- Comparing Budget Tents: The ‘Five S’ Method.
- $$ - Price
- Case Study: Difference Between Budget and Premium
- Let's Break it Down: The Best 2-Person Tents Under $100
- Your Turn
Camping is about unwinding from the chaos of the city and basking in the beauty of the natural world.
Unfortunately for many of us, the dream of outdoor bliss can be hindered by our finances.
Making an escape into the wilderness can put a major dent in your bank account - but the truth is - it doesn’t have to.
You don’t always need the most expensive gear on the market or the newest wilderness gadget.
Trouble is - finding the right balance between camping luxuriously and ‘roughing it’ in the ever-changing elements can be tricky at best.
That’s why I compiled a simple guide and a few recommendations for some budget tents that may fit you, and your partner’s, needs in this list of best 2-person tents for under $100.
5’ x 7’6
5’ x 7’
7’1 x 6’7
8’6 x 7’6
5 lb. 15 oz
7 lbs 9 oz
3 lbs 8 oz
Comparing Budget Tents: The ‘Five S’ Method.
If you truly want to purchase a long-lasting outdoor oasis, you need to ensure that the tent fits your demands, not that you fit the tent’s demands.
Friends of In Case of Camping will be familiar with our self-dubbed “Five S” Method to purchasing a shelter, but it’s important to look into exactly what to expect from each feature when buying a budget tent.
Sure, a cozy 2-person tent might be enough for you and your partner this time, but what about your camping trips in the future? Maybe there will be some (two- or four-legged) little ones tagging along?
A tent is not only a protective shelter, but it’s your home away from home. That's why it’s imperative that you plan your purchase to not only fit your nearest upcoming excursion, but to fit all your future adventures.
Surprisingly enough, you typically don’t have to sacrifice comfort for price when it comes to tents. There are several inexpensive, spacious alternatives in the tent world.
In fact, there seems to be a slight indirect correlation between price and floor area. The more expensive the tent, the smaller the amount of floor space.
Why? Simply put - many of the higher-end shelters are made for backpacking. They're designed to be light and take less ground space to pitch, since they tend to be used in the dense backcountry.
If have no plans on trekking up into the snowy mountains for a weekend getaway, there’s no need to purchase an expensive, thick-walled, four-season tent.
Most likely, you will want to invest in a 3-season, double-walled shelter to ensure that you remain dry and warm in the outdoors.
This can be a major issue with sub-$100 tents. Many are poorly manufactured, and one loose seam could lead to a major headache. Adequate protection from the environment should be your primary concern.
Quick storytime: My wife and I purchased a budget tent for a backpacking trip to Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Halfway up the Barr Trail, there is a camp where we planned to relax for the day and summit the mountain the following morning.
The temperature was surprisingly warm for June, and we setup our tent to take a quick-afternoon nap before dinner.
No more than an hour later, we woke up to thunder, lightning, hail, sleet, snow, and rain. The inside of our tent was soaked and there was no more room in the cabins. Defeated, we simply packed up and headed down the mountain before sunset.
Needless to say, I should have been more astute while searching for inexpensive waterproof shelters. Let's make sure you don’t need to repeat my mistake.
Pitching a tent may not be as difficult as struggling to assemble an IKEA dresser, but it still can be disheartening.
Most shelters today have a free-standing pole design, but there are still some self-supported options available for those of you that want to rig-up a shelter like a wilderness expert. Consider the ease of setup while researching your outdoor home.
For budget tents, the pitching difficulty varies from piece of cake to solving a Rubik's Cube one-handed.
Many of these shelters lack the extra features that their expensive counterparts possess (vestibules, vents, windows, etc.), so they may be easier to setup.
In some other cases, the cheaper price can lead to more parts, more connections, and more frustration. Keep in mind that you ventured into nature to bask in it’s tranquility, not to grow gray hairs from setting up your shelter.
Security means something different to everyone, yet in this case, I’m talking about being secure and safe from the elements by ensuring a shelter’s durability (since no one wants to wake up in the middle of the night in a tent that has collapsed into a body bag).
Typically, the more dependable the material, the more expensive the shelter can be.
This means that the lower-cost tents may have poor fabric, leading to less water and wind protection. Also, the pole supports may be made of cheaper materials, potentially causing them to snap or collapse under the pressures of the elements.
$$ - Price
Money, money, money. Despite all the protective features of a tent, it all comes down to the final cost.
Which is why you're reading this article, right?
Again, there are going to be sacrifices that you will have to make to remain inside your budget, but try not to let price dictate use.
For example, I have had a $400 tent sitting in my closet for two-years, and the only time it saw the light of day was when I decided to set it up in the backyard! I have not spent a single night in that thing since I have other shelters that fit my needs.
It was a stupid impulse purchase, and I hope that you don’t make the same mistake. (Does anyone want to buy my tent?)
Finally, remember that affordability doesn’t exactly translate to a tent’s true value. Every product is what you make of it, so even more expensive shelters can be perceived as affordable if you utilize them correctly.
Case Study: Difference Between Budget and Premium
To truly understand what your getting when you’re getting when you purchase a budget shelter, I’ll layout some of the features of two comparable REI tents.
Floor Area (ft)
5 lbs 3 oz
DAC Pressfit Aluminum
40-denier* ripstop nylon /
20-denier* ripstop mesh
70-denier* taffeta nylon
*Denier is a unit of linear mass density of fibers. Typically the higher the denier, the stronger the material.
As you can see from the chart, the extra money gets you a better design and higher quality fabrics.
The Half Dome 2 Plus incorporates a crossbar into the rigid structure, as opposed to the typical X-pattern of the Camp Dome. This gives the Half Dome 2 Plus near-vertical sidewalls, allowing you move about the tent effortlessly.
Material-wise, the Half Dome 2 Plus uses different styles of nylon as opposed to the the Camp Dome 2’s nylon/polyester combination.
Fun fact: I actually studied polymer engineering in college (no, really), and I can tell you that Nylon’s unique structure allows for better weather resistance and durability, yet polyester tends to stand up better to UV degradation and dries faster.
Immersion Research performed a study between the two fabrics, and came to the following conclusion: for outerwear, nylon is better in expedition-like conditions or if you are typically hard on gear. Polyester on the other hand will feel drier and breath better over time, but may be a little more susceptible to tears.
Finally, the Half Dome 2 Plus provides a few extra features like dual vestibules, two tear-drop shaped doors, a multitude of storage pockets, and a simple one-bar setup. The Camp Dome 2 does have it’s advantages and benefits, but perhaps this will help you understand what tent aspects may be affected by price.
Check out our full review of the REI Co-op Half Dome 2.
Let's Break it Down: The Best 2-Person Tents Under $100
Now that you have a general idea of what features may be sacrificed in purchasing a budget shelter, let’s review a few of my favorite tents under $100. I’ll break them down into different superlatives, so not only will they fit your outdoor budget, but also your outdoor goals.
Best Overall Tent: ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2
ALPS Mountaineering does it again with the updated version of it’s popular Lynx 2. A great option for anyone looking to ease into the outdoor world, this three-season shelter features a 7’6” x 5” base with nearly a four-foot peak ceiling height.
Car campers can rejoice as the Lynx 2 is a simple dual-pole setup. Backpackers may struggle with the near-six-pound weight, even though they can always split the 6-lb. load between two people.
The top-half of the tent’s canopy is composed of “no-see-um” mesh panels, enabling you to stargaze at night, but lacking intimacy at a crowded campsite. The combination of half-mesh walls and polyester rainfly allow for enhanced ventilation throughout the tent, preventing any moisture accumulation.
Unfortunately, the Lynx 2 doesn’t hold up well against high winds, but will typically keep you dry in any sort of downpour.
Unlike several of the budget tents that you’ll browse through, the Lynx 2 offers a stronger aluminum dual-pole structure, as opposed to a weaker, easier-to-break fiberglass design. There are also two large doors with large #8 Zippers, and two spacious vestibules (20 ft² total area) to store your gear. Inside, there are storage pockets and a gear loft to keep your more valuable items outside the elements.
Overall, ALPS Mountaineering has provided both outdoor novices and wilderness veterans an affordable, reliable tent option with the Lynx 2.
Best Bargain Tent: Coleman Sundome 2 Person
If budget tents had an industry standard, it would be the Coleman Sundome. While it may not be as durable or versatile as some of other sub-$100 alternatives, this bargain shelter doesn’t skimp on overall quality.
The Coleman brand is world-renowned for it’s variety of outdoor products, and with nearly 120 years of excellence, they have crafted the perfect low-cost tent.
The Sundome 2 boasts a powerful ventilation system, including a ground vent to help move the air. For maximum waterproofing, Coleman uses their Weathertec-patented welded floors and inverted protected seams.
The setup is simple with a continuous sleeve for the poles, rather than pesky clip attachments.
The 2-person option only has a 7’ x 5’ floor and a dome structure that can sometimes feel cramped. Luckily, if you prefer interior space, Coleman also offers the Sundome in more spacious 4- and 6-person sizes, both for a decent price (~$50 and ~$80 respectively).
The shelter is heavy and and there are no vestibules, so it’s not the best alternative for hikers. But, if you simply want to enjoy a weekend in the woods on a budget, the Sundome may be your best option.
Best Design: Chillbo Baggins CHILLBO CABBINS
If you want to stand out from other campers, the Chillbo Baggins Chillbo Cabbins 2-person tent is your best choice. With six vibrant designs to choose from, this shelter is perfect for a simple getaway in the woods, or an overnight stay at a music festival.
Even with it’s flashy exterior print and ridiculously ‘punny’ name, the Chillbo Cabbins doesn’t sacrifice livability. With two large d-shaped doors and interior dimensions of 7’1” x 6’7”, this shelter will give you plenty of space to stretch out with your partner after a long day.
Chillbo Baggins claims to protect you against the elements with seamed seals, welded floor and an acclaimed “2000mm waterproofing throughout”. According to other campers, they ain't kidding either. This tent really keeps the water out.
Like many low-cost shelters, the Chillbo Cabbins 2-person tent is too heavy to trek through the woods, but does offer a vestibule-like breezeway to store your gear, or simply chill out.
You're probably more than a little skeptical about the real world durability of a tent with such a ludicrously colorful design. Well, I was too, so I looked into it. Chillbo Baggins offers a 100% no questions asked lifetime refund policy on this tent, so at least they trust their own product.
Best Car Camping Tent: ALPS Mountaineering Meramac
Do you just want to hop out of your car and onto the campsite? Another ALPS Mountaineering tent that made the list is the Meramac. Most car campers prefer livability and durability over weight and packability; the spacious Meramac embodies those qualities.
While the 2-person comes in at roughly $80, I suggest that for normal car camping, you invest in the similarly priced 4-person version. The roomy interior offers a 8’6” x 7’6” floor area with a five-foot peak ceiling height, giving you plenty of room for games and activities.
Although the Meramac 4 comes in at nearly 12 lbs., the extra weight allows it to withstand stronger conditions. The combination of mesh panels and urethane-coated polyester rain fly will keep the shelter dry, both inside and out. With dual-doors and ample storage, it’s an ideal alternative for any couple who just wants to escape into the outdoors.
Best Backpacking Tent: Featherstone Outdoor UL Granite 2 P
Ideal for campers looking to dip their toes in the waters of the backpacking world, the Featherstone Outdoor UL Granite offers many of the same features of it’s more expensive alternatives.
As a brand, Featherstone is a relative unknown among our backpacking campers. In this case, that could be a blessing. What you're getting is a near carbon copy of the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2, without the MSR price premium.
I mean that in every sense. This tent is tough. Based on materials and construction, you could easily confuse the Granite with a tent three times its price.
The aluminum poles, nylon rainfly and mesh feel like they can take a decent beating. This in addition to taped seams, the included footprint and a bathtub floor design will give you a fighting chance against all but the worst wet weather nightmare.
Without the footprint the tent weighs 3.8 lbs. If you replace the standard stakes with lightweight ones and the included footprint with a Tyvek sheet, you'll end up with a trailweight smaller than MSR's comparable tents.
Since it's an ultralight model, the Granite isn’t the most spacious tent on the market. Also, the vestibules don't go all the way to the ground. Keep that in mind if you're camping in a sandy and windy area.
Overall, the Featherstone Outdoor UL Granite is a beginner backpacker’s dream. Rather than dropping $400 on an ultralight cuben fiber tent and having it sit in your closet forever, you can learn the ropes of the trail by spending less than $80 on the 3.8 lb Granite.
Your camping experience is what you make of it, so don’t get bullied into purchasing an expensive shelter if a simple sub-$100 budget tent satisfies all of your requirements.
Focus on the ‘Five S’ method tp link for each product to ensure that you know which features have been sacrificed for a lower advertised cost.
You’ll then be able to buy a tent that doesn’t break the bank.
Finally you can unleash your outdoor passion. On a budget.
About the Author - Andrew
Andrew's love for the outdoors began at an early age growing up in the midwest farmland and taking family vacations out west. Being a dreamer with his head in the clouds most moments make the mountains the perfect location for him. He hasn't met a false summit he doesn't like yet! Click here to learn more about Andrew's outdoorsy background...