Deciding on the best tent to buy for your next camping trip can be stressful if you aren’t sure where to start. How much should you spend? What size tent do you need? What are the best brands? What kind of tent should you buy?
These are all valid questions that I’ll help you answer in different articles around the site, but let’s focus on the last one above. There are really just two main tent types to consider: pop up tent vs regular tent.
In this article, we’re going to compare everything you need to keep in mind when deciding which is the best tent for you. We’ll compare:
- Set Up/Take Down Times
- Packed Size
- Wind Stability
- Tent Size
- Cleaning the Tent
I’ve personally used both pop-up and regular tents countless times over the years, and I currently own multiple of each. I can speak from experience on the topic of pop-up tents vs regular tents, but I’ve also discussed this topic with friends and other camping enthusiasts to come up with this comparison to help you decide on the right tent for you.
By the time you’re done reading, my hope is that you know exactly which tent you should buy. So let’s dive in. Here’s everything you need to know about pop-up vs regular tents.
What is a Pop Up Tent?
Before we get into any of the nitty-gritty details of teh comparison, let’s make sure we’re on the same page with what we’re talking about. Pop-up tents, often referred to as instant tents, come pre-assembled with the poles and everything already connected.
All you have to do is take them out of the carrying case or bag, remove the strap that’s keeping it together, and toss the tent away from you. Pop-up tents work since they’re constantly under tension, which will quickly force the tent to pop right up into a fully-erected tent in no time.
When you’re done camping, such tents require you to simply perform the same steps in reverse to pack them up, and everything stays connected and ready for the next trip. In short, pop-up tents are designed to make it as easy as possible to set them up and take them down.
Check out our complete list of the best pop-up tents on the market for every type of camper and find one that works for you!
What is a Regular Tent?
The term “regular” tent (or normal tent) pretty much refers to any other type of tent that you have to actually assemble yourself. These are the normal tents that we’ve all been using for years and that you’ll see all over the campground any time you go camping, including dome tents, cabin tents, and cube tents.
These tents typically require you to assemble all of the poles correctly and then slide them through the pole sleeves and supports as needed to set up the tent. Check out our complete guide on how to set up a tent here.
Poles are usually connected to each other via an elastic shock cord, but some older tents require you to piece them together from scratch. Once you start inserting the poles into the tent, it’ll start standing up the way you expect and will eventually be fully set up and ready to go.
In short, regular tents are the standard tents we’re all used to. For all intents and purposes, regular tents are any basic tent that is not an instant tent.
Pop Up Tent vs Regular Tent: Full Comparison & Key Differences
Now that you have a better idea of what pop-up tents and regular tents are, let’s get into the good stuff. Here’s a complete comparison of these two types of tents so you can choose the best option for you.
Set Up/Take Down Time
Pop Up Tents
As mentioned above, pop-up tents are designed with set up & take down times in mind, and it’s where they excel. All you have to do is take it out from the carrying case, simply unfold the strap, toss it away from you, and let it pop up into place thanks to its spring-loaded design.
If the instant tent comes with a rainfly pre-attached, all that’s left is to stake it down, add guy lines, and you’re ready to go. Otherwise, add the rainfly first for rain protection, then attach all of your guy lines to hold the tent down, and you’re all set.
The entire time it takes to set up a pop-up tent is less than 5 minutes. If you don’t plan on staking it down or adding guy lines, you can have most pop-up tents ready to go in seconds.
Taking it back down is the same way but in reverse. Sadly you can’t just toss it back into its folded-up state, so it is a bit more effort than setting it up in the first place. In most cases, it requires little more than a twist and compression.
Once the poles start going back to their compressed state, it’ll pretty much guide itself back into the proper shape/size for the case. Then just reattach the strap, put it back in the bag, and zip it up. Taking a pop-up tent down and packing it up takes less than 10 minutes.
If you’ve been camping before, you know that setting up a tent can be one of the most frustrating parts of the trip. Getting all the poles connected, figuring out where each one goes, and fighting the tension as you bend them into place and force them through the tent supports can be a headache.
This also only gets more difficult and time-consuming as the size of your tent grows. I regularly use a 2-person tent and a 10-person tent depending on the trip, and it’s significantly more difficult to set up the bigger tent than the smaller one. No matter the size, you still then have to stake it down, attach the rainfly, and add all your guy lines.
Depending on the size of the tent and how many poles you have to connect, setting up a regular tent can easily take anywhere from 10-25 minutes. This is 2-5x longer than setting up a pop-up tent.
Taking a regular tent down is typically a bit faster than setting it up since the poles will be working with you rather than against you due to the tension they’re under. The worst part about taking it down is folding the tent up so it’s compact enough to fit back in its carrying case.
In most cases, taking down a regular tent and getting it packed away will take you around 10-20 minutes. When you’re taking it down, also make sure you let your tent fully dry out so it doesn’t get stored while it’s damp, as this can lead to a moldy tent that you have to deal with.
Set Up/Take Down Time Winner: Pop-Up Tents
Since pop-up tents come pre-assembled and the poles are already connected and inserted in the pole sleeves, you can only get them to be so small. Most pop-up tents compress down into a relatively large circular case, but some do fold down into a rectangular shape that’s more similar to the carrying cases you’ll have for a regular tent.
With a regular tent, you’ll be able to disassemble every pole down into its smallest piece, which causes them to take up far less room. Additionally, with all the poles out of the tent, the fabric itself can be folded into a tighter, more compact shape and stored in a smaller carrying case or bag.
Bottom line: pop-up tents tend to be anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times bigger than a regular tent.
In fact, even a 10-person regular tent will almost always be smaller when it’s packed up than a 2-4 person pop-up tent. This is especially important to keep in mind if you’re planning on backpacking or have limited space in your vehicle.
Packed Size Winner: Regular Tent
The whole point of staking down your tent and adding guy lines is to hold it in place so that it can withstand winds and other forces acting on it. But there’s another factor that goes into how much your tent can withstand and the wind protection it has to offer: what it’s made out of.
The fabric of pop-up tents and regular tents are made from the same material (usually nylon and/or polyester), but the big difference is the tent poles. Since pop-up tents have to be under constant tension while they’re packed up and must be more flexible, they’re almost always made with thin fiberglass poles.
The poles for regular tents, on the other hand, might be fiberglass on a cheaper tent, but they tend to be made from aluminum or steel in higher-end options. Metal poles like these are much stronger than their fiberglass counterparts and are the main reason why regular tents are much more stable than pop-up tents.
In most cases, pop-up tents can withstand winds up to 20-30 mph, whereas regular tents with metal tent poles can hold tight in winds up to 30-50 mph. If you’re ever caught in inclement weather or camp somewhere that has frequent strong winds, a regular tent is the better choice.
Wind Stability Winner: Regular Tent
Since both types of tents are usually made from the same fabric, you might think that they tend to last as long as one another. But their overall durability ties back to the same component that drives the differing wind stability: the tent poles.
With pop-up tents, the poles are always under tension. When they’re packed up, they’re under even more tension than when they’re set up. But always being under stress like this causes the poles to fail much more quickly. As the poles start to wear out, the fabric will also have more room to give, which will cause it to get worn down over time.
When you aren’t using your regular tent, the poles are disconnected from one another and just packed away for your next trip. This means that these poles are really only under tension and stress while you’re camping, which allows them to last a lot longer than the poles of a pop-up camping tent. Regular tents also usually have an edge in pole thickness, enabling them to be stronger.
Plus, since the poles are semi-permanently installed in the fabric of a pop-up, a broken pole is often too big of an undertaking to replace, and you might as well just replace the whole tent. With a regular tent, it can be fairly easy to replace a broken pole and have everything work like new.
Bottom line: most pop-up tents will last up to 5 years with regular use; you can get 7-10 years out of most regular tents without any extra maintenance effort. In my experience, regular tents tend to last about twice as long as pop-up tents.
Durability Winner: Regular Tent
Tent Size (How Many People Can Fit)
With a pop-up tent, you basically have to stand the entire thing up on its side in order to put it away, and even a 4-person tent is about as big as a single person can handle. Plus, there can only be so many poles pre-connected and folded up into one easy-to-use tent assembly, which limits how big they can be.
Regular tents can be far bigger than pop-up tents since the poles are all independent of each other, and everything folds down into a compact size when you’re done using them. I personally own a 10-person tent that I regularly use, and I know people with even bigger tents than that, with some having 14- or 16-person units.
Bottom line: pop-up tents are usually limited to 2- or 4-person capacities, whereas regular tents can hold 16 or more people with no problem. Not that I would ever necessarily recommend you share a tent with 15 other people for an extended period of time, but hey, that’s another discussion for another time.
Tent Size Winner: Regular Tent
Cleaning the Tent
As much as none of us really want to do it, we all have to keep our tents clean if we want them to last. I recently wrote a complete guide on how to clean a tent with mold, and if you read through that, you’ll see that you need to be able to get into all the nooks and crannies, fold it inside out, soak it, and really scrub it clean. Easy right?
The only issue here is that with an instant tent, you can’t really do that since the tent comes pre-assembled in one way. There’s no way to flip it inside out, it’s tough to even flip it over and get to the bottom of the tent since the top will always be domed and fully opened up any time you have the tent out of its carry case.
With a regular tent, you can fold and manipulate the fabric in any way necessary to get to all the dirt, grime, mold, and debris. This makes it extremely easy to soak the entire tent and scrub every inch, which makes cleaning a regular tent way easier than cleaning a pop-up tent. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to clean a pop-up tent to the same extent you can a regular tent.
Cleaning the Tent Winner: Regular Tent
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about price. When you’re shopping for a tent, this might be your single biggest concern of all, and knowing which type is more affordable might lead you in that direction right off the bat.
The good thing about tents is that they’re actually pretty affordable across the board compared to most other types of camping gear, especially for their size. But since pop-up tents are bought for their convenience and ease of use, you’ll typically pay more than you would for a comparably-sized regular tent.
While tent prices will depend heavily on the brand, what it’s made of, what time of year it is, and if you can find any deals or not, you can expect a pop-up tent to cost anywhere from 25-50% more than a regular tent for the same size. In other words, you can almost always get a bigger regular tent for the same price you’d pay for a smaller pop-up tent.
Price Winner: Regular Tent
Pop Up Tent vs Regular Tent: Which is Better?
If you tally up all the winners from the categories above, you’ll see that I have regular tents outclassing pop-up tents in just about every facet, except how quickly you can set them up or take them down. Considering that’s pretty much the entire premise behind pop-up tents in the first place, it should be no surprise that’s where they excel.
But regular tents are your best bet in every other category, from how strong and durable they are, to how many people they can hold and what they cost. That said, the two types of tents are close to one another in most categories, so you really can’t go wrong with either, though I tend to lean regular.
I’m certainly not here to bash pop-up tents, I actually love them myself and regularly use them. If you’re heading to a campground and have ample space in your vehicle to carry it, and you aren’t camping with a big group of people and need a large tent, an instant tent is absolutely a great option. They’re also kid-friendly since they’re so easy to set up.
For anyone that just wants to buy one or two tents and be set for a long time and be ready for just about any camping situation they face, regular tents are the way to go. They’re more versatile, easier to carry on a primitive camping trip, cost a bit less, and last longer.
- Pop-up tents can be set up and taken down 2-5x faster than a regular tent, making it a breeze to get your campsite ready when you arrive or to pack up when it’s time to go.
- Regular tents pack up smaller, are stronger, last longer, have better wind protection, can be bigger to house more people, are easier to clean, and typically cost less than pop-up tents.
- You can’t really go wrong with either option, but regular tents are going to be the better choice for you if you want one tent that can do more.
- For avid campers, it’s worth having a pop-up tent among all your camping gear just in case you want to go on a quick, last-minute trip. Being able to just pop your tent out of the case and having it set up in no time at all is invaluable on certain camping trips!