When I was a kid, there weren’t too many options for tents. You basically got a dome-shaped tent or an A-frame tent. Now, there are tons of options — including pop up tents.
Well, lots of options doesn’t always mean good options!
I get the appeal of pop-up tents. Dealing with tent poles can be really annoying. And there are countless stories along the lines of “a group of engineers went camping and couldn’t figure out how to put up the tent…”
But, while pop-up tents seem really cool and practical, they absolutely suck. Don’t believe me? Here are 9 reasons NOT to buy a Pop Up tent!
1. They Are 27 Inches (70cm) Across!
Pop Up tents vary in size when folded, but most of them are around this size when folded. They basically look like a giant disk when folded.
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. It was really windy and a gust of wind almost blew the tent out of their arms. 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.
2. Condensation Forms in Pop-Up Tents
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 (also known as double-walled tents). 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?
3. Pop-Up Tents Are Not Waterproof
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.
*Scared of bad weather? Read: What to do if it rains when camping
4. 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.
5. Pop-Up Tents Don’t Have a Porch
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 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. 😉
6. They Are Easy to Get Up but Hard 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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 most 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 3-person tent cost about $50 and has held up very well over 5-years’ worth of intensive backpacking trips in 6 different countries. There were serious winds and rains during some of these trips (I also have this cheap ultralight tent which only cost about $120).
By comparison, you can expect your cheap Pop Up tent to last for a few trips – assuming no hard winds or rains.
When Pop Up Tents Actually Make Sense
Pop-up tents aren’t completely useless. I have friends that use them when they go traveling in Greece. In Greece, wild camping is illegal. Here’s how they manage it though:
They basically drive around sightseeing all day. Then, right before dark falls, they put up the pop-up tent.
However, these friends also bring a large, durable tent. This is what they use when they are somewhere remote (and don’t have to worry about being stealth). They definitely don’t use their pop-up tents when it is windy or rainy!
There are a few other times pop-up tents are 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 (though it is appalling that thousands of tents are discarded at festivals!)
- When you are prepared to shell out the cash for a quality Pop Up tent with a waterproof rating (hydrostatic head) 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.
Yes, There Are Some Decent Pop-Up Tents
I still advise against pop-up tents in almost every situation. But, if you are going to get one, then make sure it is good enough to last through some rain. It also needs to be breathable so you don’t wake up in a puddle from condensation.
Option 1: Quechua Pop Up Tent
Quechua is a brand which makes good quality gear for budget prices. Their pop-up tent is definitely pricier than the crap ones you will find, but it will actually hold up. Why is it better? Because…
- It has vents so condensation won’t form while you sleep
- The poles are good quality and not likely to break
- Guy lines prevent the tent from being blown away
- Get it here
Option 2: FiveJoy Pop Up Tent
This pop up tent is more affordable then the Quechua one above. It’s still pretty durable. I like it because…
- It has windows on both sides which act as vents to prevent condensation
- Windows can be turned into a rain fly
- Has two doors
- Is a good size for 2 people
- Get it here
You are still better off with a standard tent.
Below are some tents which are easy to set up. As you can see, they all have the same type of construction: 2 poles which criss/cross over each other. The inner tent gets clipped in place. Then you throw the rain fly over and secure it down.
It might not be as fast as a pop up tent, but it’s still pretty quick. And these tents will hold up better, won’t leak condensation on you, and can be used in the rain.
Kelty Grand Mesa Tent (2 and 4-person versions available)
Kelty makes really good quality camping gear that doesn’t cost a fortune. I especially like their toddler sleeping bags. This tent is surprisingly affordable for its quality. In addition to being quick and easy to set up, it holds up really well in rain and bad weather. It’s a bit heavy, but still could be used for backpacking in addition to camping. Get it here.
This tent can be set up easily because it is free-standing and uses clips for the two poles. I particularly love that it has 2 doors, so you can get in/out without waking up your camping partner. Get it here.
This tent is really similar to the Mountainsmith tent above. The difference is that it is much larger. There are all the features you’d want in a camping tent: quick setup, waterproofness, ventilation to prevent condensation, pockets, and good headroom. Get it here.
Read this guide to tents to get more recommendations.
Guess what? I wrote a book.
It’s all about what to eat while backpacking, including tips for planning meals and over 50 different recipes. Learn more here.
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 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gray_um/2787388731/)” (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