Packing the right gear is the first step in a successful camping trip. When your equipment list is bare and you're only thinking about what will get you through the weekend, you're doing it wrong. A few creature comforts will make your time outdoors that much more enjoyable, and many of them are affordable. We've compiled a list of gear and apparel we've tested ourselves, as well as items we've evaluated from afar from trusted brands. If you pack them in your trunk, you'll already be on your way.
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it's especially important to check local regulations at your destination before departing. Many public and private campgrounds are open, but continue to follow protocols to prevent the spread of the disease. Some buildings and facilities may not be accessible, and some programs or services may not be available. You might want to save trips to popular trails or other attractions for a later date in order to avoid crowds.
Coleman Skydome Series
When it comes to the six-person model, Coleman's Skydome series improves on its classic dome tent by adding steeper walls that provide six feet of headroom. Since one end of each main support, the pole is attached to the tent body, the tent was easy to pitch, despite its height. Tent segments were connected at camp, the disconnected ends slid into opposite corners, and the tent body was secured with snap-on clips. Inside, you'll have 85 square feet of space to spread out and rest easy knowing the tarp-style floor and fly will block rain showers just like they did for us.
The North Face Wawona 6
In the camping market, The North Face can be hit or miss, but they have a winner in the Wawona collection. Recently, the biggest change was a hybrid double-wall construction (the previous generation used a less breathable single-wall build), and they redesigned the pole structure to make setup easier. A tunnel-like design reminiscent of REI's Wonderland 6, it provides a generous amount of interior space for about $125 less than the Wonderland 6. There is a 3 square foot increase in floor area and a 2-inch increase in peak height. You can use the front vestibule (44.7 square feet) as a seating area; the Wonderland requires the Mud Room ($125) add-on to achieve the same functionality. The Wawona is an impressively livable design and an excellent value all around.
Despite the new pole structure, however, we found the Wawona quite time-consuming and tedious to set up. As the vestibule must be guyed out tightly to remain upright, it took some time to secure the unique pole structure. A hybrid double-wall tent like the NEMO Wagontop below vents considerably better in humid or rainy weather than a single-wall tent. The rainfly doesn't cover the lower portion of the tent, and the mesh door can cause serious heat loss and drafts in the cold (for a more weather-worthy option, check out REI's Base Camp below).
REI Co-op Base Camp 6
The Wonderland and Skyward are more expensive and taller, respectively. Based on mountaineering designs, REI's Base Camp 6 has a significant boost in weatherproofing. As a result of the dome shape and the overlapping five-pole system, the walls aren't as vertical as the Wawona tent above, but they are still very easy to maneuver in. The reward is much better resistance against strong gusts (the tent is rated for 3+ seasons). The rest of the design is equally impressive, with an excellent mix of quality materials and thoughtful design features such as two roof vents, functional organization, and even reflective detailing to help you see the tent in the dark.
It's worth noting that the Base Camp recently went up in price by $80 (from $469 to $549 for 6P), making it the second-most expensive option in REI's camping tent collection (right behind the $599 Wonderland 6 below). It is by far the most weather-ready option, but it uses less mesh than both Wonderland and Skyward below, which has a notable impact on ventilation. Despite a similar floor area, the Base Camp feels noticeably smaller due to the lack of vertical walls. Our conclusion is that the Skyward is the value leader and has enough tent for most family campers, the Base Camp is the best option for those who plan to take their tent into relatively rough and rowdy weather, and the Wonderland is a luxurious option for people looking for the ultimate camping experience.
These are three very good simple ideas to get you started on your search for a great tent to enjoy. If you have any questions please feel free to fire them over our way and we can get you set up.