Looks like camping is one the cards for our summer in England – so, you need the best waterproof tent your money can buy. But, buying a waterproof tent can be a bit of a minefield…
What do you look for when buying a tent?
How do you know if the tent is waterproof?
How much should you spend on a waterproof tent?
How big a tent should you get?
Camping is so good for your mental health, I love doing it at festivals and in campsites around the world (even camped in the Serengeti!). I’ve been camping on holiday and camping at festivals since I was about six, so I know my camping. However, I decided to get the advice of the equipment pros when it comes to choosing the best waterproof tent though. Read on to see what they say about buying the best waterproof tent.
For years I went for the cheapest, and have many memories of cramped tents in festivals in the rain, and before that our Devon holidays were in a huge heavy-poled monstrosity. You wouldn’t be able to take that tent backpacking, that’s for sure.
Tent tech has moved on a lot since then, so let’s take a look at what Jess from OutdoorPursuits says about buying a waterproof tent, and how to choose the best waterproof tent for you.
How to choose the best waterproof tent
By Jess from OutsidePursuits
Some of my favourite childhood memories relate to camping holidays in Wales. I recall the fresh air, the freedom, and laughing one morning when I awoke to discover my heavy A-frame tent was the only one in the campground not blown away during a gale.
Tents have come a long way since then. An increased interest in long-distance hiking, outdoor pursuits, and large-scale outdoor festivals means today there is a wide range of tents to choose from that are designed for different purposes.
Let’s investigate how you can choose the best waterproof tent for you and your family.
Check the waterproof ratings
Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably looking for a genuinely waterproof tent. Be aware that some tents, such as cheap festival tents, are only water-resistant rather than truly waterproof.
In order to inform consumers how good the waterproofing of a tent is, there is a standard rating test. Ratings are provided in millimetres. The most waterproof tents you’ll find will have a maximum rating of 10,000 mm. The lowest waterproof rating is 1,000 mm. When you’re choosing your tent, ensure you know what its rating is.
This waterproof rating is obtained using something called a hydrostatic head test. Be aware this rating is only a measure of resistance to water. It does not take into account the extra water problems introduced during extremely windy conditions with driven rain.
The best waterproof tents use a water repellent coating to maximise their waterproofing. However, mud, dirt, and general wear and tear can break down this coating. Therefore, you should periodically replenish this layer with a tent reproofing spray.
There are some great suggestions for eco-friendly tents over on Brainy Backpackers.
Hiking, cycling, or driving?
Waterproof rating aside, the most important consideration when choosing your tent will be your mode of transport.
If you purchase a good-quality waterproof tent, it’ll last for many years. During that time, you will enjoy numerous camping adventures. You may use different modes of transport each time. You should future-proof your investment by ensuring the tent or tents you purchase are suitable for all your preferred traveling modes.
Hiking with your tent
If you plan to enjoy a lot of hiking adventures, you won’t want to be carrying around a really heavy tent. You must also leave space for your hiking equipment and clothes. It’s important to dress appropriately for your hiking adventures.
Cycling with your tent
If you enjoy tour cycling and have paniers attached, you can handle a little more weight. However, if you usually drive to scenic campsites, or take the train to music festivals, then size and weight will not be as important a consideration.
How many locations?
A related factor is whether you plan to pitch your tent in one location and use it as a base for all your outdoor adventures or you plan to up-sticks every night and then hike or cycle to a new location. If you’re regularly taking down and erecting your tent, you’ll be looking for a tent that’s designed to be easily erected and taken down.
– The best waterproof tents work well in the sun too!
Many outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy a variety of different camping adventures. Sometimes they might drive to a campsite in the Lake District and stay in one spot for a week. At other times, they might hike the whole of the Coast to Coast Walk and change their campsite every night. Those hardy folks will either have to purchase two sets of tents for their different kinds of activities or compromise on tents suitable for either use.
Think about tent size
Tent sizes are quoted in terms of the maximum number of people who can comfortably sleep inside. You will commonly see tents advertised as 2-man, 3-man, and 4-man tents, but of course, it depends how big this ‘man’ is, and how much space they like when they sleep.
When choosing your tent, remember 3 things.
– First, how many people as a maximum will travel with you. There may be occasions that you travel with your whole family and other times when it’s only your partner and yourself. However, choose a tent that can comfortably fit everyone who will regularly camp with you.
– Second, if you often take a lot of equipment on camping trips that you want to keep dry, you’ll need to purchase a tent that’s at least one person larger than the number of people in your group.
– Third, in tent designs where there are two layers, an outer rainfly and an inner tent, it’s often essential to keep the layers separate. If the two layers touch, water can seep through. That means that you must not overcrowd the tent to the extent that equipment pushed aside forces the layers to touch. This happens so often that it’s not funny.
Large families sharing a tent should consider getting one that’s even bigger than they need to avoid claustrophobia. The largest tents even have separate rooms, so you can separate out the kids for a little privacy.
However, remember your choice of tent depends on how you’re travelling. If you have a large Range Rover, you can buy as large a tent as you like. If you’re hiking, consider buying several 1-man or 2-man tents small enough that the adults in your family can easily carry them. Also, note that larger tents with multiple rooms are much more complex and time-consuming to pitch than a simple hiker’s 1-man tent.
– This is one of the best waterproof tents around – tried and tested!
“I have the 4-man Spruce Coleman tent for adventures where I have a car. I’ve used it a few times at Glastonbury and Wilderness, and I know it’s a brilliant tent. My most favourite thing is the ease of putting it up, and the black out technology in the pods to help you sleep.”
- Two XXL BLACK OUT bedrooms: with 99% of daylight being blocked out from the bedroom you will be sure to get a great night’s sleep and not wake with the first light; up to 5°C cooler during the day
- Lightweight, sturdy and easy to pitch family size tent: vis à vis layout for more privacy; fits 4 person; highly flexible and lightweight fibreglass poles guarantee a good response to wind
- Large living area: spacious enough to take a family table and chairs; features large PVC window with cover, offering the ultimate balance of light and privacy; two doors for easy access
- 100% waterproof & UV guard: 4500mm HH combined with taped seams and fully sewn-in groundsheet will keep you dry, whatever the weather; UVGuard providing high SPF 50 protection from the sun’s rays
- Pitch flysheet first: set up size: 5.1 x 2.3 x 1.6 m (LxWxH); 2 bedrooms: 5.9m² + living area: 4.1m² = 10m² total; pack size: 60 x 30 x 26 cm (14.4 kg); tent pegs included
Check the latest prices for the Spruce 4-Man on Amazon now
What kind of tent style do you need?
With improvements in component materials and designs over recent years, there are now many more styles of tent you can choose from. Many are designed for specific purposes.
Best waterproof pop up tent
Pop-up tents, or quick pitch tents, are designed to make assembly as easy as possible. They were developed for the new generation of festival-goers who had not experienced camping during their childhood and wanted something simple. These are ideal for kids play tents or festivals, but not great when it’s windy.
This Active-Era waterproof pop up tent is one of the best on Amazon. You need to look for one like this with good ventilation, a durable outer fabric and breathable fabric.
If you’re headed to a festival but you’re in a larger group and are using a vehicle, consider purchasing a larger festival tent. Some festival tents are simple pop-up tents for 1 or 2 people, such as the Lumaland tent below. It’s lightweight, compact, and specially designed for festivals by being super light and easy to put up. It’s much easier to find somewhere good to camp at festivals with a smaller tent like this one.
However, if you are driving to the festival, you can buy more complex 6-man and 8-man festival tents to fit everyone from your student house or close friend group.
Check out the best options below.
Best waterproof backpacking tents
Backpacker tents are compact and light so they can easily be carried by hikers. They are also wind-resistant, waterproof, and stable when compared to pop-up tents. They are specially designed for frequent pitching during long hiking adventures, so they are relatively easy to assemble.
If you’re interested in backpacking to more hostile climbs, maybe tackling the West Highland Way, then invest in a dome tent. Like pop-up tents, they are simple to pitch. However, their aerodynamic, dome-like shape makes them much more stable in heavy wind even though they are lightweight.
The downside to dome tents is they provide less headroom than other designs. This Coleman tent comes highly recommended on Amazon, and is nice and lightweight too. I once camped for 8 nights in Canada in one just like this. Bit of a chill early on but soon warmed up!
Keen outdoor pursuit enthusiasts may wish to take one step further and purchase a geodesic technical tent. These are complex tents designed to be more durable and stable than other hiking tent designs. So, if you want to walk the whole length of the Pennine Way for example, a geodesic tent will provide a suitable shelter during your mountainside adventures. Geodesics are among the best waterproof tents around.
I decided to buy the Vango 100 for my upcoming solo camping adventures. It was £40 at the time on Amazon, had good reviews and from what I’d read was a top choice for a basic tent for beginners in good weather.
I’m taking it to the Isle of Wight on my bikepacking adventure, so I’ll let you know whether I think it’s the best waterproof tent or not!
- Vango Protex 70 denier polyester flysheet, 3000 mm HH:Highly waterproof, durable and reliable fabric. Exclusive to Vango
- Breathable polyester inner:Allows condensation to pass through, for a comfortable nights sleep
- Reflective webbing:Picks up torchlight so the pegging points are easily spotted in low light conditions
- Lantern hanging points:Conveniently positioned in the living and bedroom areas
- Part of The Scout Association recommended kit
You can check on Amazon for the up-to-date prices.
Larger tents for family camping
If you’re looking for something a little larger, the design of tunnel tents provides a spacious interior where the height runs the whole length of your tent.
Tunnel tents also often provide extra features, such as separate rooms and windows to let in light. This design is easy to erect but does not provide as much stability as the various smaller designs listed above. In fact, a tunnel tent must be firmly pegged down to avoid wind-related problems.
During long camping stays, keep your eyes on your guy ropes to ensure they stay tight.
Best inflatable tents
A recent innovation that is beginning to revolutionise camping is the introduction of inflatable tents. Instead of metal tent poles, these tents use inflatable tubes combined with an air pump. They are lightweight, super easy and fast to erect, sturdy, and provide extra insulation which proves very useful during British nights.
Inflatable tents are 4-man or larger, and family-sized inflatable tents are popular. Check out the impressive Vango Airbeam Portland Tent a large bedroom, pole free pitching, and a porch. Of course, not all family tents are inflatable. They come in many styles, but all feature separate bedrooms and spacious central areas for communal activities.
Best vis-à-vis tents
The simplest kind of family waterproof tent is a vis-à-vis, which consists of two sleeping sections facing one another across a central section tall enough to stand inside. This is the tent VickyFlipFlop has in the box above. It’s a great choice.
Vis-à-vis typically come in dome or tunnel shapes. For example, the Buxton 6-Man Waterproof Tent provides two, three-man bedrooms and a spacious central area, “clear-view” windows, and zipped curtains.
Best tipi tents
If you’re looking for something completely original, shop around for good deals on tipi tents. I wouldn’t recommend them for extreme weather or ease of erection, but they are fun, spacious, provide great headroom, and are comfy.
You’ll certainly stand out on any campground with a tipi tent.
Buying a waterproof tent this summer?
Don’t leave it until the last minute to purchase your tent – especially if you want to buy the best waterproof tent. They’re selling out!
Many people buy their tent days before their camping holiday and don’t take the time to test it out in their garden or local common. You’d be very angry with yourself if you carried a hiking tent for 8 hours along the Pennine Way and then discovered you couldn’t pitch it or there was an essential component missing.
Think like a Scout. Be prepared!