I remember when I decided to start going camping again. The first step was obviously to get a tent. Now, as a kid backpacking with my family, I remember sleeping in dome-shaped and teepee-style tents. So, I was in for a bit of a shock when I saw how many options there now are for tents.
Lots of options doesn’t always mean good options!
While they seem really cool and appealing to anyone who hates wrestling with tent poles, those new-fangled Pop Up tents suck. Don’t believe me? Here are 9 reasons NOT to buy a Pop Up tent!
70 Centimeters Across!
Or, for those silly Americans still using the imperial system, that is 27 inches across!
Pop Up tents vary in size when folded, but most of them are really wide. They fold up into what looks like a giant disk.
I once had Couchsurfing guests come visit and they were carrying a Pop Up tent with them. The huge thing was really difficult for them to carry. A gust of wind came up and started blowing on the giant disk. I had a vision of them flying away with the Pop Up tent in their arms!
So you can forget about using a Pop Up tent if you plan on backpacking. The massive size means they are only practical if you are camping close to your car.
As one UK camper had to say of his experience using a Pop Up tent,
“Unlike the other traditional style tent which had no condensation, the Pop Up tent had literally a puddle in the morning. No bed wetting jokes please!”
In order to resist rain, pop up tents have to be made of a non-breathable material. At night when the temperature drops, the difference in temperature inside and outside of the tent causes condensation to build up within the tent.
This isn’t a problem with most tents because they use a separate fly sheet so the tent can ventilate. With a sealed pop up tent, there is no ventilation and you get condensation.
The solution to this is to leave the door to the pop up tent open. But mosquitoes anyone?
There are some better-quality pop up tents, but most are really crappily made. Just look at the description where it says, “Glued seams.”
It won’t be long until those glued seams start leaking in rain water!
Tent seams can be really confusing. What you need to know is that quality tents will sew or weld the seams with waterproof material between the seams. Really high quality tents will have the seams sealed. They still eventually may need to a new coating of waterproofing, but not for a long time. You can read more about seam sealing a tent here.
Wind Is the Enemy of Pop Up Tents!
The moment a gust of wind hits your Pop Up tent, it is going to bend up like a pretzel! Don’t believe me? Just look at the video below. I find it particularly ironic that the wind isn’t so bad that his sandcastles are still in perfect condition but the Pop Up tent is wobbling like crazy.
Most people who use Pop Up tents say that they take them down when it gets windy. That is kind of ridiculous – especially if it is raining.
This might not seem like a big deal, but one of the first rules of camping is to always leave your boots and shoes outside. Otherwise the tent gets stinky really fast and lots of dirt gets tracked inside.
Most modern tents have a little area in front of the tent where the rain fly extends over. You can keep your boots and some other gear there so it doesn’t get wet if it starts raining.
Without a porch, you’ll have to put ALL your gear in the tent or just hope it doesn’t rain. Or that a slug doesn’t crawl into your boots at night and make them all slimy. 😉
Easy to Get Up, Suck to Get Down
Yeah, you might be able to get a Pop Up tent setup in 2 seconds, but getting it folded back down can be tricky. I’ve been told it can take multiple people.
No Replacement Poles
The poles in Pop Up tents are really flimsy and prone to bending. This happens with other cheap tents too – but the difference is that you can usually find replacement poles for standard tents. I’ve also used the medical tape in my first aid kit to repair a tent pole in a pinch.
Some brands of Pop Up tents do have replacement poles, but most do not. So, that basically means your tent is going in the trash when the poles inevitably get bent.
It Isn’t That Hard to Put Up a Standard Tent
The main draw of a Pop Up tent is that it is easy to put up. For people who have never been camping before and are worried that you need an engineering degree to put up a tent, this is a huge draw.
But it isn’t really that hard to put up a standard tent.
My daughter learned how to do it when she was 4. If she was tall enough, I am sure she could even do it by herself.
Tip: If you find it difficult to put up standard tents, get one with Clips for the poles instead of the type where you have to slide the poles through a fabric sleeve. As you slide the poles through the sleeve, they often come apart or get stuck.
The clips make it a lot easier and faster. I can get my McKinley tent up in the dark in under 10 minutes.
Pop Up Tents Cost $30
As the quote goes,
“I am too poor to buy cheap things.”
This doesn’t just apply to Pop Up tents, but to all camping gear. If you try to save money by buying cheap gear, you will end up paying for it in the long term because you’ll be replacing the gear so often.
There are higher quality Pop Up tents available. But when you compare the cost vs. quality, you’ll get a lot more value with a traditional style tent. My tent cost about $50 and has held up very well over 3-years’ worth of intensive backpacking trips in 6 different countries. There were serious winds and rains during some of these trips.
By comparison, you can expect your cheap Pop Up tent to last for a few trips – assuming no hard winds or rains.
When to Use a Pop Up Tent?
I started thinking about Pop Up tents when friends who go camping with their two kids asked about them.
They have a very large standard style tent that they use, but want something that can be put up quickly and easily when they are just stopping the car at the end of the day and not staying for a long time. I thought about it, and despite the many downsides of Pop Up tents, there are some cases where they might be great:
- When your kids want to “camp” in the backyard
- For festivals when you know the tent is going to get ruined anyway and you’re too drunk to care
- When you are prepared to shell out the cash for a quality Pop Up tent with a waterproof rating (hydrostatic head) rating of at least 2000 and with vents to prevent condensation and allow wind to flow through
- When you’ve got arthritis and can’t put up a normal tent but still want to go camping
- When you are car camping and going to bring along a standard tent too, but just don’t always want to set it up.
Have you used a Pop Up tent? What do you think about them?
Image credits: “٢٠١٥٠٣٢١_٠٩٣٥٢٣” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by AlBargan
“Baggage for Lowlands” (CC BY 2.0) by Graham of the Wheels
“roskilde_festival_2007 1490” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by @nightgolfer
“Snow Day! 02/02/2009” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by DG Jones
“P1080540” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by al_green