Since 2015 I have been a freelance writer and wildlife photographer, working out of some of the planet’s most spectacular wildlife and nature travel destinations–from the Amazon to Raja Ampat–diving, snorkelling, fieldherping, birding and photographing my way around the world.
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Imagine this. You get to your camping spot. It’s getting late, and you don’t want to have to set things up by flashlight, or you’ve just come off a gruelling hike, and you really don’t have it in you to pitch a tent.
In these scenarios, it’s nice to be able to get your tent up in just a couple of minutes.
While pitching and securing a tent is definitely something I’ve gotten better at over time, I still like having an instant tent with pre-attached tent poles as an option.
You’re not getting the same luxury that you would expect from a much more sophisticated camping tent, but that’s not what most people are after with a quick-pitch tent.
Why an instant tent is a worthwhile camping and trekking investment
If you’re careful with what you buy, you can get a quick-pitch tent that does just as well as a more manual labour-intensive tent setup.
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Click on the below to read comprehensive breakdowns:
- The Best Instant Tent for Nature Travel: Kejector 2-3 Person Waterproof Camping Tent
- Best Instant Tent for Beach Trips: WolfWise UPF 50+ Easy Pop-Up Beach Shelter
- Best Instant Tent for Car Camping: Coleman 4-Person Cabin Tent
- Best Instant Tent For Backpacking Couples: Coleman Pop-Up Camping Tent
- Best Instant Tent for Solo Backpackers: Winterial Single Person Personal Bivy Tent
The Best Instant Tent for Nature Travel: Kejector 2-3 Person Waterproof Camping Tent
The Kejector instant tent is windproof, waterproof, comes with a rainfly and offers great sun protection, which makes it the best instant tent for nature travellers.
You get UPF 50+ protection and waterproofing up to 5000mm (which means 5000mm of water would have to fall before the waterproofing would stop being as effective).
It comes with a sun shelter, 4 guy lines (2m), 8 steel stakes, a carry bag and an accessory bag.
I also like the fact that it has two mesh doors and a mesh roof, which is really nice for hot weather camping.This is something you could definitely take to the tropics and would be ideal for summer camping trips.
Polyester, fiberglass tent poles, steel
|Number of people:
Claims to fit 2-3 adults, comments indicate that is accurate
30.25 x 9.9 x 6 inches
|Setup Time/Breakdown Time:
One minute/a few minutes
One of the downsides of this tent is that it doesn’t unzip all the way to the floor, you there is a bit of a lip that you need to be careful of while entering or exiting.
Some reviewers indicated that this tent wasn’t all that windproof (as it’s advertised).
If you are planning on taking this little instant tent somewhere particularly windy, you might want to think again or really make sure you find a pitching spot with good wind protection (which is good tent pitching 101, anyway).
All in all, however, a nice quick-pitch tent made from lightweight materials with a pretty frictionless set-up and disassembly.
Great for travelers who want the option to camp but probably not ideal for extended (i.e., weeks at a time) camping.
Best Instant Tent for Beach Trips: WolfWise UPF 50+ Easy Pop-Up Beach Shelter
Sometimes you just want something to take to the beach, whether you’re on vacation or if you live close to the ocean.
If you are travelling and planning on spending any time on the beach, an instant camping tent is a great way to avoid paying the often ridiculous umbrella or cabana fees while also providing privacy.
The WolfWise Easy Pop-Up Beach Shelter is both UV-resistant (UPF 50+) and water repellent, so you can fall asleep on the beach after a couple of beers without worrying about being burned or rained out (you can just wait it out, provided you aren’t in the middle of a crazy downpour).
For the price, it’s one of the best instant camping tents for its purpose, given how rugged this little instant tent is.
It’s made with polyester 190T, which is quite a thick weave–one that tends to be used more for clothing and backpacks rather than lightweight tents–and the frame is galvanized stainless steel, as opposed to the much more delicate fibreglass that a lot of lightweight tents use.
Despite the heavier-duty construction, the WolfWise advertises itself as “ultra-lightweight” and at only 4.2 lbs and folding down to something that’s 29.5″ L x 29.5″W x 1.6″ H, it’s actually really convenient to travel with.
Polyester, fibreglass, steel
|Number of people:
Claims to fit 3-4 adults, comments indicate 2-3 is more comfortable
86.61″ L x 57.09″ W x 47.24″ H
29.5″ L x 29.5″W x 1.6″ H
|Setup Time/Breakdown Time:
A few seconds/a couple of minutes
Quite a few comments indicate that it can be difficult to fold back up after use, but far more indicated that they had no problem.
Others also indicate that the capacity specifications are inaccurate for the American or European market.
This is often the case with clothing or anything coming from Asia, so bear that in mind. All in all, the vast majority of people who own this great little instant tent for the beach sing its praises.
Best Instant Tent for Car Camping: Coleman 4-Person Cabin Tent
Pros of Coleman’s 4-person instant cabin tent
The 4-person Coleman Cabin Tent sets up in one minute and is big enough to fit a queen-size airbed.
It has Coleman’s patented welded floors and an inverted seam system to make sure you stay dry.
The inverted seams improve weather resistance by hiding the needle holes inside the tent, and the bathtub floors and corner welds strengthen the material and create a much better water barrier.
With a setup time of one minute, double-thick fabric and integrated vented rainfly for better airflow, the Coleman instant tent is the best freestanding cabin tent for groups.
Polyester, Polyethylene, Steel, Fabric
|Number of people:
Claims to fit 4 adults, “more like two people with gear” according to one commentor
8 x 7 feet with 4-foot 11-inch mesh ceiling
39.5 x 8.6 x 8.25 inches
|Setup Time/Breakdown Time:
A minute/a couple of minutes
One of the biggest downsides of this instant tent is how heavy it is.
It makes sense because it’s a large tent, but it would be a bit burdensome to hike any real distance with it, which is why I’ve designated it the best instant tent for car camping.
If you’re able to drive right into a camping spot, then this is a great roomy tent that will accommodate at least a couple of people a bunch of gear.
The door only uses half of the front of the tent, so it is not as convenient getting in and out.
As far as the waterproofing goes, there are a lot of comments indicating that this tent doesn’t really stand up to any serious water.
It seems likely to be the case since it comes with an integrated weathertek system and those are never going to completely rainproof a tent.
If you are going to opt for this instant tent, you should definitely consider purchasing the optional rain fly accessory for better waterproofing.
Still a great, cabin style tent with thousands of positive reviews from satisfied customers and a great option for car camping with multiple people.
Best Instant Tent For Backpacking Couples: Coleman Pop-Up Camping Tent
This is a three-season, 2-person instant tent that really is meant for two people and it’s super lightweight for the capacity (6.1lbs) that comes with a water-resistant polyester rain fly.
Tons of people in the comments talking about how rugged this little instant tent is–a guy who takes his on overnight mountain biking trips, a forest firefighter who takes it with him on duty.
And when Coleman claims this baby opens fast, it opens fast–at “sh!t your pants speed” according to one reviewer.}
You get all of the Coleman design particulars you would expect–inverted seams to hide needle holes, wind-resistant frame, welded corners for more waterproof floors and fewer needle holes.
|Number of people:
Claims to fit 2, comments indicate it fits 2
7 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 5 inches with a 2-foot 11-inch center height
29.5 x 28.5 x 3.6 inches
|Setup Time/Breakdown Time:
10 seconds/a couple minutes
With only 3 feet of centre height, you do have to crouch down quite a bit to get in and out of this little 2-person instant tent.
Some reviewers also indicate that the zippers are flimsy and require extra care.
All in all, a great instant tent that is perfect for couples (or a single bigger person) traveling light who wants to be able to set up and break down their tent fast.
Great for people moving sites often.
Best Instant Tent for Solo Backpackers: Winterial Single Person Personal Bivy Tent
The Winterial Single Person Bivy tent is not an instant tent in the same way that the Coleman above is, but it is a very simple single-person tent that is made for rapid pitching/disassembly (within 5 minutes), so it essentially accomplishes the same function.
One thing I really like about bivy tents is that because they are so compact, the rain fly covers the entire thing.
You really feel secure sleeping in one of these and there is enough residual living space to keep stuff like toiletries, clothes and other gear.
This great 3-season one-person tent packs up super small (18″ x 4.5″ x 4″) and weighs just two pounds nine ounces–perfect for tossing in (or hanging off a backpack).
I carry around bottles of water when I’m hiking or trekking that weigh more than this very light little tent.
Polyester (aluminium poles)
|Number of people:
38″ x 28″ x 90″
8″ x 4.5″ x 4″
|Setup Time/Breakdown Time:
5 minutes/10 minutes
One-man bivy tents have a tendency to be on the small side, and this one is no exception. I’m 6’1, and whenever I get into a one-man instant tent, I already know that I’m not going to be able to stretch out like I would in a much larger tent.
The floor material is also quite thin so will need a tarpaulin or something similar to put underneath.
All in all, great for what it is: a very lightweight, easy-assemble/disassemble one-man (or woman) travel/backpacking tent that will keep you out of the elements and let you get a decent sleep while in the bush/on a beach etc.
What Went Into My Selection Process for the Best Instant Tent List
I’ve been backpacking, trekking and sleeping in tents, hammocks and even just on the ground for years.
I’ve used tents in temperate climates and the tropics–in jungles, on grassland, on the beach–, and I swear by instant tents because, at the end of a long hike or when some bad weather roles in, or when the mosquitoes are closing in, it’s so nice to be able to quickly get your shelter up.
I also spent a lot of time reading and listening to what other avid tent campers have to say about instant tents.
I know that some people prefer a regular tent a more manual process to feel like they have more control over the quality of their shelter, but many thousands of people still swear by their quick-pitch tent.
I tried to curate a list of tents that make sense for a variety of different applications and circumstances–from solo travelers who want to always have somewhere to lay their head to people looking for relief from the sun on trips to the beach.
What to Keep in Mind When Buying a Pop Up Tent
Whenever I buy a tent, I always evaluate the following features:
- Capacity and floor space
- The structure
- Temperature rating
- Accessories included
A lot of tents, instant tents and otherwise, come with carrying bags that have straps on them. These are especially important if you are taking your tent on a bus or plane trip, or if you have to hike anywhere with the tent and you don’t have room in your backpack.
Capacity and floor space
One of the first things I do when buying a tent is to look to the comments to see whether the capacity specifications check out.
Often times a tent that says it can accommodate 3-4 people is much better suited for 3 (if not two people).
In my experience, if you’re a bigger person and you will be storing gear inside the tent with you, always subtract at last one from the official capacity.
You should also pay close attention to the floor space.
All instant tents will tell you their interior dimensions and how much floor space (i.e., how much space you and anyone else in the tent have to lie down and be comfortable) is crucial.
Different designs have different pros and cons. Dome tents tend to be better at protecting against the wind, but they offer less vertical space. Cabin tents, on the other hand, have more headroom and overall usable space.
Depending on the kind of camping I’m doing, I’m often more interested in a tent’s fabric than whether I will fit comfortably inside it or how many storage pockets it has or whether it has separate rooms.
Nylon and tougher polyester like 190T (190 thread) are usually the main materials used in a durable instant tent.
Nylon is usually a more expensive, stronger and more lightweight material. Polyester is usually the more common material in instant tents.
Most tents out there are either 3-season (spring, summer, fall) or winter-specific tents.
It is important that three-season tents have good ventilation, including mesh windows that promote air circulation, as well as a detachable rain fly.
If you are interested in winter camping, you are going to need to get a tent that is rated for below-freezing temperatures.
This style of tent also has stronger poles that can withstand harsher wind and the weight of snow etc.
Most of the instant tents on the above list come with things like a rain fly (necessary for wet weather), rain fly stakes, guylines and stakes, and a carry bag.
You can buy all of these things separately, and you might even decide that something like the included rainfly isn’t sufficient for your needs or you want something better.
You will also likely need to invest in things like a sleeping pad and a tarpaulin to put under the tent to keep you comfortable and dry.
Weight is always a major consideration for me because I tend to take my camping gear with me wherever I go.
I like to travel with an instant tent or a hammock because I tend to make camping decisions on the fly or I’ll go somewhere where there are no formal accommodations but pitching a tent or tying up a hammock is allowed.
Reasons To Bring Your Own Tent When Traveling
I think the biggest reason for me to travel with an instant tent is the convenience factor.
I like to be able to decide on a whim whether I’m going to spend a couple of nights at a campground or do an overnight hike somewhere that doesn’t have accommodations.
I also think it’s a good idea for travelers to have something like an instant tent to expand their list of accommodation options should they find themselves shut out of a place they really wanted to experience.
I’ve been able to stay in multiple places over the years where there was no proper accommodation left for me because the place was booked up, but because I’ve had a tent or hammock, I’ve been able to squeeze in somewhere (and usually at a discounted rate).
Tips for Pitching a Tent (Instant or Otherwise)
Knowing how and where to pitch a tent is an essential part of bushcraft and backpacking. Here are a few things to keep in mind anytime you pitch a tent. They apply anywhere in the world.
Practice pitching beforehand
Even if you’re relying on an instant or pop-up tent, it’s always a good idea to know how your gear works before heading out.
Not only is it better to have a dry run before actually setting up camp, but you want to make sure you have everything that the tent claims is included so that you aren’t in a bind out in the bush.
Clear the area
This is especially important when using polyester tents. Make sure that the area where you place your tent is free of sharp stones or sticks before placing a tarp or groundsheet protector down.
You also want to select a flat patch of ground that is free of tree roots or bumps so that you can actually get a decent night’s rest.
In addition to keeping your tent clean, taking your shoes off ensures you aren’t tracking in anything that could potentially tear or poke holes in the tent fabric.
Select an appropriate pitching space
Always pitch a tent with its back to the wind and, when possible, use natural shelters like walls, hedges, trees or rock faces.
A level, sheltered site with good drainage is so important. Also, never pitch a tent under dead trees. Falling trees and limbs do kill campers.
Additional gear that makes instant tent camping more enjoyable
Instant tents (or pop up tents) are a great piece of gear to have available (either in the back of your car or tucked into your storage space).
The best instant tents are made with good quality nylon and polyester, and I think they actually make certain kinds of camping more enjoyable.
Having something with pre attached poles can make solo or family camping trips a lot more convenient, especially if you don’t really need something heavy duty.
That said, most instant tents could do with a few add-ons to make them a bit more comfortable and versatile.
Downsides of instant tents
When you invest in an instant tent, you’re investing in something that tends not to be fully weatherproof.
They will withstand a shower, but don’t bank on one being able to stand up to heavy rain.
What’s more, the fiberglass poles on a lot of instant tents mean that you are going to experience quite a bit of noise and shaking when the wind picks up.
Traditional tents are usually (depending on the quality, of couse) made to perform better in inclement weather.
Instant pop up tents also tend to be heavier than a traditional dome tent. Depending on how far you plan on trekking with one of these, you’ll have to decide whether the added weight and bulk tradeoffs are worth it for you.
I know that I like the option of being able to set up quickly, especially when it’s getting dark or it looks like some bad weather is rolling in.
With that said, below are some of the additions that think take instant setup tents to the next level in terms of comfort and viability as camping options:
- A rain fly
- Waterproofing spray
- Aluminium alloy poles
A rain fly is kind of a necessity when it comes to pop up tents for the aforementioned reason (they often aren’t as weatherproof).
No tents (instant tents or otherwise) are ever going to be fully “waterproof”–that concept does’t really exist. Enough water for a sustained enough period of time and even the most durable tent is going to succumb.
A rainfly is one of the included accessories with several of the instant tents I’ve covered above, but I often find that aftermarket rainflies that are a bit more expensive do a better job.
There are a ton of tent waterproofing sprays out there and I don’t really have deep insight into which is the best, but I do know that when I’ve used waterproofing spray on gear and fabrics in the past, they really work.
Here’s a great video from REI that walks you through the waterproofing process and how to make sure your tent remains waterproof for as long as possible.
Waterproofing a pop up tent is something to do every so often, and especially if you’ve just returned from a particularly wet and soggy camping trip.
Aluminum alloy replacement poles
Some tents come with fiberglass tent poles, other instant tents use aluminum alloy.
The aluminium poles are definitely sturdier and better equipped to handle bumps and scrapes as well as windy conditions.
If you try out your pop up tent and find that the included pre attached poles aren’t to your liking, you can always buy replacement poles (perhaps from the same manufacturer) or third party ones.
Aluminum poles are also lighter, stronger, and last longer than fiberglass.
Why Investing in an Instant Tent Makes Sense
There are plenty of good reasons to have a tent that pitches and breaks down quickly.
You might need something fast to get out of the rain or away from the bugs.
You might need something that is lightweight and uncomplicated for an arduous hike or simply as an alternative to hostels, hotels and eco-lodges while traveling.
Whatever your reasons, I hope the above guide provided an informative breakdown of the best instant tents on the market, categorized by purpose, and that you end up with something that makes your camping experience (local or international) a comfortable and convenient one.
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