In 2017, UK residents took a staggering 15.2 million camping trips. That equates to an awful lot of tents, early wake-ups and sweaty sleeping bags.
Despite the lack of meteorological consistency over British summertime, we love to head out under the stars. Obviously these stats have been bolstered considerably by our insatiable appetite for music festivals, which has in turn spawned a whole new type of tent - one with black out lining to keep the sun at bay if you’ve just got in before dawn.
We’ve tested a good cross section of tents here including huge family designs, mid-sized backpacking, adventure-ready ultralight models and basic festival tents for the occasional weekend.
You can read our in-depth reviews below and how we came to our best tents conclusion. But, after much testing, the Decathlon Arpenaz Family 4.2 is our best value pick and Jack Wolfskin Exolight III is our favourite overall.
This generous four man design offers two double bedrooms and a 3.9sqm communal living space with enough height to stand up in. It’s easy to pitch and pack away, won’t fill your boot and has lots of internal pockets to help you stay organised.
Eye Wateringly expensive, but you get what you pay for, which in this case is a 2.3kg three-person super-stylish hiking tent made from interconnected super light poles while the inner bedroom is pre-attached to the flysheet and simply clips on to the pole system.
The expert's view
canvas efforts of our childhood, with inflatable poles, cavernous
interiors and even the off shower room and wardrobe available...if you
have space in the boot.
Backpacking designs have equally improved and
now come with NASA style engineering, instant pitching and wind and
waterproof versatility, but whichever you need, we’ve tested one that’ll
keep you dry and comfortable in all conditions.
The shortlist: best tents
1. Vango Capri Air 500XL
A cavernous AirSpeed inflatable design with two blackout bedrooms, large living area and a practical awning. Well ventilated all round, great 6ft+ headroom SkyTrack system that lets you hang a range of Vango accessories from the beams. It’s 23kg and packs to L70 x H39 x W42cm and the pump will fit in the bag (if you’re lucky!)
2. Quechua Arpenaz Family 4.2
An absolute bargain, this generous four man design is intelligently designed, offering two bedrooms and a 3.9sqm communal living space with enough height to stand up in. It’s easy to pitch and pack down, won’t take up all your boot space and has lots of internal pockets to help you stay organised.
3. Outwell Willwood 5
A five person family tent that, once pitched (two-person job), measures a generous L640 x W320 x H200cm, all from a 20.3kg L73 x dia.35 cm oversized stuff bag. Internally there’s a huge living area and two generous bedrooms, hooks for kit, windows and black-out liners, a canopy for extra weather protection and 4000 mm hydrostatic head material with taped seams for surviving dowbours.
4. Mountain Hardware Aspect 2
Brilliantly light 1342g three-season two-man tent perfect for backpacking or just travelling light, it has DAC Featherlite poles and the design - from ingenious tightening system, high quality pegs and aluminium buckles - stand it out from the rest. This tent is high class, but being white, don’t forget to pack your eye mask.
5. Vango Cuillin 300
A serious tent for the adventurous camper, the 4.2kg (50 x dia22cm bag) freestanding geodesic design and light Yunan Eco Alloy Poles, combined with hardwearing 5000mm ripstop weave flysheet with taped seams, create a shelter for all seasons that’s supremely easy to pitch as the flysheet and inner comes as one piece.
6. Robens Voyager 2EX
All-conditions two-man tunnel tent that at 4m long has impressive amounts of storage. Simple pitching with three Yuan alloy poles and the 5000 mm HydroTex ripstop flysheet remains impervious to the heaviest rain even if you’ve pitched the tent wonky or a gale is blowing.
7. Tentsile UNA
Insect, bear and flood proof tree tent pitched using three slack-lines - three evenly spaced trees - and a heavy duty ratchet buckle for tightening. Designed for one person and their pack (max 150kg) it weighs 3.2kg, and you can use in hot weather without the topsheet for 360-degree views, or peg it out and there’s 2.2sqm of dry space beneath and around it.
8. Coleman BlackOut 3
Straightforward three man dome tent design with 4500mm hydrostatic head waterproofing, fibreglass poles and a relatively light 5.1kg pack weight (L58 x Dia16cm) with exceptional blackout in the bedroom. The porch area has good storage space and it’s 100% UV rated for sunny weather.
9. Jack Wolfskin Exolight III
Weighing just 2.3kg, this is a great example of outdoor engineering excellence. The super-stylish exoskeleton-style three-man dome tent pitches in seconds thanks to the interconnected DAC Featherlite NSL poles. They also make the tent incredibly stable. The inner tent and flysheet are pre-attached and simply clip on to the pole system.
10. Quechua Sir Seconds 3XL Fresh and Black
Our favourite festival tent, this ingenious inflatable pitches in just a few minutes and has a large (210 x 210cm) bedroom area plus two doors and two porches so there’s plenty of space for rucksacks. It also has impressive waterproofing and wind protection and uses black out fabric so is impervious to the morning’s sun. The pump’s not included however.
How we selected the tents to test
Choosing which tent to buy often depends on what you’re buying it for. If you’re heading to a music festival for the first time you’ll probably be thinking more about budget and your ability to sleep in beyond 4am than hi-tech lightweight poles and hurricane proof pitching.
If you’re buying a tent to go on a family holiday with you’ll want the maximum living and sleeping space in the minimum packed-down size for the car, and you’ll almost certainly be looking for space to stow bags and a bit of room to relax if the weather turns bad. And if you’re heading for the hills for a spot of wild camping, or just need to take your tent on the train, you’ll be concerned about weight, how small the tent packs down and how quick it is to pitch after a hard day’s hiking.
But however you intend to camp, the fundamentals remain the same. Your tent must remain waterproof and upright in all conditions and not leave you a gibbering wreck when pitching or packing away.
So to choose a spread of tents that serve multiple purposes across all budgets, we looked to the leading brands such as Vango, Outwell and Decathlon’s hugely popular Arpenaz collection as well as more advanced designs from technical outdoor brands like Jack Wolfskin and Mountain Hardware.
And because tent technology is constantly improving, we’ve chosen designs boasting the best in new features. These include inflatable designs, tents from Tentsile made to hang effortlessly between the trees, those with blackout bedrooms to avoid the dawn sunshine. And we’ve even tested one one from new brand Ohana that promises to reduce the internal temperature by reflecting sunlight.
We avoided any budget tents, because we don’t want to encourage anyone to treat their festival accommodation as throw-away. As a result, all our designs should last for years if treated correctly, and are all good enough to get outdoors more, even without the draw of a headline act.
How we tested the tents
Testing tents involved long sun drenched weekends in the glorious British countryside and countless free festivals. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it...
Sadly the last paragraph is complete fiction, because the reality of tent testing is far from glamorous. We pitched each model either in our postage stamp sized back garden or local park before whittling down the leading contenders to take them out into the wild.
We weighed them, looked into how well they’re packaged and how easy they are to carry. We looked at the types of poles used - or the inflatable system - and how easily they connected, we assessed the materials used and above all, how simple the tents were to pitch.
After a long day hiking, driving or just lying in the sun drinking cloudy cider, the last thing you want is a tent that’s tricky to pitch, so we looked into how easy they were to put up solo and which needed a spare pair of hands.
We compared the quoted pitch times with our own experiences, but didn’t treat it like a race as we felt this would be unrealistic.
Tent reviews: The test resultsThe good news is that none of the tents in our top 10 will let you down in a storm...assuming you’ve put them up properly. But if we have to take shelter and quick, we’re heading for the brilliant Jack Wolfskin Exolight III. At £550 it is expensive for a tiny tent but it is a joy to pitch, has more handy features than most and packs away brilliantly. It also looks cool, not something you can often say about a tent. The Mountain Hardware Aspect 2 and the Vango Cuillin 300 are both stylish and supremely capable backpacking tents, but the complete package on offer in the Exolight makes it an easy winner.
Down at the other end of the price scale, Quechua's Arpenaz Family 4.2 is silly money at £99. If you’re not fussy about having the very latest 2019 model, and don’t care about inflatable poles or holding a disco in the living space you won’t be disappointed. Better suited for families with younger children - two adults and two teenagers might be a squeeze - but it’s an impressively versatile design.
If you do need more space look at either the Outwell Willwood 5 or inflatable Vango Capri Air 500XL. There’s not a huge amount of difference in the footprint, price, pack down size or weight, and both have a generous living area, porch and two large bedrooms.
The Vango pitches in just a few minutes thanks to the flawless AirBeam valve system - but then takes an age to pack away again as you squeeze the air out - while the Outwell has a more tried and tested rigid pole design. Both also offer black out bedrooms and bags of storage and hanging options to keep things tidy.
At the more affordable end of the two/three person tent market you’re bombarded with options, but the Quechua Arpenaz 3XL Fresh and Black is by far the best, offering NASA styling, almost instant inflatable pitching, bags of space and black out all for £199.
The Robens VOYAGER 2EX is a little more serious and a worthwhile investment if you love to camp light but still want somewhere to keep your belongings. The Coleman BlackOut 3 is the most basic tent on test and lacks the build quality and technical oomph of the rest, but sneaks into the top 10 thanks to its eerily dark blackout bedroom. You’ll wake up and not have a clue what time of day it is.
And finally a wildcard entry, the Tentsile UNA tree tent.
Designed to be strung up like a posh hammock between three trees it’s good value and great fun. It takes plenty of tweaking to pitch - or should that be hang? - properly, and a fair amount of faith, but if you hate sleeping on the ground or plan on visiting bears in the woods, it’s the only way to go.
The best tent reviewed:
It’s almost the most expensive tent on test and one of the smallest, but if you’re looking for a super light, technically superior tent that’s foolproof to pitch in any weather, this is it.
Admittedly it’s no use for a family of four, but that’s not the point of the Exolight III. If you need more space and don’t have to carry them far then the Arpenaz Family 4.2 and Outwell Willwood 5 won’t let you down.
Weighing just 2.3kg the Exolight III is beautifully engineered for two main reasons. Firstly the super-stylish exoskeleton is created using interconnected DAC Featherlite NSL poles which thanks to magnetic attraction and impossibly light materials simply connect together with little more than a shake of the wrist. There’s almost no faffing about connecting poles and it’s almost as if this tent wants to put itself up.
The geodesic structure also makes the tent incredibly stable and the high arch increases the usual headroom found on a lightweight backpacking tent. You can actually sit up and pull on a pair of jeans without feeling like you’re trapped in a bin liner.
The other brilliant design feature is the inner bedroom pod's pre-attached connection to the flysheet. Once you’ve clipped the poles into each of the corners and attached the cross-beam, you simply need to clip the flysheet to the poles and you’re done. This also means you won’t get the inner fabric wet if pitching in a storm.
The outer fabric is made from silicone coated ripstop 20D (1500mm) material. It sailed through a drenching, and the dual door design - with two mosquito net doors - meant keeping cool and not clambering over a partner to go to the loo in the night was hugely appreciated.
It’s not a festival tent, and quite bright in the mornings, but given you’re using it to hike and haven’t been in the rave tent ‘till dawn, it shouldn’t be an issue. But if you do take it to Worthy Farm, it does have reflective guide ropes and zips so should survive late night stumblings.
As with most three man tents it’s a bit of a squeeze for three adults, but as a highly portable, easy to pack design for two with backpacks we’ve not slept in better.
The best value tent reviewed:
Quechua Arpenaz Family 4.2, £99
With the sudden rise (no pun intended) of the inflatable tent, traditional designs have plummeted in price in recent years, meaning you can find an absolute bargain like this four man masterpiece from Decathlon. It’s so impressive that we very nearly crowned best overall tent.
While so many ‘family’ tents take up most of a car boot, the Arpenaz Family 4.2 is a surprisingly portable, and packable (60 x 25 x 25cm, 11kg). OK, so you won’t go backpacking with it, but one person can easily carry it from car park to pitch site at even the biggest festival.
Despite being so compact this tent has two bedrooms and 3.9sqm of living space and a height of 1.95m so all but the tallest can stand, which makes a huge difference, especially when getting dressed. The living area in the middle has a waterproof groundsheet and is just large enough for two adults and two young children to sit in if the weather turns.
Each bedroom can fit a double inflatable mattress, although it’s worth inflating them in situ as it is quite a tight squeeze. The small bedroom size would be an issue if you needed to keep your bags in with you as well, but the middle living area has more than enough space. There are also handy pockets inside and out of the bedroom so it’s easy to keep your kit organised and essentials close to hand.
Pitching the Quechua Arpenaz Family 4.2 is also straightforward. With just four colour coded poles the outer sheet is up in just a couple of minutes. Once you’ve pegged it out you open the main door and clip the bedroom pods inside. Getting the bedroom clipped into the very corner can be a bit awkward, but it only takes a minute.
The living area comes with a groundsheet that also clips and velcros into position and has a generous lipped edge that helps to keep water out if it really rains hard.
If we had one complaint, it’s that the bedrooms are not blacked out. If they were, this would be the overall winner. But for just £99 the Quechua Arpenaz Family 4.2 remains an absolutely brilliant tent for a young family, or indeed a couple with a dog. Or basically anyone who wants loads of space but doesn’t want a massive tent clogging up the car, attic or shed when not being used.
Comparing the rest on test
While the Arpenaz Family 4.2 and Jack Wolfskin Exolight III are our top two choices, all of the rest still have plenty to offer.
Despite feeling a little old fashioned compared to the inflatable skills of the Vango Capri Air 500XL, the Outwell Willwood 5 is a bomb proof design with sturdy poles, great instructions and generous stuff sack, so you can get it away if you’re in a rush to leave the site in a storm.
The cleverly designed poles separate into three making it easier to pitch than fully flexible poles, but you will need a spare pair of hands to hold everything in place as you peg out.
While it will take you longer, you can pitch the Vango Capri Air 500XL on your own, but following the instructions is essential otherwise you will end up drowning in fly sheets.
Of the smaller tents tested the inflatable Quechua Air Seconds 3XL Fresh and Black is by far the largest when packed away - almost the same size as the four person Arpenaz Family 4.2 - but if lightweight and packable isn’t much of a concern, it’s a phenomenal option at a great price, £199.
We also love the cool white looks and attention to detail found with the Mountain Hardware Aspect 2, plus it’s the lightest on test by a considerable margin. Pitching is quick, there’s plenty of space and the metal components and ability to subtly adjust the tension of the top sheet hugely impressive.
The only reason it gets beaten by the Jack Wolfskin Exolight III is it takes a few more minutes to pitch and pack. It’s a slicker and lighter proposition than the Vango Cuillin 300, but the latter represents great value for money, easy pitching, all-weather reliability and simple packing, although a handle on the stuff sack would be a bonus.
While the smaller tents on test all have loads of impressive features, the one thing they lack is serious storage. Not so the Robens Voyager 2EX, which, while not as light as the rest, has a large amount of space for bags, or even the dog. It’s also very robust and one to hide in if the wind starts to howl.
Compared to the rest on test the Coleman BlackOut 3 is a bit of a step backward in terms of hi-tech features.
The stitching feels cheap and the bag lacks any extra space, which is a big mistake for a ‘festival’ tent. Who has the energy to pack up properly on a Monday morning? But niggles can be ignored if all you want is a pitch black tent...it’s by far the blackest of the black out options here.
And while the Tentsile UNA is something of a novelty, it’s a huge amount of fun swinging in the trees.
By no means ‘easy’ to pitch, it needs a keen eye to get all points level to avoid simply rolling out, but once tucked in, the gentle bounce and lack of mole hills, brambles or rocks makes for a comfortable rest. Just remember you’re four feet up when you wake up.
Any tents to avoid?
Ohnana Rayve, £125, ohnanatents.com
Ohnana’s big selling point is it keeps you cool, even in the height of summer, thanks to its aluminium and polyester flysheet. The shiny spaceblacket style coating prevents the tent from absorbing infrared light, but after two nights in it we still woke up sweltering.
The black out and simple pitching is appealing, as is the impossible-to-miss styling. But we didn’t really notice a difference in temperature. Our disappointment was only heightened further when we woke up with a soggy bottom thanks to the groundsheet leaking during a heavy morning dew.