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The 5 Best Van Tents For Campers and Van Life

an suv or van tent takes camping and van life to the next level

My first experience in a van tent was when I showed up sight unseen to a basement apartment a friend of mine had rented during my final year of university. It was so horrific–dead flies and yellow stains on the mattress, black mould in the shower and dishwasher, an unannounced student living in a closet like Harry Potter–that I decided I couldn’t live there. 

With nowhere else to go and the first month of rent already paid, I decided to finish out that first month in my van. I bought a van tent, parked in the driveway and lived out of the MPV for a month.

Oddly enough, aside from the hassle of having to shower at the gym and needing to go inside the grimy little basement every time I had to use the internet when I wasn’t at school, I actually quite liked van tent life. 

Van tents are a great way to camp and explore the world around you, and I’ve put my passion and experience into the below list of the X best van tents on the market: 


Best Van Tent for Groups: North East Harbor Universal Camping Tent

Northeast Harbor’s universal SUV/van tent fits 4-6 adults in the tent itself, with room for an additional two people in the van’s cargo space. My experience with van tents (and all tents, for that matter) is that you usually want to remove at least one (maybe 2) person from whatever the official capacity is.

This van tent has the word “universal” in its title because you can use it on minivans, SUVs, jeeps, trucks and cross-overs.

Three things that I always try to look for when buying a van tent are raised: 1) bathtub-style floors that do a better job of keeping the water out, 2) full-size ventilated doors/windows for better climate control and 3) a big car access sleeve that makes it more comfortable to camp/live in the cargo area.

Specifications

Materials:
High-Quality Polyester Taffeta 
Sleeps:
6 (8 if you include trunk space)
Dimensions:
8ft W x 8ft L x 7.2f H
Seasons:
3
Included:
rainfly, hardware bag, poles/straps/stakes, carry bag
Weight:
19lbs

Cons

Hard to set up. People love this van tent but contend that it is a bit difficult to set up.

Capacity specs aren’t accurate. This tent claims to sleep 8 people, but, as I mentioned previously, I always subtract at least one person from that number because you don’t want everyone to have to spoon in order to fit. If you’ve got gear or there are multiple larger people, then it’s a good idea to adjust the official capacity accordingly.

Even still, definitely the best van tent for families and larger groups of campers.


Most Thoughtfully Designed Van Tent : Rightline Gear Van Tent

I would call the Rightline Gear Van Tent the “most thoughtful” on the list because of the little details that Rightline has included.

First off, the glow-in-the-dark zippers do make navigating the tent in the dark a lot easier (and safer, depending on what you’ve got around you).

A lantern hook, ultra-fine mesh windows that keep out even tiny no-see-ums and storm covers for the doors are all nice features for anyone taking their minivan into wilderness areas.

I also think this is among the most thoughtful van tents out there because Rightline has made it super easy to detach this bad boy from your vehicle if you want to leave it behind while you explore for the day. I’ve always liked the ability to leave the tent at camp for the day, along with whoever might not want to come along on an outing.

Specifications

Material:
Polyester fabric, polyethylene floor, mesh windows
Sleeps (official suggestion):
6
Dimensions:
‎8’ W x 8’ L x 7.2’ H
Seasons:
3
Included:
rainfly
Weight:
21lbs

Cons

Pole and stake quality leave you wanting more. Some reviewers have indicated that it’s a good idea to opt for some better-quality third-party accessories because the ones Rightline has included are a bit flimsy.

I’m usually of the opinion that the included gear for most van tents is of inferior quality to what you’d get just by shopping around. That’s not to say what comes with the tent is unusable, but I’ve had better luck with after-market carabiners, poles, stakes, etc.

Despite the (allegedly) less-than-amazing poles and stakes, still one of the most convenient van tents and setups for road trip camping.

Factoring in some of the reviewers’ disappointment with the stakes and poles, this is still clearly one of the best-selling and most thoughtfully-designed van tents out there.


Best Van Tent for Larger People: Napier Backroadz Van Tent

I think the Napier Backroadz minivan tent is the most spacious tent I’ve come across thanks to its 10×10′ base, which is a significant amount more than the 8×8′ that is standard for most van tents. The official capacity of this van tent is five people, and while I still maintain that it’s a good idea to subtract at least one from that, I’d feel ok trusting that a 10×10′ tent could comfortably sleep five over an 8×8′.

I’ve also deemed this the best van tent for larger people (being a taller person myself) because the vehicle sleeve is quite large. It’s designed to fit minivans, SUVs and trucks, so you know you’re not getting something designed for just a hatchback here.

Specifications

Material:
polyester taffeta and polyethylene waterproof floor
Sleeps (official suggestion):
5
Dimensions:
10Wx10Lx7.4H
Seasons:
3
Included:
Tent Skin, Poles, Straps, Gear Loft, Rain Fly, Guide Lines
Weight:
28lbs

Cons

Falters in heavy winds and weak(ish) poles. One of the recurring gripes is that this van tent is not well-suited for heavy winds and that the poles are flimsy. A couple of people allege that their poles actually broke on the first set-up.

Despite those two potential cons, some two-thirds of reviewers left it a five-star rating while acknowledging that it’s worth your while to pick up some better stakes and poles (which I agree with).


Best Van Tent for Solo Campers: Hasika Tailgate Shade Awning Tent

When it comes to van camping, there are van tents, van awnings, and then there are hybrids that give you both an awning and a tent. The Hasika Tailgate Tent is a combination of both a tent and an awning.

Hasika has manufactured a very nice 3000mm waterproof awning that keeps both the water and the sun off, whether you’re camping or cooking in a parking lot. It’s available in both large and small–the smaller option being better suited for smaller vehicles and the larger being optimal for vans, full-size SUVs and CUVs.

I’m also a big fan of these van tents because you can get them up really quickly. In this case, you can have Hasika’s van tent and shade awning up in 5 minutes. I’ve pulled up to camping spots where you can tell you have under 10 minutes to get your tent up before the downpour, so setup time is definitely something to factor into your decision.

At only a few pounds and a really compact pack-up size (16.3 x 6.6 x 4.7 inches), this is a great little van tent to just leave in the trunk. Whether you’re going to a house party, a sporting event, a bbq or are invited on an impromptu camping trip, you’ll have something for all occasions that you can quickly access and set up.

Specifications

Material:
210T polyester
Sleeps:
2 people (in the cargo space)
Dimensions:
the dimensions of your trunk
Seasons:
3
Included:
Just the tent and awning
Weight:
2.2 lbs

Cons

No poles included, need to be sure you have the attachment points for it. This van tent is one of the few that doesn’t come with tent poles, and you also need to ensure that your van has attachment points on the hubcaps to secure the bungee straps.

Some of the reviewers lament the quality (that’s kind of par for the course with anything, there are always defective products), but two-thirds of the over 200 reviews are glowing 5-star comments from people who love this easy, convenient van tent.


Best Shelter for Overlanding: Slumberjack SJK Roadhouse Tarp

While an overlanding awning isn’t a van tent in and of itself, they are still something that I would recommend using with any vehicle tent. I’ve also used them warm-weather camping in places where insects aren’t really an issue–just sleep right under the awning, no tent required.

Slumberjack has made a really versatile and incredibly tough overlanding shelter that you can set up the following ways:

  • As a roof for open-trunk camping
  • As an A-frame
  • As a simple roof for dining or viewing wildlife
  • As a sun cover for your vehicle

Specifications

Material:
68D polyester
Sleeps:
n/a
Dimensions:
160″ x 192″
Seasons:
n/a
Included:
Two heavy-duty, 96″ tall steel poles,
carry bag and 8 super-duty 10″ steel stakes
Weight:
13.5lbs

Cons

Included guy lines are not the strongest. Some reviewers have complained that the Slumberjack’s guy lines are not the strongest, and I’d recommend picking up some cheap (and always useful) paracord as an alternative.

Misleading manufacturing origins. The product says that it’s made in the USA, but some reviewers indicate that the box says “Vietnam” on it. This could just be that some of the materials or manufacturing processes take place in the USA while others take place in Vietnam, which still might allow the company to claim it as a US-made product.

That said, over 75 percent of the Slumberjack’s reviewers loved it enough to give it 5 stars, suggesting that if you take the time to test it out before setting it up in the field, it’s a great piece of camping and overlanding gear that does what it advertises.


How I Selected The Van Tents on This List

Greeting the day in Dahab, Egypt

My first experience van camping was one of necessity rather than leisure (it was either live in filth or live outdoors), but I’m glad it happened because it’s something I’ve been doing ever since. For a great many Millennials, it has also become an alternative to the rat race–one that is increasingly difficult to even effectively participate in.

I’ve brought a van tent with me when there has been no more space at hotels, and I’ve used them to crash in when I’ve wanted to sleep off a few drinks at a backyard bbq. Many times I’ve been camping with friends and family and have been super thankful that I’ve been resting comfortably in the back of a van while they are putting their rain flies to the test outside.

In addition to personal experience living and camping out of the trunk of a van, I also included many hours of van living and vehicle camping forum and YouTube browsing in my list, as well as a lot of video watching, and reading of discussions and arguments about various tents and people’s experiences with them.


The Differences Between Van Tents and Roof-Top Tents

A van tent is designed to turn your cargo area into, basically, part of a larger tent that sits outside the vehicle. You can sleep and rest in the cargo area (or on the tent floor), and you have additional vertical and horizontal space at your disposal.

Setting up a van tent is pretty straightforward. You pop the trunk, attach the tent based on the instructions provided–usually via hubcaps, bumpers, and/or wheel wells–and then fit the rain fly over it.

Roof tents are different in that, unsurprisingly, they rest on your roof (although some have ground components as well). The roof is the sleeping platform, whereas a van tent utilizes the cargo space plus the ground immediately behind the van.


How to Evaluate A Van Tent Before Making a Purchase

When I do my research into a new van tent, I’m primarily interested in the following features:

  • Vehicle compatibility 
  • Seasonality
  • Water/weatherproofing
  • Materials
  • How easy it is to set up
  • Ventilation

Vehicle Compatibility

All of the van tents I’ve covered above are, for the most part, trunk tents designed to fit a range of vehicle types–SUVs, CUVs, and minivans.

While a van tent doesn’t necessarily need to include the word “van” for it to be compatible with your minivan, you do need to know if there are any limitations or restrictions that would make it incompatible. For example, a lot of van tents are not compatible with commercial vehicles like Ford Transits or Mercedes Sprinters–particularly salient if you are a van dweller.

You often see van tent reviews complaining that a given product doesn’t fit a user’s vehicle. These sorts of mishaps can be avoided by paying closer attention to the caveats of the tent(s) you’re interested in.

Seasonal Specifications

All tents are designed with a certain number of seasons in mind, which is to say, how many different climates they are effective in. Most tents are rated for 3 seasons (spring, summer and fall) but won’t protect you against below-freezing (i.e., winter) temps.

All of the tents I’ve chosen for my list are 3-season tents. I’ve made the mistake of testing out the winterproofing of three-season tents before (without the right kind of sleeping bag and insulation), and I do not recommend it. 

You can wrap yourself in a sleeping bag and put a decent air or foam mattress underneath you, but if you’re intent on doing any winter camping, a winter-rated tent is a must-have.

Water/weatherproofing

How waterproof a van tent is is usually shown as a millilitre specification–e.g., X van tent is rated as 2000mm waterproof. In this case, 2000mm (2L) of rain would have to fall (in theory) before a tent’s waterproofing would start to falter. Bear in mind that this is an estimation, not a hard guarantee.

Another crucial component of a van tent’s weatherproofing is whether or not it comes with rainfly (and what owners have to say about its quality). I don’t usually have a lot of faith in the rain flies that the manufacturer includes (although I’ve been pleasantly surprised), so I tend to buy and use a third-party one regardless.

Weatherproofing also refers to whether a manufacturer uses things like sewn-in polyethene flooring designed “bathtub”-style (i.e., upturned edges) that helps keep water out.

Materials

Quality van tents (or any tent) are almost always going to use strong nylon or polyester (or a combination of the two) and polyethene flooring. Most poles are fibreglass (which people can take issue with because they can be delicate).

Ventilation

Camping out of the back of a van might look like a blast, but if you’ve ever tried to sleep in a vehicle without proper ventilation (especially in the dead of summer), a van (even one with an open trunk) can become an inferno. I’ve had some really unpleasant sleeps in lousy tents with just one measly, tiny little window for ventilation.

I always make sure that any van tent I’m looking at has at least one (preferably multiple) full-size window with bug netting (ideally with storm flaps that I can easily put down should I need to). If you have windows on either side, in addition to a roof window, you create much nicer climate control.


Tips for Van Camping

Camping out of a van is a great experience, but there are some vehicle-camping-specific considerations to keep in mind. With a van tent, you always need to:

  1. Park on level ground. If you park on an incline or decline, you will often wake up to find that everything has slid (to the back, front, or completely out), including you.
  2. Put your emergency brake on. You should put your emergency brake on as a good habit wherever you park, but definitely when you’re van camping, especially if there are other people camping around you.
  3. Consider the tide. Pulling up on a deserted beach, popping the trunk and falling asleep to the sound of the waves is heavenly. Just make sure you know where the high tide mark is and park well behind it, or you could find yourself in a world of trouble.
  4. Switch off your interior lights. Leaving your interior lights on probably won’t drain your battery, but I have seen them become major bug lights.  
  5. Consider investing in an awning to go over your tent.
manufacturer’s photo

I know most van tents come with a rainfly, but I like hedging my bets, as well as the extra floor and vertical space, so I prefer bringing something like the Slumberjack SJK Roadhouse Tarp when possible. You can cook and eat under it, and it’s a great place from which to observe wildlife.


Additional Items That Make Van Camping More Comfortable

If you plan on sleeping out of the back of a van, there is some additional gear that makes a van tent a lot more practical and comfortable.

Mattress

Sleeping in the back of a minivan is, by and large, a more comfortable way to sleep than sleeping on the ground. That said, you still need something to sleep on.

Your options are either to invest in something like Wey&Fly Air Mattress, or (for those with back issues) something along the lines of the Matrix Air Cell Memory Foam Camping Mattress.

There is nothing more serene than calling it a night and laying down on a nice memory foam mattress in the back of your van while the waves lap at the shore or frogs and crickets call out in the forest.

Keep in mind that memory foam is temperature reactive, and it can get quite hard if it’s really cold out.

Pillows

In a van tent, you’ve got enough space to just bring normal bedroom pillows, which are the best for a comfy sleep.

What I like to do when I’m camping out in the back of a van, however, is use a body pillow. Something like the DOWNCOOL Large Body Pillow is nice because it gives you end-to-end coverage of the cargo area and stops you from waking up with your neck on anything hard.

Sleeping Bag

My pro tip for van tenting (or vehicle camping of any kind) is to get a two-person bag just for yourself. Something like the TETON Sports Celsius Mammoth Double Sleeping Bag is great because you can open it up, and it will function as a quilt.

You know your body best, so don’t bring anything that’s going to make you too hot. I’m usually fine with a top sheet or a light blanket most of the year, but the sleeping bag is a necessity during late fall or winter in the northern hemisphere.

Space Heater

I love fall camping in North America and Europe because it’s wonderful being in nature when all those fall colours are out. Something you might consider investing in if you plan on doing any autumn (especially late autumn) camping in more northerly latitudes is a space heater. 

A space heater is only really necessary if you are fall or winter camping in temperate climates, but van tent camping is made for them. Whether in the trunk itself or in the tent space outside, just make sure you aren’t running the risk of burning anything (yourself included).

I’m a fan of the Mr. Heater Little Buddy Safe Propane Heater. It’s designed to fit in small spaces (like a van tent), and the low-oxygen auto-shutoff feature is nice peace of mind if you’re worried about carbon monoxide poisoning.


Why Investing in Good Quality Van Tent Makes Sense 

Van tents, van living and van camping are increasingly normal among Millennials, and I suspect Gen Z is (and will continue to) following suit. Camping out of a van is a really nice alternative to hammock or traditional tent camping.

A van (or multiuse vehicle) tent makes life on the road much more versatile and convenient, whether you’re an avid camper or someone who lives out of their minivan full time.

In summation, even if you didn’t see a van tent on this list that caught your eye or left you fully convinced, at the very least, I hope you have a newfound appreciation for and understanding of this great piece of camping and lifestyle gear.

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