You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a decent tent these days. But, at the same time, there is a lot of cheap junk on the market that would be a total waste of your money.
Cheap tents can be worth buying in some situations. For someone who wants to try out camping before committing to a more expensive tent or who can’t afford something more high-end, it’s ok to go for a budget option.
At the same time, you get what you pay for. If you buy something too cheap, it’s going to break a lot faster. So, in the long run, you’ll spend more money to keep replacing the same kit again and again.
This article will give you tips on choosing a cheaper tent that isn’t a total waste of time. I hope you find it helpful!
Why Cheap Tents Are Not Worth Buying
You don’t have to spend loads of money to get a decent tent. However, there is no point in buying a tent for $50. It’s that cheap for a reason, and you’re going to end up chucking it after a few uses.
Here are some of the common problems that people have with ultra-cheap tents:
- They often arrive damaged.
- Their seams can break quickly.
- They tend to be heavy.
- They have thin floors that rip easily.
- They’re thrown away quickly, which adds unnecessary trash to landfills.
- The zippers fail.
- The design is often poor—you may not have good bug protection or ventilation.
If you don’t have a huge budget, I recommend that you save up a bit longer and get a mid-level tent.
From $100 onwards, your tent will probably last you a lot longer than one that costs $50.
And if you make a real investment in something more expensive, it might last long enough to be passed along to your kids!
Of course, that depends on the model. The best $150 tents can be better than the worst $600 tents.
What's the difference between cheap and expensive tents?
If a tent is cheap, there’s a reason for it.
It usually means that the quality of materials isn’t good or that the manufacturer cut some corners. It might be that a worker was exploited to get the product turned out so cheaply.
To see the difference, simply place a cheap tent and an expensive tent side by side.
In the cheapest options, the walls are thinner and the poles are weaker. You’ll probably find some key design flaws, like insufficient ventilation, and the bug mesh might already have tears.
Of course, some expensive tents are rubbish, too. The fact that a tent costs more doesn’t automatically mean that it’s any good.
However, usually, you get what you pay for.
Besides, the price evens out in the end. You’re naturally going to take better care of an expensive tent, whereas you might throw a cheap tent in the garage and forget about it.
Once you find it covered with mold or chewed by mice, you’ll have to replace it again.
How much should You spend on a tent?
I’m not someone who spends a lot of money. But, even so, the absolute minimum I would spend on a tent is $120.
Brands like Naturehike and Geertop come in around this price, and they’re not bad pieces of kit. They aren’t going to last as long as a top-quality tent, but they aren’t going to fall apart straight away, either.
Another option would be to get a second-hand tent. You can buy a good-quality, gently used tent for a great price at Outdoors Geek.
What to look for when buying a tent?
What to look for in a tent will depend on your plans. For example, a large family going summer car camping will need something entirely different from a solo backpacker hitting the trails.
Here are some things to think about:
Is your tent light enough for you to set it up? If you’re thru-hiking, you’ll need to minimize your tent weight as much as possible. If you’re car camping, this doesn’t matter as much.
Consider whether your tent is the right size for your needs. Bear in mind that tent manufacturers overestimate how many people can fit in a tent.
A classic ‘6-person’ tent would probably be suitable for two adults and two children.
The capacity of a tent refers to how many people could fit inside it, lying side by side on the ground. It doesn’t account for kit, personal space, or blow-up beds.
If there’s any chance of rain, you need a tent that will keep you dry.
This means you’ll need sealed seams. A bathtub-style floor would also be good, as it helps prevent water from seeping in from the ground. Angled windows mean you’ll be able to let in some air without getting doused in rain.
Your tent may have had a waterproof coating, but you should apply another one once you get it home.
For rainy weather, your tent should be at least three seasons. However, if you’re camping in winter, a four-season tent would be more appropriate.
You also might want a snow skirt if you’ll be camping in the snowy season.
Note: The manufacturers themselves award tent seasons. So, while seasons are worth considering, make sure to read plenty of user reviews to check on whether they are really up to the job.
A no-see-um mesh will keep insects out of your tent at night. If you don’t want to be eaten alive, make sure your tent has one of these.
A vestibule is a sheltered area where you can store kit. If you are backpacking, it’s essential to have one of these. You’ll be able to keep your gear out of the sleeping area and have a bit more room to spread out.
Just remember that vestibules aren’t always watertight, so be careful with your kit in rainy weather.
If you’re sharing a tent with other people, it can be beneficial to have two doors. This means that you can come and go as you please, without climbing over your tent buddies at night.
Carbon fiber poles are lighter than aluminum poles, but they are more likely to shatter in cold weather.
So, if you’re going to be camping in the wintertime, aluminum would be the better choice.
What is the best cheap tent?
I think the Naturehike Mongar Two is one of the best tents that you can get for the price.
The Mongar Two is a brilliant tent for a couple of people who want to do some backpacking but who might not currently have the budget for a more technical tent.
It is a three-season tent with fully taped seams and a waterproof coating of up to 4000mm, so you’ll be alright in rainy weather.
The frame is strong aluminum, so the Mongar will be a bit heavier than the more expensive ultralight tents on the market, but four pounds is a perfectly reasonable weight for two people sharing.
The Mongar Two also has two doors and two vestibules. This means you’ll have plenty of space to store your kit after a day exploring the great outdoors, and you’ll be able to come and go more comfortably without elbowing your tent buddy in the ribs.
Realistically, the fittings are not going to last for ages. The zips are pretty light-duty, and they are going to fail eventually. But if you’re on a budget, this tent will take decent care of you.
For more information, click here to read our in-depth review of the Naturehike Mongar 2 tent.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy the great outdoors, and I don’t want you to feel put off by expensive kit.
At the same time, some tents are cheap for a reason. If you go for the least expensive kit every time, you’ll end up spending a lot more money in the long run. (Because you’ll have to keep replacing it year after year!)
I always recommend that people get the best piece of kit they can afford. But, of course, expensive doesn’t necessarily mean best.
Make sure to check out plenty of user reviews so that you can be sure the tent is genuinely as good as the manufacturer claims it to be.
I hope you found this article helpful, and I wish you many happy camping adventures!
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Rachel is a freelance adventure writer and founder of Highly Sensitive Nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found wild camping in the mountains and swimming in the lakes of Europe.