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Are Instant Tents Worth It? (The Truth)

Seasoned campers know how time-consuming it can be to pitch a tent. Instant tents promise to provide an easier solution by setting up in seconds. This makes them attractive to beginner campers, but it’s important to consider all of the factors involved when deciding if instant tents are worth it.

Instant tents are worth it for casual campers who prioritize convenience, but they aren’t suitable for everyone. These tents are best used for laid-back trips, and it’s better to avoid them on longer excursions where weather conditions may change, as they’re often not very durable or robust.

If you think an instant tent might be right for you, it’s a good idea to learn about the different types of instant tents available and understand exactly how they function before you buy. Read on to discover the world of instant tents and find out whether they’re a good fit for your next trip.

What Are Instant Tents?

Instant tents are tents that set up instantly. A few styles come with poles preassembled, so all you have to do is pop them into channels. Most come with the poles not only assembled but already attached to the tent’s fabric, relying on a prefixed internal pole system rather than an external one.

Instant tents set up intuitively, eliminating the time spent reading directions and hunting for specific pieces. Usually, you can have them ready in a minute or less. There are many styles, materials and manufacturers of instant tents, but they all have the same draw. They’re easier to pitch than regular tents, and the process for setting them up and taking them down is much faster.

The Truth About Instant Tents

Instant tents can be a controversial subject in the outdoor world. Many die-hard traditionalists refuse to try them out, believing that the convenience comes at the cost of strength and durability. Meanwhile, some new campers assume that instant tents are better than their regular counterparts because they’re easier to handle.

Of course, the truth about instant tents lies somewhere in the middle. They can provide a quick and painless solution for your shelter needs while camping. However, they do have drawbacks. Some instant tents are weaker because of the way they’re manufactured, and their structure can make them rather ungainly. We’ll discuss the pros and cons soon, but first let’s take a look at the different types.

5 Different Types Of Instant Tents

1. Dome Tent

A dome tent is the most popular tent style of them all. Whether you’re using an instant tent or a traditional tent setup, you’ll immediately recognize their characteristic rectangular bottom arching upwards to form a dome where the poles intersect.

Instant dome tents are popular for a reason. They maximize space on the bottom so that multiple people can share the tent, but minimize space on the top so that there’s less fabric and thus less weight to carry to the campsite. Their unique shape also allows rain to roll down the side of the tent instead of collecting on the top, so they provide more weather protection than other types of tents.

An instant dome tent is excellent for newbie campers, as there are more dome options available on the market overall. Instant dome tents are also among the least expensive types of instant tent setups. This makes them a go-to choice for those who want to test out instant tents for the first time without committing to a substantial monetary investment.

2. Cabin Tent

Cabin tents are the luxury mansions of the camping world. They hold a square shape rather than a dome one, giving them a large interior suitable for multiple people. Cabin tents are spacious, with enough room to stand up and move around in.

Instant cabin tents are usually too large for just one person. They’re a popular choice for couples and even families, as there’s more than enough space to stretch out during a rainy day. Some cabin tents have the option to add in a room divider, while some even incorporate multiple rooms into the structure itself.

Everything you love about cabin tents can be available much faster if you opt for the instant version. It’s important to note that instant cabin tents tend to be on the pricier side because of the way they’re manufactured and the sheer amount of material required to make them. Bearing this in mind, make sure an instant tent is the right choice for you before making this purchase.

3. A-Frame Tent

For the true minimalist, an A-frame tent is a dream come true. This is the tent of your childhood, a simple triangle providing a roof, a floor, and not much else. But depending on your camping style and personal preferences, you may not want or need much else.

An instant A-frame tent is normally designed for just one person, but there are styles available that sleep up to four people or more. However, this type of tent provides very little headroom – even less than a dome tent. Considering this, I recommend it for a single person instead of couples or groups.

Instant A-frames are quick to set up and one of the least expensive kinds of instant tents out there. They can be suitable for solo trips, as they tend to be even lighter than dome tents. If you do get one for this application, make sure to try it out before you go on your trip. You don’t want any unpleasant surprises like broken or missing pieces when you’re already out in the boonies!

4. Teepee Tent

Teepee tents hold the famous teepee shape. They’re round on the bottom, with a series of poles extending upwards to form a tall cone at the top. Teepee tents are not a very popular option for camping these days, but they’re pretty good for setting up on day trips.

The shape is fun and great for kids, with the added benefit of adults being able to stand up inside of them. Instant teepee tents offer additional benefits as well. Rain and snow tend to run down the sides quite quickly because teepees are so steep, plus the hole at the top gives extra ventilation on hotter days (make sure this is closable for rainy days though).

Instant teepee tents are good for families that want to carry a lighter setup than a cabin-style instant tent. They’re surprisingly roomy and fun to play around in! Instant teepee tents have a mid-range price point, but are generally a bit cheaper than a cabin setup. They also tend to be low on extra features and add-ons, since their shape is the main draw.

5. Pop Up Tent

A pop up tent is a specific style of instant tent. They can be round, domed, hexagonal, or any number of shapes. A pop up tent is characterized by how you set it up rather than its specific look. They are the easiest and fastest to set up out of all instant tents.

Pop up tents will come in a bag or stuff sack. When you’re ready to set them up, just take them out of the bag and they’ll pop up into shape. No need to put anything together, just sit back and watch your tent unfold. While they are the most convenient, pop up tents also tend to be less durable.

They’re made with cheaper fabrics and plastics, so taking them on long camping trips or backpacking excursions is generally a bad idea. However, they’re a great option for providing shade, so they make good tents for the beach or festivals. They’re also the cheapest type of instant tent, so it’s safer to buy one of these over the others even if you don’t end up loving it.

Unfortunately, pop up tents can be difficult to put back in the sack they come in. If you do decide to use one, practice putting it back in the sack when you’re still at home. It’s also smart to bring along a heavier object to put inside your pop up tent, as they can blow away in the breeze if you’re not careful!

Are Instant Tents Any Good?

Instant tents can be good for some campers, but for many they’re just not worth it. Some of the newer, pricier instant tents can hold up very well in adverse conditions, but for many people they won’t provide enough space or durability, so it’s important to consider what your specific trip requires.

There’s no denying that the features of an instant tent are quite attractive. They can be a very good investment for some people and a terrible headache for others. It will depend on what features you value in your equipment and what you want to do with your tent. The experience you’ll have will also hinge on your price point and expectations of the product.

Easy, convenient setup is a great boon to many. And while instant tents may have gotten a bad rap for decreased durability, the truth is that many of the newer models are heavy-hitting when it comes to strength. They’re designed to be effective against many elements, using the exact same fabrics and weatherproofing technology as a traditional model.

Perfect For Beginners

Instant tents are a great choice for people just getting into the world of camping. Since they’re easier to set up, they aren’t as daunting as traditional tents. People are more likely to take the initiative and actually use them, and they can inspire confidence and a desire to camp out more often.

You can also take instant tents on trips that don’t require an overnight stay. Grab them for day trips, or let the kids set them up in the backyard for afternoon playtime. Once it gets dark, you can take down an instant tent pretty easily, but you may want to bring it back inside to shed some light on it before attempting to put it back in its sack for storage!

Solo Camping

Instant tents are perfect for people taking their first forays into the world of solo camping. They’re less trouble to pitch, so they’re great to have on hand when you’re tired at the end of a long day. However, watch out for instant tents if you intend to go hiking with them. They’re often bulky and heavy, and you don’t want to sacrifice your back and legs for a little bit of setup time.

Despite their reputation as the flimsier option, you can definitely purchase instant tents with the intention of hard use. Some of the newer instant tents are just as strong and durable as traditional tents, so don’t shy away from these options if you want quick setup on a longer jaunt. When you want a more durable option, look for instant tents with added weatherproofing.

Conditions Matter

Before you go out with an instant tent, pay attention to the temperature, wind and weather conditions, and make sure your shelter will hold up and remain comfortable. Instant tents are rated in the same manner as regular tents, so they’re differentiated by season.

Two-season tents are for warmer weather and don’t offer much protection, while three and four-season tents will protect you against more intense conditions. You don’t want to bring a two-season instant tent out for some ice fishing, and it’s impractical to haul a heavier four-season tent for a balmy beach picnic.

Instant Tent vs Regular Tent

There are quite a few differences between regular and instant tents when you get down to the nitty-gritty details. There is no “better” or “worse” option when it comes to choosing one type of tent over another, because everyone has different preferences. It all depends on what you value in a tent and what you hope to get out of owning one.

What could be a great feature for one person might be a dealbreaker for another, and something you consider a vital element could be entirely unimportant for someone else. To determine which product is best for you, it’s important to examine a few key aspects and figure out whether each one works in your favor.

Price

Pricing on instant tents varies a lot from that of traditional tents. High-quality instant tents are generally more expensive than a traditional tent of the same quality. You’re paying extra for the convenience that comes from using the instant tent, and the fact that it takes more effort to manufacture.

The more features your instant tent has, the more you’ll pay for it. This holds true with regular tents as well of course, but instant models tend to upcharge on even simple additions like a footprint or rainfly that normally come standard on a traditional tent.

A pop up tent is the cheapest option when it comes to instant tents, and you can usually find one for around $100 or less. However, a pop up tent offers virtually no protection against the elements. In contrast, you can usually buy a decent-quality, traditional 2-season camping tent for a similar price online. This might be a better option for you if you want to head out for a fall trip.

Features

In most cases, traditional tents have more features than instant tents. It isn’t abnormal to see a rainfly, ground cover, extra poles, and additional storage compartments included with a regular tent. However, you’ll often have to purchase these features separately on an instant tent. You may be unable to obtain them at all on the model you want.

That’s not to say you can’t get an instant tent with cool features. On some high-quality instant tents, the rainfly is built right into the fabric, making it easier to use than that of a regular tent. Other instant tents have pre-attached rainflies that are suspended using the internal pole system. Many models of instant tent also have add-on options available if you want even more features.  

We also can’t forget that an instant tent has its own special draw which isn’t available at all on a traditional tent – the instant feature. If you’re put off by the prospect of pitching your tent or just want to take the time constraint off your shoulders, an instant shelter is a better choice.

Durability

Depending on which kind of instant tent you go for, the durability can rival that of a regular tent. This wasn’t always the case, but they’veadvanced quite far in recent times. Most instant tents are made of polyester, which is well-known for its UV and water-resistant properties.

While the instant tents available on today’s market can last for years, they still tend to go out of commission faster than a traditional tent. Because the poles are built-in, replacing them when they break is nearly impossible without ripping the tent and resewing it back together. Even then, there’s no guarantee you’ll find a suitable pole for replacement.

Traditional tents are much easier to repair. Most of them even come with extra poles and stakes included in the package, so when you lose a piece, you have another waiting for you. You don’t have to do any stitching or searching for replacement parts.

Weatherproofing

Instant tents generally provide less weather protection than regular ones. While most traditional camping tents have a separated rainfly and a dry vestibule, an instant tent’s structure means that it will likely all be integrated into one piece.

Even if your instant tent does have a separate rainfly, it may not offer good protection. It’ll also need to be manually attached and staked down, which takes time and detracts from its “instant” nature. If you want additional weather security in your instant tent, look for one that’s made with welded corners and inverted seams.You can also coat it with an extra layer of spray-on waterproofing.

What about the wind? Unfortunately, an instant tent’s polyester material just doesn’t pack the same punch as PVC or heavy canvas when it comes to wind protection. However, some manufacturers add material or chemicals to the polyester to fortify it. You can look for these options if you want to camp in harsher conditions with your instant tent.

Practical Use

In the end, it all comes down to practical use. Instant tents are easier to pitch and easier to take down once you get the hang of it. In contrast, a regular tent can take quite a few minutes to set up, and putting it back in its stuff sack is notoriously tricky.  

If you’re looking at setting up a traditional cabin tent or multiple tents, it could take hours to prepare your campsite. This eats away at valuable leisure time, turning a pleasant outing into a stressful affair, which leaves nobody happy. Setting up regular tents requires patience and a learning curve, and many don’t consider it worth the effort.  

Of course, instant tents also have shortcomings. They fold down awkwardly when compared to regular ones. Because the poles are built into the fabric, they tend to be much less flexible. They also don’t condense as well, meaning they stay bulkier. This won’t be a big deal if you have tons of room in the car, but some people will find it cumbersome.

Furthermore, the instant tent’s built-in pole system makes it heavier than a regular tent. This is a major drawback if you’re a hiker, as you’ll need to save weight for food and other essentials when putting your pack together. If you’re planning on a longer trek, a regular backpacking tent is best.

Pros And Cons Of Instant Tents

Pros Of Instant Tents

The pros of instant tents are:

  • Easy to set up
  • Quick to set up
  • Family and kid-friendly
  • Waterproof options
  • No danger of losing attached equipment

Cons Of Instant Tents

The cons of instant tents are:

  • Bulky when packed
  • Heavier than a regular tent
  • Difficult to repair
  • Less convenient to carry and store
  • More expensive than regular options

Should You Buy An Instant Tent?

You should buy an instant tent if it suits the type, duration, and conditions of your planned camping trip. Instant tents are an ideal time-saver for big groups, beginner campers, and those looking for a simple shelter in fairly good weather conditions, but they’re not suitable for much else.

Instant tents aren’t worth buying if you’re a long-distance hiker, prefer a more economic option, or if you’ll be camping in harsh conditions. Unless you’re willing to pay top dollar to get an ultra-compact, lightweight, and weatherproof option, you’re better off with a regular tent that checks all your specialized boxes.

If you spend most of your leisure time outdoors, it may be worth it to have both options available in your arsenal of camping and recreational tools. You can use an instant tent when it’s suitable, but still have a heavy-duty backup that will serve you well when the occasion calls for it. That way, you’ll get the best of both worlds without sacrificing any of the features you need!

Final Thoughts

Instant tents are worth it for casual or beginner campers that are looking for the most convenient option for a short camping trip in pleasant conditions. Instant tents are not worth it for longer trips, or for those on which the weather conditions are likely to be less favorable.