Camping is still the best way to be close to nature, but it also leaves you at its mercy. Choosing the right shelter is vital, so we tested the 10 best tents for your next adventure.
Please note: This article was originally posted in April 2015, but has since been updated and reposted with new prices.
But first, fabric tech explained
A rough indicator of an individual fibre’s density. 10D is less dense (and subsequently lighter) than 50D.
Thread count (T)
A measure of the fineness or coarseness of the fabric. The number refers to the number of threads in one square area of fabric – 210T is more tightly woven than 190T.
PU is a budget-friendly waterproofing coating for lightweight hiking tents – you’ll find it on the tent floor and rain flysheet.
PVC is an excellent barrier to water, but much heavier than a PU coating.
Also known as a waterhead rating, this is a standard measurement of how much hydrostatic pressure a tent’s waterproof coating can take before it leaks. Think of it like this: a piece of fabric is attached to the end of a hose and the water pressure turned up. A 1000mm water column rating indicates that the fabric can withstand 1000mm of water. The higher the number, the more waterproof the fabric.
Canvas tents offer great insulation and breathability. With a life span of about 20 years it’s a long-lasting fabric that’s worth the investment. However, these tents are heavy and, to prevent mildew, need to be dried out properly before packing. Check out the grams per square metre (GSM) index of the canvas tent material. The higher the number, the heavier and thicker the fabric, which impacts both the overall weight and hardiness of the tent.
Nylon or polyester?
Both fabrics are cheaper than canvas, are lightweight and dry quickly, but they’re not the best insulators. Nylon is generally stronger, more elastic and more abrasion-resistant than polyester, and both need to be coated to become waterproof. Polyester absorbs less water and has a better resistance to UV exposure than Nylon.
Ripstop fabric doesn’t mean the fabric won’t rip. The thicker thread incorporated into the weave just means any rip is unlikely to grow.
And now, our favourite tents
Best tent for hiking
1. First Ascent Lunar Two-Person Tent
Packing dimensions: 43cm long x 14cm wide
Fabric: 210T PU Polyester
Waterproofing: PU polyester with 2000mm waterhead on flysheet and 3000mm on groundsheet
Outstanding feature: Brilliant breathability.
Assembly time: 5.45 minutes
Human to tent ratio: Two people fit snugly, but best for one. There’s a decent space to stash luggage under the slanted entrance vestibule
Peak height: 110cm
Verdict: The two-door design of the newly launched Lunar tent is great for ventilation. Both doors zip and there’s a roof mesh too. It’s also got the most storage pouches of the hiking tents featured and the lightweight pegs are interesting too – a straight, flat head with three sharp edges that puncture the ground with ease. The price is also right for this high-quality product.
Best long termer
2. Campmor Outdoor Travel Tramp
R3599, orders can be placed at Outdoor Warehouse
Packing dimensions: 95cm long x 30cm wide
Fabric: 400 gsm polycotton ripstop canvas
Waterproofing: 1000mm waterhead and 550g PVC groundsheet
Outstanding feature: Hardy longevity
Assembly time: 8.35 minutes
Human to tent ratio: Two people with decent space for gear
Peak height: 150cm
Verdict: Campmor Outdoor have been around for 20 years and this classic canvas tent is a sound investment. They don’t use polyester fabrics so the tent is breathable, cooler in summer and more waterproof. Simple elements like the mesh doormat for muddy boots, reflective guy rope flags, tent repair kit, sturdy YKK zips, extra steel tent pegs, electricity socket flap and weatherproof PVC bag make it a hardy outdoor shelter. Get one for yourself and one for the kids – they will last a lifetime.
Best turbo tent
3. Malamoo Xtra 3-Second Pop-Up Tent
R1995, 4X4 Megaworld
Packing dimensions: 100cm oval shape
Fabric: 65D 185T polyester
Waterproofing: 185T PU polyester with 2000mm waterhead
Outstanding feature: Lightning-fast setup
Assembly time: 40 seconds (and extra 38 seconds to pitch poles up for the gazebo)
Human to tent ratio: Perfect for two people and bags
Peak height: 125cm
Verdict: The fabric might not stand up to aggressive acacia thorns, but it’s a great setup for festivals, seaside vacations or a short stopover on the way to Namibia. The integrated flysheet and covered vestibule area are awesome design extras and the ventilation is good even though there’s only one window. It took a while to fold the tent again, but once you get it you won’t botch it again. My only gripe is the oval packing shape because it’s awkward to pack into a sedan, but it’ll lie flat in the back of a bakkie.
Best of the rest…
4. K-Way Nerolite Three-Person Tent
Packing dimensions: 50cm long x 17cm wide
Fabric: 190T breathable nylon
Waterproofing: 210T ripstop nylon with 2000mm PU coating on the flysheet and 5000mm watercolumn on the groundsheet
Outstanding feature: A sound structure without any bells and whistles
Assembly time: 7.28 minutes
Human to tent ratio: Two people will fit comfortably with their backpacks. This tent has the best peak height featured here for a hiking tent
Peak height: 120cm
Verdict: This spacious lodging is best for active couples. It’s easy to set up with colour-coded high-strength aluminium poles and you don’t need to resort to instructions. There’s only one window that’s built into the door, but the criss-cross tent pole design is structurally sound. The bigger carry bag also makes packing it away a breeze.
5. Duesouth Vespiary One Plus
Packing dimensions: 45cm long x 14cm wide
Fabric: 190T polyester
Waterproofing: 190T polyester with 3000mm waterhead
Outstanding feature: Weather-proof design
Assembly time: 5.25 minutes and had to read instructions
Human to tent ratio: One person and their gear
Peak height: 105cm
Verdict: This low-profile aerodynamic tent is made with harsh weather in mind. It’s got the best waterproofing here with a 3000mm watercolumn, but assembly requires faultless pegging as the tent structure doesn’t feature criss-cross poles. Stability depends on taut staking and there are no extra pegs. The compression stuff sack is super handy and keeps the packed bulk to a minimum. Ventilation is also great with three windows and two doors. The narrow footprint also makes it useful for tight camping spots or finding a sheltered area between rocks.
6. Camp Master 8-Person Family Cabin 810
Packing dimensions: 80cm long x 33cm wide
Fabric: 68D 185T polyester
Waterproofing: 68D 190T PU coated polyester with 2000mm waterhead
Outstanding feature: Dual-cabin design
Assembly time: 22.32 minutes and had to consult instructions to double check tent orientation
Human to tent ratio: Eight is a little generous. Better suited to six people with plenty of space to stash luggage and other camping necessaries
Peak height: 210cm
Verdict: The double cabin design makes this a great tent for hitting coastal campsites with the family and the front meshed gazebo section is a win with six stash pockets and space for a small dining table. You’ll keep everything in one place and there’s space for everyone to get on – even if it’s raining. The setup is really straightforward with colour-coded, alphabetised poles and there are well-positioned carry handles on the heavy bag so two people can heave it from the car to the site.
7. Terra Firma Okovango 6-person tent
Packing dimensions: 90cm long x 30cm wide
Fabric: 75D 190T polyester ripstop
Waterproofing: 190T PU polyester with 3000mm waterhead and groundsheet is 100D with 2000mm waterhead
Outstanding feature: The spacious interior
Assembly time: 20.14 minutes
Human to tent ratio: Again, six people sleeping in one cabin is idealistic. It’s more of a four-sleeper with room to breathe
Peak height: 230cm
Verdict: This is a very spacious tent with a gazebo-like front area built in. It’s disappointing that the gazebo groundsheet isn’t sewn into the main tent as it flaps about a bit, but the waterproofing and PVC-like floor make it great for any sudden summer storms. It was quick and easy to set up as all the poles are the same size and no complicated instructions are needed. I also liked the front door (which nearly zips clean off for maximum airflow), and the cool white tent fabric.
8. Bushtec 5-Person Complete Rhino Camping Solution
Weight: Total weight of 73.25kg for full solution, gazebo and inner tent weigh 20.15kg
Packing dimensions: Various packages: poles measure 145cm long x 34cm wide; gazebo 58cm long x 60cm wide; tent inner 65cm long x 40cm wide
Fabric: 320gsm ripstop canvas
Waterproofing: with 400mm waterhead and PVC groundsheet
Outstanding feature: It’s basically a canvas apartment
Assembly time: 42.51 minutes
Human to tent ratio: The inner tent will sleep about three or four comfortably depending on the mattress size. The sheltered gazebo space allows for plenty of room to move around or set up a dining area
Peak height: 210cm
Verdict: First thing you’ll notice about this tent is the time it took to erect. It took the longest to set up and there was some trial and error despite reading the instructions. Still, with practice you’ll easily shave about 20 minutes off this. In the end it’s an inspiring tent for a longer term holiday. The basic unit is a rectangular canvas gazebo with a square inner tent that hooks up onto one end of the steel frame, but you can purchase mesh mosquito walls, an awning, or full canvas walls to complete the covered sanctuary, transforming it into a dining or entertainment area. You can stand up in the tent and it’s got roof ventilation ports plus three large windows.
Kudos to Colman: Take note tent manufacturers! The new Coleman Octagon tent sleeps eight and weighs about 20kgs, but unlike other family cabins, intelligent design stepped in to solve the heavy dilemma: Coleman uses a trolley carry case (much like your wheeled airport carry-on luggage) so you can wheel it around more easily.
9. Oz Tent RV-2
R7895, 4X4 Megaworld
Packing dimensions: 200cm long x 15cm wide
Fabric: 190gsm ripstop polycotton canvas
Waterproofing: 2000mm waterhead and heavy-duty PVC groundsheet
Outstanding feature: Effortless setup
Assembly time: 1.49 minutes and one person can do it – probably with their eyes closed
Human to tent ratio: The only tent true to its claim, two people will fit handsomely inside
Peak height: 190cm
Verdict: What starts as one long two-metre package folds out and flips up (much like opening a book) into a sloped tent with a wide door opening and two-metre-long awning. There’s space to stand up and stretch in the morning, and the modular units can be zipped together if you have more than one. The tent pegs are also impressively short, sturdy and thick and won’t bend when smashed with a hammer. It’s pricey, but a must for outdoor geeks with a penchant for the unusual. The only downside is the awkward packing size so you’ll need a roof rack or single cab vehicle to transport it.
10. Coleman 3-Person Instant Dome
Packing dimensions: 80cm long x 18cm wide
Fabric: 75D polyester taffeta
Waterproofing: Watercolumn not listed, this tent claims its WeatherTec System keeps you dry guaranteed
Outstanding feature: Affordable quality
Assembly time: 2.08 minutes
Human to tent ratio: Perfect for two people plus their essentials
Peak height: 117cm
Verdict: Lightweight and brightly-coloured, this tent doesn’t quite live up to its 60-second setup claim but it’s still a breeze to pitch. The side and rear windows have a nifty roll-up closing mechanism – a ruler-length blade is built into the mesh and when clicked it rolls up, much like those bracelets that children slap around their wrists. Add to this a zippered power socket, reflective guy lines, an integrated rain fly and effective roof vents and you’ve got a good buy. The only difficulty was repacking it into the small bag.