Is the $100 Dollar Tent Worth It?

Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. shares her thoughts on cheaper tents and explains the pros and cons of buying one.

Photo by Cindy Chen
Published on

Camping, hiking, and backpacking—despite the fact that these activities are meant to take you away from city life to escape materialism and bond with nature—can be very expensive pursuits. New technology that is meant to keep you safe and more comfortable on the trail also means shelling out more money. Whereas we used to sleep in A-frame or triangle tents made from heavy materials, nowadays the optimal tent is often dome-shaped, lightweight, and packs down small while being comfortable enough for us and our gear. There are about a billion tents on the markets—from $15 finds on eBay to $5,000 tents from high-name brands. This begs the question, is the $100 dollar tent worth it? Let's talk about it. Pros and cons list anyone?

Pros of a Cheaper Tent

The price

Duh, right? Obviously, the price is the best part of buying a cheap tent. You won’t spend your entire paycheck on one piece of gear, which isn’t unheard of in the outdoor industry. Saving on gear means you can spend more on good food, gas for the car ride, or just to put a little bit extra away for retirement or bills.

You can test it out without really investing

If you are a camping beginner, spending a lot of money on something you aren’t sure you will ever do again sounds outrageous. I agree, it is! Purchasing a cheaper tent gives you the flexibility to test it out without making a huge dent in your bank account.

Many people don’t need the frills of an expensive tent

An expensive tent will often be lighter in weight, sturdier, and great for experienced campers/backpackers. But not everyone is trying to be a super experienced, hard-core camper/backpacker (although it is fun and I recommend it). If that sounds like you, then a $100 tent may fit your needs. If you go car camping (i.e., you don’t carry all your gear on your back) and mostly camp in temperate weather, then a cheaper tent could work well for you.

A small dome-shaped tent is lit from within, giving it a yellow glow against a nighttime landscape. The sky is a dark purple-blue in the background.
Photo by Luca Baggio

So who is a cheap tent good for?

All in all, a cheap tent is fine for those who are camping in temperate weather conditions for a night or two. Families who don’t get out of the city too often, or those just starting to get into camping should go for a cheaper tent where they can learn what they do and don’t like in a tent. If you decide to stick with it then you can go for a more expensive tent. Although the price is great upfront, poorly-made tents may not last you long and you should eventually upgrade to a more durable and higher-quality tent. Pro tip: buy from a place where you can return the tent if it doesn’t work out or you want to upgrade it!

Some Cheap Tent Options

If you are curious about cheaper tents under $100, here are a few options:

  • The Coleman Sundome Tent comes in a few sizes and is a great sturdy option for occasional campers. It’s roomy, easy to set up, and comfortable for one night around the campfire. Coleman in general is a great brand for budget-friendly and newer campers who want to escape the city, save money, and have fun.
  • The Slumberjack 2P Tent is another budget-friendly option great for car camping. It has one door and you can use hiking poles to create a sun porch to watch the sunrise while you drink your morning tea from your sleeping bag.

Cons of a Cheaper Tent

A cheaper tent may break apart after the first few uses

A cheap tent is cheap because it isn’t made as well, the fabric isn’t as durable, or a combination of other reasons. Do you really want to spend money, any money at all, on a product and have it break shortly after you purchase it? This isn’t the smartest move. But, if you are camping for the first time and want to make sure you like it before you really invest, then a cheap tent that breaks (and is returnable) isn’t the worst move.

A cheap tent may not hold up against weather

I would rather not wake up in a puddle if it starts raining. I would also like some ventilation if it’s warmer out. A cheaper tent may not hold up against rain, wind, snow, etc.; however, this is only a problem if you plan on camping in those conditions. Do you like winter camping? If so, don’t buy a cheap tent. Being safe while camping starts with a great shelter to add a barrier between you and the weather.

A small dome-shaped tent is lit from within, giving a blue glow against a nighttime landscape. It sits next to a campfire and the Milky Way is illuminated in the sky behind it.
Photo by Pars Sahin

A cheap tent will be heavier and take up more space

If you plan on backpacking, you’ll want to save weight and space in your pack. A cheap tent won’t really do that. Lighter and especially ultralight gear will be far more expensive than a cheap $100 tent. If you are simply car camping—meaning you can throw all your gear in your car—then this probably isn’t an issue for you.

So who is a cheap tent bad for?

All in all, a cheap tent will not work for avid hikers or backpackers who will want a tent that is lightweight, packs small, and can hold its own against more extreme weather conditions. Experienced campers and backpackers should go for gear that will last you a while and hold up on all your adventures. Cheaper tents may break sooner, and in the end, after making repairs or buying a new tent, you may spend more in total than the cost of one high-quality tent.

Interested in High-Quality Tents, Here are my Suggestions:

The Nemo Hornet 2P Tent is what I currently use and I love it. I don’t like winter camping, so this three-season backpacking tent is perfect for me. It weighs around 2lbs and is big enough for me, the dog, and our gear! It also comes in a one-person size that is even lighter and packs down smaller.

If you want a four-season backpacking tent, the Black Diamond Hilight Tent is the way to go! The vestibule is an additional purchase and will add another strong layer against those extreme weather nights. It weighs 3lbs, folds down small enough to fit in your pack or to be attached outside, and will keep you safe!

Any mountaineers out there? The Hillberg Allak 2P Tent is made for the harshest weather conditions and will help keep you warm when the snow is falling. There are two doors, two vestibules, and it is light enough to backpack with and use in other seasons.

What do you think of your tent? Need some upgrades? I started with a used heavy tent and ultimately made the switch to a Nemo Hornet 2P tent, which is perfect for me, my gear, and my dog Raya. Hit me up through my profile with questions, comments, and stories and let’s chat about all things outdoors. We might just find you your next ideal tent, whether you are on a budget or looking for the most expensive tent around.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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