Cabin tents offer many of the same characteristics you'll look for in a family car camping tent: They're nice and roomy, set up easily, and are sized for the short walk from car to campground -- in other words, you wouldn't want to carry any of these tents on a backpacking trip. Cabin tents go one better than family tents, though, by using near-vertical walls and a square or rectangular floor plan to maximize the livable floor space.
On the downside, cabin tents have just one layer of fabric in the walls and a small rainfly over the roof, as opposed to the all-over double-layer construction you get from family camping tents or backpacking tents. That means high winds can drive rain in underneath the rainfly, and any condensation that forms will be on the inner wall -- so this type of tent is not the best choice for camping in harsh conditions. The one big exception is cabin tents made of heavy-duty waterproofed canvas, which does a better job of standing up to wind and rain because it extends all the way to the ground and acts as its own rainfly.
Most cabin tents are made of nylon or polyester. Of these, the Eureka Copper Canyon 6 (Est. $260) stands out for its combination of easy setup, spacious interior with lots of pockets for organizing, plenty of standing room and a removable interior divider for privacy. Reviewers also love the all-mesh roof that lets you stargaze from the comfort of your sleeping bag on clear nights. When the weather turns bad, you zip the windows closed and put the partial rainfly over the tent to cover the roof, trusting the waterproof-coated polyester taffeta to keep you dry. All that mesh in the roof makes for great ventilation, even with the rainfly on, and reviewers with TheWirecutter.com, who choose this as their top pick for family car camping, say that even though this tent isn't built for storms, it can ride out most wind and rain fairly easily.
Users say that if you're sleeping on queen-size mattresses, this six-person tent is really best for just four campers. But if you're doing individual cots or smaller air mattresses, you can squeeze six people and their gear into the 130 square feet of floor space pretty easily. Tall users are thrilled with the 7 foot center height; they may have to duck to get through the door, but once inside they can stand up straight. If you plan to use this tent beside an RV or otherwise have access to electricity, a zippered port for bringing in a power cable is a neat touch. The entire tent weighs 23 pounds, 2 ounces, plus stakes and guylines -- about 24 pounds, all told.
Setup can be a little confusing at first, but users say that with some practice, one person can put up the Copper Canyon 6 in 15 minutes or less. Just be careful pushing the steel poles through the fabric tent sleeves -- they can rip -- and be gentle with the zippers, which tend to stick and break fairly easily. Still, this tent is a great bargain for frequent car campers who won't be out in foul weather; and if it does rain, the bathtub floor does a good job of keeping water from running into the tent. Just make sure you apply a sealant to the seams in the fly and the floor before you use the tent, such as Kenyon Seam Sealer 3 (Est. $7 for 2 oz.). This is the only model in our report that does not come with the seams already sealed, but it's a great value and is covered by a limited lifetime warranty.
If you're more of a fair-weather camper who wishes you could do away with the hassle of pitching a heavy-duty tent you don't need, you're in luck. The Coleman Instant Cabin Tent (Est. $250) has its telescoping tent poles already attached to the tent body; all you have to do is extend the poles, which takes a single person just one or two minutes. This tent also comes in four- and six-person variations.
Even though the Coleman Signature Instant Tent has some flaws that come out in bad weather -- primarily a roof that sometimes leaks a bit in the absence of a full-coverage rainfly, and dubious support in strong winds -- it still gets a "Best Buy" pick from the editors at OutdoorGearLab.com. They say it gives you the biggest bang possible for the buck, with ridiculously quick and easy setup and lots of space and ventilation for hot days.
The Instant Cabin also gets a nod from hands on testers at Switchback Travel and TheWirecutter.com, who say it's a great tent for fair-weather campers who prize convenience above all else. During mild bad weather you can zip covers over the windows and doors, and you have the option of purchasing a separate rainfly to make the tent a little more weathertight. Several of the sizes come with a built-in (but still partial) rainfly, so it's possible that Coleman has wised up to customer wishes and is gradually phasing in the rainfly for all tents. On the upside, that lightweight construction means the tent is, well, light. The four-person version weighs just 9.8 pounds.
The affordable price of the Coleman Instant Cabin is the biggest deal for most reviewers because it makes the outdoors accessible to families who might not have a lot of money to spend. Just be aware that the four- and six-person tents are much shorter on the inside than most cabin tents, with a peak height of 4 feet, 11 inches in the six-person model. If you want more headroom, the eight-person version offers a center height of 6 feet, 4 inches, but costs a hundred dollars more.
If you don't like dealing with the thin nylon walls on most tents, consider switching to a waterproofed canvas tent. The canvas is heavy, but it tends to breathe better than nylon and even helps dampen noise a bit, so wind noise -- and snoring neighbors -- aren't quite as bothersome.
In this category, the Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent (Est. $450) draws a "Top Pick" designation from the editors at OutdoorGearLab.com for its sturdy construction, easy setup, and great performance in wind. The only downsides, they say, are that its single-wall construction gets heavy when wet, and the vinyl floor can have a persistent plastic smell. Water also tends to pool in the awning over the door during heavy rain; one user warns that if you're going to poke the awning from underneath to drain the water out, make sure the door is zipped close first or the water might drain into the tent.
With that said, there's enough that's good about this Kodiak tent to outweigh those little quirks. Even though it's not designed for full-on four-season use, we found quite a few reports from users who said this tent stood firm against fierce winds, rain and even snow, while other tents around them were damaged or demolished. The four big windows and a couple of funnel vents also make for great ventilation and almost no condensation, unless you're in a hot, muggy place like a steamy Florida forest. One feature reviewers especially love is the way the privacy screens over the big windows zip from the top down, so you can open them for ventilation but still retain the sense of privacy.
It's handy to have two people to setup the Kodiak, although most users agree that one person can manage, despite this tent's weight and size. The four-person tent measures 9 feet by 8 feet and weighs 54.5 pounds (including 6 pounds of heavy-duty steel stakes), but that gets you 6 feet, one inch of headroom and enough space to squeeze in four people on air mattresses or a couple of cots. Two other versions are available: a 10 foot by 10 foot, six-person model and a 10 foot by 14 foot, eight-person model. The tent's hefty weight isn't a big deal since you'll be camping right beside your vehicle, and the carry bag makes the canvas body and steel poles easy to wrangle. Kodiak Canvas tents are covered by a limited lifetime warranty.