can find at REI. They’ve dealt with blazing sunshine, unrelenting rain and gale-force winds, scrutinizing everything from leaks to privacy windows.
Ultimately, after each testing season every tester rates each shelter on its spaciousness, weather protection, durability, features, price and usability. We averaged those scores to give each tent a combined score out of 100; these seven tents are proven to provide the best night’s sleep. The REI Co-op Wonderland 6, ,and Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2 performed supremely well in most categories; the REI Co-op Skyward 4, Marmot Limestone 4P and Kelty Discovery Basecamp 4 performed well in at least one—but not all—categories.
Article by Ryan Wichelns. Ryan is a freelance journalist and climber. His favorite climbs are the random, unaesthetic snow- and ice-covered heaps in the middle of nowhere that require a weeklong scree-choked slog to maybe climb. Don’t ask him why. REI member since 2017.