Are Instant Tents Good – What You Need to Know

instant tent with camping chairs

You’ve probably seen videos of instant tents going up and wondered how something so easy to put up could possibly be good for camping.  After all, the other tents take a lot more work to put up and they aren’t that much cheaper to buy.

So, are instant tents good for camping?  Instant tents are great for car camping because they’re easy to set up and they work quite well.  They don’t make very good backpacking tents because they’re heavy, bulky, and not quite as rugged as a typical backcountry tent.

An instant tent might not be a great tent for high winds either.  This is because these tents have tent poles that extend and they aren’t always as durable as the tent poles you’d find in a more traditional tent.

Let’s take a look at instant tents in more detail so you can see when and where you should use them and when and where you should avoid them.

How Do Instant Tents Work

There are currently two different types of instant tents that you can buy.  One uses a hoop system and the other uses an articulating frame system.

Pop-up Instant Tents

The hoop system consists of hoops that are built into the interior of the tent fabric.  These hoops fold into themselves and they unfold and pop up when you open the tent.

These tents are sometimes called pop-up tents and they’re usually only found on smaller models.

Here is a video of a pop-up tent being opened.

Easy-up Instant Tents

Tents with articulating poles are also called easy-up tents.  To erect this tent, you need to extend a set of telescoping tent poles.

These poles are also already connected to the tent fabric but they’re usually on the outside.  This gives you the option of putting an additional tent fly over the top of them.

This type of instant tent doesn’t set up as quickly as the pop-up tents but they’re still easy to erect.

Here is a video of this type of instant tent going up.

Advantages of Instant Tents

Instant tents definitely have some advantages over traditional tents.

Here are 5 advantages of using an instant tent.

  • They go up fast.
  • They’re easy to setup.
  • They’re spacious.
  • You can’t lose the tent poles.
  • They offer one-person set up.

They Go Up Quickly

There is a reason they call these tents instant tents.  They go up quickly and in the case of pop-up tents, they go up almost instantly.

This is especially true when you look at the larger tents as well.  If you haven’t done so already, watch the easy-up instant tent video and you’ll see that two people were able to put a ten-person tent up in a matter of minutes.

They’re Intuitive to Set Up

An instant tent doesn’t require much brainpower to erect.  In most cases, the instant tent you get will be so easy to set up that you won’t have to read the instructions.

This isn’t always the case with other types of tents.  Even dome tents aren’t intuitive to set up the first time you use them.

If you’re new to camping or camping with someone who is new to camping, they’ll have a fun and easy time setting up an instant tent.  This is a huge selling point as setting up a campsite can often be the worst part of a camping trip and with an instant tent, you make this process a lot easier.

They’re Spacious

I’ve yet to see a small quarter dome or bivy camping tent built out as an instant tent.  Instant tents are usually spacious and you have a lot of room to stretch out in them.

They’re also easy to get in and out of and the larger ones will usually offer up enough room to stand up in.

You Can’t Lose the Tent Poles of an Instant Tent

With instant tents, the tent poles are permanently attached to the tent fabric.  This means you aren’t going to have to worry about losing your tent poles.

If this doesn’t seem like a big advantage to you, imagine showing up at a campsite several hours away from your home, only to find that you misplaced a tent pole and can’t erect your tent.  On top of this, it’s raining heavily and cowboy camping is not an option.

Instant Tents Offer One Person Set Up

Setting up a small tent for one or two people usually isn’t very difficult.  These tents are designed to be set up by one person and setting them up with a bunch of people may even make the process slower.

Larger tents, on the other hand, often take two or three people to set up.  This can make things difficult for parents trying to set up large tents for their kids.

If one parent is absent or otherwise occupied, it may not even be possible to set a large cabin tent up.

Instant tent owners don’t have this problem.  A person can show up with five kids and a ten-person tent and they can still manage to put the tent up by themselves.

Not only this, but they can do it quickly and with relative ease.

This makes instant tents perfect for parents who like to take their kids car camping.

Disadvantages of Instant Tents

Instant tents have not replaced more traditional tents and there are good reasons for that.

Here are 5 disadvantages of instant tents.

  • They’re heavy.
  • They’re bulky.
  • They’re single-walled.
  • They cost more.
  • They can be difficult to take down.

Instant Tents Are Heavy

Instant tents usually weigh a lot more than other tents.  One reason for this is they have additional parts.

The telescoping tent poles demand extra parts to function and the pop-up tents require larger hoops than necessary.

As a result, instant tents can be hard to transport.  The smaller ones are usually too heavy for backpacking trips and the larger ones can be tough to get in and out of the trunk.

To get around this, many instant tents come in convenient carrying cases that allow you to roll the tent like its a piece of rolling luggage.  This makes them easier to get to the car and back but it does create another disadvantage – it makes them bulky.

Instant Tents Are Bulky

Even without the wheels, instant tents are bulkier than traditional tents.  They take too much space to be effective backpacking tents and they can be hard to get into small vehicles.

On top of this, you can’t separate out any of the parts of an instant tent.  With a traditional tent, you could take the poles and separate them out into different backpacks or different sections of your vehicle.

Without the ability to separate the parts, you’ll never be able to reduce the weight of the tent and you’ll always have to have a certain amount of room in your vehicle to carry them.

Instant Tents Are Single-Wall Tents

Instant tents are always single-wall tents.  This makes them more prone to condensation and less wind and rain resistant.

Because of this, many instant tent manufacturers also make a rain fly that you can add to your instant tent.  This drives up the cost of the tent and forces you to pack even more gear with you on your trip.

An Instant Tent Costs More Money

Instant tents have become reasonably priced but they’re still more expensive than cheap traditional tents.  This is especially true if you want to buy a Coleman instant tent as Coleman seems to make the best and most popular instant tents on the market right now.

Taking Down Instant Tents Can Be Tough

Instant tents might go up instantly but they can be a hassle to take down.  This is especially true of the popup instant tents that work off of a hoop system.

It can be frustrating to get the tent back down small enough so that it will fit back in its case and the popup instant tents will fight you throughout the process.  Let go of them for a second and they’ll pop right back up.

Final Thoughts

My opinion of instant tents is that they’re great for car camping trips in good to moderate weather but they are useless for backpacking and small canoe camping trips.  Also, instant tents need to be built properly or they’ll fail more often than a traditional tent will and they’ll be harder to repair.

For this reason, if you’re looking to buy an instant tent for your next car camping adventure, make sure you buy a good brand.

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Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf like to write about hiking, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, and anything else that gets him outside.

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