Admit it. Sometimes you just want to bask in the beauty of nature without the burden of a huge backpack or the bother of a deep trek into the woods.
I know how you feel. Luckily, there's a simple solution: car camp!
Just load up your car with the grill, food, drinks, air mattress, sleeping bag, flashlight, luxury items and… hmm, what am I missing… oh yeah, a tent.
Choosing the perfect shelter for your campsite can be a real hassle. I’ve compiled a variety of the best tents for car camping to accompany you on your outdoor adventures.
“Six S” Guide To Purchasing A Car Camping Tent
Purchasing a tent for car camping can be different than purchasing a normal backpacking shelter, since weight is not always an issue. Take into consideration the “Six S” guide to buying a car camping tent: size, season, setup, security, style, and $$.
Unlike smaller two-person tents used for backpacking, car camping shelters are not limited by size and weight. Typically at a campsite, there is plenty of room for a large footprint, so the more spacious the tent, the better.
Most car campers tend to stay away from the outdoors in the winter, so many of the products available on the market are three-season shelters.
Even though you are steps away from the safe have of your vehicle, it’s best to look into the waterproof abilities of each tent. A leaky shelter can put a wet damper on an otherwise positive camping experience.
You may think that most car camping tents have a simple ‘X’ design with two poles, but there are several architectural variations on the market. From tents that have a tunnel-like, semicircle structure, to ones that can simply pop-out from the roof of your car.
Whatever setup you decide suits you best, make sure that you practice pitching it before you venture off to the woods so that your not fumbling around like a fool in front of the entire campsite.
A shelter should always make you feel safe and secure, whether it be from the elements, from intruders, or from that pesky raccoon that keeps trying to burrow it’s way inside to grab the Snickers bar you left in your bag.
To protect your stuff, and your loved ones, you should consider a tent’s material and durability. As previously mentioned, since weight shouldn’t be an issue, there is no need to scour for the newest ultralight cuben fiber tarp shelter.
Even in the outdoors I like to have a little style. Instead of a boring big box tent, perhaps you want to add a little extra flair to your outdoor experience with a flashy print, unique design, or uncommon structure.
It doesn’t have to be a superfluous feature, just something to spice things up in the wild.
Unfortunately, money is typically the end-all-be-all factor when it comes to purchasing a tent. Yet affordability should not be quantified by dollar amount.
For example, say you really want to buy a $500 shelter. Although it may seem expensive at the time, compare it to the average cost of a hotel room, which is about $100. If you spend five nights in the tent, it has already paid for itself and you’ll be able to wake up to the fresh air of the outdoors instead of a gaudily decorated hotel room.
The Best Car Camping Tents
Utilizing the aforementioned “Six S” method, I’ll layout which tents fit best within each category so you’ll be able to narrow down your search for the perfect outdoor oasis.
Best Size: REI Co-Op Kingdom 8
Rule the outdoors with the REI Co-op Kingdom 8. Okay, cheesy joke aside, this tent is boasts plenty of room for the whole family with 12’6” x 8’4” floor dimensions (enough to fit two queen size mattresses with extra room) and with a peak height of 77”, you can actually stand up inside without scraping your head on the ceiling (unless you’re a giant of course).
Unlike most dome tents, the Kingdom 8 utilizes a unique semicircular architecture, allowing for near vertical walls that increase usable volume within the shelter. On top of that, REI has added a large vestibule so that your gear doesn’t cramp your space.
With a material combination of aluminum support poles and a mix of nylon and polyester fabrics (which come seam-sealed form the factory), the Kingdom 8 will keep you safe from the elements, while giving you plenty of space to simply chillax.
Runner-Up: Eureka Copper Canyon 6 Tent
The Copper Canyon 6 has a square design (10’ x 10’) as opposed to the REI Co-op Kingdom’s rectangular layout, but still boasts near-vertical side walls. The weatherability is not 100% effective as the rain fly does not extend to the ground, but should work in mild conditions (just not monsoons).
Still, the Copper Canyon 6 comes in at around half the price of the Kingdom 8, making it a great choice on a budget.
Best Season: The North Face Wawona 6
Conquer harsh conditions with The North Face Wawona 6. Densely woven polyester materials provide plenty of weather resistance without sacrificing overall durability. Not only does the unique bent-pole structure offer great protection from heavy winds, but it also allows for maximal interior volume through near-vertical walls.
Unlike other 3-season tents, the Wawona 6 has only a single wall (no separate rain fly). While this is great for an easy setup, it does make it more difficult to control condensation, thus affecting overall warmth. Fortunately, there are several windows, doors and vents to regulate air flow.
In addition to it’s weatherability, the Wawona 6 provides a myriad of features including an 80” ceiling, built-in vestibule, and a multitude of storage pockets. With The North Face’s lifetime warranty, you’ll enjoy a lifetime of outdoor experiences in this tent.
Runner-Up: Mountain Hardwear Optic 6
You may not think the Optic 6’s open design will protect from the harshest of conditions, but that’s where Mountain Hardwear’s unique structure comes in. The oblong-shaped tent allows heavy gusts to flow right over the Nylon Taffetta fly, while the “airy architecture” provides plenty of ventilation during the warmer summer months.
Although pitching the vestibule may be difficult (as it requires a separate support like trekking poles), the Mountain Hardwear Optic 6 is a great option for car camping in extreme conditions.
Best Setup: Front Runner Feather-Lite Rooftop Tent
Quench your thirst for adventure with the Front Runner Feather-Lite Rooftop Tent. The stow-and-go setup of this shelter makes it ideal for car camping.
The entire tent stores on your car’s roof, and when you have the urge to stop for the night, simply undo the straps, pull out the retractable aluminum ladder, and the shelter pops-up. To make things even more simpler, Front Runner has made their cartop oasis under 100 lbs., although I still recommend using two people to during the mounting process.
The Feather-Lite dons a thick, waterproof 400D Oxford fabric, which will give you and your partner(s) plenty of protection from the elements, yet also offers superior ventilation through the many mesh windows.
As it’s situated on the roof of the car, cold air beneath the shelter may leave you chilly at night. Luckily, Front Runner has provided a built-in mattress for added comfort, although it can only fit two adults comfortably.
Although lightweight, the Feather-lite may weigh down your bank account. The tent itself costs an arm and a leg, and that doesn’t include the specialized roof rack or optional “ground room” walls. But, if you’ve got some change to spare and have an intense desire for adventure, than the Front Runner Feather-Lite rooftop tent may be your best car camping choice.
Runner-Up: CORE 9 Person Instant Cabin Tent
You typically don’t think of easy pitch shelters having a 14’ x 9’ footprint, but the Core 9 Person Instant Cabin isn’t your typical tent. At a reasonable price, the “instant 60 second setup” will have you tucked away in your sleeping bag in no time. Although similar shelters may boast better durability, the Core 9 has plenty of weather protection capabilities to keep you safe and dry at the campsite.
Best Security: Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Deluxe 8-Person Tent
Turn your car camping tent into an outdoor oasis with the durable Kodiak Canvas Deluxe Flex-Bow. The 68 lb. mega-shelter is made with “Hydra-Shield, 100% cotton duck canvas” which provides you with the one of the most durable tents on the market. Although canvas isn’t typically waterproof, Kodiak has coated their entire Flex-Bow with silicone, which allows for the ultimate water resistance.
The sheleter’s rugged look may make you feel like you’re on an exploration mission from centuries ago, but it still boasts all the modern amenities you are looking for in a car camping tent. The 10’ x 14’ floor area and 6’6” ceiling height make this outdoor shelter seem more like a mobile home, but it may be difficult to assemble, since the Flex-Bow is technically not free-standing.
Coming in on the pricier side, there are plenty of cheaper four-season tents on the market, but the Kodiak Flex-Bow is quite possibly the safest, and securest of them all.
Runner-Up: Kodiak Canvas Truck Bed Tent
Do you like the Flex-Bows durability and safety features? Do you own a pick-up truck? Well, then maybe you should invest in the Kodiak Canvas Truck Bed Tent.
The shelter easily mounts onto most truck beds via Clamp-on rails, and offers plenty of space to lounge around with a 5’6” ceiling. Again, it’s on the pricier side, but comes with Kodiak’s durable, waterproof Hydra-Shield technology. Where ever you can park your truck, you can camp (plus you won’t have to worry about pesky critters bothering you!).
Best Style: Rhino-Rack Foxwing Tagalong
The possibilities are endless with Rhino-Rack Foxwing Tagalong tent.
While it may not be the flashiest of colors, the beige shelter offers a unique “sidecar” design that will have your camping peers looking at you with envy. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but that old married couple across the site may come over and give you a few compliments.
Unfortunately, the Foxwing Tagalong is only compatible with Rhino-Rack’s Sunseeker and FoxWing awnings, and can put a serious strain on your bank account. But, with a simple setup that involves parking, extending the awning, zipping the tent to the awning, and then staking it down to the ground, it may be worth it.
Unlike many of the rooftop shelters, the stylish tagalong will keep you 100% on the ground, so far all you acrophobics, this tent may be your best bet. With durable canvas materials (which are said to protect not only against water, but also UV rays and mold), the Rhino-Rack Foxwing Tagalong will keep your family dapper and dry in the outdoors.
Runner-Up: PlayDo 4-season Yurt Tent
For a more authentic look, you may want to consider the PlayDo 4-season Yurt Tent. The cotton canvas walls and PVC floor will keep you dry, while the stove pipe chimney will give you the ability to stay toasty inside the teepee.
Although the setup may appear to be complicated, it becomes simple the more your practice. So if you want to be the ultimate glamper without dropping serious coin, look into the PlayDo 4-season Yurt for all your car camping endeavours.
Best $$: Coleman Sundome 6
If you want to enjoy the outdoors, but don’t have the necessary funds to splurge on an expensive tent, than the Coleman Sundome 6 may be the right shelter for you. The square layout allows for a large footprint (measuring 10’ x 10’) while still providing excellent head space to shimmy around the interior.
Many cheaper tents seem to skimp on durability and weatherability, but the Coleman Sundome 6 provides campers with a unique, cost-effective solution. The Weathertec welded floors prevent any pooled water from entering underneath the shelter, while the Varitec ventilation system allows plenty of airflow to prevent condensation from forming from underneath the rain fly. Although, the polyester fabric is not the best on the market.
While the Sundome 6 is not meant to withstand extreme conditions, the Sundome 6 provides adequate weather protection under normal conditions.
As an outdoor gear sales veteran of 120 years Coleman has fine-tuned the manufacturing process and is able to provide a(nother) reliable, yet sub-$100 alternative tent for the occasional camping enthusiast.
Runner-Up: Ozark Trail 10-Person Family Tent
Coming in at just over $100, the Ozark Trail 10-Person Family Tent offers a whopping 20’ x 10’ floor area with three-separate rooms (with privacy dividers).
While the quality of materials and ease of setup may not be the best on the market, it’s hard to pass up the cost-to-comfort ratio of this huge shelter. If your looking to have wilderness party with friends, or simply a relaxing trip with the family, then this Ozark Trail 10-person tent may be your best option.
Car campers rejoice; you should finally have a few tenting options that meet your car camping needs. Remember that buying a shelter can be a big step into the outdoor world, so consider the size, season, setup, security, style, and $$ of each product.
Whether you prefer the roomiest of features in the REI Co-op Kingdom 8 or the stow-and-go capabilities of the Front Runner Feather-Lite Rooftop Tent, beef up your gear arsenal with these top car camping tents of 2018.
And as I always say: Camp on!
Jay toes the line between hiking enthusiast and vagabond as he treks across the world, soaking in it’s natural wonders. When he’s not exploring the trail, he writes articles to help guide others through their outdoor conquests.