You know the drill: Pull out the bag. Untangle the tent. Snap the poles together. Fumble with keeping one side still while you try to secure the other. Setting up your tent is kind of a chore, if we’re being honest. Same goes for putting it away, except now it’s also dirty, and probably wet, too.
Instant tents change all that by cutting your setup and break down time down to as low as 60 seconds. These are the most convenient shelters money can buy, and will elevate your car camping experience by giving you more time to focus on enjoying the wilderness around you.
With that being said, finding the right instant tent can be as much of a chore as pitching a regular one. Lucky for you, we’ve already spent countless hours researching and analyzing all the best and most popular models out there so you don’t have to.
Our favorite instant tent currently available is the Core 9 Person Instant Cabin. It’s roomy, weatherproof, and super simple to setup. It’s not the perfect shelter for every camper though, and there are a few reasons for that.
We’ll dig into the details of instant tents in our buyer’s guide down at the bottom to help you decide if the Core 9 is the right tent for you. If it isn’t, that’s ok: We’ve also included several other popular models in our list below, so you’re sure to find the right size and style tent for your next outing down there somewhere.
All right, let’s talk instant tents.
|Core 9 Person Instant Cabin: Best Instant Tent Overall||A roomy tent with stand-up ceilings that goes up in minutes. Solid weatherproofing and premium features at a great price. See Review|
|Gazelle T4 GT400R: Highest Quality Overall||Gazelle’s pop-out hub design is probably the easiest to pitch on our list. Combined with Gazelle’s incredibly sturdy selection of tent fabric, the T4 is a solid choice for smaller groups. See Review|
|Teton Sports Vista 2 Person Quick Tent: Best On A Budget||Backpacking-style shelter with a cool “magic tent” pop-up design. A light, portable shelter with solid weatherproofing at an awfully attractive price point. See Review|
|Coleman 4 Person Cabin With Instant Setup||A quick-and-easy instant tent made even simpler thanks to an integrated rainfly. Solid and surprisingly durable for the price, albeit with a few drawbacks. See Review|
|Bushnell Shield Series 9 Person Instant Cabin||A spacious shelter with high-quality materials that pitches in under two minutes. Built to last if you’re willing to spend the extra money. See Review|
|Moon Lence Instant Pop Up Tent||Arguably the most inexpensive instant tent money can buy. Material quality limits this shelter to occasional use in good weather. See Review|
|Coleman Tenaya Lake Fast Pitch Cabin||An old-school instant tent with some new-school features. We’re willing to overlook the extra setup time for the sweet gear cabinets and full-frame door. See Review|
Core 9 Person Instant Cabin: Best Instant Tent Overall
– Weight: 27.6 lbs (12.5 kg)
– Packed size: 48” x 11” x 12” (122cm x 28cm x 30cm)
– Floor size: 168” x 108” (427cm x 274cm)
– Peak height: 78” (198cm)
– Rooms: 2
– Shape: Cabin
– Occupancy: 9 (12 person also available)
– Best for: Large family/group camping
– Price: $$
Taking our spot for the best overall instant tent is the Core 9 Person Instant Cabin.
Core camping tents have become widely popular in recent years, and the Core 9 is a great example of why people love them. It’s a huge tent with two rooms, two doors, tons of floor space, and stand-up ceilings.
Setup is a breeze thanks to the pre-attached hubbed pole design, meaning all you have to do is unfold this instant tent and then extend its telescoping steel legs into place. Weatherproofing is solid all-around thanks to Core’s “H2O Block” technology, which uses a combination of heat-sealed seams and water-resistant fabric to keep the wet at bay.
Several long-term owners report weathering many a rainy night without a single drop getting into the Core 9, and surprisingly the Core even does well in moderate winds (25-30 mph) despite its near-vertical walls and tall stature.
Complaints with the Core 9 are minor, but our biggest one is the use of 68D polyester fabric throughout the tent. Sure, it’s much stronger than your average backpacking tent, but it’s also lower than several of the other instant tents on our roundup.
Our second gripe is with the windows and doors. The Core 9 has plenty of nice big windows, but there aren’t any toggles to roll them up and secure them to when you want to open them up, so they just hang down. It’s far from a deal-breaker, and the Core remains a great tent to have!
|– Feature-rich tent at a great price|
– Large floor plan with high ceilings
– Reliable weather protection
|– Not the thickest tent fabric |
– Doors and windows aren’t our favorite
– Weight: 32 lbs ( 14.5 kg)
– Packed size: 67” x 8” x 8” (170 cm x 20cm x 20cm)
– Floor size: 94” x 94” (239cm x 239cm)
– Peak height: 78” (198cm)
– Rooms: 1
– Shape: Cabin
– Occupancy: 4
– Best for: Three season camping for two
– Price: $$$
Taking our top spot for highest overall quality is the latest Gazelle T4 instant tent, the Gazelle GT400R T4.
The T4 gets our vote for its highly durable materials, which include rugged 210D polyester fabric in both the canopy and rainfly, a full 300D oxford polyester material in the floor, and YKK zippers on every door and window.
Interestingly enough, the Gazelle is the first tent with fiberglass poles The Wise Adventurer has ever given the “highest quality” designation, but in Gazelle’s case, there’s a reason for it. Gazelle tents use a unique “pop-out hub” design for their tents, which consists of a sturdy metal hub at the center of each wall or roof panel attached to four independent poles connected to each of the four corners. By using fiberglass, Gazelle is able to get enough flexibility out of their tent frames to allow them to bend under tension without breaking, which makes the freestanding hub design possible. You’ll definitely want to stake out the Gazelle from every angle, but the pole material isn’t a quality concern in this case.
Aside from the unique (and incredibly easy to pitch) pop-out design, the Gazelle T4 has a few other standout features. For one, it’s a four-person tent with two separate doors, which always earns bonus points in our book. It’s also got well over six feet of headroom inside, and tons of interior space due to the convex shape of the walls. Ventilation is solid thanks to six interior windows and a mesh roof, and storage is plentiful with four large interior pockets and a mesh gear loft.
Our main complaint with the Gazelle T4 is that although its removable floor is convenient for cleaning, it’s also attached using velcro. Granted, the velcro is thick, and the T4 holds up just fine during rain, but you’ll want to be careful about where you pitch this tent as it’s just not built to keep standing puddles of water at bay.
|– Unique “pop-out” hub design|
– Some of the toughest fabrics we’ve seen
– Arguably the easiest instant tent to pitch on our list
|– Oddly shaped doors make entrance awkward|
– Floor not ideal for standing water
Teton Sports Vista 2 Person Quick Tent: Best On A Budget
– Weight: 6.3 lbs (2.9 kg)
– Packed size: 33” x 7” x 7” (84cm x 18cm x 18cm)
– Floor size: 82” x 60” (208cm x 152cm)
– Peak height: 41” (104cm)
– Rooms: 1
– Shape: Dome
– Occupancy: 2 (1 person also available)
– Best for: Portable shelter for 1-2 persons
– Price: $
Want a fast-pitching tent but don’t need a ton of space? Check out the Teton Sports Vista Quick Tent.
The Vista is essentially a classic backpacking-style tent that uses a pre-attached pole design where you’d normally find a standard collapsible pole set. Set-up is pretty cool to watch, as you just unfold the tent then pull the drawstring and watch the tent magically spring into shape.
Pretty much everything else about the Teton Sports Vista is classic backpacking tent style, including the tall tub-style waterproof floor, the lightweight mesh ceiling, and the seam-sealed rainfly. This tent comes in both one and two-person models, but we prefer the two-person for the extra space, and love that Teton sports included double doors for the Vista to add livability for two.
We don’t really have any complaints with the Teton other than the limitations of its size and weight. At just over 6 pounds, it’s a little too heavy for serious backpacking duty, especially considering it can’t be meaningfully split between two hikers due to the pre-attached pole design. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s smaller than your average car camping tent, although it will comfortably sleep two just fine. Still, if you like the sound of a compact tent that goes up in about 60 seconds, this one won’t break the bank.
|– Sweet “magic tent” pop-up design|
– Compact footprint is lightweight and portable
– Great price for a great all-around tent
|– A bit too large and heavy for serious backpacking duty|
– Not the roomiest option for car camping
Coleman 4-Person Cabin with Instant Setup
– Weight: 18.2 lbs (8.3 kg)
– Packed size: 40” x 8” x 8” (102cm x 20cm x 20cm)
– Floor size: 96” x 84” (244cm x 213cm)
– Peak height: 59” (150cm)
– Rooms: 1
– Shape: Cabin
– Occupancy: 4 (6 and 10 person versions also available)
– Best for: Fair weather camping for two
– Price: $
Few instant tents deliver on their claims for setup time, but the Coleman 4-Person Cabin literally goes up in under 60 seconds. Just pull the tent out of the back, unfold it, and extend the poles. You’re done. There’s no rainfly to mess with, no vestibules to stake out, and no accessories to set up.
And while the fast and easy character of the Coleman is a selling point for many, we’ll also give this instant tent props for its surprisingly durable materials. Coleman specs their instant cabin with all-aluminum poles as well as tough 150D polyester fabric in both the single-wall canopy and tub-style tent floor. The zippers are a little lackluster, and we wouldn’t trust the guylines in any serious storms, but at a price this low, we’re willing to overlook those details.
And while the price is fantastic, the budget build comes with a few shortcomings you’ll want to be aware of. First, the tent uses an “integrated rainfly” rather than a separate/full coverage style fly. That means that the water-resistant outer fabric can’t be removed, which limits the amount of stargazing you’re able to do on clear nights. That also means the tent has no vestibule to shield the entrance from rain, and that the Coleman Cabin’s weatherproofing relies entirely on its canopy construction. Some owners report getting through extended rains without issue, while others experience the occasional leak. All things considered, we recommend adding an additional waterproofing treatment to this instant tent before taking it out in the field.
|– One of the fastest setups we’ve seen|
– Durable 150D polyester construction
– All aluminum pole design
|– Integrated rainfly has some drawbacks|
– Ceiling height surprisingly low for a cabin style tent
– Weight: 44lbs (20kg)
– Packed size: 42” x 24” x 24” (106cm x 61cm x 61cm)
– Floor size: 15’ x 9’ (457cm x 274cm)
– Peak height: 78” (198cm)
– Number of rooms: 2
– Shape: Cabin
– Occupancy: 9 (12 person also available)
– Best for: All-weather three-season family/group camping
– Price: $$$
The Bushnell Shield Series 9 is a spacious instant tent that’s got all the features you want in a plus-sized shelter. We’re talking two separate doors, two separate rooms (using the included divider), plenty of integrated storage for as many people as you want to host, and enough ventilation to keep it comfortable through three seasons.
We’re also big fans of the tough 150D polyester fabric that Bushnell uses throughout the body of the Shield instant tent. We’re talking floor, canopy, rainfly: Everything. That same quality is continued through the instant/preattached pole design, as Bushnell uses aluminum poles throughout the Shield’s construction.
Setup for the Bushnell Shield 9 is as simple as it gets. Just take it out of the bag, unfold it, then extend each of the four corner poles to its full height. Throw the rainfly on if you’re expecting any questionable weather, or leave it off for maximum ventilation from the fully-mesh ceiling.
Speaking of the rainfly (and questionable weather), weatherproofing is the only semi-common complaint we’ve heard about the Bushnell Shield series. On the one hand, the rainfly design is great, provides ample coverage, and even features a reflective backing that keeps the interior cooler in hot summer months. On the other hand, some customers report moisture getting past the rainfly and making its way into the tent. Bushnell builds their entire Shield line with fully-taped and sealed seams as well as water-repellant fabric, but it seems to struggle with extended or wind-blown rainfall. We recommend hitting the main canopy with an extra layer of waterproofing, and taking extra care to properly tension the included rainfly if you’re expecting any serious weather.
|– Quality materials throughout|
– Heat Shield technology keeps interior cool on hotter days
– Huge tent that one person can easily pitch
|– Waterproofing may need a hand|
– Weight: 10.3 lbs (4.6 kg)
– Packed size: 33” x 7” x 7” (83cm x 18cm X 18cm)
– Floor size: 114” x 121” (290cm x 308cm)
– Peak height: 52” (133cm)
– Rooms: 1
– Shape: Dome
– Occupancy: 4 person
– Best for: Light use in good weather
– Price: $
While the Moon Lence Instant Po Up Tent wouldn’t be our first choice for a shelter (or even our first choice on a budget), it is the least expensive instant tent money can buy.
This tent is severely limited by its budget build (we’ll get into that down below), but it’s got a few highlights worth mentioning as well. First, the pop-up design is as simple as they come, and only takes about a minute to unfold and click into place. Second, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Moon Lence Instant Pop Up specs a thick 210D oxford polyester floor, which is as solid as it is waterproof.
Unfortunately, water tends to fall from the sky rather than the ground, and the rest of the tent isn’t built to handle any wetness outside of a mild to heavy fog. The zippers leak, the seams leak, and the rainfly is just a strange little hat that covers up the hub for the tent poles.
Speaking of the tent poles, the Moon Lence uses thin fiberglass poles mounted to cheap plastic hubs, neither of which is going to hold up to any serious wind or the test of time. Ultimately this instant tent is better suited as a backyard play place for children or an easy-up sunshade for beachgoers. Still, if you only camp once or twice a year on clear sunny days and don’t want to invest in a serious shelter, the Moon Lence is a small investment with an even smaller learning curve.
|– Least expensive instant tent available|
– Fast and simple setup
|– Not built for wet weather|
– Zippers and anchors are flimsy
– Unlikely to last more than a season or two
– Weight: 33.2 lbs (15.1 kg)
– Packed size: 40” x 12” x 12” (102cm x 30cm x 30cm)
– Floor size: 156” x 84” (396cm x 213cm)
– Peak height: 80” (203cm)
– Rooms: 2
– Shape: Cabin
– Occupancy: 6 (8 person also available)
– Best for: Three season family camping
– Price: $$
The Coleman Tenaya Lake is a back-to-basics style instant tent with some unique extra features built-in.
We say “back-to-basics” because with the Tenaya Lake, Coleman takes the old-school approach to fast setup, opting for a central hub design using detachable poles rather than the standard pre-attached/permanently attached designs. Some owners look at this as a con, but personally, we’re fans of the design. That’s because without fixed hubs, it’s less prone to failure, and should anything happen to break you can replace the parts instead of replacing the entire tent.
As far as unique features go, our favorite is probably the dual “gear cabinets” on the Coleman Tenaya Lake. These pop-out organizers are permanently attached to the tent about where the “headboards” of two air mattresses would be, and give you a place to stash your gear and essentials without taking up any floor space. It’s like vestibule storage with 360-degree protection from the elements.
This Coleman instant tent also comes with a fully-framed free-swinging door for entry and exit, which stays shut using velcro during the day for easy access, but can be fully sealed using a zipper from inside as well.
As far as cons go, we’ve got a few complaints with the Coleman Tenaya that we’ll share. First and foremost, Coleman’s “Fast Pitch” design is much quicker than your average tent of this size, but it’s not nearly as fast or easy as the pre-attached pole and hub designs you’ll see elsewhere on our list. You’re probably looking at about a ten-minute setup once you get used to pitching the Tenaya Lake.
Some customers also report a few drips making their way past Coleman’s “Weathertec” system and into their living space. Other customers report the exact opposite, so we recommend taking this tent for a shakedown in the backyard before actually sleeping in it out in the woods. An extra water-resistant treatment won’t hurt anything either.
|– “Cabinet” feature for waterproof gear storage|
– Spacious, with high ceilings
– No hinged hubs to potentially fail
|– “Fast Pitch” design not as quick as pre-attached designs|
– All poles are fiberglass
– Questionable performance in serious rains
What Is An Instant Tent?
Put simply, an instant tent is any tent that’s been designed with the easiest setup possible in mind. Typically, that means the tent poles are already attached to the both through one mechanism or another, and you won’t need to spend any time putting them together or threading them through loops, hoops, or sleeves.
Manufacturers use a few different strategies to achieve these easy-pitching tents, so let’s dig into the specifics to find which is right for you.
Instant Tents vs Pop-up Tents:
These two terms get used interchangeably sometimes, but they’re actually two very different things.
Interestingly enough, if one of these types really deserves to be called “instant” it’s going to be pop-up tents. That’s because pop-up tents literally go up instantly, requiring zero effort on your part. Their entire pole system is under constant tension, which is held back by restraining straps when not in use. Undue the straps, and your tent instantly “pops” into its correct shape, leaving you to simply stake it into the ground and call it a day. If you’ve ever used a spring-loaded sun visor for your automobile, the design should be familiar to you.
Ultimately instant tents are much better suited for serious camping though, as the simplified nature of pop-up tents doesn’t lend itself to reliable performance in bad weather. We strongly prefer putting an extra minute or two into setting up an instant tent, especially considering they’re designed to go up as easily as possible while still providing a reliable frame. You’re still saving a ton of time and effort over traditional tent pole systems, and you’ll be happy you did if the weather goes south.
A fast and simple setup/take-down is the main selling point of just about any instant tent. There are a few things to keep an eye out for when shopping, however.
The first and most important is that just because a manufacturer says their tent is easy to set up doesn’t mean it’s true. You’ll often see claims that the best instant tents can be set up with one person, set up in 60 seconds, or maybe even both. For some instant tents that may be accurate, but for others, it’s far from the truth.
The best way to determine an instant tent’s ease of set-up (aside from actually pitching it yourself) is to find a video of the tent being pitched in real-time. Not all manufacturers supply one, and those that do have a habit of making setup look easier than it is, but watching someone else pitch the tent in question takes a lot of the guesswork out of the buying process.
Instant tents tend to be a bit larger and heavier than traditional tents of the same size. That’s due to their attached frame designs, which typically incorporate hinges or hubs that add weight and bulk to the overall size of the tent.
That means instant tents aren’t a viable choice for backpacking, so weight and packed size only need be limited by your ability to transport, carry, and store your instant tent. Larger “cabin-style” instant tents add bulk as they add room, so if you’re considering getting a four-person or larger size, you’ll definitely want to confirm that the total packed size will fit in your car or truck (along with all your other gear) before purchasing.
Try as we might to plan our camping trips around good weather, if you sleep outdoors for long enough, you’re going to deal with some rain.
That’s where good weather protection comes into play, and this is one of the features that separates a good tent from a bad purchase. There are a few basic indicators you should be familiar with that keep a tent watertight.
The first is the use of fully taped/sealed seams in a tent’s construction. Taped/sealed seams prevent water from creeping in through the vulnerable spaces between overlapping materials. The best instant tents will use sealed seams throughout their construction, while more budget-conscious models typically feature them in the rainfly and/or tent floor, but don’t include them in the tent canopy.
The second factor is water-repellant treatments. Ofter referred to as “DWR” coatings (short for “durable water repellant”), these treatments add additional protection to the natural water repellency of materials like polyester, and increase a tent’s wet-weather performance all-around. As an added bonus, these coatings can be purchased separately and applied to your tent to bolster wet weather protection from the factory.
Ventilation And Condensation
Like any other camping tent, ventilation plays a major role in keeping your tent comfortable year-round.
In the summer months, good ventilation allows a tent to create a cross-draft, pulling cooler air into the tent from outside while pushing the hot air accumulating inside the tent back out.
In the cooler months, when your tent typically stays fully covered under the vestibule to keep heat inside, ventilation plays the important role of managing condensation build-up. That’s because as you sleep, you constantly exhale warm, moisture-rich air into the tent. Over the course of the night, this moisture builds up inside the tent, and collects on the tent ceiling. Good ventilation helps this moisture evaporate before it builds up and starts to pool.
All the usual rules on tent durability apply to instant tents, but there are also some unique ones you’ll need to consider.
First off are the tent materials themselves, which include both the fabrics used in the tent body as well as the poles used in the tent frame. Instant tents also typically include some form of hinge or hub in their design, which you’ll want to consider carefully as they can be potential points of failure.
Tent fabrics are typically synthetic materials like nylon or polyester whose durability is mainly dependent on their overall weight/thickness. If you want to get a good idea of the durability of a tent’s fabric, just look for the “denier” rating assigned to the canopy, floor, and rainfly.
Denier, which is typically expressed as the letter “D” after a number (like 30D, 70D etc), tells you the durability of a given fabric. So with all other factors equal, a tent with a 50D polyester canopy will be more durable than one with a 30D polyester canopy.
Sturdy fabrics are important, but they aren’t much use without quality tent poles to hold them up. The best instant tent poles are made from metal, with aluminum typically being the highest quality and steel being a heavier but similarly durable choice.
As tents go down in price, you’ll start to see them use poles made from fiberglass as well. Some tents use fiberglass in low-stress areas to keep both the cost and overall weight of the tent down, while others use them throughout the tent’s construction. Generally speaking, the less fiberglass you can get in your setup the better, as these poles are much more prone to breaking under stress from factors like wind and rain.
For all the factors described above, we found the Core 9 Person Instant Cabin to be the best all-around instant tent for its quick-and-easy setup, excellent interior space, and feature-rich design. The price of the Core 9 certainly didn’t hurt its case either.
If you don’t need space for nine sleepers but still want a durable, quick-pitching shelter, we recommend considering the Gazelle T4. There’s just no faster way to set up a full-sized tent than Gazelle’s pop-out hub design.
And, if you’re looking to go fast-and-light or just want a great instant tent on a budget, we’re big fans of the Teton Sports Vista and its backpacking-style take on the pop-up tent category. If you want to learn more about how to set-up the perfect campsite, don’t forget to check out our camping checklist!