Gimme Shelter: Great Tent Alternatives
Take a nap on the wild side with tents that defy the norm.
There are hundreds of tents on the market, but after parsing marketing material, you’ll realize they only differ in a few (albeit crucial) ways: their weight, roominess, and seasonality, determined by materials and geometry. Slight tweaks to popular designs help tents shed ounces, add square inches, and withstand winds just that much stronger—all of which matter when you’re on the extreme end of the pop-up home spectrum. If you’re not setting up an ultralight thru-hiking kit, preparing for remote months in unpredictable weather, or attempting to fit your entire extended family in one tent (we don’t recommend it), though, variances don’t seem that significant. Most of the time.
A few start-ups and a handful of established companies are giving us new ways to sleep under the stars. Here are a few favorite design innovations and tent alternatives that are actually for sale (one drawback of a tent obsession—the Internet is swarming with concept tents you can't actually buy).
Photo: Nick Lake
Being close to nature doesn’t have to mean waking up on the ground. London-based Tentsile’s tent variations rely on hammock-style rope tension to stay aloft. Lash the straps to three evenly-spaced trees and climb into a backpacker’s treehouse, complete with insect mesh, reinforced nylon flooring, and heavily waterproofed flysheets supporting either two adults (Connect) or three (Vista or Stingray).
- Try Treepee—literally, a tree teepee. String it from a branch and stabilize with staked ropes at each corner. It’s less a portable shelter, more an ungodly cool addition to your backyard.
- Kammok’s Roo is a backwoods-ready version of your lazy Sunday hammock. Made of Kammok’s proprietary ripstop fabric and strung with an intuitively simple Python Strap system, the Roo is jacket-light but supports up to 500 pounds. Add the weatherproofing shelter and insect net for deep woods expeditions and insulator for the cold. If you need a heavy-duty setup, Clark’s Vertex with Shield Jungle Hammock sleeps two and can be winterized. Caution: certain hammocks are great for lounging but make lousy beds (we’re crossing our fingers for this padded one to launch). Test yours before taking it on the road.
- Not quite ready to land among the stars if you fall? Invest in an elevated camp cot you can fit in a tent. Models like Kamp-Rite's Double Tent Cot pull double duty with nylon roofs and insect mesh.
Make a Scene
Photo: Dusty Klein
We’re not saying traditional tents suck, but some lack personality. Field Candy addressed this with nylon tents so artistic, their exteriors make up for anything average inside. While design options are endless, these tents come in three models: Festival Explorer for naps between Coachella sets; the four-season Original Explorer that packs heat with a solar charger; and the Combination, which fuses the Original’s weatherproofing with an extended awning.
- You’re out here to glamp, and that’s okay. Tipping scales at nearly 250 pounds, Trakke’s Jero shelter is the king of yurts. It can just as easily house a backyard cookout as it can protect explorers in remote wilderness.
Open Roads, Enclosed Spaces
Photo: Andy Best
Camping in a car isn’t an adventure (unless it’s an adventure van). Think outside the box with a truck-borne rooftop tent like Treeline Outdoors’ Tamarack Constellation Gen2. Climb up a collapsible ladder and settle into relative luxury. With a built-in mattress and two skylights, you can charge solar panels beneath a protective rainfly and sleep like you’re indoors.
- There’s another reason to call the backs of pickup trucks ‘beds.’ Napier Outdoors’ truck tents incorporate your truck’s frame into their Sportz design, which stretches to a roomy 5’6” in height. It requires less structure than a rooftop tent, making it much lighter—though you have to bring your own mattress (so much work!).
- Fake it with a van tent. What’s a van tent? We won't spoil it for you.
- So you want to leave home but not the kitchen sink. SylvanSport’s GO Camper has space for that and more. The aluminum-frame trailer converts from a bike/boat/motorcycle carrier into a tough-as-nails tent made from nylon nearly as thick as Tentsile’s Connect. Stake your claim with the expansive awning, and use the support rods to extend the floor beyond the trailer’s dimensions.
The More the Merrier
Photo: Michael Matti
The idea of family camping does one of two things: inspires nostalgia, or spurs therapy. Keep the peace with extra large tents that divide up space, like Big Agnes’ Wyoming Trail 4 Camp. This four-person fortress looms for 85-feet because of its 50-foot covered vestibule. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
- Snow Peak’s Land Base 6 doesn’t have WT 4 Camp’s deliberate barriers, but the 20-pound, 26-foot hexagonal tent does prioritize personal space. Come bedtime, removable six-sided flooring outlines where six couples should spend the night.
Race, Sleep, Repeat
Photo: Moe Lauchert
In ultrarunning and other sports where weight and set-up time matter, bivouacs—bivy sacks—rule. These single sleeper sacks with raised sections above your head define “barebones,” but are as easy to set up and take down as picnic blankets. Invest in something like 5owls’ Solo Shelter an ultralight waterproof bivouac/tent hybrid with extra headspace to protect against common “I’m-in-an-above-ground-coffin” claustrophobia.
- Through-hikers aren’t the only ones who use their gear as tent poles. By removing their front wheel, cyclists can turn their mountain or hybrid bike frame into structural support for Topeak’s Bikamper, a surprisingly roomy and economical shelter. Bike forks and handlebars support one wall, while saddles create tension for the rain fly.
- Heimplanet introduced the world to inflatable tents with the Cave and set the bar high. Inflate this three-person geodesic dome in one minute, pumping up the flysheet, air frame, and inner tent all at once. While air gives it structure, wind test videos prove the 11.5-pound Cave is anything but a featherweight.
- Autobots, roll out. There are minimalists, and there are people willing to live out of a Jakpak. This ultra-convertible shelter functions as a waterproof jacket while you’re moving, and a bivy sack at rest.
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