Sep 25, 2023
Best Tents For Car Camping, Tested (2023 Guide)
Will Moore has been driving since he was first allowed behind the wheel of a golf cart. He’s written for several major auto sites including Motor1 since 2020, unraveling the intricacies of auto
Will Moore has been driving since he was first allowed behind the wheel of a golf cart. He’s written for several major auto sites including Motor1 since 2020, unraveling the intricacies of auto insurance policies and products for the everyday driver. Will has logged hundreds of hours researching and testing products ranging from child car seats to torque wrenches. After completing a PhD at the University of Missouri, Will moved to North Carolina with his wife, daughter, and two semi-obedient beagles. Will is also Certified by Safe Kids Worldwide as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (#T836339).
A compact tent that can be erected in seconds.
A durable canvas tent that will last many years.
A relatively low-priced tent that’s easy to use.
A water-tight tent with a screened patio.
An emergency tent that fits in your (cargo) pocket.
The best tents for car camping can be quickly erected, quickly stowed, and offer reliable protection from the elements. We tested several popular tents for car campers to learn which ones have these qualities. This guide recommends car camping tents for different backcountry excursions at varying price points.
The Gazelle T4 is a lightweight, four-person tent that can be erected easily and in a matter of seconds. The T4 is an ideal tent for car camping because of its setup speed and small size when totally collapsed.
The reason this tent is so easy to erect is that the framing rods of the T4 are integrated into the tent fabric. It quickly pops out into a box, and the only set-up work the camper needs to do is to stake down the corners. This means you’ll have an ultralight 4-person tent with plenty of living space ready to go in seconds.
What most impressed us about the Gazelle T4 is its setup speed. It only takes a moment to erect, and the setup process couldn’t be easier. Simply lift at the middle and then pull out each side. Finish by attaching the rainfly and staking down the corners.
Speedy setup isn’t the only thing the T4 has going for it – it’s also made with high-quality materials. The Gazelle uses YKK zippers, which are robust and dependable. Among the zippers on the tents we tested, these were the strongest and smoothest to pull. The T4 also comes with a quality carry bag, which easily fits the entire tent and has a padded shoulder strap. Other brands may treat their tent bags as an afterthought, but not the Gazelle T4.
Inside, the tent is roomy and would provide a comfy base camp for up to four people. The flooring is made of a thick nylon and can be removed.
Amazon Review Score: 4.7 out of 5 based on over 1,400 ratings
Amazon reviewers praise Gazelle tents for their durable build and easy setup. Happy reviewers swear by this tent because of how well it meets and exceeds expectations. The T4 is also noted to be extremely waterproof.
“It absolutely poured on Friday night – the kind of rain that is orange and red on a radar map. The Gazelle did not leak. Even with the windows zipped 80 [to] 90 [percent] of the way open, we stayed high-and-dry.”
– Dan M., via Amazon
Some have noted that the Gazelle T4 does not completely seal at the bottom (there are small holes at each corner for the tent poles to reach the ground). In some cases, this may allow in unwanted insects. Though this is easily addressed with some internal mosquito netting.
Kodiak Canvas tents are a good choice for a robust, family tent. Rather than fiberglass, Kodiak Canvas tents use metal support poles and a thick canvas shell cover. This is a good pick for a tent that’s likely to last you for many many years, or for those who’ve gone through a nylon tent or two and need something more rugged.
The Flex-Bow Canvas Tent Deluxe has a lot of floor space – able to accommodate up to eight people. Consider this option for family camping if you don’t mind the extra weight of a canvas tent. If you don’t need quite that much interior space in a family camping tent, there is a smaller option available.
This tent is heavy. While this hinders ease of use and portability, it reflects sturdiness, as Kodiak Canvas tents use metal support poles (rather than fiberglass, which can more easily break).
We had the most trouble erecting this tent of the ones we tested, specifically because it is so heavy – but it does have the tallest peak height of the car camping tents in this review. While it is possible to set up this tent with one person if you have the upper-body strength, it is truly a two-person job. But if you’re setting up an eight-person tent, there are hopefully others who plan to use the tent that can help.
Once set up, the floor area in this tent is immense and could fit many camp chairs. The materials are all of high quality, including the zippers. The durability of this tent is apparent, and one should expect it to last for many years.
While it isn’t difficult to take down this tent, it is not easy to store. Rolling up a canvas tent is difficult as it is very heavy. The included carrying case has a strap handle, but this is not long enough to use as a shoulder strap.
Amazon Review Score: 4.7 out of 5 based on over 780 ratings
A lot of users who like this tent claim to have gotten many years of use from it. This is the kind of tent you have for decades. Many have visited a national park or slept through rainstorms and other inclement weather in this tent and emerged completely dry the next morning thanks to the tent’s construction and sizable vestibule space.
“This tent is built to a quality no light-weight tent can compare to. I have never owned a tent that was so reliable[.] I can get back to what vacation is supposed to be about, relaxing.”
– Jonathan, via Amazon
According to at least one reviewer, the Kodiak Canvas tent is prone to develop mildew in humid environments. Canvas material is durable, but not quite as breathable as nylon or polyester. Another issue some mention is that the tent is heavy and difficult to erect, which was reflected in our testing scores. However, you’ll have plenty of room, won’t need to worry about lack of space on your tent floor, or fret about high winds.
The Hewolf Instant Camping Tent has a similar design to the Gazelle T4. This tent is the budget version of the T4 with a far more reasonable price tag, but it’s built with less robust materials. The Hewolf is, however, just as easy to use.
This is among the best tents for car camping because it is relatively inexpensive and easy to set up, and you aren’t trying to buy a tent that will last through many years of heavy use.
As with the T4, we had no difficulty setting up the Hewolf tent. It unpacks in the same manner, and we had it staked and ready for sleeping in under five minutes. The interior is nice and feels spacious with a high ceiling.
The construction and weather resistance may not quite match the Gazelle, but this is not a cheaply made tent, and you can expect this budget tent to hold up to the elements. We felt that the Hewolf was especially well-ventilated, keeping it cool and mildew-free. The tall design also provides a good amount of headroom for a tent this size.
We had some difficulty putting the tent away at first, as the included instructions aren’t very helpful. Although this tent lost points for ease of setup, once we learned the technique for closing the tent, it wasn’t difficult to store. The Hewolf is lightweight and would make an excellent car camping tent for one or two people.
Amazon Review Score: 4.4 out of 5 based on over 1,200 ratings
Reviewers praise the Hewolf tent for its fast setup and compact size when folded away. Most say that this top tent is effectively waterproof, though there are a few users who got wet in this tent. Another commonly praised feature is the high ceiling, especially for such a compact tent.
“Do not let the price fool you. This tent was our little hobbit hole for [three] full days and kept us protected from the elements and dry the entire time despite it raining the first night and getting a little chilly.”
– ThatDudeInSpace, via Amazon
According to some, this tent is difficult to take down. We also had some trouble folding away this tent at first, but teardown goes quickly once you get the hang of it. You need to be able to reach the top of the tent to take it down, so it could be difficult for short people to disassemble it.
The Coleman Carlsbad Dome Tent differs from the other tents on this list by including some comfort features that other tents don’t have. The Carlsbad has a screened-in patio vestibule and uses light-blocking fabric.
Because of the Dark Room™ technology, the inside of the tent stays darker for longer. Blocking this light also helps keep the tent cool. Consider the Carlsbad tent if you would prefer a darker place to sleep or plan to camp in an especially hot location.
The Carlsbad was more difficult to set up than the other four-person tents we tested. This makes sense, given that it is a little more complicated as it has a patio area. Unlike the Gazelle and Hewolf tents, the support rods need to be inserted manually, and this can take some time and struggle – especially since the poles aren’t color-coded.
Once set up, the Carlsbad tent looks great, and it is comfy to sit in the patio awning so long as it’s warm out. This tent provides a nice, bug-free space and it includes windows that can be zipped open to allow in more sun (the windows are screened so the tent will still keep out bugs). The bottom of the tent is fully sealed to keep out critters and rain. We also appreciated this tent’s storage space and large storage pockets.
While erecting this tent takes some time, taking it down is simple, and we had no difficulty getting it back into the storage bag.
Amazon Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 based on over 2,500 ratings
Users like the way this tent looks as well as its performance. The most commonly praised features of this tent are the excellent waterproofing and that it stays dark and cool in hot environments.
“The tent held up perfectly in tropical winds and rain, along with staying comfortable in radiant sunlight conditions.”
– Phill P., via Amazon
Some people dislike the tent because it is too dark. They would rather have a tent that allows more light (though the windows of the Carlsbad can be unzipped to let in more light).
Rounding out our list is the Go Time Gear Life Tent. This tent consists of some heavy string and a mylar solar blanket, so we don’t recommend it as your first option for car camping. However, it is inexpensive and compact and so good to have as a backup tent. The Mylar material will help to preserve heat and shield you from the elements.
We think it can be a good idea to get a backpacking tent like this in addition to whatever other tent you have, to carry on your person in case of emergency. For some, a portable emergency tent is an essential piece of camping gear. Just don’t expect it to last through many camping trips.
The packed size of this tent is slightly larger than a soda can. It unpacks quickly, and we set it up in a matter of minutes. You will need a tree (or two) to secure the rope, as well as some rocks or other heavy items to weigh down the corners of the tent.
There’s not much room inside. You could fit two people at most if you don’t mind getting very close. The material isn’t fragile, but it is thin and not likely to hold up for more than a handful of uses.
Packing away the tent is quick and easy. It doesn’t take long to roll the Life Tent back into its sleeve.
Amazon Review Score: 4.6 out of 5 based on over 9,200 ratings
Amazon reviewers are generally happy with this tent. It is lightweight, provides some warmth and shelter, and is easy to carry with you. Negative reviews mention how thin this tent is. Keep in mind this is an emergency tent. It is designed to be lightweight and portable, not for extended, regular use.
The best car camping tent should be easy to set up, provide weather protection, and be collapsable to a relatively small size. To find the right tent for your specific needs, you should also consider tent size, material, and cost.
Purchase the smallest-sized tent that suits your needs. There is little benefit to an especially spacious tent for a single person.
Depending on the number of people you hope to accommodate, you might buy several smaller tents or one large tent. A single large tent will be warmer, but less private.
The ideal tent materials are breathable, waterproof, and tear-resistant. Common tent materials include:
Another term you may come across when comparing tent material is “denier.” Denier describes how tightly a fabric is woven, with a higher number indicating greater tightness. High-denier fabrics are more durable and waterproof, but less breathable.
In addition to the material of the tent itself, it is also important to consider the quality of the poles and zippers. Some tent poles are made from fiberglass and some from aluminum. Fiberglass tent poles are light and flexible but are more likely to break than aluminum poles.
A quality car tent is likely to cost upward of $100. There are low-cost tents, but anything under $100 is not likely to provide much protection or offer durable quality. If staying warm is what is most important to you, it’s worth investing more in a sleeping bag designed for freezing temperatures.
The tents recommended in this article are small, portable, and can easily fit in the trunk of a sedan. These are nonetheless traditional camping tents that don’t require a car. There are some tents that are specifically designed to be used with Trucks and SUVs: truck tents and rooftop tents.
Truck tents and rooftop tents install to the top of your car (or in your truck bed) and have the advantage of elevation. Above the ground, these tents will keep you better protected from bugs and standing water. However, there are a couple downsides to this type of tent.
The main disadvantage is that rooftop tents are typically much more expensive than similar, on-the-ground tents. The other disadvantage is that rooftop tents don’t work with all vehicles. These tents are typically only suitable for SUVs. Therefore, if you drive a sedan, you’ll probably need a traditional camping tent.
Those who are car camping likely need a tent that is portable and easy to set up. After researching and testing many of the best camping tents, we think the Gazelle T4 best embodies these qualities. However, it is expensive (over $300). The Hewolf Waterproof Instant Camping Tent is a reliable, less expensive alternative – though not quite as durable.
Depending on the number of campers you need to accommodate, you may want a larger tent like the Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Canvas Tent Deluxe. This tent is also more durable and likely to last much longer. Or you may want to scrap the idea altogether and consider a rooftop tent for a more portable solution.
Sleeping in a car can be warmer than sleeping in a tent. While sleeping in your car, you will be higher from the cold ground, and the materials between your body and the ground (seats, undercarriage) are likely to provide more insulation than a canvas or nylon tent.
That said, the best way to keep warm in any camping situation is to stay dry (which both your car and a good tent will achieve) and to use a well-insulated sleeping bag. You’ll also stay warmer sleeping in a tent if you sleep on a cot, air mattress, or sleeping pad.
Car camping can mean sleeping in your car on a road trip, or camping at a site that is accessible by car. Therefore, a car camping tent is any tent that can be stowed and transported in your car.
We think that it’s best to roll your tent. Rolling a tent will make it more compact, and you are less likely to damage the tent when unpacking it.
You should put a tarp under your tent. Not only will this help reduce the number of bugs in your tent, but it is also important to have insulation between your body and the ground when camping. A sleeping bag and a mat or raised cot are also good ideas when camping.
Most tents have a bottom tarp built-in, so you will not need to buy and install an additional tarp unless you are anticipating particularly bad weather.
The tents in this article went through two rounds of reviews. We started by searching retailers like Amazon for top products, looking at factors such as durability, ease of use, customer ratings, and prices.
Our product testing team then ordered the tents that best met these standards. A team member erected and used each tent, taking note of tent materials, set-up time, and tear-down time. Each tent for car camping was given a rating out of 5 stars based on durability, ease of use, and portability.
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*Data accurate at time of publication.