- 1 Editor’s Ratings
- 2 Buyer’s Guide
- 3 Why Is There A Large Price Difference in Tents?
- 4 What Type of Material Do I Need?
- 5 What Type of Protection Do I Need From the Elements?
- 6 How Durable Is My Tent Material?
- 7 What Are The Must Have Features For My 4 Person Tent?
- 8 What is the Ideal Design of a 4 Person Tent?
- 9 Should I Use Aluminum or Fiberglass Poles?
- 10 Invest in Stakes!
- 11 Don’t Waste Time on Frustrating Tents.
- 12 Conclusion
When purchasing a new tent there are a number of things that need to be considered – price, material of the tent, protection against the elements, durability of the tent material, various features of the tent, design, pole material, stake strength, and difficulty to assemble.
There is no reason for you to do hours of research. I have answered some of the most important questions you should ask yourself before purchasing your new 4 person tent.
Why Is There A Large Price Difference in Tents?
The main reason a company may charge high rates for their tents is because they are made with high quality materials, and receive extensive weatherproofing during the manufacturing process.
The average person who only camps a few times a year at designated campgrounds will only need to spend between $50-150 to find a perfectly suitable tent. Most people who are car camping for the weekend just need something that’s easy to assemble and can keep them dry if it rains. Anything beyond that price point and you are paying for some additional features that you find important.
Mountaineering is the exception, as you will most likely have to spend more for a durable product that can hold up to the elements.
When purchasing a tent, it is important to know your comfort requirements. If you are looking to get away for a weekend and sleep in, then you will want a tent that can keep out the morning sunlight. If you are a bare bones camper, then a basic $50 tent will be just fine for you.
Don’t assume that you need to break the bank in order to enjoy your adventure in the backcountry.
What Type of Material Do I Need?
The tent material is the first thing you should check when buying a tent. Materials can have different strengths, durability, weight, and purposes of use.
Not long ago nearly all tents were made of a cotton canvas that, once weatherproofed, would last for many years. These heavy canvases were great for car camping, but made it very difficult to take on long adventures.
In the first half of the 20th century, bulky cotton canvas tents were replaced by Nylon, and have since expanded to include other synthetics such as Polyester and Polyethylene, which are a much lighter alternative.
One of the only drawbacks to using synthetic materials is that the quality can quickly deteriorate under UV exposure from the sun.
Polyester has become the most popular material for weekend use tents. This material tends to be more durable than Nylon, and holds up better under UV light.
Almost all large 5+ person tents are made of cotton canvas and will have a thick coating of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) to protect against water.
A small portion of tents will be made from Polycotton canvas, which is a combination of cotton and polyester.
Nylon has a much larger range of quality than cotton and other synthetics. Nylon is used in cheap tents for children, and the most expensive expedition tents. It’s quality is dependant on the extent of weather treatment it receives from the manufacturer.
What Type of Protection Do I Need From the Elements?
Nobody wants to wake up in the middle of the night to a steady drip of water on their forehead, or find out they pitched their tent over a divot and part of their gear is laying in 2 inches of water. This is why it is important to know what the weather will be like at your campsite.
If you will be camping in a warm area with plenty of sunshine, then you will want to find a tent with high UV protection, as synthetics will deteriorate and become more vulnerable to rips and leaks. There are many additional spray on UV protection options that can be purchased at the store and easily applied at home.
If you are camping in the rain, you will want to make sure to properly seal the seams of your tent, as this will usually be the first place a tent will leak. The best waterproof tents will have a factory sealed seam in the floor and the rain fly.
If you wake up in the morning and see some water on the walls of your tent, do not panic. This water is most likely condensation from your breathing throughout the night, and not due to a leak.
If you purchase your own waterproofing, you should not waterproof the walls of the tent as they are not designed to be waterproof. The walls are designed to breathe and keep the tent from getting too stuffy at night.
Always make sure you bring your rain fly and attach it as directed. Guy lines should be staked into the ground at an appropriate distance to form a taut rain fly to ensure that water runs off the tent as designed. An improperly attached rain fly can lead to sagging, which will collect puddles that can weigh down the tent and put more stress on the frame.
Some tents will have additional protection with a bathtub floor, where the bottom of the tent will wrap around about 6 inches up the wall. This will protect the floor seems from puddling that can develop between the footprint and the floor of the tent.
For snow camping you will want a mountaineering 4 season tent. You will want all of the same waterproofing as preparing for the rain.
Four season tents come with one or two walls and must be quick and easy to set up. The big difference between the two is that the 2-walled tent has twice the protection from wind and rain, thus making it warmer inside.
How Durable Is My Tent Material?
There are a few different ways to measure the thickness of a tent material.
One method of measurement is a Denier (D), which determines individual fiber thickness. The thicker fibers create a stronger more durable material.
Denier is a good method of measurement for two of fabrics of the same strength. A material made of 200 D Nylon will be stronger than 180 D Nylon. If you are comparing two tents that are made of different materials, then you can not compare their denier strength.
Nylon is stronger than Polyester, so it would not be accurate to compare a 200 D Polyester fabric to a 150 D Nylon fabric.
Another typical measurement is thread count (T) just like how we measure the sheets on our bed. The thread count is determined by the number of threads within one square inch of the fabric. Higher thread counts are associated with higher quality materials.
As a general rule of thumb, Nylon is the strongest synthetic and should be strongly considered for any extreme expedition.
What Are The Must Have Features For My 4 Person Tent?
The most important feature in a 4 person tent is a storage vestibule. The average 4 person tent will have little more space than sleeping room. If you have a storage vestibule on each end of the tent, it can be the difference between a good night sleep and a kink in your neck from using your pack as a pillow.
You can watch a helpful video of how to make a do it yourself vestibule from a poncho here.
When you are squashed next to four of your mates in a tent there will be a lot of heat produced throughout the night, and it is very important that you have proper ventilation. You will want to make sure your tent has two doors and mesh vents near the top to let out body heat.
If a tent doesn’t have proper ventilation, you will wake up in the morning with a lot of condensation. If you are camping in one place for the weekend, the condensation won’t be a huge issue. If you are hiking, it will require you to wipe down the inside of the tent before you pack it away, which wastes valuable time that could be spent hiking before the sun gets overhead.
An easily overlooked feature is a quality zipper.
One of the biggest failings of a cheap tent is a zipper that gets caught in the material and quickly gets pulled off track. When I am looking at tents I look for a thick zipper that will keep out little bugs and make sure that there are no loose hanging materials anywhere close to the zipper track.
What is the Ideal Design of a 4 Person Tent?
There are two common reasons for needing a 4 person tent: you’re going on a leisurely camping trip, or you are going to a site where you will need to pack in your gear.
If you are going on a leisurely camping trip, then a cabin tent will best fit your needs. Cabin tents are a little more spacious and may even have a divider for privacy.
If you need to pack in your gear, you will want a dome tent which is a happy medium between comfort and high quality expedition equipment. A dome tent will have a roughly 9 x 7 foot floor space and will be about 5 feet in height. This is just enough room for 4 people to lay shoulder to shoulder.
The ideal 4 person hiking tent will be less than 9 pounds and should easily fit horizontally into your pack. The tent should come equipped with reflective guy lines to avoid tripping in the night.
A great feature to a 4 person tent is a seating area outside of the main tent that can be enclosed with a mesh netting to keep out insects. There is nothing worse than being swarmed by mosquitos and forced into your tent much too early.
Should I Use Aluminum or Fiberglass Poles?
When choosing your tent poles you have three common options: fiberglass, aluminum, and carbon fiber. The biggest difference between these pole materials is their durability and lifespan between seasons.
Fiberglass poles are usually associated with low quality tents that will only see a few uses. Poles that are made of inexpensive fiberglass materials have the least strength and are susceptible to splintering under stress. This lack of pole strength really hurts the tent’s value as you store it away.
Most of us have a storage area where our gear is haphazardly thrown about and something may get placed on top of the fragile tent poles for months on end. Any stress throughout the offseason will make the poles more fragile and decrease their lifespan. Nobody wants to get to their campsite and find that their poles have split in the offseason.
Aluminum has become the most common frame material for mid quality tents. It is an outdoorsman’s dream as it is extremely strong and incredibly lightweight for a relatively inexpensive price.
Aluminum poles come in various strengths depending on your expedition requirements. The only drawback to using aluminum poles is that they can corrode if they are stored in a damp area.
Outdoor companies are always innovating to create the lightest, strongest, materials possible.
Carbon fiber poles are currently the most durable material on the market. This lightweight material is incredibly strong and is recommended for the most extreme adventures. Carbon fiber is most commonly used in technical mountaineering because it can hold up very well to extremely low temperatures and high winds.
For most 4 person tents I would recommend investing in aluminum poles simply for their storage strength compared to fiberglass and their affordability compared to carbon fiber.
Invest in Stakes!
It wasn’t until my last hike that I realized the importance of having nice stakes.
I had just bought a new hiking tent that came with cheaply made skinny aluminum stakes that I couldn’t hammer into the ground without bending. I spent nearly a week straight lining the corners of my tent with rocks to hold it in place. When I finally came to a town, I bought some lightweight aluminum needle stakes that were nearly $3 a piece.
The first thing that I noticed about my new aluminum stakes was how light they were. A high quality stake can be a few grams instead of a few ounces, which should appeal to any hiker looking to save weight.
I also loved how tough my new stakes were. They were easy to hammer into the ground and they held better than any stakes I’ve used before.. It’s common for stakes to get pulled out of the ground during heavy winds, but my new stakes didn’t budge at all.
If you get caught in a rainstorm you will be happy you invested in strong stakes which are crucial to keeping your guy lines taut, and you dry.
The only drawback is that they may be difficult to push into the ground by hand, but a large enough rock will make quick work of it.
I recommend that anyone purchasing a tent consider spending a few extra dollars on high quality stakes to save yourself from headaches associated with cheap materials.
Don’t Waste Time on Frustrating Tents.
When purchasing your tent you should ask yourself – how difficult will it be to assemble the tent at night? If you don’t think you could easily assemble the tent within 15 minutes in the dark then you should continue your search.
You should also ask yourself – can I assemble the tent myself? Some of the highest rated tents only require a few poles that run diagonally across the tent and can easily be assembled by one person. If you have a good tent, the assembly should be common sense and shouldn’t require more than a quick glance at the instructions.
When you are assembling your tent make sure to push your tent poles through, not pull them. Pulling can stretch the elastic inside and break the pole, leaving you sleeping under the stars for the night.
It is also very important that you attach your rain fly and guy lines as taut as possible without tearing your support rings. This will allow water to run off easily and will help you avoid unnecessary water exposure.
Mountainsmith Genesee 4 Person 3 Season Tent
- Easy to assemble – two crossing poles
- 56 square feet of floor space
- Easy entry and exit through two large doors
- Two pole design not the sturdiest in strong winds
- Small vestibules
Summary: If you are a weekend warrior who needs a good size tent that doesn’t break the bank, then this is the tent for you! This tent will work wonders for the price.
The tent has enough space for 4 adults, or a family with small children.
The two crossing pole design makes this tent a breeze to assemble – great for the end of a long day’s hiking. If you do get stuck, there are assembly instructions are printed on the storage sack.
The poles are made from a 7000 series aluminium alloy. It also comes with a full rain fly which comes almost right down to the ground. When setting up the fly, it’s important you follow the instructions and measure it out properly to avoid it coming into contact with the tent.
Best for: Quick and easy assembly.
ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 4 Person Tent
- Excellent Waterproofing
- 2 Vestibules for storage
- Fantastic price
- Small packaged dimensions
- Occasional manufacturing defects
- Aluminum poles can corrode if they are not stored properly
- Vestibules make it hard to exit
Summary: This tent is the perfect example of a high quality product at an affordable price.
The tent’s 7.5 lbs weight and spacious interior makes it perfect to take hiking for a small group of people. The tent packs down to 6.5 x 5.9 x 23.9 inches making it manageable to carry.
The Lynx comes equipped with two vestibules perfect for storage, so your gear doesn’t waste precious space inside the tent, and can comfortably sleep 4 adults.
The biggest upside to this tent by far is the weatherproofing. The rainfly is made with 75 D 185 T polyester that creates a very thick layer of waterproofing. This tent also comes with a factory sealed fly and floor, which keeps out the rain even if puddles develop between the footprint and flooring.
The only drawbacks to this tent are occasional manufacturing defects that slip through the crack during production. Some people have complained about broken zippers and seams that were not completely sewn shut. The aluminum poles make the tent very strong and lightweight, but if they are stored wet they can corrode between seasons.
Best for: Hiking.
Coleman Carlsbad 4 Person Dome Dark Room Tent
- Dark room technology
- Screen room
- Reflective guy lines
- Great for young children
- 1 year limited warranty
- Bulky dimensions makes it impossible to take hiking
- Fiberglass poles can be easily damaged
Summary: The Carlsbad darkroom tent is perfect for weekend camping with young kids, or for someone who loves to sleep in.
The darkroom technology works two fold to block out 97.5% of sunlight and reduce the temperature inside by as much as 9.5% compared to other Coleman tents.
The Carlsbad comes with a screen room that is perfect for keeping away pesky mosquitoes, and is big enough area to sleep in if you want to enjoy a warm summer night under the stars.
Coleman manufactured this tent to include reflective guy lines so you will not trip if you need to get up for any reason throughout the night.
One of the best features of this tent is Coleman’s 1 year limited warranty. If anything breaks on the tent, you can send it in to Coleman and get it repaired or replaced at no cost to you.
The biggest problem with this tent is that it comes with fiberglass poles which can easily be damaged or broken. The tent is too bulky to feasibly take it on a long hike, so this is strictly a car camping product.
The amenities of the darkroom technology add on to the value as this tent isn’t the cheapest.
Best for: Sleeping in and camping in the heat.
SEEMO Water Resistant D-Style Door, 4-Person Camping/Traveling Family Dome Tent
- Quick assembly
- Good for summer hiking
- Family friendl
- Can tear easily
- Seems may not hold up well in heavy rain
- Lack of storag
Summary: The SEEMO tent is perfect for summer camping!
This tent is a steal for the price.
The tent’s dome frame makes for an easy assembly process as you will just need to run 2 poles diagonally across, and one over the top for the rainfly.
This tent comes with 2 large doors and two small windows that create fantastic ventilation for a warm night under the stars.
This tent is an extremely affordable option that provides all the necessary protection for weekend camping.
The only drawbacks to this tent are the lack of storage space, which would make it very hard to actually sleep 4 people with full backpacks.
Some customers have complained that the tent material can easily tear or leak water from the seems. I think these problems can happen to most products during manufacturing and I wouldn’t let the negatives deter you from buying this great tent!
Best for: Family camping.
Coleman Sundome 4 Person Tent
- Great user feedback
- 1000 D bathtub style flooring
- Holds well in elements
- Extremely affordable
- 1 year limited warranty
- Doesn’t come with tarp
- Elastic bands in poles snap easily
- Some instances of leaking in a corner
Summary: This Coleman tent is a best seller and very affordable.
The best part of this tent is that it consistently gets good reviews and feedback. I am confident that you will enjoy the product and that it will hold up through several outings.
Like most Coleman products it comes with a user friendly 1 year warranty.
The floor of the tent is a 1000 D bathtub style flooring, which means that the bottom wraps up the sides 6 inches to provide ultimate water resistance. This very thick bathtub style flooring makes it so tough, Coleman does not include a footprint with the tent.
I like to protect my tent as much as possible, so I would recommend purchasing a tarp to use underneath the tent, as some customers have reported instances of leaking in one or more of the corners.
The only other issue I came across was that the elastic in the fiberglass poles can easily become brittle and snap. With the 1 year warranty any problem can be quickly remedied.
Best for: Value for the money.
As a general rule of thumb, your ideal tent should be made of a lightweight synthetic material, receive appropriate weatherproofing, include storage to accommodate 4 people, have aluminum poles, and include heavy duty stakes.
If you follow these suggestions you will have the perfect tent for your outdoor needs.