Tents: Ratings of Sources
Backpacker has long been the gold standard for reviews of any gear that's even remotely related to hiking or backpacking. They employ an army of testers and genuinely discriminating standards to choose the best of the best. The individual reviews for each tent are usually short but to the point, with a balanced critique of both positive and negative aspects.
OutdoorGearLab.com has emerged in recent years as one of the very best sources for comparative testing of outdoor gear. Each tent receives a thorough hands-on evaluation and fully transparent review, then is assigned a comparative score in several categories and an overall comparative score. Elsewhere on their site, the editors also review a wide selection of backpacking tents that were relevant to this report.
An undisclosed number of testers evaluate how car camping and backpacking tents perform under real-world conditions; these are the top models that made the cut. Each tent receives a brief summary of how it performed in testing and a one-sentence verdict. Some also receive comparative ratings for livability and sturdiness.
The author recruited a number of families to help her test large car camping tents, plus some experts to weigh in on key factors. The reviews are very thorough, and the write-up is extremely transparent about how testing was conducted and by whom. Although no comparative ratings are assigned, she does select top picks in several categories and explains the thought process behind each pick.
This travel website also includes a useful selection of gear reviews, all based on hands-on testing, although they don't disclose the full protocols. They do give lists of useful specs for each product, along with a balanced, easy-to-read summary of their impressions. Elsewhere on the site, they also give car camping tents the same treatment.
This website is dedicated to teaching skills and tools for backpackers of all ability levels. That includes a selection of gear reviews, including this article on backpacking tents. Some models were tested hands-on, while others were simply subjected to intensive research, but it's clear that the people writing these short and to the point reviews are seasoned backpackers.
This article is updated every year with new picks for the best backpacking tents. Each review is extremely short -- just a few sentences -- and doesn't receive a comparative rating. However, it looks like some hands-on testing was probably conducted, and the comparison of features is extremely useful.
GearInstitute.com assigns comparative rankings and, once a year, a top pick designation, to a wide variety of tents. Most tents also receive a longer, in-depth review based on some level of hands-on testing, although the methodology is never fully disclosed. We were most interested in scores with an overall score of 83 (out of 100) or better.
REI draws the most reviews on car camping tents, but there's also quite a bit of feedback on backpacking tents. Some of the reviews duplicate comments that are also posted on the manufacturer websites, however. We paid particular attention to tents that received a 4.5-star or better average rating after at least 19 user reviews.
The tents on the Cabela's website may not attract as many reviews as listings on Amazon.com, but the users are almost always well-informed. They also reflect a segment of the outdoors population -- hunters -- that tends to be under-represented on other retail sites. We focused on listings that received at least a 4-star rating after 20 or more user reviews.
Amazon.com is always a font of information from real-world users. In this case, their reviews -- which vary wildly in length and usefulness -- tell us quite a bit about how tents perform under real-world conditions. The fact that not every person posting reviews here is an expert backpacker or camper actually comes in handy, because it tells us how useful the tents are for those non-experts.